RIO DE JANEIRO – Well, that was that. Brazilians had been hungry to host another World Cup final in Rio’s historic Maracanã stadium since 1950, and although in the end things didn’t go to plan on the pitch, many have praised the country’s enthusiasm, hospitality and what turned out to be a dramatic and unforgettable World Cup.
“Brazil is so proud to host, yet again, a major football competition, a sport that truly enchants and excites us,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said at the symbolic handover ceremony at the final.
“We Brazilians, from all corners of this immense and much-loved country, invite everyone back for the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics, which we will host with the same competence and hospitality shown to the 2014 World Cup.”
President Vladimir Putin of Russia, hosts of the 2018 World Cup, praised the Brazil on its handling of the event.
“I want to congratulate President Rousseff on how the World Cup was organised,” Putin said, according to a FIFA statement. “We will do everything we can to organize the event to the highest level.”
FIFA President Sepp Blatter gave Brazil a 9.25 mark out, 0.25 higher than South Africa’s grade in 2010, praising the “quality of football” seen during the tournament.
And despite the disappointment of the disastrous end to Brazil’s World Cup campaign, the event has been seen as an unrivalled chance to bring the world to Brazil and Brazil to the world in a much-needed cultural exchange.
Local governments also say the tournament has been an economic success, with São Paulo’s city hall estimated the event injected a billion reais -– US$450 million -– into the local economy.
It’s wider impact on the country’s economy is still a moot point, but businesses in Rio have certainly lapped up the extra custom and vowed to learn from the experience to ensure the 2016 Olympics are an even bigger success.
“We want to make things even better and show that Rio is more than capable of hosting major event,” Eunice Lucena, a Rio hostel manager, said.
“We were worried that our guests could encounter muggings or problems with transport, but no one has reported anything.”
Employees at a bar in Rio’s Flamengo neighbourhood said life was — sadly — returning to normal, as they gazed at World Cup replays on one of the many TVs set up for clients and staff.
“It was totally worth having the World Cup here! It’s just a shame it had to end, really. It’s been so good here — business was booming and everywhere’s been crammed with really friendly football fans from all over the world. It felt like Rio was the center of the universe,” said 23-year-old waiter Kleber Fernandez from Vidigal, one on Rio’s many shanty towns –- or favelas.
Many foreign tourists were equally positive about Brazil’s World Cup, despite being apprehensive about how the country would cope with 600,000 overseas visitors, not to mention the 3 million Brazilians estimated to have traipsed around Brazil’s 12 host cities.
“It’s been amazing, and I’ve completely fallen in love with Rio,” Norwegian student Åshild Eriksen, 20, told Mashable.
“We didn’t manage to get into the games, but the Fan Fest and the atmosphere in the city, made up for all that,” she added. “It was just a little sad that all the teams we were rooting for – the Brazilians and the Argentinians – didn’t win!”
Some fans also reported problems with getting hold of tickets -– not unique to the Brazil tournament –- and complained that scalpers had been asking for up to US$5,000 per ticket.
Other complaints included the cost of flights and accommodation and a lack of decent English among most Brazilians.
However, most of the bigger concerns made ahead of the tournament were overblown, Brazilian football writer and author of “A to Zico” Maurício Savarese told Mashable.
“The Brazilian government made the mistake of overstating what they could realistically pull off, mainly in terms of infrastructure projects. Expectations were blown out of all proportions,” Savarese opined.
“But if you look at what’s been achieved, the basic things were in place – yes, transport wasn’t fantastic in all the hosts cities, but things generally worked and Brazil put on a good World Cup.”
Despite a number of fatal accidents involving World Cup projects ahead of and during the tournament, including the collapse of an overpass in Belo Horizonte, Savarese says and that many potential problems — mainly concerning airports and protests — were overstated.
“Many people also lumped together projects that were specifically for the World Cup and others that are part of its wider legacy. People should now give Brazil more credit for the 2016 Olympic Games.”
However, others said that an estimated US$14-18 billion price tag was simply too much to spend on the World Cup and its associated legacy projects.
Although some said they did not have a problem with the World Cup per se, they believe the event’s price tag was invested in the wrong way by an “inefficient and corrupt” government.
Protesters gathered near the Maracanã on Sunday, just before the final was about to kick off, but police responded in no uncertain terms, firing a hail of stun grenades, pepper spray and rubber bullets at the small group of around 300 protesters.
“We don’t need a World Cup, we need better living standards and a decent government. With the money spent on the World Cup you could build thousands of hospitals, tens of thousands of schools, and hundreds of thousands of low-costing houses for the poor. This World Cup has been a disgrace both on and off the pitch,” said Eron Morais de Melo, a 33-year-old dentist from Rio at the Sunday protest.
It remains to be seen whether protests will now subside with the World Cup over and the Olympics still two years away, and if and how politicians will use the legacy of the World Cup -– positive politically, disastrous in terms of football -– for the upcoming 5 October general elections.
But just for now, most Brazilians say the tournament was definitely worth holding and breathe a small sign of relief: although they didn’t win this time, they remain historic five-time World Cup champions, and Germany -– despite giving the Seleção a humiliating 7-1 hiding at the semifinals –- did save Brazil from a worse fate: seeing Argentina, Brazilians’ arch enemy on the turf, lift the Jules Rimet trophy at the Maracanã, the beating heart of Brazilian football.