THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Hosts face Uruguay in semi-finals

icon brazcrapfans25 June ~ Brazil's 4-2 win over Italy in Salvador on Saturday booked a semi-final place in the Confederations Cup. There is greater optimism about the prospects of Luiz Felipe Scolari's team after earlier group wins against Japan and Mexico, especially as Neymar has rediscovered his form, scoring in each of the games and picking up three Man of the Match awards. However, concerns continue over the team's propensity to ship goals against leading sides, with the margin of victory flattering against opponents missing Andrea Pirlo and Daniele de Rossi.

Tensions were high ahead of Saturday's game owing to clashes between protestors and police when Nigeria faced Uruguay two days before. Burnt-out buses gave way to a more festive weekend atmosphere, with Brazilian yellow vastly outnumbering the sparse Italian support at the lakeside Fonte Nova venue. The new arena has replaced the previous stadium that had been effectively condemned after seven fans died following a collapse of terracing in November 2007.

Locals were largely excluded from this FIFA jamboree. In a city where 90 per cent of the population is considered to be of African descent the crowd at the Fonte Nova was almost exclusively white – residents were reduced to the status of passive onlookers as fans streamed to and from the game. Few had tickets, they said, and even the neighbourhood bars were not feeling any dividend, with bar owner Renata Silva acknowledging that "business is really slow, this cup has not helped me at all".

A report in Salvador's Correio newspaper highlighted the different make-up of fans at this game: "They applaud throw-ins, clap for goal-kicks, shout and cheer at times even for the announcement of the attendance. To be exact there were 48,874 people there applauding themselves."

Along with a strong turn-out from evangelical groups, one isolated protestors made his point with a placard: "If they are going to import Cuban doctors to improve our health system I want to have Swedish politicians to end the corruption in Brazil." The wider protests during the Confederations Cup have been of uneven intensity, with the most serious disturbances in Brazil's south-eastern cities: Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. In Salvador the appetite to take to the streets has been offset in part by people leaving the city for traditional São João parties in the interior of the state.

A survey by TV network Rede Globo also showed that many of the protestors in Brazil are students or have a higher than average level of education and income. As with the Brazil v Italy game the poorest Brazilians have been only marginally involved so far. The unrest has deflected attention from FIFA's own difficulties with ticketing, training facilities and other problems caused by heavy rainfall in Recife and Salvador.

Mario Balotelli has been a major hit in the Brazilian north-east. The AC Milan striker was the only Italian to go for a walkabout in Salvador, visiting a social project he supports there. This prompted coach Cesare Prandelli to make a clumsy attempt at joke that he later apologised for: "He is the only one who had permission because his colour is a little different than ours." Balotelli's premature injury-enforced return home has been widely lamented, while making the Azzurri's semi-final task against Spain even more daunting. With Balotelli gone, Uruguay's Luis Suárez is now the player most likely to upset expectations of a Brazil v Spain final. Robert Shaw

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