RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Delighted Brazilians let off fireworks, released balloons and draped giant yellow team shirts over landmarks to celebrate the announcement that their soccer-obsessed country will host the 2014 World Cup.
Brazil has won the World Cup five times — more than any other nation — and its dazzling football prowess is a defining character of the vast, multi-racial nation.
With typical optimism, Brazilians said they were sure the country could overcome decrepit stadiums and rampant urban violence to stage a successful spectacle in 2014.
But some said the money might be better spent on tackling Brazil’s social problems and the divide between rich and poor.
“The Cup is good for Brazil, for tourism. Visitors will find out there are good people here,” said Renato dos Santos Alves, a 25-year-old musician in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city.
“But on the other hand, having the Cup in a country with loads of hungry children is a distraction from the problem.”
Brazilians watching television in offices cheered as FIFA President Sepp Blatter, flanked by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, made the announcement in Zurich.
“It is of huge importance for the country. There is plenty of time to organise and to build what needs to be done,” former player Junior, who played for Brazil 74 times, told Reuters.
This will also be the first time Brazil has hosted the tournament since 1950, when its shock defeat at the hands of Uruguay is still considered a national disaster.
Brazil is the only one of seven countries that have won the World Cup never to have lifted the trophy on home soil.
“We’ll see if can do that in 2014,” former Brazilian coach Mario Zagallo said. “We have seven years to build the stadiums.”
In Sao Paulo, thousands of balloons in the national colours of yellow, blue, white and green were released into the sky from the pitch of Morumbi Stadium, home of former world club champions Sao Paulo FC, watched by a crowd of schoolchildren.
In Rio de Janeiro, a giant yellow football shirt was unfurled down the side of Urca Hill, next to the landmark Sugar Loaf Mountain. A banner saying the “The Cup is Ours” hung from one of the cable cars.
About a 100 people dressed in Brazil team shirts led by Rio Mayor Cesar Maia gathered on Corcovado mountain under the Christ the Redeemer statue to cheer.
Veteran club coach Antonio Lopes said: “I think this is going to help not only football but will help the country as a whole. Brazil will benefit financially and economically.”
With violent crime rampant in cities such as Rio, Recife and Sao Paulo, guaranteeing fans’ safety is also an issue.
Rio de Janeiro’s municipal police chief, Carlos de Moraes Antunes, said a successful operation mounted in Rio for the Pan American Games in July showed Brazil can handle security.
“This problem of public security isn’t an impediment because the games are not just in one place, they are spread out,” he told Reuters.
Lucas Mattos, a salesman in a Rio cell phone store who was watching the ceremony, disagreed: “I’m proud, of course, and happy, but on the other hand I doubt they’ll be able to do much about all this misery in the streets, I doubt Rio will get rid of its crime in a few years.”
The competition gives Brazil a boost as it plays a greater role on the world stage and to shrug off its image as a country of unfulfilled potential.
The world’s fourth largest democracy, with 185 million people, is a major emerging market and a diplomatic voice for the developing world. A successful World Cup could lift it in the way the 1988 Olympics did for South Korea.
The Folha de S.Paulo newspaper said Brazilian fans deserved the World Cup and it was a great opportunity for business, but it added a note of caution.
“The difference between success and failure is in the planning,” it said in an editorial. “Unfortunately, the history of the country and the government is a poor one.”