In a scene repeated in 12 cities across Brazil on Sunday, thousands of expectant fans gathered together in front of big screens clutching banners in their hands. To the uninitiated it might have looked like they had assembled for a vital match, especially when the crowds, reacting to events on the screen, suddenly exploded with joy.
The trigger for their celebrations was no championship-winning goal or the final whistle of a crucial cup match, however. It was something even more important: the announcement of the host cities for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. And every time FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter read out one of the dozen names at a televised press conference in Nassau, Bahamas, he triggered wild scenes of jubilation in the city in question.
Brazil is staging the game's showpiece tournament for the first time in 64 years, during which time it has established itself as the globe's foremost footballing superpower with five FIFA World Cup wins. And with five years still to go before the big kick-off, the cities of Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Cuiaba, Curitiba, Fortaleza, Manaus, Natal, Porto Alegre, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Sao Paulo can now start preparing for the big event.
Although Sunday is football day in Brazil, the fact that big screens had been put up everywhere and unusually large crowds had gathered well before kick-off time in stadiums up and down the country showed that this was no ordinary afternoon of futebol. Proof was provided by the 70,000 fans assembled at the Maracana, who were celebrating well before Flamengo's 2-1 defeat of Atletico Paranaense.
When the city of Rio de Janeiro was confirmed as one of the host venues for Brazil 2014 half an hour before kick-off, the massed ranks of Fla fans reacted in spectacular style, waving a sea of Brazilian flags and forming a huge green and yellow mosaic. The singer Sandra de Sa then performed the Brazilian national anthem in front of a crowd that included a small band of Atletico supporters, who had made the journey from Curitiba and were also in exultant mood following the inclusion of their home city on the list of 12.
Helping the celebrations go with a swing at the Estadio Barradao in Salvador was Ivete Sangalo, one of the biggest stars on the Brazilian music scene right now. The news the city had been waiting to hear came through when hometown heroes Vitoria were warming up out on the pitch, triggering a huge party led by the singer and adorned by 40,000 green and white balloons. Meanwhile, in O Pelourinho, the historical centre of the city, samba reggae group Olodum set the beat for the celebrations.
There were similar scenes at the Estadio Morumbi, where the 51,000 fans who had turned up for Sao Paulo's 3-0 defeat of Cruzeiro, most of them sporting yellow T-shirts, were unable to contain their delight at the city's successful nomination. The club marked the occasion by doing its bit for charity, waiving the usual admission fee and instead asking fans to bring along a kilogram of food for the victims of the floods that recently struck the north and north-east of the country.
Sunday in the street
In each of the 12 fortunate cities, the party spilled out of the stadiums and into the streets. In Manaus, the capital of the state of Amazonas, a crowd of 20,000 people started congregating in front of the Estadio Vivaldao as early as ten o'clock in the morning for a huge street party featuring fireworks, regional dancing and the band Jota Quest.
Enticed by the warm weather, the residents of Sao Lourenco da Mata, in Brazil's north-east, were out in force to celebrate the news that the nearby city of Recife will be hosting games at a purpose-built stadium, with local musical hero Alceu Valenca providing the entertainment for 10,000 revellers. Music also provided the focal point for parties on Ponta Negra beach in Natal, and on Avenida Beira-Mar in the city of Fortaleza.
Few cities were as excited at the prospect of hosting the FIFA World Cup as Cuiaba, the capital of the state of Mato Grosso and a symbol of the rich natural diversity of the vast tropical wetlands known as the Pantanal. The local authorities rewarded the locals for their enthusiastic support by laying on a host of events across the city, with more than 500 performers from the region turning out for the occasion.
The capital city Brasilia joined in the festivities by setting up a big screen in Taguating, and the residents of Belo Horizonte were also rejoicing, with a huge fireworks show attracting a throng of 10,000 people. And while it might be chilly in the south at this time of year, that was no deterrent for the folk of Curitiba and Porto Alegre. While Os Curitibanos assembled in the Parque Barigui for the big announcement, thousands of Gremio and Internacional fans mingled in the Parque da Redencao in Porto Alegre for a fun-filled afternoon of shows and football matches.
Fun for everyone
Sunday's outpouring of joy will be followed by many more in the 12 successful cities as 2014 approaches. Yet, as Ricardo Terra Teixeira, the President of the Local Organising Committee of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, quite rightly pointed out, all of Brazil's 190 million inhabitants will have great cause for celebration over the next five years.
"The whole of Brazil is a winner," commented Teixeira, who is also a member of the FIFA Executive Committee and the President of the Brazilian Football Association (CBF). "I call upon everyone to help bring to fruition projects that will allow the entire country to take part in this event, not just the host cities."
At a time of national joy, pride and celebration, Teixeira also took the opportunity to reveal what lies ahead for the host cities. "This announcement is not the end of a process. It is anything but. The 2014 World Cup is only just starting and all we have done is pass the entrance examination. We have five whole years ahead of us before we can graduate."
Sunday marked the start of an exciting period for football-mad Brazil, one in which their long-cherished dream of once again welcoming the rest of the footballing world will gradually take shape.