Rio de Janeiro (AFP) – Brazil won the entire Olympics — or so it felt for fans dancing in the streets after Neymar fired the winning penalty for football gold.
Drivers of cars and trucks hooted and crowds in countless bars across the city screamed in a Saturday night delight.
At one open-air bar along Rio’s iconic Copacabana seafront, every man, woman and child leapt from their seats, hugging, pouring beer and, because this is Brazil, dancing samba between the tables and on the sidewalk.
“The champions are back, the champions are back!” they chanted.
Even after two weeks of hosting South America’s first Olympics, nothing could compare for Brazilians to winning their first Olympic football title and defeating Germany two years after a 7-1 World Cup humiliation.
Nothing else mattered.
“Brazil could have won (gold) medals in everything but if it hadn’t been in football then nothing would have counted,” said Leila Lopes da Silva, 70, who joined the dancing and chanting in the beach bar.
“Volleyball, judo, that’s all fine,” she said. “But football was what we needed.”
Interim president Michel Temer — likely to be confirmed in the post this month if the elected president is removed by impeachment — quickly seized the moment.
“The Olympic #football team conquered a first ever #gold at a historic moment for the country. It’s the moment to recapture the grandeur of our Brazil,” he tweeted.
– Feel good factor –
Temer, who is deeply unpopular and widely seen as part of the corrupt elite entrenched in the capital Brasilia, hopes that football success in Rio’s Maracana stadium will lift the grim national mood — and his own chances in the top job.
The notorious 7-1 defeat to Germany in 2014 almost seemed like an omen of Brazil’s ever deepening economic and political worries since. Today the country is mired in brutal recession and the bitter impeachment proceedings.
So victory by the long underperforming football team and its sometimes wayward superstar Neymar is a morale booster.
“I don’t think of it as revenge for the 7-1, I feel just that we were better and we deserved it,” said Lucia Shad, 60, who came to the Copacabana bar wearing a headscarf in the Brazilian colors.
“We’ve seen Brazilians full of confidence,” she said. “Brazil has shown it’s strength. The Olympics were a success when noone expected it, not even us.”
Even as the dancing heated up and the cool beer flowed, some revelers struck a sober note.
“This victory won’t change anything in the country. We’e need something more for that. We’d need a decent government and politics,” said Tafarel Souza da Silva, a 27-year-old cattle dealer, resting from showing off his dancing skills.
“Tonight we have all this emotion, but tomorrow it’s all over,” he said.
But for one night at least, Brazilians could dream.
They had won glory in the sport they love most and in the stadium that matters most.
This was a night for Brazil to be celebrated as a success story — a country at the top of the world.
When the television camera cut to show Jamaican sprint king Usain Bolt in the crowd at the Maracana the fans in the bar were jubilant.
“He’s become a Brazilian!” one fan shouted.