Reda Maher

Brazil 360: You would never guess a World Cup was on here

Reda Maher

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The Liberdade street market in Sao Paulo on Saturday June 21

At times you wouldn’t know that there was a World Cup in Sao Paulo.

Whereas Rio de Janeiro is constant street party, and other host cities are clearly overrun by visiting fans, there are few of the tell-tale signs in Sao Paulo.

Part of that is down to the scale of the city – it is the largest metropolis in Brazil, in South America and in the Americas as a whole.

With wide, US-style roads and freeways, high-rise apartment and office blocks and a transport network so vast even its taxi drivers can get lost, it is certainly the biggest urban area I have ever seen.

As such, any influx of visitors – and there are believed to be several hundred thousand fans in Sao Paulo – is easily absorbed.

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“A third of the country’s gross domestic product comes from this state,” Marcos, 33, told me.

“It’s a huge commercial centre, and once you get away from the heart of the city, it becomes residential quite quickly.

“Rio is all beach and party. Sao Paulo not so far from the sea, but it’s still a couple of hours away and Sao Paulo is all about business, not tourism.”

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Sao Paulo has been the site of many of the anti-World Cup protests, some of which have touched Rio.

There have been more of these protests over the past couple of days, which appear to have captured the public imagination more than the football.

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A protestor in Sao Paulo during clashes with police on Friday night

While Rio has been utterly enveloped by football fever – with the yellow Brazil jersey ubiquitous in a non-stop street party – locals in Sao Paulo continue to sport their regular clobber, with club shirts far more common among resident football fans than those of the Seleccao.

In three days surrounding England’s painful defeat to Uruguay, I don’t recall seeing one single Brazil shirt, but a few of Corinthians and Sao Paulo FC. The only local I noted wearing his national team's jersey was a Japanese-Brazilian wearing the Blue Samurai's tracksuit in a sushi bar in the city's Japan-town.

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It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why that is about Sao Paulo, which remains a huge football city, boasting four major clubs with fanatical support, but there appears to be a slightly more typically urban flavour to its style.

For example, the fashion in Rio is for shorts, t-shirts and the famous flip-flops, all of which are more conducive to donning a football top or draping a flag around one’s back; Sao Paulistas tend to don skinny jeans and trendy tops, hip-hop influenced streetwear, or smart casual business wear.

These styles are reflected in Sao Paulo’s street art and nightlife, with the intricate, design-heavy graffiti, laid-back rock bars and fancy fusion restaurants of the up-and-coming Vila Madalena district far more reminiscent of New York’s Lower East Side or London’s Shoreditch than Rio’s Copacabana or Lapa.

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Less of a street party, more of a bar and club scene. Less obviously Latin or African influenced, more European or American. Wearing a football shirt all the time is, well, just not appropriate.

There are also the wider social issues affecting Sao Paulo. Despite being the business centre of Brazil and arguably South America – it has a large middle class while its finance and advertising industries are almost exclusively based here – there remains a huge gap between rich and poor.

As a result, the protests and anti-World Cup sentiment were more vociferous here. And perhaps the locals, while still enjoying the tournament, have a slightly more ‘balanced’ view of it.

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The different cultural attitude towards football has had an impact on fans too. Walking around the city centre, and sat in hotels, the lack of football shirts on foreigners was noticeable.

When in Rome, they say, and if you stay in Sao Paulo for more than a few days, you tend to ditch the team jerseys and revert to civvies.

“I’m not sure but I think it’s because the city is so big, you don’t notice the fans so much and the locals aren’t getting as into it,” England fan Paul, 51, told me.

“I’ve been in Rio and here and while it’s a bit trendier here, and the food’s better, Rio’s definitely more fun.”

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That’s not to say the World Cup is absent from this heaving metropolis – the FIFA fan zone is an obvious football party, while a trip to the Museu do Futebol revealed plenty of fans in national team gear.

And on matchdays, fans in colours dominate the metro system as they swarm to the Arena Corinthians, and when Brazil are on, the locals finally whip out their Brazil shirts en masse.

But without doubt there is a different vibe to Sao Paulo.

Eurosport’s Reda Maher is on location in Brazil for the duration of the 2014 World Cup - follow him on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

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