RIO DE JANEIRO — In the buildup to the World Cup, the Brazilian football catchphrase of “Jogo Bonito” — The Beautiful Game — was drowned out by the bangs of frantic construction work and the shouts of angry protesters. Not now.
The football — it’s been open, attacking and packed full of goals and great moments — is doing all the talking.
Neymar kicked Brazil into gear, Robin van Persie soared and scored with one of the most spectacular headers you’ll see, and Argentine wizard Lionel Messi conjured up a little left-footed magic at the Maracana. Thomas Mueller hit a hat-trick for Germany, and the first round of group games isn’t even done yet.
It’s not just the big-name teams either. There was Costa Rica’s pulsating comeback to sweep past a highly-rated Uruguay team and Switzerland’s last-gasp winner over Ecuador.
“All the games we’re watching, there’s a lot of open play, there’s a lot of beautiful goals. It’s just wonderful to be here, isn’t it?” Netherlands fan Paul Rolleman said as he walked — with a party-inspired hangover, he confessed — under perfect blue skies along Rio’s famed Copacabana beach.
Half-expecting patched up stadiums and large street demonstrations, many worried that the return of the World Cup to the spiritual home of football after 64 years could be the most troubled in recent memory. But with a bunch of goals — 41 in 12 games after Germany’s 4-0 win over Portugal on Monday — and no major backlash from protesters so far, it could turn out to be the best in over half a century.
“High-scoring games, this is what fans are waiting for,” United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “They want to see goals.”
And they have. From Sao Palo to Salvador, from Cuiaba in the vast Brazilian interior to the golden sands of Rio de Janeiro, the goals have flown in. The World Cup is averaging over three a game. At that rate, it will be the highest-scoring since Brazil began its love affair with the tournament and — with a 17-year-old Pele up front — won the first of its record five titles in Sweden in 1958.