Jonathan Watts – The Guardian, 06/11/2013
In the heart of Recife, a stadium pulsates with the cheers, chants and boos of more than 50,000 fans in belligerent, festive mood. Most are in their team colours, filling the ground with black, white and red, but a handful wear fancy dress: there’s an Elvis, Jesus, Superman, Centurion and Cobra (complete with giant plastic snake) adding to the carnival atmosphere already created by the batéria drummers and the pre-match barbecues and copious bottles of Skol.
The football is not bad either, with occasional touches of skill that would not be out of place at the highest level. Yet this is the home of Santa Cruz, a Serie C (third-division) Brazilian club from the north-east who claim the most devoted fans in the country, perhaps even the world. More often than not, this lowly team draw more fans than giants like Flamengo, Botafogo or Fluminense. For big derbies, attendances often outstrip those of Stamford Bridge or the Etihad.
But it is also in this heartland of Brazilian and world football that you can feel the greatest unease about the changes being wrought before next year’s World Cup finals. Violence, corruption, gentrification and the poor form of the national team have eroded confidence in Brazilian football, which is undergoing a painfully accelerated transition as a result of next year’s tournament. Attendances are down, violence is rampant, and the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) is fending off allegations of corruption, secrecy and mismanagement of the preparations for 2014.