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In Brazil, Hope Grows for More Success in World Cup, Global Markets

June 25, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, Margaret Warner begins a reporting trip from Brazil, a nation going for the gold on the field and off.

MARGARET WARNER: “The World Cup is ours,” goes the old Brazilian soccer song. “We’re good with samba. We’re good with leather.”

Today, at the FIFA World Cup game viewing arena on Rio’s famed Copacabana Beach, it was all about that leather ball. Thousands thronged to watch Brazil’s green and yellow Canarinhos battle Portugal, the tiny European country that colonized this vast one centuries ago.

After two earlier victories, Brazil has already nailed a slot in the next World Cup round, so today’s match was just for bragging rights. Still, the crowd roared and groaned at each pass, each foul, each corner kick and save.

MAN: To us Brazilians, every match matters.

MARGARET WARNER: Twenty-two-year-old Marine Felipe Nascimento and his sister, Hosana (ph), wouldn’t have missed it.

FELIPE NASCIMENTO, Brazil: We’re born liking soccer. It’s in our blood. It’s in our veins.

Dirceu Carlini felt just as intensely.

DIRCEU CARLINI, Brazil (through translator): We’re born with a soccer ball between our feet, like Americans are born with a basketball.

MARGARET WARNER: Brazilians have an enduring love affair with soccer, playing in streets and alleys, on fields and beaches. And their passion has produced an unmatched five World Cup crowns over the past half-century.

For this once desperately poor Latin American company, soccer was one of the few national achievements that made the world take notice. Columnist and cultural observer Arthur Dapieve says soccer also served a crucial social need, bridging the chasm between Brazil’s dispossessed majority and its tiny European-descended elite.

ARTHUR DAPIEVE, columnist: Soccer provides a feeling you could share with your neighborhood, no matter if it’s rich — he’s rich or he’s poor, gave the sense of identity, and has a sense of purpose for the country.

MARGARET WARNER: So, it’s something to be proud of?

ARTHUR DAPIEVE: Yes, I think so.

MARGARET WARNER: There has been pride, too, in how they won, with such daring and ballet-like artistry that Brazilian soccer was dubbed “joga bonito,” the beautiful game. The world first saw it in 1958, when the iconic Pele led his team to its first World Cup win.

Other victories followed in 1962, 1970, and, after a long, dry spell, in 1994 and 2002. But today, Brazil has a lot more to be proud of. With its growing economy and no national debt, it’s weathered the global recession better than most. The skyscrapers keep rising. And more important, so does its middle class, as more Brazilians emerge from the ranks of the poor.

That was on the mind of sushi restaurant owner Marcos Pires, who hosted his friends at a viewing party in his apartment in the trendy Leblon neighborhood.

MARCOS PIRES, sushi restaurant owner (through translator): Brazil has been growing. And now we have other fields to be proud of. People used to ask us only about soccer. But today, Brazil isn’t just respected for soccer, but for lots of things.

MARGARET WARNER: Brazil’s growing maturity has come at a price, perhaps, for its soccer game. Its team has traded in the risk-taking, offense-driven style of old for a cautious, strategic-minded game.

“To those who complain about style,” one of its top players said recently, “I say nothing’s more beautiful than winning.”

Winning and style were what the fans were looking for today, fans like Ivone (ph) and William Sabona.

WILLIAM SABONA, Brazil (through translator): What matters is to win and to play beautifully. That’s what Brazil know knows how to do.

But today’s workman-like effort was neither, as the team ground out a goal-less 0-0 tie against Portugal. Brazil’s World Cup prospects aren’t dimmed. Monday is the next game that counts, and maybe that explains the calm look on the faces of these Rio fans as they streamed home from the arena, or maybe it’s the that, these days, they and their country have a lot of other endeavors they’re playing to win.

JEFFREY BROWN: I talked with Margaret a short time ago right after she filed that report from Rio.

Well, Margaret, tell us more about the growing economy, the growing confidence. How does it show itself? What do you see there?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Jeff, Brazil really is on a roll. It’s not just all the luxury apartment buildings that line the beaches or this lagoon behind me, which Rio has always had for its wealthy.

It’s these new or newly refurbished neighborhoods, some of them very, very modest, but where the new emerging middle class is moving. Now, this is still a developing country. You have tens of millions still in poverty living in what the favelas, or shantytowns, in and around the big cities like Rio.

Health and education are still a challenge here. But there have been tens of millions who have come out of what they call extreme poverty in the last decade or so. And, just today, it was announced that Brazil’s growth rate for the first quarter of this year, which the U.S. was less than 3 percent, was 9 percent, the fastest pace of growth in 15 years.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, one key area of growth is the energy sector. And that’s what you’re going to reporting on for us. Tell our — tell our viewers what you will be looking at.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, you know, Jeff, we always think of Brazil for its pioneering ethanol industry, a renewable resource. Fifteen percent of the country’s energy comes from ethanol.

But they have been on a headlong campaign to develop their oil reserves. And they have achieved, in fact, already self-sufficiency — self-sufficiency in oil. So, we came down here to see if the BP spill has caused any second thoughts, because they are now on a campaign — most of their reserves are way out at sea in incredibly deep waters, deeper than the Deepwater Horizon rig by far.

And now they’re getting ready to develop these new fields that will lie beneath the salt layer, that, in fact, will be twice as deep as the Deepwater Horizon well. The technology doesn’t really even exist or certainly hasn’t been tested to drill there, but, so far at least, from people we have talked to, again, it’s this confidence Brazilians have.

They seem to have confidence in their oil company, Petrobras, and they seem to have confidence in the ability of the government to manage it.

JEFFREY BROWN: And this confidence goes well beyond domestic matters, doesn’t it? We have seen it in recent months over and over again on the word stage.

MARGARET WARNER: That’s right, Jeff.

You know, President Lula da Silva recently teamed up with Turkey, for example, to come up or try to come up with a way to negotiate over Iran’s controversial nuclear program. When Washington spurned that deal, the Obama administration didn’t like it. Brazil voted against the U.S.-backed sanctions resolution at the Security Council.

Now, that wasn’t widely or universally applauded here. There were people here who accused Lula of overreaching. But President Lula, who, nearing the end of his second and final term, enjoys a 75 percent approval rating, he’s undaunted. And I think it’s clear that, whoever his successor is, that, in this multipolar world that we see emerging, Brazil is going to be a significant player.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Margaret, so we will look for your pieces next week, if you can get people away from their World Cup matches, right?

(LAUGHTER)

MARGARET WARNER: Yes, Monday could be a loss, but we will — we will try.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Margaret.

MARGARET WARNER: Thanks, Jeff.

JEFFREY BROWN: MARGARET WARNER in Rio, thanks a lot.