From Bussage to Brazil: Former SNJ reporter and ex-Shortwood United footballer James Davis reports from the 2014 World Cup
It's the land of football but also home to samba, sea and sun - my trip to Brazil came with certain expectations.
So imagine the confusion upon arriving in conditions more akin to the 'wet, windy night in Stoke' of modern football lore. But with the World Cup about to start, my spirits couldn't be dampened and before long I was preparing to watch the first game in the most fitting of arenas - a British pub.
With funds dwindling after months of travelling, plans had been made to take in the first week of matches away from the heavy crowds - and the heavy costs - but I didn't imagine watching the grand opener somewhere quite so close to home.
Walking off the quiet streets into the packed, sprawling Black Swan bar on the Island of Santa Catarina in Brazil's south, I was greeted by a tide of the famous golden jerseys. Almost full to bursting, it felt as though any Brazilian local not watching the game at work or at home had made their way there.
On the bus into town it had not been hard to spot the iconic green, yellow and blue flags hanging from homes and shops. The protests of the bigger cities feel a million miles away from this small island but it is, after all, a seaside tourist destination of relative wealth.
In the pub the atmosphere was tense and when the impertinent Croatians veered wildly off script and scored the reaction was more of a communal groan than a stunned silence. It was like the fans were half expecting it.
The owner of my hostel later confirmed that the country was still haunted by losing the deciding match of the 1950 World Cup in front of 200,000 partisan fans in Rio's heaving Maracanã stadium.
The football writer Alex Bellos also explains that despite numerous subsequent triumphs, 'Brazil is always playing against itself, against its own demons, against the ghosts of the Maracanã.'
When you hear that even fans of the mighty Brazil entertain self-doubt then maybe there's hope for us too.
I'll be in the stadium as England play Costa Rica next Tuesday and if the team can overcome their own demons and qualify as Group D runners up they'll set up a dream second round match in Rio.
With tickets bought for that match I'm keeping my fingers crossed that if I get my own Maracana moment it'll be more satisfying than the one that continues to loom over our hosts.
*Read more of James' World Cup blog and travel articles at thesummingup.wordpress.com
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