World Cup Fever

Soccer in Brazil
Photo: Peter M. Wilson / Alamy

Soccer in Brazil

Learn more about soccer's storied history in Brazil, the only nation to have claimed five World Cup trophies.

Soccer in Brazil is a passion and an art form. No trip here is complete without taking in at least one soccer match. Watching a rivalry unfold from the bleachers of Rio de Janeiro's intimate São Januário stadium or being part of mass euphoria in the iconic MaracanĂ£ Stadium (pro tip: pronounce MaracanĂ£ like a local) is an exhilarating immersion into a uniquely Brazilian experience.

Brazil is the only nation to have claimed five World Cup trophies, and it's no exaggeration to say that soccer is a pillar of national identity, the glue that binds the nation. During times when the country was struggling and there was little cause for patriotism, soccer spurred the wealthiest and the most downtrodden to set aside their worries and wave the country's flamboyant green and yellow colors.

Rooting for a favorite team in soccer stadiums across the country leads to unbridled displays of emotion that make being a spectator at a contested match fascinating, even if you have no rooting interest. The audience puts on a show of its own, singing their team's songs, exploding in glee with each goal, spewing encouragement and abuse at the players and refs, waving massive flags, and laughing and crying over the results.

The torcidas organizadas—tightly knit groups of fans who wear uniforms, carry giant banners, and lead chants—are the most fun to watch. Get in on the action by buying tickets to the bleachers and getting as close as you're comfortable with to the crazed fans blowing horns and waving flags. Here's all the Brazilian Portuguese soccer vocabulary you'll need to fit right in.

That said, you can avoid the crowd and the hassle—public transportation is paltry and easily overwhelmed by game-day crowds—and have a fantastic time simply by pulling up a chair in any corner bar and sharing a game and a beer with whoever gathers. An easy camaraderie develops as random passersby join in the communal rooting and yelling at the television.