Swiss roll in to watch Brazil train

It had meant getting up at 5am and travelling for almost three hours across Switzerland, but for Maria da Silva Hasler the effort was worth it. “I am felicissima—as happy as can be!” said the 39-year-old Brazilian, accompanied by her Swiss husband, Lukas. The couple—dressed from head to toe in yellow and green—had just spent an hour watching the Brazilian national team’s morning training session in Weggis, on the banks of Lake Lucerne.

The Haslers watched as stars such as Adriano, Ronaldinho and Kaka jogged around a pitch and then lay down in the centre circle to perform stretching exercises.
“It didn’t matter that they didn’t play football,” exclaimed Maria, “Just to be near them was wonderful.”

Weggis is a quiet tourist town of 4 000 that caters mostly for the elderly, who come here for the tranquillity and mountain air. These are also reasons why it was chosen by the Brazilian squad for their two-week training period before they travel to Germany.

Yet the effect of hosting the World Cup favourites has created remarkable excitement, not just in the area, but throughout Switzerland. All 48 000 tickets to see the training sessions—almost 3 500 per session, each costing £9—sold out within 24 hours. Each day Weggis—which has Brazilian flags draped from almost every home—quadruples its population as fans arrive for the sessions and to enjoy the adjacent “carnival” village.

The road that leads to the Thermoplan stadium—which cost £600 000 and was built specially for the Brazilians’ stay—is transformed daily into a Brazilian street party. Sixty stalls sell merchandise from flags and T-shirts to South American food and drinks such as guarana, caipirinhas and feijoada. Loud samba and baile funk music comes from Brazilians improvising rhythms on percussion instruments, while there is a stage featuring Brazilian bands and ghetto blasters at many of the stalls. In the evenings girls in feathers and sequin bikinis give samba demonstrations.

“Everything is great here,” said Carlos Alberto Parreira, Brazil’s coach. “The affection of the fans has really massaged the players’ egos. They are applauded wherever they go.” The players, though, have little opportunity to join the carnival; they are bused in and out for training.

“This place is completely surreal,” says Ana Hilbe, another of the many Brazilians here with their Swiss husbands. “Central Switzerland is the calmest place in the country. Usually all you can hear is the sound of cowbells. You come here to get in touch with nature. And now it is complete anarchy, with churrasco barbecues, street vendors and music.”

The situation in Weggis is unprecedented because this is the first time Brazil have not started their World Cup preparation in their home country. Interest is heightened because the current team has so many stars and, of course, because Brazilians know how to put on a party. “This Brazilian thing—it’s like a virus, it fills you with desire and passion,” adds Hilbe. “Sometimes I think maybe it’s a bit exaggerated, but really I am 100% proud.”

The infrastructure to host the Brazilian team cost about £6-million, spread among sponsors and the state. This includes £4 000 to a local pig farmer in return for him not buying pigs this season—his farm is next to the stadium and locals were worried about the smell. No expense was spared on the turf, which is made of the same grass as the Olympiastadion in Berlin—where the World Cup final will be played.

For the mayor, Josef Odermatt, the cost has been worth it. “Weggis has never had anything like this and never will again. We are expecting more than 100 000 people over two weeks. A town like ours needs publicity and the publicity has been incredible.”

Of the football tourists who were arriving in Weggis, about half are Brazilian and half Swiss—although almost everyone is sporting some yellow-and-green. Even the dogs had Brazil collars. No one appeared to be disappointed that the sporting content of the trip was dull. About 2 000 people without tickets climbed a hill at the side of the stadium for a free view. Lukas Mathes, aged 35, had brought his binoculars: “It’s not to see the game. It’s to see the players.”

Press interest has also been overwhelming. More than 750 journalists are registered, well over half of whom are Brazilians—many of them broadcasting details about exactly which warm-up exercises are being used.

Highlights of the training sessions have been sold to TV channels in about 40 countries, according to Philippe Huber, chief executive of Kentaro Group, which paid the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) £640 000 for the rights to the sessions and two friendly games against FC Lucerne and New Zealand. “I have been surprised at the interest,” he said. “The speed that the tickets [for the friendlies] went was amazing. They were going at a ticket a second—that’s faster than a Robbie Williams concert.” The games, in Basle and Geneva, both sold out their 33 000 tickets.

Unlike in 2002, when the Brazilian squad shared a hotel in South Korea with other guests, this time the CBF has taken over its own resort: the five-star Park Hotel. The players leave the hotel’s ample boundaries only for training.

Parreira initially expressed worry that over-exuberant fans might distract his players and said that he would consider changing the sessions if it became a problem. After two days, however, he said he was pleased with the situation: “I think the fans have been very affectionate so far. They have not disturbed our rhythm.”

Thermoplan, a local company that makes coffee machines, paid for the stadium because (apart from the publicity in Far Eastern markets, where the training sessions are keenly followed) it hopes to change the image of Weggis from a town for pensioners to an active destination for young people.

The company’s president, Domenic Steiner, said that another motive was to put Weggis in the strongest position for hosting a team in Euro 2008, which will be held in Switzerland and Austria. “If Brazil are happy here now, maybe we can get another big national team then—maybe England.”

Among the crowds was one of Brazil’s most famous fans—Clovis Fernandes, who is instantly recognisable by his full gaucho costume and his replica of the World Cup trophy. “I’ve been to five World Cups and I’ve never seen anything like this for the training period. The immense affection for Brazil is a wonderful thing and shows how much we are valued around the world. And I fully approve. As a fan what I want is one big party.”—Â

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