Rio de Janeiro: Brazil suffered mightily with its national team's 7-1 rout at the hands of Germany in the World Cup semifinals last week, but the authorities here breathed sighs of relief as the tournament came to a close on Sunday with Germany's victory over Argentina, amid muted street protests and a display of Brazil's ability to successfully organize sporting megaevents. (Germany win World Cup)
"The Cup would have been perfect, except for the lack of the sixth championship," Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, said in a brief speech at Maracana, the stadium that was turned into a militarized zone after security forces severely restricted access over concerns that demonstrations could disrupt the final match. (Messi Wins Golden Ball)
Brazilian soccer fans, who traditionally view Argentina as their chief rival, seemed to be generally pleased with the result of the game. When Germany scored its only goal in the 113th minute, securing victory in extra time, fireworks were set off across the city.
"The pope may be Argentine, but God is Brazilian," said Aldo Malizia, 66, a Brazilian retiree, using a common saying and referring to the nationality of Pope Francis.
The rivalry brought some tension to the streets of Rio. (Match Highlights)
"The Brazilians are cheering after losing so badly, 7 to 1," said Cristian Leyes, 33, the owner of a small tourism business in Buenos Aires and one of some 100,000 Argentine fans visiting Brazil for the game. "They have always been our rivals in soccer but this is beyond upsetting. It makes no sense." (Team's Hard Work Won us the Cup: Lahm)
In the beachfront district of Copacabana, Carlos Abran, 52, a doctor from Santa Fe province in Argentina who was wearing an Argentina jersey, said someone jeered at him over his country's loss.
"I am angry not because we lost the actual game," he said. "What makes me angry is that I don't understand why the Brazilian people have to party at our disgrace."
Though there were reports of a brawl between Brazilians and Argentines in Copacabana, one group of Argentines seemed determined to be festive on Sunday night, banging drums and singing and dancing. "We came a very long way and we're going to have a good time," said Lucas Mazzola, 38, a casino worker from the province of Cordoba.
"Yes, this defeat hurts my soul, it hurts my heart," he added. "But we're a country where despite all the problems we are facing, we're a happy people."
Brazil's political fissures were exposed on the global stage when Brazilian fans inside the stadium booed Rousseff, who is running for re-election this year, and took up offensive chants about her. She faced similar insults at the opening match a month ago - she did not attend any other games - reflecting spreading disenchantment with her leftist government among some Brazilians who are prosperous enough to afford tickets to World Cup matches.
The authorities had assembled what ranked as one of the largest security operations ever in Brazil, with 25,000 soldiers and police officers giving Rio a martial feel throughout the day with sirens blaring and motorcades halting traffic.
About a mile from the stadium, several hundred police officers violently dispersed a small protest that largely focused criticism on the handling of the tournament by FIFA, the scandal-ridden organization which oversees global soccer.
The police used tear gas and pepper spray in the confrontation that left at least six people hurt, including a photojournalist and a police officer. Before the game began on Sunday, a sweep by the police on Saturday in Rio and other Brazilian cities detained at least a dozen activists, pointing to efforts by the authorities to prevent demonstrations from escalating during the closing of the tournament and the growing use of intelligence operations to infiltrate protest movements.
"The protests haven't been that big because treatment of protesters by police, and how they are covered in the media, is very negative," said Rebecca Tanuta, 27, a student who helping provide medical assistance to injured protesters. "People are afraid to go out onto the streets, or they think protesters are just hoodlums."
Even as concerns persisted that more trouble could unfold in the hours after the last game, the World Cup ended largely as it had unfolded over the last month, without major complications. In the weeks leading up to the tournament, a wave of strikes by public employees and delays in finishing World Cup projects had heightened fears about Brazil's organization of the event.
In something of a victory lap, Rousseff dined on Sunday with a group of foreign leaders who had come here to see the game, including President Vladimir Putin of Russia (which will host the tournament in 2018), Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, President Ali Bongo of Gabon, and Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago.
Brazil, seeking to build on the international exposure of the country during the World Cup, is set to also host in the coming days ahead a gathering of leaders from Russia, India, China and South Africa, all members of the so-called BRICS group of developing nations.
But on Sunday, many Brazilians seemed focused as much on domestic politics and the tournament's final match, after their government used huge public loans to build lavish stadiums.
"I'm a lot happier now than I would be if Brazil had actually won," said Gilson Bruno da Silva, 28, a bartender at a Copacabana restaurant. "This was the best possible outcome because otherwise we would have forgotten all about the problems plaguing the country right now."