RECIFE, BRAZIL – This was supposed to be a joyful time. There is less than a year to go until Brazil opens the door to the planet's biggest sporting event, the 2014 World Cup . On Wednesday night, their beloved national team took on, and defeated Mexico 2-0 in a game that was seen around the world. All eyes are on South America, and many thought this would be Brazil's star turn.
Instead, Brazil is in turmoil, and there are now serious questions as to whether the World Cup can take place in this nation as planned. Indeed: there are questions whether or not Brazil even wants it to happen.
The country is reeling. It has been stunned by waves of protests that have shut down cities. On Tuesday, 68 people were taken into custody in Sao Paulo as a march turned ugly, with looting and vandalism scarring the city at nightfall. On Wednesday, the marches - and the violence - continued, and there is no end in sight.
We may look back on this week as the moment when we first saw a "Brazilian Spring," when the population of this country finally said that they had had enough. Corruption has long been taken for granted here, but the Confederations Cup - and the vast gouging of the population to pay for it - has proved to be the final straw. It is true that the protests were sparked by a rise in bus fares in Sao Paulo; but the gasoline was the start of the Confederations Cup, and the shock at the price-tag.
People gather at Estádio Nacional Mane Garrincha to protest against the allocation of funds (Photo: Beto Barata/Getty Images).
Brazil spent $500 million on one stadium alone: the Estádio Nacional Mane Garrincha in Brasilia. Overall, they will spend $15 billion on hosting the Confederations and World Cups. All of this, mind you, in a country that cannot provide clean water to its citizens.
The costs enraged the citizens, so they decided to speak out about it. When they did, peacefully against that, they were fired upon by police forces, an act that reminded everyone here of their brutal history under a military dictatorship. It made headlines around the world and filled the streets in every major Brazilian city.
These protesters are not, as some in the government would have you believe, anarchists or "professional" leftists. I've seen them up close. They are overwhelmingly middle-class, and their grievances are succinct: they have watched corruption drain their nation while their cities remain in a shambles.
They have more than a point. Here in Recife, there is one strip along the coastline that looks like you could be anywhere. The rest of the city is a sprawl of favelas, concrete shanties without windows, rotting sewage in the gutters, and grinding poverty. It looks like Nigeria.
The government has belatedly tried to change tack. President Dilma Rousseff -booed along with FIFA president Sepp Blatter at the opening ceremonies -- has come out in support of the protests. Her police allowed protesters to take the National Congress of Brazil in Brasilia this week, an act that felt more festive than dangerous.
Video: Protests continue in Brazil
But there is a curious dissonance at work, as her police forces seem hell-bent on a crackdown. The governor of Sao Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, said the police will act with "rigor" against the marchers. And on Wednesday, outside the Brazil-Mexico match in Fortaleza, those police and protesters battled anew.
There is also a disconnect elsewhere, and that's in the halls of FIFA. They held a briefing in which they alleged that the "vast majority" of Brazil supports the World Cup. There's scant evidence for that. Instead, there are a hundred thousand signs in the streets telling visitors to go home, for the money to be better spent elsewhere, and for world soccer to stop milking the people.
The protesters have some good questions.
Why are these stadiums so expensive, and who, exactly, is going to use these stadiums when August, 2014 rolls around? The Brazilian first division draws fewer fans, on average, than Major League Soccer .
Why is Brazil underwriting two tournaments that are priced out of the reach of their average citizen? The cost to attend a single Confederation Cup game is one-third of the average salary of a worker in Sao Paulo.
And why, why are they spending money on the World Cup when they cannot supply clean water or guarantee an education to its poorer citizens?
So far, neither the Brazilian government nor FIFA has an answer for any of this. Instead, they are playing the games on as if nothing was happening. But something is, and it needs to be taken seriously.
If this nation doesn't want to pay for the World Cup - and there is no reason it should - then it should not host it. Better to put the money into the cracked streets, the broken sewers, the sewage-filled ditches, and the pockets of the urban poor to play a few soccer games.
Brazil loves this sport more than any other nation on the planet. But it is hard to fault them for saying that they don't want to foot the bill for the very rich around the rest of the world.
The signs say it all. "Don't shoot: listen."