Thousands of fans show up in Soweto to see Brazil
Jumping, dancing and chanting, more than 1,000 fans showed up in Soweto on Thursday to get a glimpse of Brazil's practice for the World Cup.
Fans yelled and waved Brazilian and South African flags the moment the players entered the field at the Dobsonville Stadium, and screamed even louder when the Brazilians waved back to them.
``We are ecstatic with what is happening here,'' said 20-year-old student Khethiwe Nyembe. ``It's hard to believe that the entire Brazilian team is practicing here. It's fantastic we are getting this chance.''
Before the training session, coach Dunga gave a ball and a Brazilian flag to two children, then posed for a photo. Dunga also played with some of the ball boys, as did midfielder Kaka.
It was expected to be Brazil's only practice open to the public before the World Cup. Brazil is not likely to grant more access to the public; players and officials said fan hysteria was one of the reasons the team was eliminated in the 2006 World Cup.
Hundreds of fans outside the stadium greeted the players as they arrived on the team bus.
Tickets for training were given away to locals, and up to 10,000 people were expected to show up. Not nearly that many came to the stadium in the township outside Johannesburg known for violent resistance to apartheid in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Those who got in were thrilled to get a close view of the Brazilians.
``What an honor to be able to see these players from up close, we couldn't be happier,'' said 18-year-old student Sithembiso Ntshingila. ``What a great opportunity this is.''
Some were disappointed not to see some of previous stars of the Brazilian team. Dunga revamped the squad after taking over following the 2006 World Cup, omitting players such as Ronaldo, Adriano and Ronaldinho.
``Is Ronaldinho here? I'm hoping to see him,'' Gerson Maboko said outside the stadium. ``What do you mean he is not here? Why? At least can we see Robinho and Kaka?''
Those two players were there, to the delight of the crowd, which yelled every time the players got near them on the sidelines.
``We are happy they came here so we could see them play,'' said 18-year-old Zara Abdulla.
There was heavy security around the field and the fans were not able to get too close to the action. Many fans left as the practice neared the end.
The team's preparations for the 2006 World Cup were marked by a party atmosphere that players and coaches said was detrimental to the team. Thousands of fans were allowed to follow nearly all of Brazil's training sessions and a fan zone was set up near the team's base in Weggis, Switzerland. Brazil lost 1-0 to France in the quarterfinals.
Brazil's training camp this time is at a local high school, where only a few students have enjoyed access to practices. Fans are not allowed near the field.
Goalkeeper Julio Cesar did not make the trip to Soweto after a mild back injury in the match against Zimbabwe, but doctors said he is expected back in action Friday.
Brazil will play its second warmup against Tanzania on Monday. It will debut in the World Cup against North Korea on June 15.