Brazil’s national soccer team was forced to avoid a group of 200 striking teachers on Monday as they headed for their tournament base camp, against a backdrop of public anger over the cost of staging the event.
“An educator is worth more than Neymar,” teachers chanted, referring to the star striker, as the team bus edged through the protesters from Rio de Janeiro’s international airport to the squad’s base about 90 kilometers away at Teresópolis in the hills north of Rio.
Despite a heavy police presence, the demonstrators managed to hold up the team’s convoy long enough to plant anti-World Cup stickers on their bus before it finally eased past the throng.
At the squad’s Granja Comary training complex, where they were met by more protests, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said his charges have what it takes to win the country’s sixth World Cup.
“We have a great mix (of youth and experience). The young players have experience having played at the top level in Europe,” he told Globo television.
The players – minus Marcelo, given dispensation to fly in late after winning the Champions League late Saturday with Real Madrid – gathered after breakfast for their bus transfer and arrived at their training complex around midday.
The Brazilian Soccer Confederation (CBF) said Marcelo would arrive Tuesday.
But the protests were all too visible for the players. Protesters shouted their trademark “There will be no Cup” slogan in easy earshot.
Some tried to block the team bus from leaving Rio, but the driver dodged them and accelerated away.
“The Cup does not interest me! We want more money for health and education,” protesters bellowed.
The teachers went on strike in Rio state on May 12, demanding a 20% salary increase.
To ensure Brazil have the best possible conditions to prepare, the CBF earlier this year gave the training complex a multimillion-dollar facelift.
The facilities include 39 individual rooms with king-size beds and several full-size pitches where Scolari will prepare the team before they play the opening match of the tournament against Croatia in São Paulo on June 12.
But such luxurious details have angered a populace demanding urgent investment in infrastructure, health and education.
Police will stand guard 24 hours a day at Granja Comary to ward off any trouble.
Brazil has been hit by a wave of strikes and protests ahead of the World Cup and elections in October. Police, teachers, bank security guards and bus drivers have staged disruptive strikes in recent weeks.