Wherever the Brazil national team goes, rabid yellow-clad fans follow. They’ve been out in full force all over Miami this week, as the five-time World Cup champions prepare for a Saturday exhibition match against Honduras at Sun Life Stadium.
Close to 65,000 tickets had been sold as of Thursday, and organizers said they are on pace for a possible sellout of 73,000.
“The huge turnout is just the latest sign that Miami is the capital of international soccer in the United States,” said Matt Higgins, CEO of RSE Ventures, the sports and entertainment branch of Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ company.
Retired soccer icon David Beckham made headlines in Miami this week as he scouted locations for a possible Major League Soccer team. But it was 21-year-old Brazilian star Neymar and his team — the most major of the world’s major teams — that had fans climbing fences in the rain at the FIU soccer field, attempting to roam the lobby at the J.W. Marriott Marquis hotel (security guards politely asked them to stay outside), and camping along S.E. 3rd Ave. to watch their one-named soccer heroes board and disembark their team bus.
Brazil is hosting the 2014 World Cup, and one of the favorites to win, so the team’s profile is even higher than usual.
“This is a once in a lifetime experience to see the Brazil team in person,” said Felipe Azevedo, 16, a student at Doral Academy and native of Brazil. “It’s like meeting LeBron James. It’s really, really big. I came out to the hotel two days in a row, and took pictures with a bunch of the guys. I got Maicon, Robinho, Bernard and Luiz.”
Carlos Perreira, 12, and Bruna Mata, 14, had their parents drive them down from Coconut Creek to get an up close look at their soccer idols. Both boys come from Brazilian families and have grown up rooting for Brazil’s team. They got autographs from Maicon, Dante, Julio Cesar, and a few other players.
Neymar is visiting Miami for the first time, called it “a beautiful city,” and has been overwhelmed with the warm welcome. It isn’t just Brazilian fans who love Brazilian soccer. They are a global team, as Thursday’s news conference proved. There were reporters there from all over South America, Central America, Europe and Asia.
Because most of the best Brazilian players make their living abroad, they attract the fans of those teams and countries. Only two of the players on Brazil’s roster this week play in Brazil. The rest play in England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and Russia. Four play for Chelsea in the English Premier League. Neymar plays for Spanish giant Barcelona, which paid his former Brazilian club Santos $74 million for the rights to the 5-9, 150-pound forward.
“I hope every seat is filled on Saturday and that Brazil wins the game,” Neymar said.
It is his first time in Miami, and he has enjoyed every minute, especially meeting LeBron James and David Beckham on Tuesday night. Neymar and his teammates attended the Heat game against Milwaukee.
James did a video for ESPN Brazil and said Neymar was his favorite player. Neymar was humbled.
“I’m happy he said that because LeBron is one of my idols,” Neymar said. “I felt like a little kid that night watching them play. It was very emotional for me.”
Chatting with Beckham, and taking a photo together, was also a highlight. Neymar had visited the Real Madrid training camp in 2006, when he was 14 and Beckham was a player there. He got Beckham’s autograph that day and took a picture of him.
“Seeing David Beckham again was an incredible feeling,” he said. “To think I was just a kid in 2006 when I saw him in Madrid, and that now he knows my name, well, it’s very special.”
Neymar delighted fans at the FIU practice Tuesday with a barefoot ball juggling act. On a blustery Wednesday night, fans peered over the FIU fences as the team played a full 90-minute scrimmage.
The scrimmage was especially meaningful for FIU soccer players Marvin Hezel, Gonzalo Frechilla and Quentin Albrecht, who were picked to play with the Brazilians. Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Brazil coach, needed a few extra players, so he asked FIU coach Kenny Arena to lend him a few. All three were floored when they were told the news. They got to hang out with the Brazilian players in the locker room, and wear the Brazil jersey for the match.
“It was a true pleasure to play with the world’s best,” said Hezel, who drew praise from Scolari after the scrimmage.
“At first I was a little nervous to see Neymar and all the big names right there. But once the game started, you don’t look at who you’re playing against. It’s still soccer. It’s a memory I will carry for a lifetime. How many people can say they played on the same field as the Brazilian World Cup team?”