Football: Protests as Brazil hosts Confeds final

Protests, samba dancing and football all mingled Sunday as Brazil geared up to face Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup, a dry run for next year's World Cup.

Hours before the 7 p.m (2200 GMT) kickoff, fans were gathering outside the venue, Rio's iconic Maracana stadium amid calls on social media to turn out to back the national squad but also to protest the country's inadequate public services -- a key gripe at the core of two weeks of demonstrations that have rocked the emerging South American giant.

More than 11,000 police and troops were mobilised to ensure security for 78,000 fans at the venue as the curtain falls on a tournament hit by the unprecedented social unrest, with more than 1.5 million Brazilians taking to the streets nationwide over the past two weeks.

Several thousand people chanting "The struggle continues. Brazilians are in the streets" marched through Rio streets Saturday.

Police estimated them at 2,500.

Outside Maracana, the first fans lined up to enter.

"We want peace, peace and football - not protests," said Francisco da Assis, as he held a pole on which he had stuck a globe topped off with a model of a white dove.

"Brazil will win - the football, and socially - 2-1, 3-1, 4-2, it doesn't matter. The country will win," he shouted.

Behind him came a gaggle of church youth workers with Christ Saves t-shirts, their motto - "Worse than losing a game is losing your soul."

Others danced the samba and hoisted a banner reading "a year to go to the World Cup. Time for a better reaction, better quality of life, less corruption, less taxes."

Behind them, a man balancing a ball on his head and juggling another one with his legs drew crowds of onlookers.

"You should be on the team," yelled one bystander.

The man's response was to chase a pigeon, then start limbo dancing, the ball still balanced on his head.

Despite the festive morning cheer, many Brazilians are angry at the $15 billion being spent to host the tournament and next year's World Cup.

Protesters are complaining that the government has found billion of dollars to build brand new stadiums for 12 World Cup host stadiums while transport, education and health remain underfunded.

Some of the demonstrations -- 300,000 marched in Rio 10 days ago -- have been marred by sporadic violence, but the disparate groups calling for people to protest here Sunday have called for a peaceful march with no vandalism.

News reports Saturday said leftist President Dilma Rousseff, whose popularity has nosedived since the start of the unrest, would skip the game to avoid the embarrassing prospect of being jeered.

But a government spokesman said Rousseff's attendance "had never been on the agenda."

Two weeks ago, the president was booed by demonstrators as she attended the opening game of the cup in Brasilia.

A Datafolha poll said Rousseff's approval rating has plunged from 57 percent down to 30 percent since June 6-7.

The mass protests, which appear to tapering off this week, were the largest in Rio where they brought 300,000 people into the streets Sunday on June 20, when they degenerated into violence, looting and scenes of urban guerilla warfare.

World's football governing body FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who was jeered along with Rousseff in Brasilia, was expected in Rio after first attending the third place playoff encounter between Italy and Uruguay earlier Sunday in the northeastern city of Salvador.

FIFA itself has been the target of the public ire, amid claims the organisation is masterminding a multi-billion dollar "circus" which only benefits itself.

FIFA insists it will reinvest the its revenues in football's grassroots.

Despite the social turmoil, which began in Sao Paulo in early June over the rising cost of public transport, polls show more than two-thirds of Brazilians support their country hosting the World Cup for the first time since 1950.

Brazil is the most successful country in World Cup history, with five wins.

In the Confederations Cup, the so-called Selecao are gunning for a third straight title and fourth overall, whereas Spain, the current World Cup champions, have yet to lift the trophy.

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari voiced confidence Saturday that his team can prevail.

"Spain are spectacular -- but like any team they have their faults," he insisted."I don't consider Spain the favourites."

The finalists have only met on eight previous occasions: Brazil winning four to Spain's two with two matches drawn.

Their most recent encounter was a 1999 friendly.

But if history favors the South Americans, Spain have not lost a competitive match in 29 games, since their shock defeat to Switzerland at the start of the 2010 World Cup.