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In a Rio favela, Brazil’s soccer gold unifies a divided country

The bar is easy to miss. It is compact and narrow and it sits on a crooked favela street with no sidewalks and many worn storefronts.

It appears to be tucked inside the hillside. Its exterior is made of grungy white cinderblock. Painted on a wall is a green and blue Brazilian flag. A humble sign hangs above a pair of wide, front doors: Bar do Maia.

Maia’s Bar.

Jesse Washington: Into the favela

What sets this place apart, making it impossible to miss on this fevered Saturday night, is the river of constant roars from the patrons — “Vamos! Vamos! Vamos!” Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go! They are men, all of them — working class men in Rio’s Vidigal favela — their faces straining, their eyes fixed to a flat-screened television perched high against a back wall.

At the start of the game. Only this is not just any game. This is Brazil against Germany, in Rio’s famed Maracana stadium, for Olympic soccer gold.

Brazil against Germany, whose national team, during the World Cup of 2014, came to this craggy seaside city and dealt the home team such a resounding defeat that the score still evokes something akin to a national sense of dread.


“We have had it up to here with 7-1,” says one of the men, disgust flashing across his face as he utters those two numbers. “It has been with us long enough. Ever since then, if we see someone who does not look so good, the saying is, ‘You have the face of a seven-to-one.’ But tonight it will be different.”

Inside Bar do Maia, the customers say this is a chance to exorcise a demon. Winning will mean Brazil’s national sport — the touchstone drawing people of every class in a society burdened by stark division — is back in its rightful place, striding step for step with the world’s great soccer powers…

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