Muscat: Brazil may be half a world away from Oman, but already excitement is building as the world approaches Thursday midnight, when it is 5pm in Sao Paulo and the 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks off with the home team facing Croatia in the opening match.
While football fans in the Sultanate will be glued to their screens from June 12 to July 13, when the final match is played, a few very fortunate people from Oman will be in Brazil to see the matches live. On an average, 50 people apply for visas to visit Brazil each month, but the number increased dramatically, thanks to the FIFA World Cup.
"It has increased substantially. We've issued somewhere around 400 visas to Omanis or residents. Many have won prizes from Bank Muscat, McDonald's and other sponsors, while many are going on their own," said Mitzi Gurgel Valente da Costa, Ambassador of Brazil to Oman. To accommodate all the eager FIFA fans, the Brazilian government is giving special, free 90-day, non-renewable visas to people who have tickets to the games. Normally, a 90-day visa to Brazil costs OMR10 and can be renewed once the traveller is there.
Here in Oman, the Brazilian community, comprising about 200 people, will be cheering loudly for their team, too. There will be celebrations at the Embassy of Brazil to mark the start of the biggest sporting event in the world, so Brazilian residents of Oman and local fans alike can watch the opening ceremonies followed by the game on a big screen.
"Brazil is very excited to be able to host the World Cup for the second time. We certainly hope that this time Brazil wins. If not, may the best team win, but we hope that Brazil will be in the final," Valente da Costa told the Times of Oman. For football fans who are lucky enough to go to Brazil for the FIFA World Cup, Valente da Costa has plenty of advice for what they can do when they're not watching the games in the 12 host cities. The country, the fifth largest in the world in terms of area, offers a variety of nature, culture and food to experience.
"Every single state has a different environment, different food, different culture. Even the festivals and dances are different. There's a lot to see!" she explained.
Brazil's east coast is home to beautiful beaches, while in the north visitors can see the Amazon, and in the west they can see the Pantanal, the largest tropical wetlands area in the world.
The culinary delights range from meat barbecues, to seafood, to African-inspired cuisine. Visitors to Brazil should also try the national dish "feijoada," a black bean dish, and Guarana Antarctica, a carbonated drink which Valente da Costa fondly refers to as "Brazilian Coca Cola."
"It's a yellow coloured cola that is delicious, much better than Coca Cola," she said with a smile.
Omanis who are in Brazil for the World Cup will also see firsthand just how seriously Brazilians take their football. Schools and government offices will be closed on the days that Brazil has matches.
"When Brazil plays, not even the flies fly. Everything is quiet and everybody is watching it on TV or in the stadium or at home, cheering for Brazil, so it's a special occasion," the ambassador explained.
Even though Oman's national team isn't competing in the tournament, Omani football fans are still excited about it, whether they are travelling to Brazil or watching the games here.
"A football fan is a football fan anywhere in the world. Omanis love football. In the middle of the afternoon, under 45° sun, they'll play football on the beach. There's also a lot of interest in Brazil on the part of people in Oman, in terms of the culture and people," Valente da Costa said.
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