Chief News Reporter - Sky Sports News
World Cup: What a week in Brazil!
Sky Sports News Chief News Reporter Bryan Swanson reports from Rio on how the World Cup is proving to be an unforgettable experience on and off the pitch.
Last Updated: 19/06/14 11:30am
In seven extraordinary days we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of Brazil 2014.
Sixty goals in 20 group games and Chile's stunning win over holders Spain has already sent most World Cup predictions into meltdown.
The football has been free-flowing, the supporters have been sensational and Brazil's warm welcome has already exceeded expectations.
FIFA claim an average of around 98 per cent stadium capacities so far despite plenty of images of empty seats.
More than 1.5million spectators have already attended FIFA Fan Fests around this vast country, where supporters have queued for hours to watch the big match for free on the big screen.
Day and night there is a constant buzz along Copacabana beach.
There are so many helicopters overhead at times it is hard to tell whether they are carrying tourists, camera crews or armed police escorting a team... or Sepp Blatter.
Copacabana's picture-postcard setting is the international hub for the majority of travel-weary supporters.
It is the home of beach football and home to many fans who are sleeping in cars, trailers and camper vans to avoid astronomical hotel bills. Supporters from around the world are sharing drinks, stories and at times raucous rivalry.
The Brazilians are waving flags to wind up the Argentineans who, in turn, are always looking to wind up the English. And so on. 32 nations from around the world all represented in a strong show of patriotism.
It all seems remarkably good-natured and the police presence is highly visible yet feels unobtrusive. There were early nerves from travelling fans in the first few days of the tournament.
"Were they gunshots?" They asked after firecrackers had been set off around a nearby favela following a goal. Now hardly anybody flinches.
"I feel safer here than in some parts of the UK," remarked one veteran England fan. "Just be sensible."
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The most luxurious hotel on the beachfront, Copacabana Palace, is FIFA's five-star base for its top officials where room rates can reach up to £2,000-a-night.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter receives a police escort everywhere and security guards will not even allow camera crews access to outside the hotel's main entrance where barriers have been erected covered with privacy screens.
Is it bad that FIFA's top officials seem so detached from the life of the ordinary fan just over the road from them? Some supporters seem to think so. Barely a hundred metres from FIFA's £8-a-soft drink hotel bar there is no shortage of England fans lying on the beach and enjoying the often sunny winter in the Southern Hemisphere.
"We don't need to travel to games," said one supporter on a sun lounger. "This is as good as it gets!"
But lurking behind the care-free fans, close to the shore, an intimidating navy ship patrols the waters. It is part of an extraordinary show of force from Brazil's military and security personnel. FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce told Sky Sports News before the World Cup that his biggest concern was protests.
On Sunday we walked just ahead of a small group of peaceful "FIFA Go Home!" protesters towards the Maracana stadium before police unexpectedly fired tear gas and stun grenades to prevent them from getting any closer to the ground. We witnessed one police officer repeatedly use pepper spray on a protester who had blocked a police van.
Brazilian police have demonstrated they will not be intimidated by protests during this tournament.
"We want to send them a loud message," shouted one policeman in riot gear before his colleagues drove off in front of our camera seemingly fist-pumping the night air in celebration.
Ben McNamara's footage made headline news but FIFA point out that a "small number of protests" must be put into context compared to the millions of football fans enjoying its showpiece event.
More anti-FIFA protests are planned this month and protesters stress they are not anti-football but believe the government should have spent money on new hospitals and new schools instead of new stadiums.
"What will we get out of this World Cup when everyone goes home?" said one protester. "We cannot afford it."
From the good, the bad and the ugly to the laughably ludicrous. Security officials at the Maracana have confiscated bananas and shirt hangers from reporters attending FIFA's daily media briefing.
Yet 85 fans somehow made their way into the stadium's media centre on Wednesday night "without tickets" and caused an embarrassing security scare before Spain played Chile.
FIFA and the local organising committee condemned the 'acts of violence' and said 'intruders forced entry into the stadium, breaking fences and overrunning security.'
We were unable to provide an eyewitness account of the incident because FIFA does not allow international non-rights holders such as Sky Sports News any access to its media centres to cover World Cup games in Brazil.
World football's governing body will face plenty of questions about how the intrusion happened so soon after around 20 fans jumped a wall and stormed a fence before Argentina's opening game against Bosnia at the Maracana. On and off the pitch Brazil 2014 is already proving to be an unforgettable experience.