Brazil's temperamental fans
A year ago, when the Soccerex trade fair came to Rio, I ended up taking some BBC bigwigs to a Brazilian league game - Botafogo against Internacional.
It was the penultimate round of the campaign and much was at stake. Botafogo badly needed a win to qualify for the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League equivalent, for the first time since 1996.
The stadium was half-full, with a crowd of 19,604, which surprised the visitors all the more when I explained that tickets were half-price in an attempt to pack as many in as possible.
Botafogo lost 2-1 and the home crowd probably hindered as much as it helped. My guests were amazed at how the home fans turned against their own team, picking out certain players for particularly vicious treatment.
Talented, 24 year-old Brazilian left-back, Bruno Cortes (black & white stripes), made his international debut in their 2-0 win over Argentina in September 2011. PHOTO: Getty
Almost exactly a year later - this time a round earlier - the two teams met in very similar circumstances.
Once again Botafogo needed a victory in their quest to qualify for the Libertadores. Once again they lost 2-1.
Only this time, instead of a crowd of nearly 20,000, they were being cheered - and booed - by just 5,483.
The poor turn-out is not hard to explain.
A couple of weeks ago Botafogo were in contention for the title but the team has been on a downward slope for a while and, when scratchy wins gave way to a run of defeats, many of the supporters gave up.
Coach Caio Junior was sacked in midweek but even if, as now seems likely, they again miss out on qualification for the Libertadores, Botafogo have exceeded expectations.
At the start of the season many had them down as relegation candidates.
Sunday's defeat means they drop to eighth place - but they are only two points behind the team in the final Libertadores slot with two matches to go.
It is not a disaster - although the fans treated it as such.
While the game was still goalless they were voicing their displeasure and this week's pantomime villain was their own left-back Bruno Cortes.
A few short weeks ago he was their idol. The 24-year-old Brazilian has had a strange career, with spells in Qatar and lower-division Spanish football before playing for minor Rio clubs.
Then he caught the eye of Botafogo and joined them for this championship.
He quickly made an impression.
With his wild hair, Cortes has the air of a showman - and he proved there is something different about him when he chose to hold his wedding reception in a fast food restaurant in a working-class Rio suburb.
On the field his powerful attacking surges made the fans hungry for more - and he went from local to national favourite at the end of September when he made an eye-catching debut for Brazil against Argentina in a game where only domestic-based players were considered.
Cortes was riding high but he was also riding for a fall. His dramatic progress could not hide the fact that his skill set was far from complete.
He is the type of attacking full-back who needs to have space in front of him in which to thrive.
The defensive side of his game is poor and, inevitably, opponents studied him, identified his weaknesses and went to work on them.
That gave Cortes a psychological problem as well as a technical one.
Suddenly everything was more difficult - and the pressure cranked up still further when the fans of his own team turned against him.
On Sunday they got their way as Cortes was substituted at half-time.
This is an aspect of Brazilian football culture that I find profoundly disagreeable - and it extends to the media.
Local radio and TV journalists have an admirable fluency in front of the microphone and the ingenuity of the written press is put to the test by the 2200 kick-offs.
But, among the many good things, there is also a negative side - a tendency to shout the odds about this player being totally useless or that coach knowing absolutely nothing.
Criticism of players' performances and coaches' decisions is a vital and necessary part of the media's role.
But it should take place in a context of respect that no truly bad player survives at the top level for long.
The same does not necessarily apply to the administrators.
Ricardo Teixeira would surely not have become President of the CBF, Brazil's FA, in 1989 had he not at the time been the son-in-law of vastly influential former FIFA boss Joao Havelange.
Teixeira is also president of the 2014 World Cup local organising committee.
Even so, he dodged the responsibility for naming the host cities.
Worried about the political cost of excluding candidates, he pushed the decision to Fifa, after first having successfully lobbied for 12 venues, rather than eight or 10, to be used.
The costs of staging the tournament have spiralled as a result. But Teixeira goes on and on after 22 years in charge.
This is a place where an excess of intolerance for the players can coexist with an exaggerated tolerance for the failings of those who run the game.
Please comment on the piece in the space provided and send your questions on South American football to email@example.com - I will pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag;
Q) Everybody knows about home advantage in football, especially when it comes to World Cups. Brazil seem to play friendlies abroad, possibly for financial reasons, but frequent visits to England for matches, along with recent friendlies in Africa are hardly going to help the team get used to playing in their own country. With the squad being one of the worst in recent years, do you not feel that the number of matches they play abroad could have a detrimental affect come 2014?
A) It clearly is essential for Brazil to start playing at home. They are aware of this and will start doing so in the run-up to 2014 using Fifa dates to stage matches on home soil. Coach Mano Menezes recognises it is essential because the Brazilian crowds can be so demanding and so quick to turn against their own team. The 2014 side will face unprecedented pressure and playing some games in front of their own fans should help toughen them up for the task ahead.
Q) I was wondering what your thoughts were on Paraguayan striker Rodolfo Gamarra. He was once highly thought of and I am very surprised no European teams have picked him up. I would have thought he made have even moved to Brazil or Argentina.
A) He is a very interesting little striker, tricky in one-on-one situations and packing a surprisingly fierce shot. He was great in the first half of last year and got on the plane to the 2010 World Cup as a result.
But that's where it stops. He was the only outfield Paraguayan player not to get on the field in South Africa and hasn't made progress since. Under Jorge Burruchaga his club side, Libertad, are looking a bit more cautious and he is spending a lot of time on the bench. Perhaps it has been hard for him to maintain a standard and deal with higher expectations. 2012 is a big year for him.