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Brazil's footballers make Zimbabwe smile again

Andrew Harding | 17:32 UK time, Wednesday, 2 June 2010

I have never seen so many smiles in Zimbabwe. From the lady at immigration to the minibuses packed with cheering football fans to the normally grim-faced intelligence officials guarding President Robert Mugabe as he strolled into the packed national sports stadium here in Harare on a sunny afternoon and greeted the visiting Brazilian team.
Zimbabweans outside the stadium in Harare

During the warm-up, Kaka waved to the crowd and was answered with a deafening roar from about 60,000 happy Zimbabweans who had each paid $10 for an experience for which almost everyone I've spoken to has described as a "dream" or a "once-in-a-lifetime" moment.

The World Cup may not have started yet, but you wouldn't know it from the giddy excitement here. After years of economic and political chaos very few Zimbabweans have the money to head across the border and experience the tournament kicking off in neighbouring South Africa next week. "This match is our World Cup" is something many people have told me today.

I'm writing this now on the touchline deafened by the roar of vuvuzelas with Zimbabwe's Warriors starting to flag after a very impress start. There's a man in a giant green and white eagle costume beside me, a slightly dysfunctional Mexican wave wandering around the stands, lots of adverts for the giant mining company Zimplats which is sponsoring the event, dozens of Brazilian journalists and a military brass band warming up for another performance.

It feels - at least today - like a refreshingly normal, happy country.


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