Brazil A-Z: From anthems and beaches to Zico via samba

A is for anthem, airports and Arena Fonte Nova

The singing of the Brazilian anthem - Hino Nacional Brasileiro - has provided some of the most memorable moments of the Confederations Cup. Fifa insisted on playing a shortened version but the people and the players refused to stop when the music did. The words refer to a 'resounding cry of a heroic people' and chime with the protests in the streets. In Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza, the passion and emotion that swept around the stadium was hard to describe - they were spine-tingling moments that no-one who was present will ever forget.

Brazil national anthem

The predictions had been for airport chaos, delayed flights and lost baggage. At the time of writing, none that has come to pass. I have been on eight flights in 16 days and thankfully the Brazilian airport experience has been smooth and safe. Not a single bag lost, not a single delay (I realise I am tempting fate). Rio's international airport is a concrete relic of a bygone age and may struggle with the sheer number of visitors come World Cup time but the authorities are working hard.

The Arena Fonte Nova is one of the most picturesque of all the World Cup venues. Rising high into the Salvador sky, the stadium is situated by a lake, where the locals fish and where huge figures of the gods of Candomble (a Brazilian religion) float proudly on the water. Try the Cocido Salvadoreno (a Salvadorian stew) at the ground. The local people insisted Fifa allow the stadium to sell it.

B - beaches, Belo Horizonte

There is far more to Brazil than sandy beaches, of course, but it is beguiling to look at the scenes because so much of life is played out here. They are football pitches, running tracks, meeting places and gyms. In Rio, Ipanema is the pick with its seething surf and pure white sand. But in the north, outside the cities of Recife, Fortaleza and Salvador, they are picturesque, deserted and jaw-droppingly beautiful. There is even a 'beach of the future.' Nine of the 12 host cities are on the coast.

Ipanema Beach in Rio

Belo Horizonte was named for its view of the mountains that encircle this cultural heartland. The longer you stay, the more you begin to understand it. This is a city that prides itself on its cuisine, education and quality of life. Visit the smart restaurants in Lourdes, the cosmopolitan district of Savassi and the fascinating football museum at the Museu Historico. But be warned the locals all still remember England's infamous World Cup defeat by the USA in 1950.

C - Caipirinha, Copacabana, Cristo Redentor, Centurions

Caipirinha, Brazil's delicious, perilous, sugar-laden loopy-juice, is the ultimate way to pass an afternoon on the Copacabana. The lime twist provides refreshment but be warned, your legs might be a little wobbly after three or four, or so I am told. If the next morning brings with it that inescapable hangover, try the acaraje (croquettes with shrimp sauce) or sweet mangoes that samba across the tongue.

Confederations Cup: Andrea Pirlo scores a 'perfect' free-kick for Italy

The statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) is a focal point and a symbol of hope and protection. Mario Balotelli visited it on his first day in Rio, posing for the ubiquitous photo with his arms outstretched to mirror Christ's. It is as spectacular as you expect it to be. The queues can also be spectacular.

The Confederations Cup saw two of international football's elder statesmen mark their 100th caps with goals. I was fortunate to be present for both, as first Andrea Pirlo curled in a trademark free-kick at the Maracana in Italy's 2-1 win over Mexico before Diego Forlan thundered in a fierce left-foot rasper to give Uruguay victory over Nigeria in Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador.

D - Demonstrations, Dilma

You would be forgiven for thinking the demonstrations that have overshadowed the Confederations Cup are widespread and hard to avoid in Brazil. They were enough to persuade Brad Pitt not to come to Rio for the premiere of his new movie last week. The vast majority are peaceful and like the London riots in 2011, they are confined to very small parts of the cities and are more difficult to find that to avoid.

Brazil demonstrations

President Dilma Rousseff may not look back on the Confederations Cup as a happy time. She was booed at the opening ceremony in Brasilia and has had to deal with protests ever since. She is fighting hard to pacify the peaceful demonstrators by making concessions on education spending and investment in health and doctors. She remains a divisive figure in Brazil but she is utterly committed to the World Cup and Olympics.

E - Estadio Mineirao, Estadio Castelao, exercise

Copacabana beach

Exercising on Copacabana beach

Estadio Mineirao in Belo Horizonte may not be pretty from the outside, but like its big brother Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza, they generate an incredible rumble of noise inside. For all the fears before the competition, the stadiums have been hard to criticise.

Exercise is a huge daily part of life in Brazil. The weather makes it easy for people to run and swim, to play football and dance. All along the city beaches there are outdoor gymnasiums and in Rio on Sundays they close beachside roads to allow the public to jog, skateboard and cycle.

F - Fortaleza, favelas, Felipao

The heat and humidity of the northern city of Fortaleza even prompted Spain to complain that the conditions were too oppressive. England will do well to avoid playing there. The beaches in the city are beautiful and stretch for miles and the seafood is fantastic.

Rio favela

The notorious favelas that cling to the hillsides of Brazil's biggest cities provide an incredible contrast between rich and poor. Many remain no-go areas, but others are being transformed with the help of football and samba. Drugs and crime remain an issue in main but my visit to Penha in Rio was one of the highlights of the trip.

Felipao, the nickname given to Luiz Felipe Scolari, is a man transformed in the eyes of Brazil. Where once he was gruff, serious and, at times, rude. Now he is relaxed, funny and at times during his news conferences he resemble a man conducting a nation. When asked what has changed, why is he more relaxed now, he responded 'you thought you knew me but you didn't. I haven't changed'.

G - Goal-line technology

Goal-line technology

Before the tournament GLT was one of the big issues up for debate. How would it work? Would the referee have the final say? Predictably there has been no call for Goal Ref to show us just how efficient it can be, but the referees' watches look very nice.

H - Helicopters, Hotels, Hilderaldo

The skies above Brazil's major cities, but especially Rio, are full of helicopters. With the traffic often at a standstill they are used for business and TV reports but a good amount are police owned. On the Copacabana, police and military choppers tend to buzz along the length of the beach. Don't be alarmed if you see a solider aiming his rifle out of the open door. This is, I am assured, normal.

Hotel rooms won't be cheap come World Cup time, especially in Rio and Sao Paulo but the standard is good, even on a budget, and many of now provide wifi. One colleague was quoted £1,000 per night for a middle-of-the-road Sao Paulo room next summer. But those charging those incredibly high prices are already beginning to realise no-one can afford them. Sanity should prevail.

The iconic statue of Hilderaldo Luiz Bellini, Brazil's first World Cup-winning captain, guards the entrance to the Maracana. The central defender, it is said, was the man who inadvertently introduced the hoisting the winning trophy aloft, having done so to allow photographers to see the Jules Rimet Trophy.

I - Ipanema

Ipanema Beach in Rio

Ipanema is Chelsea by the beach. It is where Rio's glamour set go to have fun, with four-bedroom apartments overlooking the sea going for close to $10m. Walk towards Copacabana and the headland that curves gently around to watch some of Brazil's best surfers in action late in the day and then grab a small bag of popcorn from one of the many sellers along the boardwalk. Try and watch one of the many futevolei games that take place as the sun goes down - volleyball played with a football and with no hands allowed.

J - Jogo bonito, Joao

Brazil would never claim to have invented the jogo bonito - beautiful game - but they would rightly argue that they perfected it. During the tournament there have been flashes of flair but this is a Brazil side built for functionality above all else. It is built to win and while they are doing just that, no one in Brazil minds if the jogo bonito takes a back seat. But only if they win.

Sao Joao is a festival that runs throughout June, mainly in northern strongholds of Salvador, Fortaleza and Recife but also, to a lesser extent in Rio. The towns and cities are decorated with flags and colour, the people dance in the streets and the celebrations go on all night to celebrate the festival of John the Baptist, with the celebrations historically related to the European midsummer.

K - Kilo restaurants

A unique and must-taste experience for anyone visiting Brazil. You collect a plate, load it from a buffet with all manner of delights and when you have chosen what you want, they weigh your plate and you pay at the end. If you lose the ticket they give you, you have to pay for a kilo's worth of food, which is a lot.

L - lateness, language

It isn't rude to be late in Brazil. It is just an accepted part of daily life. If you arrange to meet friends at 20:00 and they don't turn up until after 22:00, don't expect an apology. That is just the way of life. Brazilians are laid back and fun loving. But they can also be very late.

The language of Brazil is Portuguese and very few people speak much English. Asking for a beer, however slowly or loudly, doesn't work. Neither does saying toilet or toilette. A few words of Portuguese go a long way in Brazil. Make the effort, you will reap the rewards.

M - Maracana

The mythical Maracana may not hold the 205,000 it once did but while it has been reduced in size it has been enhanced in majesty. From the iconic statue of Hilderano Luiz Bellini, Brazil's first World Cup-winning captain, that guards the entrance, to walkways that take you around the top tier and offer views across Rio, it is still has an aura that makes the trip to this mecca more than worthwhile.

Maracana

N - Neymar

Brazil's boy wonder may have begun the tournament as a footballer more famous for his brand that his brilliance but the Confederations Cup has proved he is very much the real deal on the field. Off it, he is already a superstar.

Neymar: The world's most talented player?

In Brazil it feels like every other TV commercial features the 21-year-old, there are Neymar billboards everywhere and he has even appeared in a soap opera. Earlier this year he became the first Brazilian athlete to appear on the cove of Time magazine. In the past he has admitted that he and his best friend and former team-mate Ganso, get their inspiration for new dribbling moves from computer games. It seems to work.

O - Obrigado, Oscar

If you only learn one word of Portuguese let it be this one. Obrigado (thank you) goes a long way.

Chelsea midfielder Oscar deserves a mention if only because the final of the Confederations Cup was his 71st appearance of the season.

P - Parreira, Pelourinho, Prisoners

Carlos Alberto Parreira, who led Brazil to the 1994 World Cup as manager, has been brought back into the fold by Scolari and is a figure of wisdom and experience behind the scenes. "He is a wonderful man," Scolari said. "Much better than me. I couldn't do what he does, when I finish I want to spend more time at home. No, Parreira is a gentleman." On one plane journey during the Confederations Cup, a BBC colleague spent a few hours sitting next to Parreira. No words were exchanged, Parreira was too busy listening to Abba.

Pelourinho, the historic centre of Salvador, is rich in historical monuments dating back to the 17th Century when it played a key role as South America's first slave market. Known as Pelo, the warren of streets and majestic buildings have been named a world cultural site by Unesco and although in can be crowded and, perhaps, intimidating at night, it has to be experienced on a trip to Salvador.

Prisoners in Brazil can shorten their sentences by four days for every book the read under the government's 'redemption through reading' programme, up to a maximum of 48 days per year.

Q - Que Venha

Ahead of the Confederations Cup final, the headline in O Globo, the prominent Brazilian newspaper, read Que Venha Espana - bring it on Spain - to reflect the measure of confidence the nation now has the Selecao.

R - Recife, Reais, roads

The northern city of Recife is the capital of Pernambuco state, from which the stadium there gets its name. Recife is Brazil's oldest state capital and was briefly the capital of Dutch Brazil in the 17th Century. It has been described as Brazil's answer to Venice because of its many small rivers and bridges. But although the sea might look inviting it is not advisable. Sharks patrol the waters.

Recife

Reais are the Brazilian currency and were introduced in 1994 as a way of ending decades of inflation. It was originally fixed to match the US dollar in value but now two Rs will get you one US dollar. In Portuguese the singular of reais, real, means royal and real.

The roads, especially outside of Rio, can be extremely bumpy and the distances between the cities are vast. The shortest distance between the hosts cities is the six and a half hours it will take you to get from Rio to Belo Horizonte. The longest distance is from Curitiba to Manaus - a four hour and 15 minute flight.

S - Selecao, soaps, sambadrome

The Selecao is the nickname Brazil uses for its national team, but the literal translation means the selection. The word can and is also used for other national teams such as the Selecao Inglesa (England).

Brazil closing ceremony

The soap opera is king in Brazil. Football matches often kick off after 22:00 to allow these TV shows to have prime slots. They are not long-running epics, like in the UK, but tend to run for six months and then end before a new one begins.

Samba is, football aside, a national obsession. Rio's Sambadrome (Sambodromo) has a bigger capacity than the Maracana with two stands facing each other 30 yards apart along a 700m stretch of the Marques de Sapucai street. Come carnival time this is the centre of the action.

T - Tropeiro, time zones, traffic, Tahiti

Tropeiro is a dish Belo Horizonte fought to be able to sell at Estadio Mineirao during the World Cup. It is like a half-time pie for football fans in the region. It gets its name because it was prepared by the cooks of the troops who drove the cattle and it is made of beans, bacon, pepperoni, eggs, cabbage, cassava flour onions, parsley and chives. Served in a little dish to allow fans to eat it while they watch the game. Don't miss out.

Confederations Cup: Tahitian football's greatest moment?

Brazil will be four hours behind BST during next summer's World Cup, which should mean fans at home need not be up in the small hours. For those who decide to make the trip, the traffic may be one of the major problems. In Sao Paulo it is horrendous and can often take four hours to cross the city. In Rio it is manageable, but the mountains and tunnels needed to navigate them, meaning widening the roads was never really an option. Don't get caught driving into Rio from the airport between 06:00 and 10:00. It is not a pretty sight.

Tahiti became all of Brazil's second team. Some 71,000 packed into the Maracana to see the minnows take on the might of Spain. And they cheered them to the heavens when, against Nigeria, they scored and performed their now famous goal celebration, a tribute to Tahiti's form of canoe racing, Va'a. The South Pacific Islanders are expected to be represented in Brazil next summer - at the Va'a World Championships.

U - United

For a nation that is proud to say it is one of 201 million football managers (everyone has an opinion), it has united behind Scolari's Brazil as few could possibly have predicted. And beyond that, the Selecao has acted as a beacon of hope, a unifying presence during the protests, the one issue that everyone was able to agree on. One defeat or a poor performance and all that can change very quickly. But for now, Brazil believes.

V - Vasco

Vasco da Gama fans

Vasco da Gama fans

Club de Regatas Vasco da Gama is one of the most popular football clubs in Brazil having been named after the Portuguese explorer. Vasco, inspired by the great Romario, saw off Manchester United in the 2000 Club World Cup at the Maracana. Brazil often train at their stadium, the Sao Januario, in Rio. On the walls outside, handprints of former players are marked in black and white paint (club colours), adjacent to pavement bars, heaps of rubbish and pineapples sold from the back of vans. Inside, a bronze statue of Romario, arms aloft, stands behind one of the goals.

W - Weather, Winter

The weather will vary greatly across the 12 host cities next summer. Manaus, which is in the Amazon, will be incredibly hot and painfully humid. The northern coastal cities of Fortaleza, Recife and Natal will see temperatures reach the mid-30s during the peak hours of the day. In the south, Porto Alegre and Curitiba will be cold, with gloves and hats needed to fend off the cold. England must hope the draw is kind.

X - X-factor

The Confederations Cup had that unique quality that lifted it above the ordinary and turned into a competition that genuinely grabbed the attention of the world. There was that moment of magic from Neymar after just three minutes of the opening game, there was that Pirlo free-kick, that Balotelli flick, that fizzer from Forlan and a curler from Cavani. And it all just whetted the appetite for a World Cup that could be very special.

Y - Yellow

Brazil supporter

The stadiums are awash with those vivid yellow shirts, which carry so many ones and zeroes on the back as to resemble a binary convention. But it wasn't always that way. After the defeat by Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup, when Brazil wore white, it was decided a new kit should be designed to incorporate the colours of the flag. A competition was held, and the winner was Aldyr Garcia Schlee - the yellow symbolises gold, which Brazil counts as a vital natural resource, the blue stands for the cloudless skies, and the green is for the rich vegetation, forests and jungles. And that is how the most iconic football kit in the world, came into existence.

Z - Zagallo, Zico

Fortunately two of Brazil's most celebrated football names begin with Z and BBC Sport just happened to interview both of them during the Confederations Cup. Zico was staying in the same hotel as the crew in Brasilia when a chance meeting with the translator turned into a 10 and then 20-minute interview. Mario Zagallo, who won the World Cup an incredible four times as a player and a coach, was as passionate and intense about the game and the need for the "yellow shirt to rise again" as ever before, despite being 81 years of age.