Brazilians the biggest winner
Fortaleza, Brazil - So here we are, into the knockout stage, and the critics are saying this has been one of the best World Cup's in recent memory.
From Colombia and Netherlands racking up more than 10 goals each, to the Costa Rica surprise, to the drama of the Brazil shoot-out victory over Chile.
There are lots of candidates for biggest winners of this tournament so far. My vote? The Brazilian people.
The world is finding out that Brazil's secret weapon isn't Neymar or the 170,000 security personnel who have fanned out across the country. It is Brazilians themselves, who in my experience, have won this tournament as gracious, stylish (and at times, patient) hosts.
People like Lucimar Nacimento who found a suitcase with World Cup tickets and a credit card in a suitcase in a bus. She made sure to get the suitcase to a police station, where they were able to track down the owner, a 34-year-old tourist from Mexico.
In Manus I left my work laptop sitting on a bench in the busy port area of the city, where hundreds of people were passing by. When I realised I had forgotten it a couple hours later, we rushed back and a woman in a wooden stall selling Amazon river boat tickets had noticed I left it, and held it in safe keeping for me until my return.
The laptop was probably worth at least one month's salary.
From the police officer outside the stadium in Sao Paulo helping a drunk tourist from Croatia find a taxi, to the patient flight attendants in Fortaleza trying their best to speak English to a plane full of rowdy tourists, to the young front desk clerk in Manaus keeping her cool and her smile while trying to check in a mob of demanding foreign journalists hovering over her, it’s been the Brazilian hosts who have won this tournament.
In my experience, the further you get outside of the elite neighbourhoods of Leblon in Rio and Jardin’s in Sao Paulo, the genuinely friendlier the Brazilian people get. That was the brilliance of this World Cup: To take it out to the hinterlands of Cuiaba, to the sun soaked sand dunes of Natal.
Remember? It was only a few weeks ago we were saying the airports would not be able to cope (they have), the stadiums would not be ready (they were), and the security would be a problem (it hasn't).
But we failed to remember, any country can build a stadium or put cops on the streets, but not every country has Brazilians to fill the party, and the locals know it.
During every match of this tournament at some point during the game, the Brazilian fans start singing in unison a verse to a song that goes like this: "I am Brazilian, with much pride, with much love."
Perhaps it's a way for Brazil to say in unison to the world, "You enjoying this tournament? Like our country? We built it, it’s ours, but welcome world!"
No matter what happens on the pitch, keep singing Brazil.
You've written the lyrics, the rest of the world is just following your rhythm.
Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter @ElizondoGabriel