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When Brazil's shanty-town put on show 'for the English'

June 10, 2014 13:09 IST

Image: Residents dance at Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro
Photographs: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Members of England's World Cup squad made a flying visit to Brazil's largest shanty-town on Monday, yet observers were left wondering if it achieved little more than 'para inglês ver'.

-Football World Cup

Five England players, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck, Adam Lallana, Jack Wilshere and Fraser Forster visited Rocinha, a collection of cinderblock buildings, which houses 70,000 people, stacked up the steep side of a jungly, granite mountain.

Security was tight for the visit, which included a demonstration of capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art, and the players kicking a ball with boys and girls on a battered, synthetic pitch.

"It puts everything into perspective," Lallana said.

"It's great to see this side of Brazil, the kids enjoying themselves. It's great to see the different cultures."

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When Brazil's shanty-town put on show 'for the English'

Image: England soccer player Adam Lallana shakes hands with a Brazilian boy as teammate Danny Welback looks on during their visit to the sport complex at the Rocinha slum in Rio de Janeiro
Photographs: Pilar Olivares/Reuters

The visit, however, felt little more than official glad handling by World Cup organisers, an example of the popular Brazilian saying 'para ingles ver,' a Portuguese phrase meaning 'for the English to see'.

More deeply, it means doing something just for show to cover up inconvenient facts and was first used in the 19th century as Brazil tried to pretend it was meeting treaty promises to Britain to end the African slave trade.

At the sports complex, where police and heavily-armed solders stood guard while suitcase-sized, camera-carrying drones buzzed above the event scanning for trouble, the players had at least tried to get into the spirit of the event.

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When Brazil's shanty-town put on show 'for the English'

Image: England's Danny Welback,right, performs capoeira as teammate Daniel Sturridge looks
Photographs: Pilar Olivares/Reuters

Sturridge and Welbeck did their best to join in with the high-kicking, cartwheeling capoeira kids, while English FA official Trevor Brooking said the organisation would make a ‘five-figure’ donation to the sports complex.

The money may be well received.

Brazil had promised improvements for poor shanty-town residents as a legacy of the tournament, though the crime, violence and unfinished infrastructure projects that sparked street protests over the country's World Cup priorities were not hard to find in the area surrounding Rocinha.

Work on an unfinished metro extension snarled traffic - just one example of the promised infrastructure projects in the 12 host cities that remains unfinished.

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When Brazil's shanty-town put on show 'for the English'

Image: A Brazilian dancer performs "Capoeira" as England soccer players Fraser Forster and Jack Wilshere look on
Photographs: Pilar Olivares/Reuters

A river of grey sewerage flowed out of the back of the complex to pour into the ocean 100 metres from the team's hotel.

The fact the event was so heavily guarded was little wonder. In 2010 a Rocinha drugs gang took 35 people hostage at the same hotel England are staying at after a gun battle with police.

Asked if Rocinha was getting better and if the event showed his community's real face or merely something "for the English to see" teenage capoeira performers were philosophical.

"It's complicated," said Carlos Andre Camino.

"It's a great event. But they're here to see us, not the other way around, right?"