By TALES AZZONI
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Friday, July 6, 2018
SOCHI, RUSSIA -- It took an angry-looking bird to get Brazilians hooked on their World Cup mascot.
The team's new mascot - a yellow canary with an angry face that represents some of the fans' frustration after having lost the World Cup at home four years ago - has become a huge sensation everywhere it goes in Russia.
Fans unofficially dubbed it the Canarinho Pistola, which translates to Pissed Off Little Canary or Angry Little Canary.
"Man, what a character he is," Brazil coach Tite said. "He has his own charisma."
The bird, always dressed in Brazil's traditional yellow and blue uniform, resembles an angryfaced Tweety, the Looney Tunes character. It boasts a "bad boy" attitude and a tough-looking walk, contrasting to the cute image of the unpopular canary that had always represented the national team.
Historically, Brazil never fully embraced the tradition of mascots in sports, but things changed when the Brazilian soccer federation - inspired in part by the Chicago Bull's Benny the Bull - turned its nice little canary into a madlooking figure to try to bring fans closer to the Selecao, or team, ahead of the 2018 World Cup.
"We wanted to represent this desire of the Brazilian to always want to win in soccer," federation marketing director Gilberto Ratto told The Associated Press in Russia. "The mascot has the face that every Brazilian puts on when they are about to go play soccer, always with that determination to win.
It's the same expression you would see in Neymar's face in a World Cup final or in someone playing a pickup game among friends on a Monday night."
The idea was to give the mascot a look and demeanour that would bode well with a younger generation. The angry-looking Brazilian mascot, created in late 2016, also became popular outside of the realms of soccer, as it represents the population's overall dissatisfaction in a country facing an unresolved political crisis, increased violence and unstable economy.
The new canary is not allowed to appear in matches in Russia because of FIFA's rules protecting the official World Cup mascot, Zabivaka the wolf, but it accompanies the Brazilian squad almost everywhere it goes, appearing outside stadiums before matches and in some training sessions.
The canary was already in Kazan ahead of the team's match against Belgium in the World Cup quarter-final on Friday.
Fans chanted the mascot's name as they waited for Brazil players to arrive at the team's hotel for a recent game in Moscow.
They went crazy when security guards - apparently thinking the mascot was a supporter trying to sneak in - took it away from the reserved team area.
The canary didn't think twice and joined the partying fans, playing the drums and taking dozens of selfies before being allowed back inside after a quick intervention from Brazilian officials.