World Cup neutrals who came from afar

Football fans from all over the world have flocked to Brazil to enjoy the Fifa World Cup.

Netherlands fans cheer prior to the 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil Group B match between Spain and Netherlands at Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, Brazil, 13 June 2014. Picture: Fifa

BRAZIL - As its name suggests, the Fifa World Cup is a global event, and in many ways more than just 32 nations take part. As Brazil 2014 has shown, people from all over the planet live and breathe the greatest footballing show on Earth, whether it is on their TV sets or Fifa's digital platforms, at the Fifa Fan Fests or in the stadiums themselves, no matter whether their teams are in action or not.

Around 40 per cent of the nearly three million tickets sold for Brazil 2014 were bought by people from outside the host country, resident in more than 200 countries and territories around the world, with a considerable number of them coming from nations who are not even taking part in the competition. Among them is Canada, which accounted for nearly 30,000 ticket applications, the 11th-highest total of all.

You only have to take a walk around the stadiums and Fifa Fan Fests to see what a truly global occasion Brazil 2014 is. On show are flags and shirts from Venezuela, China PR, New Zealand and many more countries besides. Even Sweden star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the most notable absentees from the competition, accepted the invitation to come to Brazil and see the battle for the world title himself.

Fifa's digital platforms are also attracting a cosmopolitan audience, with one in every three of the 37 million users that have so far accessed the exclusive content doing so from countries that failed to qualify for the World Cup. In total, inhabitants of these countries have made 1.5 billion page visits to date, with Canada, India and China leading the ranking of non-participating nations.

I'd walk a million miles

The passion that the competition generates around the world is symbolised by the Norwegian couple Erik Sryrstrad and Mariana Castro, who made a 22-hour journey from the small town of Kongsberg in the south of the country to Rio de Janeiro to watch Argentina down Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1 at the Maracana.

What makes the couple's dedication all the more impressive is that Mariana is 34 weeks pregnant and needed medical authorisation and an approved healthcare plan in order to make the marathon journey.

"A lot of airlines see 34 weeks as a risky time in a pregnancy, but my doctors gave me the green light and I got my authorisation," said the 31-year-old Mariana, who hails from Brazil and obtained one of the nearly 7,000 tickets requested from Norway. "I really wanted to come here and watch the World Cup in my home city, in the stadium where I've spent many hours watching my team Fluminense play."

Another long-distance traveller is Idi Kato, who has made the trip to Brazil 2014 from the Ugandan capital of Kampala. Thrilled with the atmosphere at the Fifa Fan Fest and in Brazil in general, he said: "The country is mad about football. Wherever you go people talk about nothing else. Brazil is wonderful and I hope to experience this atmosphere for the whole of my 12 days here."

While Idi does not have tickets to the games, two fans who have been to the stadiums are Tony Pacheco and Fito Bonilla, who came all the way from El Salvador to see the Belgium-Russia and France-Ecuador matches at the Maracana.

"I'm supporting Argentina, but Brazil has real passion for the game," said Tony, who lives in San Salvador "You can feel it in the air, and it's the perfect combination: Brazil, football and the World Cup."

As that combination is showing, the World Cup has a unique power to inspire passion for the game right around the world. And no matter whether they are supporting their team or have just come along to soak up the spectacle, the fans who make the competition such a special occasion every four years are united by one thing: their love for the sport of football.

Visit EWN's Soccer World Cup 2014 Portal.