Around 5,000 locals turned up to watch the Brazilian team train in Sochi ahead of the Russia World Cup. Brazil is losing its reputation as a football-crazy country, a Nielsel Sports poll revealed. Image Credit: AFP

Zurich: Brazil’s reputation as a football-mad country has been dented by a report, which found that only 60 per cent of those interviewed said they were interested in the sport.

The UAE came top of a table compiled by global information, data and measurement company Nielsen Sports, which ranked 30 countries according to the percentage of the population who described themselves as interested in football.

The UAE, where the figure was 80 per cent, was followed by Thailand (78 per cent) and Chile, Portugal and Turkey (all 75) while five-time world champions Brazil ranked a modest 13th.

The Brazilian figure had dropped from 72 per cent in 2013, the year before the country hosted the World Cup where the national team were humiliated 7-1 in the semi-finals by Germany.

Brazilians can be very fickle about football and attendances at games in the country fluctuate wildly, depending on the form of the teams involved, whether they are at a decisive stage of a competition, the kick-off time of the match and even the weather.

Last season’s Brazilian championship had a modest average attendance of 16,418.

The report said that the figure for China increased from 27 per cent in 2013 to 32 per cent in 2017, in India from 30 per cent to 45 per cent and in the US from 28 per cent to 32 per cent.

The United Kingdom, despite boasting the English Premier League, was a modest 17th in the rankings with 51 per cent.

The report also said that Portugal and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo dominated the use of social media by players, well ahead of his rival Lionel Messi.

His 570 million engagements across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in the first five months of this year were well ahead of Neymar, with 294 million, and Messi with 201 million.

The report pointed out that engagements, rather than number of followers, were the key to understanding the value of a social media account, as they showed how many people interacted with the account and gave a better idea of impact and influence.

Social media success was not always linked to success on the pitch, the report added.

“A broader range of factors comes into play, such as the ability to project a likeable personality or enviable lifestyle,” it said.

Controversial Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos was fourth with 158 million engagements and Liverpool and Egypt forward Mohammad Salah fifth with 105.3 million.

In terms of social media followers, Ronaldo also led with 322.8 million across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook combined while Neymar had 194.2 million and Messi 181.9 million.

These statistics did not deter an army of excited youngsters — including one who managed to break onto the pitch for a selfie — as Brazil held their first training session on Russian soil ahead of the World Cup.

Around 5,000 locals turned out to watch the relaxed session at the Yug-Sport Stadium, next to the Brazilian squad’s hotel in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

Tuesday is a national holiday in Russia and many fans opted for vantage points along the road leading to the stadium, while others filled the stand.

One young boy broke through security barriers and managed to get close to a group of Brazil players including Neymar, taking a photograph before being led away.

However, most fans contented themselves with chanting the name of the world’s most expensive player, who arrived with his teammates in Russia in the early hours of Monday fresh from scoring in a 3-0 friendly win over Austria in Vienna.

Members of the Selecao also had a treat in store for Philippe Coutinho, marking the Barcelona midfielder’s 26th birthday by pinning him to the ground, breaking an egg over his head and covering him in flour.

Those who started the final pre-World Cup warm-up against Austria spent most of Tuesday’s session apart from the rest of Tite’s squad, while Manchester United-bound midfielder Fred was not involved as he continues to nurse an ankle injury.

Brazil play their opening game at the tournament on Sunday, when they take on Switzerland in Rostov-on-Don. They will also come up against Costa Rica and Serbia in Group E.