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World Cup: Brazilians celebrate after penalty shootout win

Brazilian fans launched fireworks, danced and breathed a huge collective sigh of relief on Saturday after their team narrowly escaped an embarrassing World Cup exit.

SAO PAULO: Brazilian fans launched fireworks, danced and breathed a huge collective sigh of relief on Saturday after their team narrowly escaped an embarrassing World Cup exit.

Brazilians watching in their homes, at bars and on giant public screens exploded with joy after the Selecao won a heart-stopping penalty shootout against Chile in the tournament's first knock-out game.

They shouted "Brazil! Brazil!" from their apartment and car windows, blowing on plastic vuvuzela horns and setting off fireworks.

The country had been staring at a potential repeat of a national trauma: The 1950 World Cup final defeat against Uruguay the last time the tournament was played in Brazil.

Some also feared that defeat could have revived an anti-World Cup protest movement that has faded into the background.

As Saturday's game in the southeastern city of Belo Horizonte headed toward the penalty shootout, cities from Brasilia to Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro became eerily quiet.

In Sao Paulo, thousands of Brazilian fans bedecked in the yellow team jersey held hands at an official "fan fest" screening. The few Chileans also held each other.

Some Brazilian fans looked away while screams erupted after every penalty scored, or groaned when they missed. In the end, they danced and sang.

But many were worried about the team's performance in a game that ended in a 1-1 tie and was only won thanks to the heroics of goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who stopped two penalties to send his team through to the quarter-finals.

"I'm disappointed. I was expecting more from Brazil," said Sergio Paulo, 35, a professor who was among thousands of people watching the game at the Sao Paulo fan fest.

In Rio de Janeiro, fans erupted with joy at a screening on Copacabana beach.

"A lot of emotions, a lot of suffering. When that ball hit the cross-bar, it was just a moment of pure relief," said Felipe Thedin, a 29-year-old geography teacher, referring to Chilean forward Mauricio Pinilla's near miss deep into extra time.

- Won with 'guts' -

President Dilma Rousseff, who is seeking reelection in October, expressed her joy on Twitter, writing that the game was won "with guts and the support of the Brazilian people."

"It was difficult. It was with guts, courage, tears and the defense of Julio Cesar. We won."

Brazil is under massive pressure to win the trophy after a troubled run-up to the World Cup, which was plagued by stadium construction delays and record $11 billion spending that sparked protests.

Some Brazilians fear an early elimination could revive protests that have been small in recent weeks after drawing as many as one million people last year demanding better hospitals, education and public transport.

Despite the lackluster performance, some fans were still convinced that Brazil could win its record-extending sixth World Cup on home soil and bury the ghost of the "Maracanazo," the 1950 loss at Rio de Janeiro's legendary Maracana Stadium.

"My heart stopped in the second half. Now I think Brazil will win," said Daniele dos Santos, 23, wearing the yellow jersey at a bar in Brasilia packed with 200 fans.

"They had better win; otherwise everybody will remember how expensive the stadiums were and they'll protest again," Santos said.

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