NATAL, Brazil -- Brazil loves their Selacao, living and dying with their national team, but they also have a clear second favorite team: Portugal.
Portugal's match against Germany drew large crowds to bars, and after the match TV stations played the highlights ad nauseam. The coverage -- across every media outlet -- was only a step below that of Brazil. At least for Portugual games they at least acknowledged that there were other matches, showing the day's scores and then delving into hours and hours of Portugal analysis.
Part of Brazil's affection for Portugal is because they share a language and some cultures. According to three locals, the country has always had a soft spot for Portugal, but there is a bigger reason they love the team. Portugal's popularity in the country is at an all-time high, and it's Cristiano Ronaldo fault.
Ronaldo is insanely popular in most of the world, but that's especially true in Brazil. When favorite player polls are conducted, he trails only Neymar. He is of course, very good at soccer, very good looking and also plays for one of the biggest clubs in the world, Real Madrid. But, more than anything, he benefits from not being Lionel Messi.
Brazil and Argentina have a long-running rivalry, with the two teams having battled for the top spot in South America for decades. Be it the World Cup, Copa America or even a Copa Libertadores match between Brazilian and Argentinean clubs, Brazil hates Argentina. And, as you might imagine, Brazilians also hate Argentina's talisman.
"Messi is, how you say, evil," one Brazilian in a Ronaldo jersey said.
When Japan played Greece on Thursday night in Natal, a woman wearing a Messi was booed and whistled at in the stands and in the concourse. She was the least-liked person in the stadium, which is some doing when one considers that Greece were playing.
Meanwhile, Portugal jerseys are as common as any other, aside from Brazil. And almost every one says "Ronaldo" on the back. You even find Ronaldo Real Madrid jerseys, despite the fact that Brazil's Neymar plays for Barcelona.
"Ronaldo is perfect," said the man in the Ronaldo jersey. "He is European with the muscle, South American with skill."
"Cristiano is adopted by Brazil," another said.
As long as Ronaldo is pitted against Messi, he will always have a place in Brazil's heart, and a place in the spotlight.
Every day, the news starts with an update on Brazil. That's followed by an update on Ronaldo's health. After that, they move onto the matches of the day. Even when Messi scored for Argentina, he and the team didn't get any special mention. Brazil promotes Ronaldo and does its best to ignore his arch-rival, because Messi is Argentinian. Embracing his greatness is intolerable.
If it wasn't for adidas and Gatorade commercials, Messi wouldn't be on TV any more than, say, Clint Dempsey or Karim Benzema.
But Ronaldo is everywhere. Only Neymar is more beloved. Brazil is the favorite team here, Portugal is second and nobody cares who third is.