On the morning of the game we woke up in Foz do Iguacu more than a little anxious to get to the airport and get off the ground without any delays. When we landed on time (but only four hours before kick-off) the dozens of Argentinian fans on board breathed a huge sigh of relief, and a few (including Cindy) joined an impromptu chorus of blue and white vuvuzelas.
The Argentinians weren’t the only noisy ones at the airport. The baggage carousel next to ours was surrounded by Chileans yelling their favorite, and to us it seems only, team chant - ‘Chi Chi Chi Le Le Le, Viva Chile’. Having seen Chilean fans this excited three days before their game against Spain, we weren’t too surprised to hear that 85 of them got deported after breaking into the Maracana to try to see it.
Getting off the train at Maracana station we were greeted by hundreds of desperate Argentinians offering up to four figure sums for tickets (selling tickets other than through FIFA was supposed to be highly illegal but at the games we attended we didn’t see any evidence of FIFA or the police trying at all hard to stop it). The game itself, with the exception of one beautiful Lionel Messi goal, was not all that impressive, but the atmosphere was amazing.
After the game we caught up with Cindy’s brother and a dozen other friends in Lapa, Rio’s party district, to watch the San Antonio Spurs win the NBA title and to drink more than enough Caipiroskas to celebrate both victories. At the end of the night we caught a cab back to our hotel allowing just enough time to shower, pick up our bags and head to the airport to catch an early flight to Belo Horizonte. That morning we endured the worst hangover we’d experienced since our respective Bachelor and Bachelorette’s parties in Vegas.
We awoke to hear that Lucas wouldn’t be joining us in Brazil because he couldn't find his passport. This meant that his auntie, Tanya, had been left to play host, for about a week in total, to two strangers who didn’t speak her language. Thankfully Tanya and her family, particularly her Son, Breno, and daughter, Bianca, did everything they could to make us feel welcome and ensure we made the best of our time in Belo Horizonte. We were able to break down the language barrier
thanks to regular contact with Breno’s cousin, Ron, and girlfriend, Aline, who both spoke English. Cindy was also able to communicate directly with Tanya by speaking Spanish slowly with her best attempt at a Portugese accent.
We spent our first night in Belo Horizonch (as the locals pronounce it) at a sports bar to watch the US ultimately, but not convincingly, beat Ghana. Just as we had the night before we ordered plenty of drinks, but this time all of them were water. The next day we woke up feeling much better, and ready to attend our second game, Belgium v Algeria, at the Mineiro. Aline’s family owns a restaurant really close to the stadium, so for this and each of our three games at the Mineiro
we went to the restaurant before and after the game.
After the final whistle, the stadium emptied in no time, as all eyes turned to the Brazil v Mexico game starting one hour later. We watched most of that game at Bianca’s house, sitting on a rooftop terrace, seeing the sun set over urban Belo Horizonte and enjoying her husband’s Brazilian barbeque. Just as well the setting was so memorable because the game itself was far from it, ending goalies and leaving many Brazilians almost ready to write their team off as genuine World Cup contenders.
Like a lot of large South American cities, Sao Paulo has plenty of nice buildings in its historical centre, which is where we stayed. As young professionals we were more interested in the more modern, commercial, part of Sao Paulo, so we took a walking tour through Paulista Avenue. We saw some impressive architecture (in particular the MASP museum), ate some really nice (but expensive) Brazilian and international food, and visited the Bohemian bar district of Villa Madalena to watch Colombia beat Ivory Coast. We spent the rest of our time in the FIFA Fan Fest, with the highlight being Tim Cahill’s goal of the tournament in Australia’s impressive loss to the Netherlands.
The atmosphere at the game was the most impressive of the seven games we attended. For ninety minutes neither side was able to open the scoring and the Argentinian fans responded by chanting louder and louder. In injury time the stadium erupted when Lionel Messi slotted a beautiful left footer in the corner of the net. Celebrations were still in full force half an hour after the game finished when we heard the first and only announcement in Spanish at the World Cup, a
reminder to the Argentinians that the game was over accompanied with an invitation for them to go home.
second half. With Russia hosting the next World Cup and Qatar the one after, it looks like Brazil will be the last host country for at least a decade that will play more than three games in their home
After saying goodbye and a thousand (but probably not enough) thank yous to Tanya and her extended family, we flew to Brasilia for our final two Wolrd Cup games. The first of these games was Portugal v Ghana, featuring Christiano Ronaldo, one of the most talented and least popular players in world football. There was some added excitement for us in this game because in a lot of ways it had more bearing on whether the US advanced to the next round than the US v Germany game that was being played at the same time. The formula was quite complicated, but essentially we wanted either a draw or a narrow Portugal win. When Portugal scored first, we started cheering the Ghanaians, but switched allegiances again after Ghana equalized. The 2-1 Portugal win combined with a 1-0 US loss was good enough, and when the final whistle blew the loudest cheers you could hear at the National Stadium in Brasilia were ‘USA, USA…’. During the game, Ronaldo did nothing to improve our very negative view of him, sulking around for ten minutes like a six year old boy because a teammate didn’t pass him the ball.
produce 12 new (or significantly remodeled) stadiums (we think 8 would be plenty and would have avoided some of the most passionate protests around this World Cup in particular, but lets not get into that). Host countries are also expected to produce a huge amount of broader new
infrastructure, including public transport, hotels, fan zones, media hubs etc etc.
In Brazil, the important stuff was ready enough in time for the Cup and nobody really missed the stuff that wasn’t ready. For example, I’m sure Fifa would have liked to see colorful sign-posts telling tourists how to get to the Fan Fest in Brasilia, but the black and white printed A4 piece of paper stuck lopsidedly to the metro station wall did the job. Seeing how slowly Brazilians work (for example we spent an astounding one hour in a Brasilia airport baggage drop queue less than 8 meters long), it’s a wonder that they got anything done at all!
On the security question, we’re perhaps not the best judges since we spent most of our time in the safer parts of the safer (southern) cities, and had recently visited relatively more dangerous places like Bolivia. The security warnings were really directed at western tourists who were under the erroneous assumption that Brazil is as safe as home (so not us). The reality is that there is a lot of crime in Brazil and they don’t have enough police to get the problem fully under control. Even if you’re lucky enough to see a policemen driving through a suburban street their lights will inevitably be flashing; we’re told the intention is to tell criminals to wait until they have left the area before committing a crime. During the Cup there were plenty of extra police around the stadiums and Fan Fests, but we’d often see 20 of them standing together talking and then not encounter another for a kilometer or two.
In the end, we thoroughly enjoyed being able to see a World Cup in the spiritual home of football - a true once in a lifetime experience. Although we were sad that it was over, we flew to Colombia knowing that we still had plenty to look forward to in our backpacking adventures.