As all 32 teams have played their first World Cup games, now is a perfect time to reflect on an incredible week of football in Brazil.
After a couple of days of sitting around waiting for the festivities to begin, the big day had arrived. Brazil took on Croatia and our merry band of nine men and women jumped on a random bus in Salvador hoping it would take us to the FIFA Fanfest.
What really happened is we got off at the first big screen we saw which happened to be surrounded by people in yellow jerseys. It didn’t take us long to realise that it wasn’t the official fanzone but we were happy enough. All of us were eager to join in with the festivities and after a few minutes of ‘impressing’ the locals with our samba skills, we noticed that we were in fact the only gringos (foreigners) present.
The area was heavily policed and the atmosphere incredibly jovial. On the big screen, the teams came out of the tunnel in Sao Paulo and the Brazilian national anthem was sung with gusto by all around us. After seven years of preparation it was now time for the Samba Boys, and in particular, Neymar, to walk the walk.
Things didn’t exactly go according to plan as Croatia went into an early lead through a Marcelo own goal. Nervous times ahead for the locals but thankfully the hosts turned things around to secure a 3-1 win. The locals didn’t seem to mind too much about the now infamous penalty decision either. Cue a party late into the night.
Too much samba leads to sore heads all round. A day for the poolside. I did manage to get nutmegged by a young Brazilian kid during a kickabout. Mexico and Chile open their World Cup campaigns with wins over Cameroon and Australia respectively while the Dutch demolish the Spanish 5-1.
Ratman (don’t ask), the Englishman amongst us wakes up with excitement as his big day arrives. Our second attempt to find the fan fest proves successful. However we are told at the information desk that only Brazil games and games played in Salvador will be shown on the big screen. Disappointment all round.
We watch Colombia beat Greece and Costa Rica shock Uruguay before gathering outside a bar to watch England v Italy on a small screen. Ratman keeps the crowd happy with never ending renditions of ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘Vindaloo’. The other English fans in the crowd appear to be a bit on the dry side so we have to offer moral support! England lose 2-1.
An early start today as we make our way to the local university to take part in the Favela World Cup. A favela is the Brazilian term for ‘slum’. Organised by a London-based charity group, Football Beyond Borders, it aims to bring people from all over the world together through football, regardless of background.
The organiser, Jack Reynolds, who lives in one of Salvador’s favelas, opens the proceedings by giving a speech, in both English and Portuguese about how despite all the corruption of FIFA and the expensive World Cup match tickets football is still ‘our game’.
That was enough to get me motivated as my Portugal team open our account with a 2-0 win over Germany. Two crushing defeats later and we are out as County Down’s Damo Nesson leads Bosnia to the trophy from the heart of defence. He only injured one favela boy too. The tournament is followed by a party back in the favela where the samba music is in full flow.
People are very welcoming as we are reluctantly convinced to take centre stage to show off our samba moves once more. Damo’s dreams of being mobbed by autograph-hunting favela children prove futile. After a while we make our excuses, thank the locals and head home after a long day. A great day had by all.
Back to the fanfest today. Since we live so far out we didn’t make it to the stadium in time to attempt to get tickets for Germany v Portugal in Salvador. We take our position at the top of he hill as the Germans around us celebrate a 4-0 demolition of Portugal. We find out that if a game is in Salvador then all games on that day will be shown on the big screen. The area is slowly taken over by enthusiastic USA fans as they settle in for their night game against Ghana. It’s a dramatic affair as the US score a late winner. Cue chants of ‘USA’ long into the night.
Another poolside day as we decide the Brazil v Mexico game isn’t worth the journey to the fanfest. Luckily, we were probably right as it ends in a 0-0 stalemate as we watch in a local bar. Later, we support South Korea to an impressive 1-1 draw with Russia.
An extended break from the hustle and bustle as I doze though Holland’s win over Australia. Tim Cahill scores a cracker and later Spain are eliminated by Chile. Tomorrow, back to mingle with the crowds for what is sure to be an entertaining game between England and Uruguay before taking in France v Switzerland from the stadium on Friday.
Until next time.