Brasil – June 2014
Part two of two. Part one can be found here.
Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup began last week. As my friends in American Outlaws start to talk about upcoming trips to Honduras, flashbacks of our time together in Brasil fill my mind.
Game day had finally come. Our first game was against Ghana, the team that had knocked us out of the two previous World Cups. If we lost this game, we would need at least a win and a tie against Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal and powerhouse Germany, who would win the World Cup. Ghana vs. USA was effectively a knockout game for both teams.
We bused to the stadium a couple of hours early and filtered in, each sitting in different sections as tickets weren’t allotted per group.
Tension built to a fever pitch as the teams came out for the national anthems. Four years of waiting would be over in mere minutes. We would know whether there was hope or if we had a third early ticket home at the hands of Ghana.
30 seconds into the game, the stadium erupted into an anarchy of gasps, screaming, and jumping. Clint Dempsey had scored for the US, but it was too good to be true. Between bear hugs, all eyes scanned the field for a referee with a hand or flag up to signal for offsides or a foul. It couldn’t be that easy to exorcise our Ghanian demons.
It was. The goal stood. We won a tense game 2-1 after a late winning goal by John Brooks. Germany thumped Portugal that day and suddenly the group of death looked escapable. The bus ride back was full of singing, chanting, and giant smiles. We partied hard that night. Life couldn’t have been much better.
The next couple of days looked mostly like this:
I attached myself to a group from Phoenix and spent most of the daytime with them, leaving the nights for hanging out with Brasileiras and runs on the beach. Tendot, the travel agency, set up lots of tours and attractions but many were overpriced. Most of the Outlaws spent their days exploring Natal or at the beach.
Soon enough, game two against Portugal came.
We got up early that day to fly to the Amazon city of Manaus for game two. To save money on hotels, the plan was to fly in the morning of the game and fly back that evening. Each flight was 5 hours and 20 minutes.
The game was suffocatingly hot in the stands. The heat was so bad on the field that the teams took a water break in the first half.
The US led 2-1 after 94 and it looked like we would not only survive the group of death, but could win it. Then Ronaldo happened. He led a vicious counterattack down the right side, drawing all defenders towards him as he deftly crossed to the left towards an unmarked forward who evened the score, 94:32 into the game. The stadium instantly deflated. 94 minutes of effort, down the drain.
We felt numb after the game and couldn’t wait to get Manaus in our rear view mirror. The numb turned into exasperation after the plane was delayed an hour. Then another hour. Then another. Once we realized what was going on we began to sleep on the airport floor.
Sometime around 2:00 AM, the representative from the travel agency arrived from his hotel. We were on the plane within 30 minutes. We later received an apology email from American Outlaws stating that tendot would not be in charge of future trips. On the bright side, this birthed the “tendotting” game, named after the travel agency, where we would take pictures of ourselves sleeping on the ground in public locations and post them to facebook or instagram.
Back in Natal again, the next days looked mostly like this:
Beaches, parties, churrascarias (famous Brasilian steakhouses), and sidetrips to nearby cities filled our schedule.
The next game came against Germany and was a couple of hours up the coast in Recife.
We had a pep rally on the eve of the game, featuring the president of US soccer, American Outlaw & overnight internet celebrity Teddy Goalsevelt, and a special guest.
We arrived the morning of the game by bus.
We were confident heading into the game. Germany was a power and Portugal was expected to beat Ghana, but we had a +5 goal differential over Portugal and had also scored more goals. Portugal would need margin of victory against Ghana, coupled US margin of loss against Germany, of five goals (IE Portugal wins 2-0 and the US loses 3-0) to advance. Germany beat the US 1-0 in an uneventful game while Ronaldo’s late goal gave Portugal a 2-1 win. We took second in the group and went on to the next round.
It still bothers me that we were credited with luck for advancing from the group stage. The US drew the Group of Death, lost its top forward in the first half of the first game, faced five minutes of stoppage time whenever they led at the end of a game, and still finished +3 in goal differential over the next team. With any more of that luck the team bus would have crashed. But I digress.
The next day, we all said our goodbyes and the American Outlaws flew back to the US to return to their 9-5 life. I stayed an extra two weeks with a Brasilian friend to watch the rest of the tournament.
Highlights included watching the USA-Belgium round of 16 game where Tim Howard set the World Cup record for saves, watching Uruguay’s Luis Suarez bite someone in person, and the intense experience of Brasilians mistaking me for being German after Germany thrashed Brasil 7-1 in the semifinal. Fortunately, the angry stares went away after Germany defeated Argentina to win the tournament. Argentina winning the World Cup in Brasil would have been the ultimate Brasilian nightmare.
After the tournament, I set out to work at an Ayahuasca retreat. The fantasy was over and I began to sustain myself by working odd jobs. Attending the World Cup ended up costing as much as the next 5.5 months of travelling combined. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
I’ll see you in Russia?