As it begins to look more and more like South America is going to clean up at the World Cup, I had the rare opportunity to watch matches of both Brazil and Argentina from within those countries. Each of these nations has won the cup in the past and two of the greatest players in cup history, Argentina’s Diego Maradona (now Argentina’s coach) and Brazil’s Pele, originated here. Both countries hold futbol to a standard on par with the church. When a game is on, the cities in both countries shut down as everyone – and I mean everyone – watches. Here’s my report:
The Game: Brazil vs. Ivory Coast
Where: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Date: June 20, 2010
The Food: Feijoada
The Drink: Caipirinha
The Scene: “We’re not usually this patriotic,” a tour guide tells me as we pass building after building decorated with Brazilian flags. The media is full of reports of coaching controversies and with an only 2-1 win over North Korea the game before, many Brazilians are worried about their team this year. Yet, in the days leading up to the match Rio’s streets are full of vendors selling green, yellow, and blue vuvuzuelas, t-shirts, flags, pennants, and noisemakers of every sort. In the morning before the match fireworks are going off and their intensity strengthens as kickoff nears.
FIFA has set up a Fanfest on Copacabana beach with a backdrop of the famous Pão de Açúcar mountain. There is an inside section and outside section. The inside is ticketed, but has a stage, large screen, and official food vendors. The outside section is open to everyone (and being the south end of Copacabana beach where the metro stop is, everyone from all parts of Rio come) and features a giant screen and roving unofficial vendors selling beer, caipirinhas, hot dogs, sodas and everything else you generally find on Rio’s beach boardwalks. I head to the outdoor section. I notice the crowd begins to arrive in the morning before the match to watch the earlier game of the day. They sit out in their beach chairs and blankets, but as the Brazil game nears the beach chairs are folded and, within an hour of anticipation, tens of thousands of people are shoulder to shoulder surrounding the screen. Everyone wears Brazil’s colors. Faces are painted. A man walks the boardwalk dressed head to toe with Brazil national attire, as is his dog (head to paw). One woman has special contacts where the Brazilian flag is her eye color. Music is playing and everyone dances and sings. Vuvuzuelas blow non-stop. It’s fun and festive. The streets all throughout Rio become empty. Everyone who is not at the Fanfest is at a bar, restaurant, or within earshot of a TV or radio.
Everyone cheers when the game starts. With every pass and close kick noise increases and waves of energy reverberate through the crowd. Brazil is heavily favored and the goals don’t take too long to come. In the second minute Robinho’s shot buzzes the crossbar, then the first, in the 25 minute from Luis Fabiano, sets off about 4 minutes of non-stop emotion. There’s cheering, shouting, hugging, kissing, dancing, arms all in the air, and jumping up and down. You would think this was the final. During intermission, a few people run to the bathroom or to buy beer or cocktails, but for the most part everyone stays put and dances in place.
The second half starts and the next goal comes almost immediately at the 51st minute, again from Luis Fabiano, and the same reaction occurs. This time it doesn’t stop as Elano’s goal comes in the 61st. Later, when star player Kaka receives a red card in the 89th minute for a questionable offense boos come in unison. Still the game goes on and the amount of buzz in the air is undeniable. Ivory Coast scores late, but the cheers continue after a few moments of silence. Brazil wins and cheers and car horns continue throughout the streets of the entire city for the rest of the night.
Final Score: Brazil 3, Ivory Coast 1
The Game: Argentina vs. Mexico
Where: Buenos Aires, Argentina
Date: June 27, 2010
The Food: Bife de Chorizo
The Drink: Quilmes
The Scene: I arrive in Buenos Aires only a few hours before the match. The streets are eerily empty. I walk to the Obelisco at Plaza Republica, the focal point of the city, and few people are there except a few stragglers who are rushing to get somewhere. On street corners men sell assortments of light blue and white Argentina paraphernalia: vuvuzuelas, t-shirts, flags, and hats. After crossing Avenida 9 de Julio, I see the bars and cafes all full of people, all facing TVs. Although there’s a giant screen at Plaza San Martin, I take the bus to the Bohemian district of San Telmo. Every bar and restaurant is filled with people. The Sunday flea market is going on and most of the vendors have small TVs. Crowds gather at each TV. Horns go off and the match starts. Cheers follow and the momentum in the street increases with every pass. I stop in several bars but there are no seats or places to stand.
At a Tango Bar on Plaza Dorrego the host pulls out a table from a corner and moves it in the back center of the seating area and I have my place. The stage with red velvet curtains has a large screen in the middle of it. Every face is turned that way. With Mexico being a fairly decent team, most are a little nervous. This is Maradona’s first year as coach of the national team. Even though with all of his past issues, he is regarded as a godlike figure in Argentina. Still the team barely made the Cup and was nearly knocked out by Peru of all teams (Argentina tied and scored goals in the last minutes to take the win and save their spot). They have FIFA’s 2009 player of the year, Lionel Messi, and in the first round Argentina had wiped out all of their opponents decisively.
The nerves are calmed soon enough. Tevez scores in the 25th minute and everyone in the bar goes wild. I can hear shouts and fireworks coming from the street. Before the cheering dies down Higuan scores in the 33rd minute and a steady wave of emotion throughout Buenos Aires holds firm. All doubts about Maradona’s coaching abilities have been lifted. Still 2-0 at halftime, there is a positive air running through the bar and cheers continue into the street.
The second half starts and Tevez scores again at the 52 minute and the party starts. Mexico’s Hernandez scores at the 71st minute, though Argentina never really loses momentum. After the game, impromptu mobs form in the streets and sidewalks throughout Buenos Aires. Everyone is cheering for Argentina and singing. The mobs join each other until they are thousands deep and literally stop traffic. Everyone heads to the Obelisco. Tens of thousands arrive and stay for hours after the last call sounds. There is non-stop cheering, singing, dancing and TV cameras are there capturing every moment of it. The crowd is ready for the next round.
Final Score: Argentina 3, Mexico 1
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.