The World Cup is an experience. There’s no other way to put it. From the moment we stepped onto the subway until the final whistle of Belgium vs. Russia today in Rio, it was an amazing atmosphere and one that I won’t soon forget. This is despite the fact that the match itself was pretty lackluster. Here are some haphazard thoughts from my experience today.
I mentioned in another post before I left that one of my bigger concerns coming to Rio was the safety issue. Well, I must commend the city because I felt the game was very well organized and safe. When we got out of the Metro, there were plenty of volunteers and policemen guiding us in the direction to go. Our tickets were also checked ten times or more – before we even got to the security section of the stadium. Once there, we went through the standard metal detectors and also had our bags checked via x-ray.
Though the alcohol was flowing, nobody seemed overly drunk and fans of both teams were very positive and friendly. There were also a ton of USA fans there. Overall, everyone was in good spirits and just there to enjoy the game, so I never had to worry about anything crazy happening.
I’ve been very impressed with the transportation in Rio. The Metro to and from the game, while crowded, never felt overwhelming. The flow of pedestrians was smooth save for one ramp up to the station, and we didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes for a train. Sure, we were crammed like sardines, but nothing worse than what I’ve seen in Asia (or even approaching that).
We took cabs to and from the FIFA Fan Fest in Copacabana, where we watched the US (heartbreakingly) draw Portugal – no problems there either. So we still haven’t run into the fabled Brazil traffic and our public transportation has been smooth!
The atmosphere at the game was amazing. Impromptu chants, singing, yelling, cheering – World Cup games have it all. On the approach to the stadium there was just a buzz in the air that was palpable. Random strangers stopped to take photos of one another. A kindly middle-aged Belgium woman painted the Belgian flag on my face. Hi-fives were given and received, and chants of USA USA even rang out in a game featuring two European nations. Everyone was just happy to be there and it showed – an experience I won’t soon forget.
Unfortunately, the game wasn’t that great soccer-wise. Though both teams had chances, nobody found the back of the net until the 86th(?) minute. Belgium won – and half the stadium went home happy.
Tonight we went to the FIFA Fan Fest to watch the US game. You’ll recognize it as the place on the beach in Rio where fans gather to watch games on a big screen. The atmosphere from the stadium was nearly matched by the energy in the Fan Fest – euphoria, distress, and utter dejection – moments you could FEEL in the crowd. It was a game where fans of both teams left feeling as if they had lost – Portugal is in dire straights and the US squandered a chance at sealing their spot in the next round. I think that will likely be my last time there – for the first time I felt a bit unsafe – on the way out it just felt like too many people.
I’ll just leave you with some of the most memorable moments of the day:
– Getting my ticket checked ten times on the way into the stadium
– The moment I walked out of the tunnel to be bathed in the bright sunlight with my first full glimpse of the pitch at the Maracana
– My friend, dressed in “Uncle Sam” gear, being stopped for random pictures
– The same friend not even placing in the top 10 of craziest outfits I saw today
– The random people you strike up conversations with when everyone is in town for the same thing
– The utter elation when the US scored to tie and again to take the lead
– The utter dejection when they gave up the stoppage time equalizer
– The feeling of satisfaction after a day well spent
Until the next time…
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