What it was like to be at the World Cup in Brazil

The World Cup is arguably the most important sporting event in the world, and by the number of Cups it has won, Brazil is arguably the most important football nation in the world. Finally, no one will argue with the fact that Brazilians love to have fun and know how to throw a party! I was so fortunate to have been able to be in Brazil for the first half of the World Cup 2014.

In the days leading to the World Cup, everything on the streets gradually become green, yellow, and blue. From the supermarkets to the balconies of apartments, you seen Brazilian colors and Brazilian flags everywhere. You start to notice yellow, green, and/or blue manicures on the subway. Another thing I noticed was the sudden influx of foreigners in Sao Paulo. In my time living and working in Sao Paulo for 6 months, I had never seen or heard a foreigner on the metro. Now, every time I board a train, I’d hear a foreign language. All these changes in the city really got me excited for the coming matches!

To understand the importance of the World Cup in Brazil, one just has to walk around a city during a match. The opening of the Cup was on a weekday, and I was in Sao Paulo. First of all, ALL the businesses, even shopping malls, close during the 2 and a half hours of a match. The only exception was the sports bars, where people will be watching the matches. In fact, every World Cup, the days of the Brazil matches are official national holidays. The rationale is simple: if everyone is going to be watching the cup at work anyway, why not just give them the day off?

During the Cup, just being in Brazil felt exciting, whether or not you had a ticket. People watch the matches at bars, at home, or at special “fan fest” hosted by FIFA. In Sao Paulo, the fan space was in the Anhangabau valley. In Rio, it was on the Copacabana beach. In Sao Paulo, of course the neighborhood of bars, Vila Madalena, was full of people, and was also a great place to feel the atmosphere of the match (though most the time you can’t really see the matches since there was just so many people).

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The Fan Fest at Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro
At the Anhangabau fan fest in Sao Paulo, equipped with freebies from Banco Itau!
At the Anhangabau fan fest in Sao Paulo, equipped with freebies from Banco Itau!
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Carina and me at Vila Madalena in Sao Paulo, for the Brazil – Mexico match

The way to get World Cup tickets is through a lottery months before the matches. After that, to buy second hand tickets, you’d have to pay a large amount of money for the best matches! Whether or not the match was desirable, attending a World Cup match is still a once in a lifetime experience. I did not enter the lottery, but I actually had two people offer me free tickets to the World Cup. The first time was when I was in a supermarket in Liberdade, a Chinese guy took a bag of sugar and asked me if it was salt (in Chinese). I guided him to where the salt was, and he told me he was a sports reporter from China, and offered to give me tickets to a match in Cuiabá (of an African and Middle Eastern team..). It was just too far away from Sao Paulo, so I said no. A few days after, my friend Terry said he had 2 tickets to a Ecuador – Honduras match in Curitiba, and gave them to me. I happily accepted and took Claudia (my best girl friend in Brazil) with me on a trip to Curitiba!

During the Cup, all the hostels are EXTREMELY expensive in the world cup cities. So, we decided to make it a day trip – we left Sao Paulo at around 7 in the morning for the 6 hour bus ride, and went back to Sao Paulo around midnight. We have never seen so many people in a sporting event before! The 3 blocks surrounding the stadium was completely blocked off, so we had to enter on foot. The quantity of people was astounding. The stadium in Curitiba was also really gorgeous.

Since the two teams were Latin American, there was great presence of supporters of either side, although Ecuador had an advantage in terms of fans! About half the fans donned Brazilian colors. We joined in with the Ecuadorians cheering for their team. It was amazing hearing the stadium reverberate in singing for the Ecuadorian team, and making “human waves” throughout the stadium. Ecuador won 2-1, so I guess we chose the right team 🙂 The only thing was that they do not have live commentary, and where we were sitting (high up) we could not see the score, so folks were confused about what was going on a lot of the time and were not sure what the score was :p

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We here!!
Arena da Baixada - Curitiba, Singing of national hymn Ecuador vs Honduras
Arena da Baixada – Curitiba, Singing of national hymn Ecuador vs Honduras

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The exiting crowd..
The exiting crowd..

Something that surprised me was the number of Americans in Brazil. After all, the US is not a “soccer” nation. Actually, after the Brazilians, Americans are the ones that purchased the most tickets to view the matches. I suppose that since the population of US is so huge compared to the other football nations, even if just a small percentage of folks purchase tickets to the matches, it’s still a significant amount. One of my highlights of the World Cup was watching the match between US and Portugal in a plaza in Buzios. There was actually a lot of Americans there watching, and it was a lot of fun chanting USA! USA! with them each time we scored.

Despite all the controversy, it was an amazing World Cup.

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