After a traumatic travel experience just getting to Brazil thanks to Copa Airlines overbooking flights that left us stranded in Panama City, I was on the biggest natural high to be at our first game Italy v England in Manaus.
Relief, excitement, disbelief (that we made it), exhaustion, anticipation, and delight utterly and completely overwhelmed me. Once we entered the stadium and we knew we were about to watch our first FIFA World Cup game, I burst into tears. Not just a happy tear trickling down my cheek, but full on hyperventilation between sobbing. I felt almost hysterical and I had no control – the emotion just poured out. It didn’t help that it took us 36 hours to get there with very little sleep and very high stress levels.
That moment of pinching myself to check it was real happened about 15 times during the game.
I’d been dreaming of going to a FIFA Wold Cup since I was a teenager. Four years ago, Hubba and I were planning to go to the last World Cup in South Africa, but I didn’t get tickets in the ballot. The prices of tours with tickets was so expensive that we decided that our money would last five times longer in South America. So that’s where we went in 2010. Four years before that the 2006 World Cup was in Germany and again, I didn’t get tickets in the ballot.
However, my ballot application was successful this time around and we had T5 Category 3 tickets to follow Italy. That’s five games guaranteed, no matter how Italy finishes in their group, up until and including the Quarter Final. Andrew’s application for tickets to follow Australia was declined.
The Games and the Stadiums
Manaus: Italy v England, Group D
In Manaus Arena da Amazonia holds just under 40,000 people. We caught an old rickety bus from the Cultural Centre directly to the Stadium. The road was as rickety as the bus and we went over a pothole so big at such speed that every passenger became airborne. Zorba was actually thrown from his seat. After forty minutes, we arrived at the Arena periphery an hour before kick off.
A new friend we made on the bus (Craig – Mr 36A) bought us a beer each from a local selling them from an eski on the side of the road. In the steamy humidity of Manaus, it was one of the best beers I’ve ever had.
Our Category 3 seats were high up, behind the goal to the side. The view was spectacular. There were thousands of fans there in Italia shirts and England shirts, and even more in yellow Brazilian shirts. We were sitting behind a group of English fans that were ever vocal leading the chants, Eng-er-lund, and my favourite, Come On England, Come On England.
The Italia chant sounds like this: It-tarl-ya, It-tarl-ya, and quite convincingly drowned out the chants of the English fans. There were a few Olè chants too by the locals that just added to the atmosphere.
Zorba and I had four pints of Brahma beer (R$10 or A$5) each at the ground. Sod’s Law, I was off buying beer and missed the first Italy goal and England goal, but managed to catch the replay on the big screen. I didn’t care. The atmosphere of being there was enough. I did see the second Italy goal and was part of the immediate eruption at the stadium. What a great feeling! Italy won 2-1. Whoo hoo!
After the game, we had no idea how to get back to our hotel. When we asked the hotel receptionist the best way to get to the stadium before we left to collect our tickets, she suggested a taxi. We started looking for a taxi after the game. I tried to flag down three or four taxis, but they were all in service. There were loads of other fans walking too, but they seemed quite content to keep walking. We were knackered and the endorphins of excitement were disappearing and extreme tiredness was setting in. A policeman who had been watching us stepped in to help and flagged down a taxi for us. How nice! Obrigada!
Back at our hotel, we were happy, dead tired, sweaty and hungry. We ate a chicken salad in the hotel restaurant, went to our room, showered and fell into bed. I think I was asleep before my head even hit the pillow.
Recife: Italy v Costa Rica, Group D
The 40,600-capacity Arena Pernambuco is the new stadium built not in Recife, but in the next town Saõ Lorenzo. It is miles away from Recife. We asked four or five different people, including the receptionist at our pousada (little hotel / guest house) the best way get there. We were given different advice, but a couple of people said a direct shuttle bus was leaving from the Recife Shopping centre and cost R$5 return (A$2.50).
The day before the game, two Italian journalists staying at our pousada talked about us sharing a taxi the to stadium. On game-day morning, the journalists were leaving for the stadium at 9.30am. Kick off was at 1pm. When I asked how much he thought the taxi would cost, he said R$200-300, maybe more. That’s A$100-150. And it would probably mean arriving at the stadium with hours to kill. There’s nothing around the stadium, just fields of dirt. We politely declined and said we would take the bus later on.
At breakfast, we got chatting to another young couple wearing Italia shirts. They were actually Brazilians and said that they had a car and were driving to the stadium, picking up friends along the way. But they were picking up their friends from where the shuttle buses were leaving from and offered to drop us off at the bus stop. Perfect! It was so kind of them.
At the bus stop, there was a pop up ticket desk where we purchased our R$5 bus wristband and joined the queue for the bus. One bus came, filled up and left, and we found ourselves at the start of the line for the next bus. And that meant we could get a seat. We expected the bus trip to take an hour but we reached the stadium in forty minutes. The bus had a dedicated lane and police managed the traffic to the stadium. Easy.
The stadium itself rose out of the ground with nothing but vast dirt around it. We were excited to be there, but I didn’t cry this time. Our Category 3 seats were in a similar spot, high up behind the goal, slightly to the side.
We sat in front of an Italian (living in France) who held a banner that said (in Italian):
“Hi mamma, I’m here, but don’t worry, I’ll be home for our Sunday pasta dinner.”
The game against Costa Rica was completely different to the game against England. Firstly, Italia were getting beaten, which was completely unexpected. Secondly, there were hardly any Italian fans at the game. Felt like there were 200 Italians and 40,400 Costa Ricans who all chanted Tico, Tico at deafening decibels.
Thirdly, the Costa Ricans booed all through the game. To me, it felt like they were being bad sports. I didn’t like the booing, particularly when they did it for no apparent reason. Fair enough if the ref gives a rough decision, but they just booed at the start of the game, when Italian players played back to the goalie and other random times during the game.
To make matters worse, there were a few gobby Costa Rican supporters who waved their flags in our faces when Costa Rica scored. Grr. I felt like telling them where to go and how to get there. Cheer for your country, sure. Rub our faces in it, no. I can now understand why fans are separated at club games. FIFA didn’t separate fans in any of the matches we went to.
Italia lost to Costa Rica 1-0.
We learned the next morning that the Italian journalist was stuck in traffic in a taxi for over three hours, and in the end had to get out of the taxi and run to the stadium. Loads of people arrived to the game late. They obviously didn’t take the bus.
We also bumped into the young Australian / Italian guy Chris at the ground – he was stranded with us in Panama.
After the game we got back on the bus, this time the journey took closer to an hour, and got a taxi back to our pousada in Olinda – a pretty UNESCO heritage colonial town next to Recife.
Natal: Italia v Uruguay, Group D
The Arena das Dunas, capacity of 39,400, was just 7.2km from our hotel at Ponte Negra beach. Great, that means we could walk if need be.
There was a lot of pressure on this game. Italia had to win or draw to guarantee them a place in the Round of 16. If Italia won and if England beat Costa Rica, then England could go through too.
If Italia came second in the group by beating Uruguay, it would mean we would have to go to Rio to watch the next match, then onto Fortaleza for the Quarter Final. If Italia got knocked out, then we would have to go back to Recife, then onto Salvador for the Quarter Final. I wanted to go back to Rio and desperately wanted to see Italia win and go through to at least the Quarter Final stage.
The day before the game, we bumped into Ricardo and his wife (Italian and Ecuadorian living in New Jersey) whom we’d met in Olinda (Recife). He asked us how we were getting to the stadium. We shrugged and said either a local bus or taxi probably. We weren’t sure. Our hotel had put on specific shuttle buses that were leaving at 9am (1pm kick off) and the cost was R$60 per person. Zorba and I thought that was a bit rich given the short distance to the stadium, and a bit early. We made a plan with Ricardo to share a taxi.
On game day, Ricardo picked us up from the meeting point in a taxi and within 20 minutes, we were at the stadium, for a fare of R$30. Easy.
The grounds of the stadium were buzzing with only a few Italians, but thousands of Uruguayans. The funny thing is that loads of them wanted photos with us – we were all wearing Italian shirts. We enjoyed a couple of beers outside the stadium, bopping away to the music pumping out of the Budweiser two-story stand (complete with promo chicas wearing tight lycra, dancing and blowing kisses to the boys below). The pre game atmosphere was the best we’d experienced. It was so much fun!
Our seats were again up high behind the goal, to the side. This time though, the Italian living in France with the ‘Mamma I’m here’ banner was sitting next to us. It was so funny listening to him swear in French, Italian and Spanish during the game.
The game itself – well – it has already received it has fair share of media attention thanks to Suarez and that bite. Again, Italian fans were completely outnumbered and our chants were barely audible over those from Uruguay. Early in the second half and Italian player was sent off after getting a red card for no reason (‘merda di Mexicano’ was what the guy next me to me was saying about the ref), and it was only a matter of time before Uruguay scored.
Italia tried hard to come back and had a few chances striking at goal but just couldn’t covert their attempts.
Italia lost to Uruguay 1-0, and were out of the World Cup.
I cried when the game was over. The second time I cried at a match. I couldn’t believe it. Italia were out, beaten, by two small nations that really shouldn’t have been able to beat them. Italia were the 2006 champions. Italia was a football nation that consistently produced star players.
Uruguay played a dirty game, but at least their fans were not the harsh, booing, rub it in your face kind. They actually showed some humility by either giving us sympathetic looks or avoiding eye contact altogether.
Costa Rica drew with England 0-0. That meant Costa Rica finished at the top of the group and that’s the team our tickets would be following from here on. Ugh. Costa Rica and their booing fans.
The silver lining?
The next game was Costa Rica v Greece.
Yes, Greece had made it through the next stage.
At least Zorba could see his country play.
Recife: Costa Rica v Greece, Round of 16
Once we knew Italia’s World Cup fate, we called Pousada do Amparo in Olinda where we previously stayed and booked three nights accommodation. As we’d been to Recife before, we knew how to get to the stadium.
Zorba refused to wear his Italia shirt to the Greece game, which I suppose is fair enough.
As the Greek team entered the pitch, the Costa Rican fans started booing. Ugh, not this again. There were hardly any Greek supporters at the game and tens of thousands supporting Costa Rica. The local Brazilians at the ground seemed to be supporting Costa Rica.
Greece drew with Costa Rica and the game went into extra time. After 30 minutes, the score was level 1-1 and went to a penalty shoot out, that unfortunately Costa Rica won. Sigh. I was getting a little tired of watching Costa Rica win.
Salvador: Netherlands v Costa Rica, Quarter Final
Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador has a capacity of 49,280. It’s situated right in the heart of the old town of the city, Pelourinho.
From the Mar Brasil Hotel at Itapau Beach, we caught a local bus to Pelourinho. We were on that rickety old bus for 1.5 hours. We met an English guy Peter who lives in Brisbane and chatted to him most of the way. Usefully, he’d been to a game in Salvador before and gave us tips on how to get back afterwards.
The main square of Pelourinho was a sea of orange. The Netherlands fans were out in force. Their double decker bus was there and there was a stage and DJ pumping out music. It was the best atmosphere we’d experienced besides being around Brazilian fans.
First things first, we had to find a bar to watch the day’s earlier Quarter Final game, Argentina v Belgium that was kicking off in 30 minutes. All the bars around the main square were full, and many bars in the old town were either full or closed. I noticed a restaurant upstairs above a shop and went up to check it out. We grabbed a table, ordered some food and settled in ready to watch the game. Argentina won and the game was, yawn, really quite boring.
We walked to the stadium after the game, following the crowd up and down hilly cobbled streets.
I was cheering for Netherlands. I wanted to see Costa Rica out and wave bye-bye to their booing fans.
Our seats for this game were up in the Gods, just three rows from the very top back row. Zorba, who isn’t a fan of heights, wasn’t thrilled with our nosebleed seats. Neither was I, despite the decent view of the pitch.
Before half time, we went to the bar to replenish our beer cups and on the way back, Zorba suggested we sit in some vacant seats about 12 rows further down – perfect! We sat next to some Aussies (they were following Australia, who were knocked out of the Netherlands group, and thus were now following Netherlands).
It was fantastic to have the Costa Rican fans outnumbered by Dutch fans. Again, there was lots of booing from the Ticos.
The scores were level 0-0 after 90 minutes and the game went into extra time. Still at level scores 0-0, the game went to a penalty shoot out. Netherlands won and were through to the semi finals! Brilliant!
Netherlands lost the semi final against Argentina in a penalty shoot out. We watched that game in Argentina, in a bar in Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires. Brazil were humiliated by Germany who smashed them 7-1 in the other semi final. The final will be Argentina v Germany tomorrow.
As I finish this post, I’m sitting in a lovely hotel in Buenos Aires, where it’s raining and freezing cold outside, watching Brazil v Netherlands play off for third place. Brazil have lost, 3-0.
If Germany play like they did against Brazil, it would be hard for anyone to beat them. Argentina has immense passion though, so you just never know.