Some Match Day Thoughts

Soccer is a sport of emotions and last night was no exception as we were put through it, but as with all things, the more difficult the task the better the payoff.  Some thoughts:

  • Being at the World Cup is simply awesome.  This is my third and I have made good friends at each.  It is so cool seeing friends whom you’ve only ever seen at Cups.  They live in America, but I’ve only know them abroad.
  • The day began here in Pipa with a nice breakfast of Acai with granola, banana, and honey.

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  • Our fleet of cabs took about two hours to reach the stadium.  No worries, we were aware of that and arrived hours before the match.
  • At Bar Original, a few blocks from the stadium, we ate some Brazilian meats.  And had a few beers.

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  • We arrived to the stadium early, having had Mexicans tell us they encountered long, slow lines.  We were in quickly and just hung out on the large, wide concourse.

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  • As most Americans came in our gate, we were reunited with and met many old friends.

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  • There were huge numbers of American, many in great costumes–many were better but this was my favorite.
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  • In addition to Bud, they also sold Brahma beer.  Yeah, it’s owned by Bud but it least is not Bud.  We all drank that.  Beers and cokes came in plastic souvenir cups that notated USA vs Ghana.  Pretty cool, though I didn’t keep any.
  • My seat was in the end zone, 10 rows up, to the right of  the goal, many of my friends were nearby and others squeezed in.

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  • Not once did anyone check my ticket not did I hear of that happening to anyone else.
  • This is good news as for the other two matches, I’m supposed to be in the upper deck–if this laissez-faire approach to ushering continues, I see me having no problem getting close and low.
  • I was happy to see our line-up unchanged from the Nigeria, sendoff match.
  • I love the few minutes from just before the walkout to the start of the match.  There is a feeling of possibilities, it’s all there in front of us, waiting to happen.
  • Belting out the Star-Spangled Banner with thousands of American’s is a moving experience.  It sounded as good as I’ve ever heard us.
  • Soccer can shock.  34 seconds in and we have a goal.  Bedlam in our sections.  A perfect start, surely a match to enjoy.
  • Or not, we didn’t really press our advantage and they didn’t fall apart.
  • Soccer is a game of pain.  And we all felt it when Jozy pulled up, certainly his cup over.  As he chased the long pass, I looked behind me to the large scoreboard which was showing the TV feed, to see if he had room, as he was running to the goal away from me.  I saw enough to know it was bad.  Our emotions sunk.
  • For as large as our contingent was, we were sadly not in good voice.  Despite the efforts of a good many, and though a few chants caught on and were loud, we were quite for long stretches.
  • Soccer is a game of torture.  And this was that.  Ghana had most of the ball.  The action was in right in front of us, but we survived the half.
  • I was not thrilled that Brooks replaced Besler who had been holding his leg late in the half.  Would have really liked to have had Goodson in there.
  • The torture continued and grew in the second half as they relentlessly attacked the goal away from us.  A goal seemingly certain, but they either seemed to blow it or one of our defenders or Tim Howard was able to stop the shot.  My stomach  ached.  None of it was fun.
  • Of course their goal came.  I feared they would add another.  I thought of How Ecuador had led most of the match only to lose to two late goals.  How devastating.
  • Soccer can amaze. A corner for us.  I checked to see if all our defenders had come up.  They had, though Brooks was well back, perhaps 10 yards outside the 18.  I thought to myself, “If you’re going to come up, then COME UP!”
  • And come up did he!  Unleash Heavan!  As our section went crazy in a mass of noise and color, I turned around.  There behind me were two friends, a married couple.  They were simply holding one another, gazing into eyes with a joy and love that was so pure it was only match by the young Brooks’ celebration.
  • Soccer can warm the heart. The way he celebrated make my eyes water whenever I think of it.  So young, so unexpected–he can’t have even thought he would make the team, much less play, and a central defender scoring a goal?  In the World Cup?  To win the match?  For me, this celebration rivals any the passionate Italians have ever put up–including Spain in 1982.
  • No, we didn’t play well.  Yes Ghana probably deserved better but that’s soccer (and we took our chances).  And though we lost one and possibly two important players, did not play well; all we talked about on our two hour drive back to Pipa was that we had three points.  And points are more valuable than limes in Brazil.
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A Moment in a Life

Life is good and sometimes it’s great and then there are those rare days that are simply unforgettable.  Your wedding, the birth of your child, a moment of professional accomplishment.  But who am I kidding, those of us who are either lucky or cursed to have some passionate obsession, particularly with a sport and a team, have our own points in time when our world becomes a big crazy ball of unbridled joy.

There is some quote I’ve seen on facebook or perhaps its a commercial about living for those moments that take your breath away.  Last night not only took my breath, it sucked it into a mass of sensory overload.  Noise of thousands, each pushing their vocal chords to the limit though adding nothing of any consequence or at least anything comprehendable to the din.  The three colors of Old Glory and motion, oh my the motion.  As if we were thrown onto a giant parachute and tossed without mercy.  There was pressure and perhaps even some pain–someone was grabbing my neck, squeezing it.  Suddenly I’m wet and my nose tells me I am soaked with beer that was the only thing that rained on this night. Except for tears and there were more than a few tears.

I have had this moment before.  Twelve years ago in South Korea.  And that moment is as fresh and wonderful to me as last night will surely be decades from now.

Soccer is an interesting thing.  Last night was only one match, the first, in a tournament we have scant hope of winning.  So why the emotion?  Why will this day be marked among my finest?  Surly it has something to do with patriotism or is it nationalism?  I would think the distance, time, cost, and energy spent just to arrive here, has created inside us a pool of raw emotion and hope and expectancy and yearning that is not unlike molten lava that awaits a release and when that is able to erupt, the results are spectacular.  And being with good friends and strangers, but strangers who are wearing the same colors as you and who are not afraid to grab you and squeeze you as if you were family.  To celebrate, to release among fellow fans is what we supporters yearn for.  Last night was with countrymen for countrymen and it was all that we could have hoped.

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Arrivals

I am no longer living alone–three of my friends/apartment mates arrived late last night. They had a rough day of travel that saw a missed connection set them back over five hours. To make matters worse, when we trudged through the pouring rain, just after midnight, we found the electricity off on our block.

As the weary travelers pulled out cell-phone flashlights, the first thing they saw of their new home was a scorpion! I’ve never seen on running free like that and had to wonder if he’d been in my place the whole time or if he was also seeking refuge from the rain.

I’m sitting in a cafe at 9:30 eating some sort of banana pastry and drinking some of the strongest, thickest coffee I can imagine. I guess they didn’t understand me when I asked for leche. My friends are still in bed so I’m alone with my thoughts from the past couple of days.

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When it rains here, it doesn’t play around. Whatever it was that Mexico had during their match, we had it here yesterday. Hard rain, all day.

Have we been transported to 1982 Spain? This is wonderful soccer being played, a joy to watch. Goals galore.

Costa Rica! Wow! I do recall saying they would have something to say in this group and they have. Funny, I had to leave at halftime of that match and Uruguay was up 1-0. Back in my apartment, I heard a huge cheer go up over the city. I assumed Uruguay had gone up 2-0. While walking back to the bar, I came across two guys wearing they sky blue jersey and watching the match. The TV was on a replay so it wasn’t showing the score. I was about to confirm with them it was 2-0, when live play resumed and the 1-2 score popped up! I quickly walked away, glad I had hesitated before asking them.

It looks lie the Van Persie–Van Gaal relationship will work better than the Van Persie–Moyse one.

I was surprised Japan didn’t finish off Ivory Coast, but man, what a difference Drogba makes.

Previously I mentioned that some 17 of my friends have rented a large house, about a 20 minute walk from the center of Pipa. Yesterday I visited them. All I can say is that if this place were transported to the Hollywood Hills, celebrities would fight for the chance to spend millions on it. It is spactular. A large infinity pool sits on the edge of a steep hill, overlooking Pipa and the ocean beyond. The place has no walls, only huge sliding glass doors which are perpetually open.

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It comes with not one, but two cooks who made us an amazing breakfast (fried cheese, fresh fruit, eggs, tapioca rolls, and a few different fruit juices, which they squeezed themselves. I had the lime–crisp and tart.) For lunch there was spaghetti in a homemade Bolognese sauce. On the roof of the place,we played soccer-foursquare.

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Their place it immense, expensive, and a good ways from the bustling center of Pipa. My place is tiny, cheap (@$25 a night), but just of the Main Street, in the heart of the action. Mine also has ants, a smell of mildew, no air conditioning, and three beds (one a pullout couch) for six of us.

I ate dinner last night at Golfinho’s, which has sort of become my home as it is the only place (other than that huge palace on the hill) that has wifi. I ordered a dish that my Word Lens app translated to “Ribs of Ox” but was basically spare ribs. They were served with rice, beans, salsa, and french fries and were more than I could eat.

It is Fathers Day–so have a great one, all you fathers. I miss my wife and kids. That is always a price of traveling without them. I am looking forward to tournaments five or six years into the future when my son will be old enough to make these treks with me.

Have I mentioned I have my suitcase!?!? Yes, Brock, one of the guys staying in the huge place, went to the airport to pickup his family and while there, enquired at the lost luggage desk and voila! I am fresh and ready for this day and tomorrow’s big match.

Well, it looks like the sun is trying to fight through the clouds, it is not raining now so I’m going to go on a bit of a walkabout.

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The Place to Be?

It is always a good bet to be in the host country for a great party. However, I have always wondered how cool it would be to be in some small, underdog country when their boys spring a big upset.

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How awesome would it have been to have been in Cameroon back in 1990 when they beat Argentina and then Colombia? I’ll wager that that would have been an unforgettable night. Or how about watching Senegal stun France in 2002 from some small yet crowded cafe in Dakar? For me, these are the places to be.

It is amazing what sport can do to a nation and it’s people and the World Cup is the biggest, best, and most important of all sporting events. Though it began with Senegal, the place to be in 2002 was in that host nation of South Korea. I am still in awe over the passion with which they celebrated victories over first Poland, then Portugal to advance (I was in the city of Dejean and still cannot comprehend their strength, stamina, and vocal fortitude–they simply went nuts ALL NIGHT). Next it was Italy who the Red Devils sent home. I was in Seoul and witnessed a parade of, I’ll put the number at 200,000, identically dressed (Red “Be the Reds” t-shirts) Koreans as they sang, shot bottle rockets, and marched by for hours. The scene was repeated a few days later when they beat Spain. Those times in South Korea still give me chills and I was grateful to have been in “the place to be.”

So I wonder, where will that place be this year. Certainly, as witnessed last night, anywhere in Brazil will be amazing after each victory and should they win it all, the party will certainly be off the hook. But I am thinking about the small country, the one who should be happy just to be here, the one that will shock someone. Will Chile have a night to remember by beating Spain or Holland? Will the streets of Teheran be full of unbridled joy? Can Cameroon once again thrill their countrymen? Perhaps it will be Honduras, it would be a fun night even in murder capital of the world, San Pedro Sula, should they win a match.

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For as great as the World Cup is, maybe the best thing is does is to bring people together. They may be strangers of various nationalities drinking and dancing on the streets of the host nation. Or they may be fellow countrymen deliriously celebrating an unthinkable feat performed by their boys, in front of the world. What a place to be.

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Street Party in Brazil

It has begun. The Cup is here and Brazil couldn’t be happier. Everyone I spoke with agreed that it was not a penalty but no one let that controversy dampen their enthusiasm.

I am writing this at 8:20 in the morning and the small city of Pipa is not yet awake, those who are have the bleary eyes of those who maybe samba’d a bit too long last night. Not including 1994, this is the 3rd time I’ve been to the World Cup and I can tell you that there is nothing like it when the hosts play.

All day before the match, people were busy preparing. My friend Brock, who arrived earlier in the day, and I lent a hand in hanging green and yellow streamers. Elsewhere bars and restaurants were attempting to entice passersby into their establishment.

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During the match, the Main Street here was deserted, save those who had spilled out of bars and were watching the inside TVs from the sidewalk. Each time Brazil scored the sky echoed with the blast of fireworks. After the match, the music was pumped up and the streets quickly filled. Vendors set up smal, portable beer stands, about $1.35 for a can of Brazilian beer Skoll, $2.25 for a bottle of Stella.

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As always though, it’s about the people. Brock and I met a number of Americans, well that number was probably four. I enjoyed speaking with a particular couple–the man, a Brazilian from a town south of here; the woman, from Toronto. There was one Brazilian guy who has an amazing invention–a motorized surf board. These things looked awesome, sadly he reported that the motor it uses is illegal in the States.

Like my plane, the town is full of Mexicans. They will empty out for at least a few hours today as they head to Natal to take on Cameroon. They were as happy as everyone else with the victory of Brazil as a result for Croatia would have been very bad news for the Tri-Colors. I still believe the brilliant Luca Modric and his unlucky mates will advance provided they can put the unjust decision behind them.

Pipa is a friendly little place that sits on a small cliff, perhaps 50 feet above the sea. The views are fantastic. The people are kind and helpful. English is not spoken by most but certainly by enough so that things are not difficult. Though this is a tourist town, it also seems to me to be one where the locals enjoy their lifestyle and their work. They hang out at the same places I do thus there is not a feeling of being in a tourist trap.

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After only two days here, I am already recognizing people–Max, who drove me here from the airport is often seen in his cab. Jonas, the Belgium owner of Jackburger has ordered me a case of the local, very good, beer, at cost from the distributer. Fabiano, the waiter who has taken care of me at the only place I have found in Pipa with Wifi, a place that makes a great Caipirinha called Golfino’s.

Today and for the next few days, my friends will pour into Pipa. I warned the Canadian girl that soon the Americans will take over and jokingly told her to “Run away!” In one large house, owned by Jonas, there 17 of us–I think I know probably 12 of them. In my apartment, there will be six of us. Six other good friends have an apartment near us and there are two other places that will house friends of mine. So, I guess there are about 35 Americans that I know. I can’t wait to see each of them, many of whom I met abroad, at other World Cups. There is also a friend I went to elementary school with back in Roanoke–Chad was the best soccer player in our class and I hadn’t seen him in years until I spotted him in Nurnburg the night before we first played Ghana.

There are three matches today, all of them important. I am interested to see the mood of the Mexicans when they return and though I don’t want them to win, a night long fiesta would certainly be a blast.

My cafe con leche is empty soI am going to walk around and see if any of the frozen Acai shops are open. That purple, sorbetesque, berry is mixed with nuts, bananas, cream, or other fruits and served in a bowl, truly a Brazilian breakfast.

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Dateline Brazil

I arrived today or was it sometime last night? No matter, I am here and this place is rocking with World Cup fever. There at Brazil flags everywhere and players are in advertisements all over the airport. Two surprises there, first, there were more Messi ads than I would have thought and secondly, by my count, Oscar had more than Neymar. Some other thoughts:

  • It gets dark early here. Real early. Like 5:30 early. As our first two matches are at night, this will with the heat.
  • I hear our friendly with Belgium was cancelled due to traffic. This worries me–as I have written previously, I do not like where our camp is, so far away from our matches AND so far away from the airport. This is making a long commute even longer. I really hope we will go from Manaus to Recife and not back to São Paulo. It really is like the NY Red Bulls playing at Portland on a Sunday and having a match at LA on following Thursday and then deciding to fly home, landing at JFK in between. Senseless.
  • My flight from São Paulo to Natal was full of Mexicans. I met an American couple here and they said the same about their flight. Mexico do play Cameroon in Natal on Friday.
  • I am happy that there will that match in the stadium where we play Ghana on Monday. Hopefully they will work out the kinks. Actually, one lucky thing about our stadiums–we are not the first match in any of them.
  • I had a late lunch in a cool little place here in Pipa that overlooks the sea, was just beautiful. Not so beautiful was the table of Mexicans next to me working on their “Ahhhhhhh, Puta!” cheer. Serioulsy, there were six of them.
  • They didn’t bother me one bit, I had a Caipirinha to keep me company.  There is also no shortage of limes here!

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  • On the way to Pipa, which is about an hours drive south of Natal, we passed the stadium. It’s design is meant to honor the huge sand dunes of the area. From pictures I had seen, all taken from the inside, I didn’t think it worked. From the outside, it totally does. It’s a very cool design.
  • There were construction workers scurrying all around the stadium.
  • Speaking of construction workers, I flew into the new airport in Natal and, yep, lot’s of workers. Of note, while there were water fountains all around, none of them worked.
  • And speaking of airports, it was pretty cool in Miami as I discovered that Nigeria was on our flight.  I am trying not to get into club stuff on this blog, but I don’t like John Obi Mikel at all, however I totally marked out.  I blame it on lack of sleep or World Cup fever.

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  • Bora was also there!

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  • Great news for my friends coming here, I just discovered Pipa has a brewery!  And the bottles have a special World Cup label.  They have Golden Ale, Boch, and I am enjoying a Red Ale with a Spanish crest, 5.3% and it is very good.  They have the US on the Boch.  Will have that, ummm, tomorrow?
  • Our apartment is small, has ants, and no air conditioning–but is has a deck with a view.  I think it will work.

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  • It has been a long, four year wait, but the World Cup begins tomorrow!

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Some Sunday Stuff

I basically have 2 days left and seemingly a lot to do.  I guess you never feel fully ready for a trip of over three weeks until you are on the plane. In addition to many errands to run, my mind has been spinning with World Cup thoughts.  I’ll share a few now.

  • I loved our line-up yesterday.  Michael Bradley is so good–using Kyle Beckerman beside Jermaine Jones allows him to focus on attacking without worrying about having to get back on defense, which he seems to do anyway.  I see this as sort of a swap of Beckerman at the expense of Graham Zusi, while pushing Bradley forward.  I just can’t help but to think how great it would be if it was not Alejandra Bedoya but Landon Donovan.
  • I hate that the only beer available in World Cup stadiums is Budweiser.  I’m a beer snob–it has been almost four years since I have had a “bad” beer, Bud, Coors, Miller. . .  Do I break the streak in order to have a drink at the matches or go dry?
  • This is the first World Cup I can ever remember where the goalkeepers have not come out against the ball.  Every other Cup it seems the ball is engineered to swerve and dip at a unnatural rate.  This year, not a peep.  Oh, and I have held the ball.  Before the Japan vs Zambia match Friday night, a wayward shot during warmups found it’s way into my hands.  The Brazuca is good looking but it is not smooth, rather it has tiny dimples all over it.  It seems it will have great grip for the GK.

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  • The American Outlaws and US Soccer are hosting night before and pre-game parties in Brazil.  To attend, you must RSVP.  Both events in Manaus, for the Portugal match, are wait-listed.
  • I am nearly certain we will beat Ghana.
  • On Friday I received my copy of the new book Passionate Soccer Love which was written by a great friend of mine, Tanya Keith.  I met Tanya and her husband Doug in Suwon South Korea the day of the Portugal match–she was like five months pregnant at the time–that’s dedication!  So far I have only ready about 40 pages, but it is a fun telling of her first falling for the beautiful game as she became a referee only to be closer to her new boyfriend (Doug) and then chronicling her fall into Ultra fandom.  Stories are lively and fun.  If you’ve never traveled abroad to follow the US, you will gain a new appreciation for what we fans go through.  If you are a traveling supporter like Tanya and myself, you will recognize her experiences–and you may even read about yourself!  Oh, Tanya often brings the baby-ass flag to matches–see it drying out in my backyard below.

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  • I am glad I am not a big fan of Japan, nothing against them really but I have attended their last two matches and every corner kick they have had they have played short.  I hate short corners.  They also take all but the closest of free kicks quickly–they are playing very fast, which is cool.  But their corners would make me nuts.
  • I guess I should start taking malaria pills.

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It’s Getting. . . Closer

In less than a week, the world’s most important sporting event will be underway.  Here in Tampa, things, some little and some big, are happening to get me in the mood.  Actually I should say to push my excitement level to 11.

First, a few things I’ve seen around town:

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Speaking of Julian Green, when I went to our local American Outlaw bar, MacDinton’s to watch the US play Turkey last weekend, I was happy to see his father there!  It was pretty cool watching his father watching the piece ESPN did on his son.

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A few nights later, I saw two World Cup bound sides face off here in Tampa as Japan took on the Ticos from Costa Rica.  Though the crowd was not large, just over 7,000, the atmosphere was very good.  Probably half the crowd were Ticos while the Japanese filled a couple sections.  Me, I found a place to stand right behind the goal.

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Though Costa Rica scored first, Japan looked very good and won 3-1.  Big bonus, all 4 goals were scored right in front of me!  Japan is based here and will play Zambia Friday night–I’m taking my son Max (who when he was only four months old, I handed to Freddy Adu, who was slapping fan’s hands after we had beaten Cuba in a qualifier) he is now almost six years old, yes, his birthday takes place while I’m in Brazil.  One day, maybe when he’s in his 40’s, he’ll forgive me.  Or maybe forgiveness will come when I take him to Qatar (England? Australia? Nowhere but here?!) in 2022.

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I enjoyed the Manchester United on Liverpool violence yesterday in the England vs Colombia match, but it got me wondering how other players felt.  For example, what did Wayne Rooney think about his United teammate trying to choke his England mate who is also a player for Liverpool, whom I assume he despises?  A step further, what if Spain were playing Argentina and Sergio Ramos drills Lionel Messi.  What do Xavi, Andres Inesta and the other Barcelona players think?  Or, in that same match, if Javier Mascherano takes out Iker Casilles?  The only thing even similar I can think of was in 2006 when Cristiano Ronaldo got his then Manchester United teammate, Wayne Rooney, red carded in the quarter-finals.  Although Ronaldo was caught on camera winking to his bench, Rooney harbored no ill will when they returned to Old Trafford later that summer.  This is just another aspect that makes the World Cup so awesome–hated rivals playing together for country.  And some players are not able to do so.  For years Spain had trouble integrating Barcelona and Real Madrid players.  Holland and Scotland have histories of struggling to have all 11 pulling the same way.

Oh, at the match the other night, there were no incidents between Man United’ Shinji Kagawa and Arsenal’s Joel Campbell.

For the last two weeks now I have been pretty pessimistic about the US’ chances to advance, but now I’m only excited.  I’ve got that feeling like anything can happen.  I really think we will beat Ghana, there is just no way we will lose three in a row to them.  Then comes the important Portugal match.  Cristiano Ronaldo having a little injury makes me think on 2002 when then World Player of the Year Luis Figo also had a little fitness issue.  It was nothing that kept him from playing, but his lack of training and not being 100% was just the opening we needed to beat them and advance.

The amount of media leading up to this Cup is simply amazing.  Levels were nowhere near this when we hosted in 1994 much less for any other Cup.  If you still think soccer is second rate here, think again.  And it’s just going to keep growing, irregardless of how the US does over the next few week, the demographics are just so young.  And the American Outlaw’s are growing like crazy.  I mean even my hometown of Roanoke Virginia has a chapter and the next person to join will be their 100th member!

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Travel Difficulty in Brazil Part 1

I arrive in Brazil one week from today, Wednesday.  Actually I touchdown around 3:00am Wednesday morning.  What follows promises to be a quest pulled from the Amazing Race.

My friends and I are staying in a beachside town south of Natal called Pipa.  I am told it is about 45 minutes or so from Natal by bus or cab.  I am the only American that I am aware of who is arriving that early–I really wanted to be in country for Brazil’s first match.  I learned in South Korea that there is nothing like watching the home country play.

My odyssey begins early Tuesday morning in Tampa, my first flight is at 6:30 in the morning, thus I must be to the airport around 4:30am or so.  That shouldn’t prove too difficult as I doubt I’ll sleep much as the excitement will be in a full on rage.  A quick flight leaves me in Miami for a few hours and I will leave for São Paulo at 11:30am.  I really hope I am able to catch some sleep on this seven hour flight.

Once in São Paulo, landing around 8:30pm, I’ll have about three hours to clear customs and make the next flight.  Should not be a problem, but there is more.  FIFA has recently announced that there will be a ticket kiosk in that airport.  Currently I have reservations to pick my tickets up in some shopping center in Natal at 10:00am that next morning.  However, if I can get them in São Paulo, my journey becomes much easier and safer.

In any case, I will arrive to Natal at 3:00am, though I am not sure to which airport.  The old airport is being replaced by a newer version, however nothing on my flight info mentions which airport and, get this, to the best of my friends and my knowledge, they both share the same airport code!

So, there I’ll be, at a random airport in Natal at 3:00 in the morning, certainly as tired as Timothy Chandler in hot weather.  I plan to not leave until sun-up.  If I was able to secure my tickets in São Paulo, I’ll grab a cab and make way for Pipa.  If I do not have my tickets, I’ll be telling the cabbie to find that mall (I do have it’s name and address). Once at the mall, I’ll need to find the ticket office, have I mentioned that I know two words of Portugease?  And I don’t think Jogo Bonito will help me here. Oh, and I’ll be carrying everything I have for this trip.  I think all of us going are, in some way, prepared to be mugged, it just seems such a common occurrence.  However, should it happen to me at this point, well, I’ll lose everything!

Once tickets are secured, it’s back out to find a taxi or the bus stop, which I have learned costs about $5.00 for the trip, saving big over a $60 or so cab ride.  So, at some point, I’ll get to Pipa, find our home and, more than likely, sleep and prepare to watch Brazil with the locals the next day.

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Yes, the Group of Death

There has been a lot of discussion about our group and whether or not it is the dreaded Group of Death.  Since there is no official title nor does it mean anything, who really cares?  It is a crazy hard group and whoever the two teams are that advance will breath sighs of relief.  The two who don’t will leave disappointed.

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It is this last reason that I would say this is the Group of Death, all four sides expect to advance.  Only two can thus each match will be a dogfight.  Are there groups that I am glad we did not get drawn into?  Yes.  We could have been drawn into Group B, in Australia’s place.  Had that happened there would be no debating the Group of Death.  In this case, poor Australia, they really have no chance.  Consider they are in a group with the two finalists from the last Cup, Holland and Spain.  Even should one of those giants slip up, there is still Chile.  So why is this not the Group of Death?  Simply because Australia is not near the level of the other three.  I’m not saying any team can take a day off, but when Spain and Holland play Australia, it is a step down in class.  While any side will be disappointed when they are eliminated, Australia cannot expect to make it out.  There is no way I would want to be in this group.

How about Group D?  We could have been put there rather than Costa Rica.  Our opponents would be Italy, England, and Uruguay.  Certainly a daunting task, though perhaps not as horrible as at first glance as none of these three would consider them self at the top of their game.  That is not to say one of them won’t go far, they all have wonderful pedigree, it is just that each would admit to not having their finest side.  That said, this is a wonderfully entertaining group.  At the end, I see Costa Rica, while not advancing, having something to say about who advances–I believe they will take points.

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One of the great things about this Cup is that no real powers failed to qualify.  There are still a few weak sides, Iran, Algeria, and Honduras all come to mind–however we have certainly had our problems with each of them over the years.  This year, Sweden, Turkey, Denmark and the Ukraine are probably the top sides to not join the party, solid sides, all, but not marquee names (Zlatan aside, who will be missed.)

So, at the end of the day, yes, we are in the Group of Death.

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Speaking of this group, and the piece I wrote yesterday, about the horrible commute out team will face, the longest of any team including 5 flights of 3 1/2 hours or more before the final group match.  Looking at the three other teams in our group and where they play, Germany has it the easiest. They play in Salvador, Fortaleza, and then Recife–all in that northeast area. Ghana play in Natal, Fortaleza, then Brasilia–similar in total travel to us, but with their long trip their final match. Portugal probably have the worst travel to match as they are in Salvador, Manaus, and Brasilia. However what really will make the difference is where their base is.

Germany has really done it right, they built their own place and it’s close to their matches in the northeast: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2619742/Germans-logical-solution-address-World-Cup-security-fears-build-luxury-new-25-million-base.html

Portugal are also located in the city of Campinas, which is in the state of Sao Paulo, however: 1. They are much closer to the airport and 2. Their schedule is much further south than ours. Their location is not ideal but it is not remotely as bad as ours. http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/832810.shtml

Ghana is also up north, as they should be: http://myjoyonline.com/sports/2014/February-3rd/-brazil-2014-ghana-picks-maceio-as-2014-fifa-world-cup-camp-baseghana-who-will-be-participating-in-her-third.php

Germany has about the perfect set-up, their matches are all relatively close and they are well situated.  They will go into that final match with us much fresher.

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