Dispatches from a Casual World Cup Observer: June 28 – June 29, 2014

Staving off the insurrection.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is here, and I have a novice’s degree of knowledge as to what’s happening, as well as a small amount of sentimentality for the event. This is me traversing through work, drunken weekends, and Spotify with the World Cup either in the fore or background

Saturday, June 28th

“So, is his name really Hulk?” I asked Blog Lord Rory Masterson as I stared at the back of the vibrant yellow jersey on the Brazilian strong man.

“No, it’s just a nickname,” Rory told me, as the officials called back a goal due to an offside position.

We were watching the Brazil – Chile match in a parking lot behind the Latta Arcade in downtown Charlotte. There was a large, white trailer parked behind a row of old, brick buildings that held the gigantic projection screen which a crowd of mostly Brazilian faithful watched with anxious eyes. I was surprised that there seemed to be a contingent of Brazilian ex-pats rather than Americans-turned-Brazilian fans. Then again, Charlotte is the second-largest banking city in the country.

There were a handful of Chile fans among the bright yellow and green. You could hear them every time Arturo Vidal failed to convert a goal. The Brazilian fans looked at them with ire after Chile would zip through defenders only to an provide unfulfilling play. There were groans on both sides as each team refused to give up a goal. For Brazil, it was a matter of the team winning on its home soil. For Chile, it was a chance at the unthinkable.

“If Brazil doesn’t win, there will be a political insurrection tomorrow,” Rory told me as the game went into extra time with a score of 1-1.

That seems to be the sentiment around the 2014 World Cup. A developing nation had poured millions into an event that would only last a month, earning only a temporary boost in tourism revenue. The real profits would be rewarded to Sepp Blatter and his cronies, which John Oliver warned me about. No victory = no peace, it seemed. And Brazil was right on the edge of being eliminated.

The game came down to penalty kicks, which looked heavily in favor of Brazil from the outset. Julio César was having a phenomenal game. I made the offhand comment to Rory that it looked like it was in the cards for the Brazilians. It was just fate. Then, Claudio Bravo blocked a shot from Willian.

“You were saying?” Rory smirked.

We were sitting in plastic, patio chairs near the front of the television set. In front of us were a row of Colombian fans who were eagerly awaiting their match with Uruguay. Charles Aranguiz knocked a goal in for Chile and the Colombian fans erupted. It was an underdog story they could relate to. The Colombians were without a title and facing a team which had some aspiration of winning the whole tournament. Chile was Colombia’s parallel. History was on Brazil’s side, and Chile had a chance to break it. It all came down to one kick that Chile’s Gonzalo Jara needed to make.

“Man, you could not pay me a million dollars to be that guy right now,” Rory said, as Jara placed the ball on the ground to set up the final kick. Jara could either extend the penalty kicks or be a scapegoat for over zealous Chileans. He kicked the ball, it sailed past the reach of Julio César, and into the right post. The kick did not cross the goal line. Brazil was on to the quarterfinals.

The Chileans and their Colombian supporters all fell quiet as the Brazilians cheered then showered everyone in beer (Editor’s Note: There were multiple bottles of Andre involved in the celebration as well). One of the Brazilian fans went over to the vocal Chileans we were sitting next to and shook all of their hands. The consolation in this game was good job, good effort.

‘Don’t Call Me Juh-Ames’ Rodriguez

Rory and I headed inside the bar that was hosting the parking lot viewing. Courtyard Hooligans is a bar at the Latta Arcade that has hosted many a World Cup match as well as any league play game you could desire. In the bar hang the scarves of Barcelona, the Netherlands, Fulham FC, Argentina and Manchester United. There were signed jerseys from Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. If I was going to continue my casual soccer fandom, this would be the place to do it. It’s a small, cramped bar that offered any of the standard import beers you could think to order.

We sat down watching the ESPN replay of Brazil – Chile as a foursome of Brazilians took a picture in front of their national flag that they carried. The ticker flashed the biggest sports story outside of soccer: Dwayne Wade opts out of his contract with the Miami Heat.

“Dwayne Wade, the hell?” Rory questioned. It was later revealed that Norris Cole was the only player under contract with the Miami Heat. This was only a temporary distraction from another story that flashed above the ticker: Luis Suárez’s excuse.

The whole crowd jeered in disbelief when his quote showed up on the screen. Some of the Colombian fans that were piling in shouted “puta” at the screen. The story then went from Suárez to the Colombian team and their chance to make history. The room cheered. Then, one of the fans started to pejoratively talk about the number of “gringos” at the bar. He quickly left when no one gave him any mind. I ordered a Modelo then watched as a father lifted his son on a bar stool next to him. The little boy had the Colombian flag painted across his eyes. After a drawn out first half, the boy would soon be on the bar after the first James Rodriguez goal of the day. The boy danced as James danced and the crowd of Colombian fans in the bar roared. The scene was heavily favoring Colombia.

After the first half with Colombia leading 1-0, we walked back out to the parking lot with the big screen television. The crowd outside of the bar was as uniformly Colombian as the inside of the bar. There was an American kid standing in front of our spot wearing a Colombian jersey. At one point, Rory and I smelled the aroma of smoked meats. It reminded me of the food carts in the Bronx that I passed by when I visited New York earlier this year. I joked with Rory about the “street meat” aroma and the American with the Colombian jersey turned to us.

“Are you talking about the street meat carts in Colombia?” he asked.

“No, the Bronx,” Rory responded.

“Do they have a lot of street meat carts in Colombia?” I inquired.

“I don’t know – one of my friends is down there, and she sent us these jerseys. So, I’m rooting for Colombia when not rooting for the US.” There was the first American tangential connection that was stronger than my affection for coordinated celebration.

James ‘Don’t Call Me Juh-ames’ Rodriguez scored another brilliant goal at the fifty minute mark to put Colombia up 2-0. For the rest of the match, Uruguay seemed like they were on the defensive end. Suarez’s left the Celeste without a strong attack and essentially gave up any chance for retailiation.

“CO! LOM! BIA!” The fans started to chant as they danced. Another fan had a small conga drum set that he pounded on throughout the entirety of the second half. When the final whistle sounded, more beer was spilled and the party had begun. This is the first time Colombia has advanced to the quarterfinals in team history, and it could not have happened at a better moment. 2014 marks the 20-year anniversary of the Andres Escobar-led Colombian team who, under the unbearable pressure from criminals back home, lost to the United States in the 1994 World Cup thus ending the first golden generation of Colombian soccer. If the dancing and their good timing fans were not enough to make you a fan of the Colombians, the narrative should.

I’m gonna miss this.

Sunday, June 29th

I watched the animated actions of Miguel Herrera’s from one of the many television sets within Joe Hooper’s Sandwich Exchange in Plaza-Midwood. The restaurant was almost barren during that late morning where my small conversation with my girlfriend, Anna, could be heard by all.

“See, I think the Dutch are much more attractive than the other teams,” she said while watching the Netherlands take the pitch for the match’s preliminary national anthems and handshake.

“You’re biased.” My girlfriend has Dutch heritage in her ancestry, and so her rooting interest was with that of her motherland. Mine was with Mexico, who had not advanced past the Round of 16 since 1986 when their country hosted the tournament. I loved their underdog story and the madness that is Miguel Herrera. I have an affinity for self-expression in sports and Herrera is like watching a supercut of Dabo Swinney on the sideline for 90 minutes.

We left Joe Hooper’s before the match began and I started the stream on Anna’s laptop. We watched the game with baited breath. Anna would shout at any and all Dutch possessions as I just yelped whenever Oribe Peralta would barrel down the pitch. The first half ended scoreless and the feed started to lag (if there is one consistent theme with my dispatches, it should be a frustrating relationship with internet connection). I tried restarting the stream, reloading the page for the next ten minutes with nothing helping the lag. Anna suggested I quit out of Chrome and start all over. It worked but damn if I didn’t feel like I have lost touch with how a Macbook worked.

When the stream appeared, the score was 1-0 in favor of Mexico. Anna sighed and then walked away. The second half was Mexico attempting to hold on for dear life until the final minutes of the game. Wesley Sneidjer received the ball from about 20 yards out and drilled it past one of the best goalkeepers of the tournament thus far. Then, stoppage time happened as well as the arguable flop of Arjen Robben. A penalty kick was awarded to Robben but taken by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar within the fourth of five minutes of stoppage time. Huntelaar converted the penalty and the Dutch flew away with yet another win. Anna celebrated with a big smile while I watched a sad Chicharito Hernandez shed tears.

I was crying by the end of the day too but it was because I had to watch Costa Rica and Greece go into overtime. Then, another overtime. Then, penalty kicks. In sports, there is always talk about a certain team that doesn’t deserve to be in the position that they are in due to perceived ‘ill-gotten gains.’ I never have believed that but with Greece, I was on the edge of being converted. Greece is boring, Greece is not fun to watch, and Greece is just there. Yet, if they made Michael Umana had not made his penalty kick, we may have seen the Greeks advanced and knock out the Ruben Studdard of underdog stories.

“My people just cannot play soccer,” I told Anna.

“Well, at least you have gyros,” And that’s the consolation I needed.

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