Photo by Kieran McManus/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
RECIFE, Brazil — If there is a Brazilian equivalent to Seattle or Miami in terms of consistent rainfall, it might be Recife.
The largest city in the state of Pernambuco somewhat resembles the look and vibe of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. with its tropical setting and pleasant beaches, but it also has plenty of rainstorms and Ives and I witnessed that firsthand during our four-day stay.
When we arrived in Recife last Monday in the morning via a red-eye flight from Manaus we saw some sunshine peaking through the gray clouds. There were no raindrops, but puddles filled the streets. It was a sign of things to come, though we swore we would get some serious sun and beach time in at some point.
After checking into our hotel, Ives and I took a FIFA Media Shuttle from one of the official FIFA hotels to Arena Pernambuco for the important Mexico-Croatia group stage finale. The stadium is nowhere near close to the happening beach part of town and the bus ride wound up taking about 45 minutes, even with an early departure that allowed us to avoid traffic.
Once we got to Arena Pernambuco, it began to rain in short 20-minute spurts. We worked on our stories inside the FIFA Media Center at the stadium for a bit before moving to the press tribune about an hour before kickoff. While we did see plenty of ponchos in the stands, we saw even more Mexico jerseys from El Tri’s well-represented traveling fanbase. It honestly looked, sounded and felt like Estadio Azteca had been dropped in Brazil.
When Rafa Marquez scored the first of three Mexico goals late in the second half, beers went flying in every direction and Mexico jerseys were taken off and swung in the air. The extreme happiness turned into craziness minutes later when Andres Guardado scored. The craziness evolved into pandemonium shortly thereafter thanks to the header from Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez that gave Mexico a 3-0 lead and put an exclamation point on El Tri’s advancement into the Round of 16 (things change in a hurry at the World Cup, don’t they?).
Ives and I returned to our hotel that night after doing some stories on everyone’s favorite Mexican and the Man of the Match, Marquez, and enjoyed a nice dinner. The next day we went to the beach to shoot some video and the weather cooperated. Then, it got gray in a hurry and began to pour.
We made our way back to the stadium on Tuesday afternoon despite there being no game because we wanted to work on the stable wifi that the FIFA Media Center had. Our hotel’s was awful and essentially nonexistent, so we got soaked walking to the FIFA Media Shuttle before getting to the stadium.
Unlike Ives, I didn’t let my soaked clothes stop me from going out for a night on the town. I went out with a few colleagues to the area in Recife where the World Cup Fan Fest was, and took a cab that was driven by an old man who – I kid you not – drove as if he was trying out for a Fast and Furious movie and ran every single red light.
Eventually we got to the Fan Fest, but it was closed. One of my colleagues heard some noise nearby, so we walked in that direction before stumbling upon a bit of nightlife in the streets. There was thumping music played in a concert-like setting, lots of people on every corner despite it periodically pouring on everybody that night, and stands like the ones you see in New York City but they sold both food and drinks at insanely-cheap prices. New York should try and get with that program.
Anyway, I searched for cover during one of the quick rainstorms and wound up running into some U.S. fans that I had met in Natal. They introduced me to a few of the locals that they had met earlier and one of those locals was a girl named Elisa, who looked a lot like actress Jordan Brewster and spoke English fluently because she learned and taught it at a nearby school. I made it my mission to try and charm her, and to my surprise it actually worked. We hit it off, shared some jokes and exchanged numbers. My night (trip to Brazil?) was made.
Wednesday arrived with some more rainy weather and Ives and I were back to work in the morning, covering the U.S. Men’s National Team a day before it took on Germany in their Group G finale. Afterwards, we made our way to the Night-Before Party. This one was more like the one in Manaus than the one in Natal in that it was held inside a building and not outdoors. Thank goodness for that since – you guessed it – it was raining yet again.
Unfortunately, the door woman couldn’t find either Ives or my name on the guestlist for a while and we could only listen on as U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati surprised everyone in attendance by bringing actor Will Ferrell to front of the DJ booth. Ferrell delivered a comical and motivational speech, going as far as saying that he would bite all the German players during Thursday’s game if he had to.
The party continued and was a good time, but it paled in comparison to what happened on gameday. Ives and I woke up to catch an early FIFA Media Shuttle to Arena Pernambuco, but the rain was coming down hard. One employee at our hotel later told us it was the worst she had ever seen in that area.
That wasn’t hyperbole. Our 45-minute bus ride wound up being two-hours long because of flooding, and the sights on the way to the stadium were unforgettable. Water was at waist level and there was a huge traffic jam going in the direction away from the stadium because people did not want to risk getting their cars stuck in the water.
Our bus was able to just plow through the flooded areas and we made it to the stadium a little more than an hour before kickoff. We dried off as best we could and settled into our seats, which not many fans could do until well after kickoff given that the weather had caused severe traffic delays. In fact, one of the more interesting anecdotes of the day was that most of the U.S. players’ family members did not make it to the game because of the storm and instead either stayed in their hotel rooms to watch the game or got stuck halfway to the stadium and were forced to stream the match on their cell phones.
Due to the miserable conditions, the game itself was not an aesthetically-pleasing one. Germany struggled to create clear chances despite winning the possession battle for large stretches – though there was one moment in which soaked U.S. fans took a play out of El Tri supporters’ playbook by chanting “Ole” during every completed pass in a neat spell of possession in the first half – but Thomas Muller’s superb rebound from distance in the second half gave the Germans the three points.
The U.S. crowd had been plenty rowdy throughout the 90 minutes, but the biggest ovation may have come after the Americans endured the 1-0 loss. The big screens in the stadium showed that Portugal had handed Ghana a 2-1 loss, a result that ensured that the U.S. had joined Germany in advancing from the Group of Death and into the knockout rounds.
Chants of “U-S-A” and “I Believe” rang out, and the U.S.’s stay in Brazil was extended by at least another few days. Ives and I, like many U.S. fans, quickly made travel plans because a trip to Salvador was on the horizon.
Hopefully for everyone, the weather in that northeastern city is drier.
SBI 2014 WORLD CUP DIARY