Dispatches from the Maracanã: Guerra Fria


Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday was set to be one of the longest days of our 15 day adventure through Brazil. On the docket for today was Belgium vs Russia at the Maracanã and 1 PM local, then a furious post game rush to Copacabana Beach (which is nowhere close to the Maracanã) to get to the FIFA fan fest for the Rumble in the Jungle: Portugal vs the mighty United States of America.

Essentially, Sunday was a game day. Believe me, we came prepared. Hell, we even laid low on Saturday night to make sure we were ready. It’s like WE had a game. Well, WE did.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Like any athlete preparing for a big game, we have our superstitions and we also had to make sure to eat a big pre game meal. Fortunately, we also found our lucky spot in Rio. A couple blocks from our location in Ipanema is a spot called “The Gringo Cafe”. Essentially it is a haven for Americans who miss the taste of crisp bacon, fresh brewed coffee, and delicious grease covered breakfast fair. We hit the Gringo 3+ hours before our trip to the Maracanã.

Now, we’re obviously very excited to head out to another World Cup game at the temple that is the Maracanã; however, with the possibility of the USA advancing with a win against Portugal hanging over our heads, it’s kind of the preamble.

Belgium vs. Russia was set to be the least interesting game we attended all tournament long. It featured no South American team, which surely meant that their would be less of a frenzied enthusiasm rushing through the veins of the stadium. Plus, us Americans aren’t too fond of the Russia and we don’t know much about Belgium other than they have delightful chocolate and generally stay away from controversy. We did know; however, that they were one of the best European teams in the tournament and very well may be an opponent of the USA if they were to advance to the knockout stage.

With all of that in mind, we entered the temple.

First thought: holy Americans! The infamous Maracanã was overrun by Americans. I swear there were equal parts Americans, Russians, and Belgians.

Second thought: God, what a boring game. Belgium, who has all the star power in the world, couldn’t get anything going all day. In fact, for most of the game I thought that Russia had the better squad. Russia was fast, aggressive, bold, and took it to Belgium. However, at the end Belgium proved that it was more dominant, catching lightning in a bottle with 19-year old wunderkind Divack Origi.

Before even knowing what would later happen in the US game, I thought that I would be eager to face either of these two teams in the knockout round. Belgium is clearly superior from a talent standpoint; however, compared to Chile and Argentina, both teams I’ve seen in person, it wasn’t close. This is the tournament for the Americas, after all.

Putin and his gang had been toppled. Time for the mad scramble to Copacabana. When I say scramble, I really mean sprinting to grab the first subway car out of the stadium. This surely has to surprise and concerns the armed military guards that surround the stadium. Those are dudes you don’t want to piss off. However, for America we were willing to take the chance of looking like idiots. To the beach!


We found the rest of the Americans piling into the massive FIFA Fan Fest on the Copacabana beach, in the crap part of her name is Rio (love you Rog and Davo!).

The anticipation has been built. USA VS CR7. Everyone, all 20, 30, 40, 50 thousand US fans, were ready to go. We wanted a win. No, we needed a win.

Five minutes in: disaster. Geoff Cameron misplays a ball, and it ends up at the feet of Nani who destroys one past Timmy Howard. 1-0 Portugal, our worst nightmare. It was the worst nightmare possibly because Cristiano Ronaldo hadn’t even been involved. We knew he would show up at some point.

However, the Americans fought back with perhaps their finest 85 minutes of football in their World Cup history. It was bold, daring, exciting, and unique American. Jermaine Jones put in a shot in the ’64 minute to tie up the game. That shot didn’t produce so much of an awesome reaction as it did pure and utter confusion. JERMAINE JONES? FROM THERE? TIE BALLGAME? WHOAAAAAAAA!!!!

Shortly after, Portugal’s back (connect) four made a critical mistake, allowing Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey to team up on a go ahead goal. It was there for the taking! We had it! We were going to advance from the group stage before ever facing Germany! Party time! Someone cue up “Smells like Teen Spirit” again! WE’RE READY!

Then it happened: they added 5 minutes in extra time. That was the first kick below the belt. The entire crowd is standing there counting off the seconds. There was hope. There was prayer. There were many beers.

Then there was despair.

That dude Ronaldo had to show up in the last 20 seconds of extra time and deliver one of the most gorgeous crossed you will ever see in your life. It’s headed into the back of the net. The game is over. It’s a draw. Cue the second kick below the belt.

If you would’ve told me before the game that we would draw with Portugal I would’ve taken it. The crowd behind me in Rio would’ve as well. However, with victory in hand, and a ticket booked into the next round, we dropped the ball. It was so un-American. It still hurts.

I don’t know where we go from here. To be quite honest I’ve been in a funk since the game. I didn’t even know how to correctly get back to my hotel. I’m a wreck.

Someone wake me up when we face Germany. Until then I’m proud of the USMNT, but not the result. Let’s just get a draw and move on. That’s the only way I’ll forget about Sunday night at the Copa.