Dispatches from the Maracanã: This is the End (Part 1)


Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports

Just as the tournament is reaching its dramatic peak, I must say goodbye to my home for the past 17 days. Yes, it’s time to come back to America.

However, don’t think for a second we didn’t thoroughly enjoy our last days in Rio. The last two days have produced some of the most emotional and memorable experiences of my trip to Brazil.

Let’s start with the big one: Brazil vs Chile.

First off, holding this game on a Saturday meant that the entire city of Rio, and likely the entire country, would stand still for two hours. Little did we know that this game would turn Rio into a ghost town. I’m not joking when I say that I could have played 18 holes on the streets of Ipanema. There was not a single solitary car, truck, taxi, or Van within a four block radius of where we are lunch and watched the game.

In about the 70th minute our group held a preliminary discussion of what we would do if the game went to extra time. We unanimously decided that we would hop in the first cab and take it to the Maracanã and hopefully make it inside the gates to see the end of the Brazil game. Well, our worst nightmare came true: extra time.

Not only did we know have to rush across the entire city, in a taxi with a driver who speaks no English, but we had to do it as the entire fate of a country was hanging in the balance. To say that the city was tense would be an understatement. Heck, the armed Brazilian Military outside of the Maracanã had chosen one member of each blockade to find the game on their phone and stream it. You know it means something to these people when the freaking military is getting distracted from doing their job. It was a sight to be seen.

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As we sprinted through the 11 security check points and were thoroughly searched by police, we entered the Maracanã and targeted the Budweiser fan zone, right outside of the stadium, as our spot to watch the last 5 minutes of extra time. There we were. Brazilians, the joyous, outgoing, ever partying society, was reduced to nothing but balls of nervousness. People were sweating nerves. Literally. I saw it.

We were also sweating bullets. Remember, this is our last night in Brazil. We had no interest in spending our last night in a city that was clearly ready to riot if the team had lost. Quick side story: I was in Vancouver when the city rioted after losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins in 2011. Driving into Canada that morning we knew that if the Canucks lost that game that we were likely to see a riot of some kind. We also knew, based on the location of our accommodations, that we would be in the middle of it all. During the game you could sense the riot coming. It kept building and building. The Bruins lifted the Cup and we saw a riot. No, we lived a riot. We were in it. This is to say that I know what a sports riot smells like. It’s something you can feel and taste. Rio was ready to riot and it wasn’t going to be pretty. Needless to say, it’s not something I wanted to experience.

Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports

So, were in the Maracanã, and Brazil and Chile are heading to penalty kicks. The whole place is a nervous wreck, myself included. We’re watching on a smallish screen for the size of the area, on a grassy knoll, trying to get a clear view of this screen through the trees that are partially blocking our view. There’s now thousands of Brazilians and Colombians. Everyone is rooting for Brazil.

We all know what happened. I think I may have blacked out for a couple of minutes. All I remember is Neymar’s kick going in and Julio Cesar being baffled that the last PK hit the post and didn’t go in. All of the fans outside of the stadium went bonkers. But it wasn’t a celebratory bonkers. It was more like the greatest relief in the history of sports. I’m pretty sure I almost got knocked down by the amount of exhales coming from Brazilians simultaneously. It was exciting and exhausting game. The best part was is was only the first part of our night.

For a minute I totally forget that I was at the Maracanã to actually see a match live. The Colombia-Uruguay knockout game was the furthest thing from my mind for a solid four hours. The Brazil game had lasted so long that getting to the stadium three hours before kick was no longer a bad decision. We grabbed our beers, found our seats, and began cheering with the beautiful women of Colombia (side note: Colombian women are every bit as good-looking as Brazilian women).

The Colombia fans showed up in a huge way. I can’t say the same thing for Uruguay. You would think for a country that is so close to Brazilian, literally their neighbor, that they would show up in droves. That wasn’t the case. I guess the stayed home with Luis Suarez. Anyways, Colombia showed up in a big way in the stands and on the pitch. It was an elementary win from start to finish. James Rodriguez’a first goal of the night was perhaps the most beautiful of the tournament. James is the king! He was the best player I saw in person at the World Cup and I saw Lionel Messi score right in front of me.

So now we have Colombia vs Brazil on Friday. I’ll say this very quickly: if Brazil doesn’t get it together this week they’re going to lose to Colombia. Colombia was the best team I saw on this trip. To put that in perspective I saw 10 of the 32 teams live, including Argentina, Chile, Belgium, and Spain. Colombia was, without question, the best team to take the field. Brazil is going to have its work cut out for them.

As it stands right now I’m at the Rio airport and I can’t help but already miss this city, the unbelievable fans from across the globe I’ve encountered, and the Maracanã. That stadium is holy and beyond beautiful. I don’t know if we’ll ever meet again but I sure hope we do.

As for me, I’m taking this to a part two to fully express my feelings on what has been the craziest trip of my life. It deserves to be written. Join us later this week at THE AMERICAN PITCH for Part 2 and my final words from Rio de Janeiro.