My 2014 World Cup Adventure in Brazil – A Dream Come True!
BY RAHIM KHOJA
Head banners forming the Brazilian flag in the Pelourinho district in Salvador, Bahia.Photo: Rahim Khoja
Ten years ago I was travelling to Portugal and when I arrived, the Euro Cup was going on. What resulted in my 2 weeks in Portugal was one of the best times of my life. That same year I was in South Africa when FIFA awarded them the World Cup. I decided then that I would attend the 2010 World Cup. Unfortunately, that was not to be and I then resolved to attend the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. I have memories as a child watching soccer; learning the rich history and passion for the sport that exists in Brazil. I can still recall the images I saw on the TV of the celebrations during a World Cup qualifier game many years ago, and I remember thinking how amazing and marvellous it would be for me to experience a live Brazil game in their own country. Going to Brazil for the World Cup was not an option but an obligation that was meant to happen. My love for travel, adventure and discovery, my love for sport, the opportunity to visit Latin America with its legendary joyous and celebratory people were all important factors that made a trip to Brazil for the World Cup inevitable. So I was on my way.
Spanish fans in front of Estadio Fonte Nova. Photo: Rahim Khoja
Simerg: Were you there for the entire World Cup?
Rahim Khoja: We arrived in Sao Paulo 2 days before the first match that was being played in Sao Paulo. We were on our way to the airport for the flight to Brazil as the game was starting. We left Brazil on the day of the semi-final, Germany and Brazil.
Pelourinho District on a rainy day in Salvador, Bahia. Photo: Rahim Khoja
Rahim in front of the stadium in Salvador. Photo: Rahim Khoja Collection
We were able to get tickets from the FIFA website for the Holland-Spain game on June 13, 2014 at Estadio Fonte Nova. My friend is from Holland, so he was extremely excited for the rematch from the last World Cup. The game was in Salvador, Bahia. The stadium was a 15 minute drive from our hotel. We decided to play it safe and leave for the game 4 hours early. Lucky we did that because the city was not prepared for the influx of tens of thousands of people. It took us 1.5 hours to get to the stadium with all the traffic. When we got to the stadium, the atmosphere was electric and the mood was euphoric. We walked along the pond that led to the stadium. As we got closer, we saw people from all over the world happy, singing, taking pictures of each other, talking to each other and learning from each other. Can you imagine any other environment where people who have never met each other and that can barely communicate with each other would embrace, shake hands, smile, laughing and singing together. This was a deeply moving experience. I think events such as the World Cup have a rich story for humanity in these troubled times of war and conflict!
Looking on from our seats (Category 1 tickets-most expensive to purchase and sitting at the top of the stadium!) Photo: Rahim Khoja
The match started as I feared. Xavi, Xavi Alonso and Ramos spent most of the game holding on to the ball and not allowing Holland to get a touch. Then, a penalty was awarded to Spain from which they scored and at that point I thought the game would end 1-0 Spain. The end of the half was approaching. From my side of the field, I saw Blind make a 40 yard kick to the middle of the box. As the ball was kicked, I thought to myself; “Why did he just waste that ball?” And then I saw Van Persie run under it. I looked to see if he was offside and he wasn’t. As the ball was coming down, I noticed Cassias, the Spain keeper edging forward to make a play on the ball. As it was landing, I was wondering how Van Persie would be able to control it on his feet and get the shot off with the keeper in his way. Then the Dutch forward made one of the most skilled and intelligent plays that I have ever seen.
Prior to the Holland vs Chile game in Sao Paulo. We were unable to buy tickets as scalpers were selling for 1000$ US per ticket! Photo: Rahim Khoja
He dived forward before it landed, and headed the ball past and over the keeper and the stadium erupted! I am not a passionate supporter of Holland but I could not help myself. I jumped up and celebrated as if I had myself scored! After all, I do play soccer! What an amazing play! The game continued with another great goal by Van Persie and 2 more by the ever hard-working Robben. After the game, as we were leaving, one of my new friends that I made, a girl from Vancouver, started chatting to the intimidating looking military police. Surprisingly, they were not at all annoyed and joined in the conversation with a mix of Portuguese and broken English. As we were talking, it started to rain hard, and the police kindly invited all four of us into their tent until it stopped raining. As they chatted with us, they took pictures and videos of us. They were excited to meet the “gringos” and we were happy to be hanging out with the friendly military police!
My friend Andres and I posing with the Military Police. Photo: Rahim Khoja
Simerg: What were your thoughts and feelings when Germany thrashed Brazil 7-1?
Rahim Khoja: I thought Germany was the better team but it was upsetting that they lost so badly. I knew my new Brazilian friends would not be happy. But in the end, the team overachieved and made it to the semi-final and I think that was a great accomplishment and it was great for all the Brazilian fans. They were able to participate and enjoy the tournament almost to the very end.
Gulliano in the red ( from Suriname) with a Ruud Gullit fan. Photo: Rahim Khoja.
At the FIFA Fanfest in Sao Paulo. I was wearing a Holland jersey but after the game, a Chilean asked me to trade jerseys, so I did. Photo: Rahim Khoja
The next day we met someone from Suriname and we all decided to head to Pelourinho district like most other tourists. The most memorable moment of that day was when we ran into a store to get cover from the rain. As we waited with others, 4 women started doing a tradition Brazilian dance to the background music in the store. It suddenly became a small party. This was so symbolic of the happy and outgoing people of Brazil that we met throughout our stay. Later that day, a Brazilian girl heard my friends and I speaking in English and she came over to talk to us. She invited us to have lunch with her and her two friends. We had a traditional dish called Mukeka and it was delicious. We would have not known to order this had we not met these happy and helpful people. We ended up spending the rest of our time in Salvador with this group of people and some of their other friends.
Traditional Brazilian Dish Mukeka. Photo: Rahim Khoja
Our next stop was in Fortalza for the Brazil-Mexico match. We did not have tickets for this match but were hoping to get some from scalpers. I wanted more than anything to see Brazil play in their own country. It would be a dream from my childhood come true if that materialized. We booked an apartment near the stadium but once we got there, it did not seem like a good and safe place for tourists. It was in an extremely poorer area and as we discovered, most of the main city looked like this. We ended up staying in Meirelles, a coastal area along the beach. What a different world from the district we were a little while ago. It was truly beautiful. In the end, this place ended up being one of our favourites but we would have had a different opinion had we stayed near the stadium. Of course it might have worked either way. This experience of seeing two vastly different neighbourhood highlighted the wide gap between the rich and the poor segments of Brazilian society.
A DREAM FULFILLED
Guiellrme with a Mexican supporter. Photo: Rahim Khoja
The next day we took a taxi to Estadio Castelo and as we drove in, the bus behind us was full of Mexican tourists. They were singing and chanting to all the people in the streets. As I have mentioned, the area around the stadium was a poor area and I wondered how the marginalized local people would react to all the people coming through. But their happiness and excitement contradicted their poor living conditions. I was struck at how they all came out of their houses and stores, and waved and cheered back at the Mexicans. Some kind Mexicans handed out flags and the wrestling masks that a lot of the fans were wearing. We were again 4 hours early for the game but for us, the environment was stressful in trying to find tickets. Nobody was advertising. We looked out for “suspicious” looking people who might have tickets. The best offer we had was 1000$ per ticket! I was not willing to pay that much. As there was less than an hour remaining to game time, we held a sign in Portuguese saying that we were looking for tickets.
Top: FIFA Fanfest in Sao Paulo with some unique fans! Bottom: Myself, right, with a some Mexican fans and Marcos beside the beautiful woman I have my arm around! Photos: Rahim Khoja
Then 2 local guys, Marcos and Guillerme, about our age came over and said that they were looking for tickets as well. I saw them as our competitors for the tickets, and I moved away but my friend continued to talk to them. Within 10 minutes, they were able to get tickets, and I thought that our chance was gone. Instead of disappearing for the game, Marcos and Guillerme decided to help us and were able to negotiate a decent price with someone selling tickets, and we were in! I was overwhelmed! I could barely speak! I was just too excited and emotionally wrenched. In the stadium grounds, we mingled with Brazilian and Mexican fans. Many playfully but passionately argued about who was the better team. The atmosphere in the stadium was unlike I have ever seen or experienced before anywhere before. It was a huge party for 67,000 people. It was breathtaking and the game had not even started.
In Montevideo, Uruguay watching the public viewing of Uruguay vs. Colombia. Photo: Rahim Khoja
Simerg: How did the Brazilians you came across take the heavy defeat against Germany?
Rahim Khoja: We were driving to the airport when the game started. When I saw a taxi and asked him to take us to the airport as the game was about to start, he looked angry and said something back to me aggressively in Portuguese but I didn’t understand. I could however read his body language and I could tell that he wanted to watch the game. Eventually he paused and looked at us for a few seconds, rolled his eyes and agreed to drive us to the airport. He was watching the game on his phone while we were driving. Not to worry because there were barely any cars on the road. We watched most of the game at the airport. The locals were in such disbelief. They acted and appeared frustrated, confused and upset at their team. But the few that I spoke with said that they would forget and move on. I think that is what they wanted, however this was easier said than done.
Myself ecstatic prior to the Brazil vs. Mexico match. Photo: Rahim Khoja
The actual game itself was great as well. Both teams had wonderful opportunities to score. At one point, Neymar took a shot that I thought was going into the net but somehow the Mexican keeper was able to make a miraculous save. He was the star of the game and the game ended 0-0. After the game, it turned out that our new Brazilian friends were staying in an apartment near to our hotel, so we all went back together on the local bus, an experience in itself! It was fun to be in the bus with the banter and cheering of the Brazilian fans. I have to say though, most of the conversation was surprisingly about the fans arguing among about local club teams, particularly the Cornithians and Palmeiris from Sao Paulo. That night and for the rest of our stay in Brazil, Marcos and Guiellrme who obtained us our tickets became our best friends.
FIFA Fanfest in Rio on Copacabana Beach. Watching France vs. Germany in the quarter final. The game tickets were again selling for minimum 1000$ per ticket from scalpers so we came here instead! Photo: Rahim Khoja
Simerg: What player impressed you the most?
Rahim Khoja: Most impressive players to me were Messi and Robben. James from Columbia had a great tournament but both Robben and Messi carried their teams. I have never seen Robben play so well and I don’t know if he ever will again. Watching Messi play soccer is like watching an artist paint. He was brilliant but due to injuries to his key supporting players such as Di Maria and Aguero, most teams were triple covering him by the end of the tournament.
FIFA Fanfest in Rio on Copacabana Beach. Holland vs. Costa Rica. Photos: Rahim Khoja
Again, they took us around to all the best places of for the rest of our stay. They were actually from Sao Paulo, and so when we visited Sao Paulo, they picked us up from the airport and I was able to play an organized game with their team. What an eye opener that was! I play regularly in Ottawa but they made me look like I had never seen a soccer ball before! This was an extraordinary experience that demonstrated their immense love for the game.
Andres and myself at the Christ Redeemer statue. Photo: Rahim Khoja
My time in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay was one of the best experiences of my life. The two things that will remain in my memories of my South American adventure is the kindness and great hospitality of the South Americans as well as their passion for life and expression in so many different ways.
Date posted: Thursday, August 8, 2014.
Last updated: Monday, August 11, 2014.
Text and Photos Copyright: Rahim Khoja. 2014.
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