Photo by Steven Limentani/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
BRASILIA, Brazil — All good things must come to an end. Unfortunately.
No, I didn’t make it all the way though until the end of the World Cup like Ives but I did spend a few more days in beautiful Brazil following the U.S. Men’s National Team’s elimination. The day after the Americans’ loss to Belgium, Ives and I went to the beach to shoot some video for one his work assignments. We didn’t really get to lay out or tan or anything, but the beach was still beautiful and it made us wish we could have spent a few more days in Salvador.
That evening, we had some dinner at a nearby restaurant. We ate outdoors and talked about our upcoming trip to Brasilia, where Ives has some relatives despite not being of Brazilian descent himself. We reflected on the Americans’ World Cup campaign and whether it should be deemed a “success” or not.
After eating some delicious chicken with cheese sauce, we went over to a nearby town square to have a few beers before calling it a night. What we wound up witnessing was equal parts hilarious and eye-opening.
We sat down with a one of the national Brazilian beers – Brahma and Skol – in hand and amid the throng of people that were also just hanging out and enjoying the cool night. There were lots of soccer fans wearing jerseys from all different countries and everyone seemed to be having a good time until a little girl came with an inflated beach ball and started an in impromptu game of ‘Keep It Up’, which she was encouraged to do by a group of three young Englishman who were clearly intoxicated and keen on causing some controlled chaos.
Needless to say, the level of fun increased by a heck of a lot.
People were smacking the giant silver ball into the air and it would at times crash into unexpected people’s beers or heads. This literally lasted a good 20-30 minutes and no one really complained about it. Instead, everyone just played along during the midst of their conversations with friends or family.
This definitely was not the United States, where you know someone would’ve complained not long after the ball was first smacked in their direction.
We made it to Brasilia the next day for my final few days in the South American country – in hindsight, I wish I would’ve booked to stay the whole way through the World Cup – and it was a good close to my trip.
The capital was more relaxing than most if not all of the other cities we went to. Things were a lot more spread out throughout the city, and the hustle and bustle of places like Sao Paulo and Salvador was not apparent.
I spent the first couple of days in Brasilia working and getting to know Ives’ family members, who were as pleasant and hospitable as can be. Eventually, Ives and I made our way to the Friday quarterfinals game between Argentina and Belgium – it would’ve been the U.S. had it won – and that was another memorable game with an incredible atmosphere.
Gonzalo Higuain scored an early opener to send the pro-Argentina crowd into a frenzy, but the rest of the game saw the Belgians and local Brazilians root against the albiceleste at every opportunity. That was pretty special to witness, as was the collective gasp that everyone had when Leo Messi dribbled in on goal late against Thibaut Courtois only to be denied spectacularly by the Belgium goalkeeper.
Ultimately, Argentina was victorious and returned to the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in 24 years. The Argentines on the field and in the stands were full of emotions as they celebrated the triumph, and I took a quick moment to absorb it all and reflect on my entire experience seeing as how this was the last World Cup game I’d cover in Brazil.
The next day was my second-to-last full day in Brazil, so I decided to go out at night to a local nightclub that did not charge people a cover but gave everyone a voucher that forced them to spend the equivalent of $50 in drinks.
The music was great, the atmosphere was awesome and the jam-packed crowd was lively and festive until early on Sunday morning. I even met a cool 24-year-old woman from Chicago who was of Mexican descent and had been rooting for Mexico – sorry, U.S. fans – and we exchanged pleasantries and said we’d keep in touch.
Sunday was more of relaxing day. I packed my bags, spent some time at Ives’ family members’ pool and enjoyed my last few Brahmas and Skols. I once again looked back on my incredible and amazingly-quick 27 days in Brazil, and can say I did so with nothing but smiles and fondness.
I had enjoyed the time of my life, both personally and professionally, and told myself I was determined to return in 2016 to cover the Olympics. Part of that is because I never got to go to Rio – which I had heard nothing but amazing things about during my time at the World Cup – and another part is because I had such a wonderful time in Brazil that I wanted to go back.
Covering my first World Cup was truly special and one of the highlights of my life. I owe a big thanks to Ives and SBI for the opportunity as well as you readers for following me along on my journey, which I must say exceeded my expectations in all aspects and which I don’t think can be topped by the potential experiences that I could have in Russia or Qatar later on in life.
I’d recommend anyone who has not been to Brazil to try and find an opportunity to go. The country is beautiful, the people are amazing and it is just an overall great place to spend a few days.
I hope to be back relatively soon. If not, then I will just have to make due with knowing that I had the privilege of covering my first World Cup in Brazil.
SBI 2014 WORLD CUP DIARY