Yesterday was a day filled with anticipation by all involved, especially the fans and teams from Brazil and Croatia. A late morning walk along Avenida Paulo VI (known locally as Sumaré) provided a great view into the pre-match build up of excitement and host nation pride in their Seleção.
This guy was out quite early, armed with Brazil flags and a number of vuvuzela like horns (even though vuvuzelas have been banned for the 2014 tournament).
As the day continued, more flags, horns, firecrackers and fans made their way to the streets. At least 1 out of every 10 cars had some form of the Bandeira do Brasil. It even got challenging to conduct meetings from my remote location, as both the noise from the streets and the flakey Internet connectivity made for some interesting conditions on my Lync calls.
Things hit a crescendo shortly after the mediocre opening ceremonies which took place about 2 hours before the kickoff. No offense to Pitbull or J.Lo, or the lovely representations of the wide cultural diversity from across the beautiful land of Brazil, but folks were more interested in seeing some football! (Queue the association football and non-racist version of Hank Williams, "Are You Ready for Some Football?!?")
We watched the match from the comfort of our São Paulo base of operation, complete with a healthy spread of treats and tasty caipirinhas. The match got off to an inauspicious start thanks to Marcelo's horrid own goal in the 11th minute. I'd be lying if I said spirits weren't low, bordering on worried until Brazil's jewel Neymar netted an equalizer 18 minutes later. I don't need to recap the match's storyline, which included some questionable calls that leaned mostly in the host nation's favor. Instead, here's a peek at what happened in the streets near our viewing party after Brazil's 3-1 victory.
About 15 minutes following the final whistle and a little bit of clean-up, we headed out to experience the celebrations along the bar area of Vila Madalena (a nearby neighborhood). The police had cordoned off several blocks to allow for outdoor viewing of the match and consumption of adult beverages. The party continued until late in the evening.
Everyone was good natured and while it was no small task to navigate through all the masses of humanity gathered, we didn't feel unsafe for one minute. We were even able to score a table at Bar Genésio where we ate some Brazilian pizza and chopp (Brazilian draft beer).
After our late snack, we headed back out into the sea of celebrating humanity to make our way back home. The experience was fantastic and has served as a great personal kick off for our own World Cup adventures.
Bright and early tomorrow morning, we head out to Natal to start the process of following the USA in the Group Stage. Stay tuned!