During the late 19th century, Brazil was introduced to futebol by Europeans, both travelers and players. It was initially played by the elite in country club settings but by the turn of the century, it spread to the masses and quickly. There is a great book that I am reading called Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil through Soccer by David Goldblatt. It just was released this May and it includes a fascinating history of this early time of soccer that was embraced whole-heartedly by the country in a short amount of time.
It makes me think a lot about the United States and where we are as a country in relation to soccer’s prominence in our culture. Here soccer competes with so many big-money sports including American Football, Baseball, Basketball, Hockey, etc. Just last night there were two big playoff games in both basketball and hockey that overshadowed all of the baseball games and definitely the “friendly” soccer match between the USA and Azerbaijan in my childhood stadium of Candlestick Park. It is a given that the ratings were probably very low for that match.
But during the last two decades here in the US, there has been an incredible increase in the amount of enthusiasm and following of both MLS teams and international soccer in general. From new stadiums being built to international teams coming to the US to play, it is an exciting time to be a fan of soccer. The MLS players are now looked at as international superstars (at least there are more of them here), and the Sporting Kansas City victory in the finals was quite amazing. For me at least, it feels like it could be 100 years ago in Brazil. I can dream, can’t I?
It was June 3rd, 1986, against Northern Ireland when Algeria scored its last goal in the World Cup. It was a 1-1 tie in the Estadio Tres De Marzo in Guadalajara, Mexico. The next two matches in that World Cup were losses with Brazil beating them 1-0 and Spain later 3-0. They ended up with 1 point in the 1986 World Cup. It wasn’t until 2010 in South Africa that Algeria had qualified again for a World Cup. 24 long years later. Even though they did not score a single goal in this next World Cup, they seemed to play a little better with a late-goal loss to Slovenia 1-0, a tie with England 0-0, and a very late, actually injury-time loss to the USA 1-0. No goals in the 2010 World Cup, but 1 point.
They have now extended their goalless record to 5 games in a row in the World Cup. FIFA released its statistical kit recently and it was very interesting looking at all of the different stats and records by teams, coaches and players. One record that caught my attention was “consecutive games without scoring a goal”. Algeria can make a new World Cup record if they do not score a goal in their first game of this World Cup against Belgium, a formidable opponent. 6 games in a row would be the new record.
So do I want to see history be made? Not really. I will be at this game in Belo Horizonte on June 17th and I hope for an exciting high-scoring game. Algeria is somewhat of a dark horse in this tournament since they really have nothing to lose. They are currently ranked 25th along with Sweden and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Belgium is ranked 12th. Anything can happen in a World Cup.
The timer is set. The days are counting down until Brazil hosts Croatia on Opening Day of the World Cup on June 12th. There has been a lot of discussion on whether or not Brazil will be ready in time for this enormous tournament and the influx of people from all over the world. But one thing is for certain. On the evening of June 12th, the entire country will be watching one thing.
We arrive in Belo Horizonte that morning to our new digs for the first week of the tourney. It will be fun just trying to figure out where will be the best place to watch these games with all of the Brazilians cheering on their national team. Belo Horizonte is known as the “capital of neighborhood bars”. Sounds like the perfect place for me!
Some people say that Croatia might be a surprise team this year. But in front of the masses in Sao Paulo this could be a slaughter. I watched a documentary last night on the famous Brazilian goalkeeper who was “blamed” for losing the World Cup title in 1950 to Uruguay. This player Barbosa never was able to shed the heavy burden that was placed on him for the rest of his lifetime. The loss was so huge, in fact, that the country considers it to be one of the largest devastating moments in Brazilian history. I am sure the Brazilian team will be ready to play that night and it will be so important for this Cup to start on the right note for the entire country to get caught up in the energy of hosting this incredible tournament.
Friday was a big day. The last piece of the puzzle of this trip is now complete. My tickets arrived via DHL from Italy. Not plane tickets, but FIFA World Cup tickets!!! So I quickly went online to check out Belo Horizonte’s seating chart for its stadium Mineirao.
Colombia vs Greece – Row A! I can’t believe it but I will almost be on the pitch. Not midfield, but close enough.
Belgium vs Algeria – Row H but much closer to midfield.
I couldn’t be more happy about having these tickets in my hands now. Now this trip feels very real and close.
It doesn’t count that I stepped foot in South America on a cruise through the southern Caribbean back when I was 13 or so. Even though I have said “I have been there before”, I don’t really remember the one-day visit. My father, however, spent about a year traveling all throughout South America back in the late 50s. He was a professional photographer and at the time he was taking photos on his journey and these were being purchased and used by encyclopedias (our ancient Wikipedia).
One stop he made was in Ouro Preto, a colonial mining town outside of Belo Horizonte. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is at the top of my list of places to visit during this World Cup trip in June. It is exciting to finally get to some of these places where my father spent this time exploring the continent. It’s been 64 years since Brazil hosted its last World Cup. And during this Cup was the famous USA victory over England in Belo Horizonte. I hope to see another magical match in Belo Horizonte this coming June.
Ouro Preto, late 50s
Brazil 2014 is all about the World Cup. For over a year this trip has been planned and now it is almost within a 30-day window before take off. How exciting is that! Well, it has become even more exciting this week as I got my first jersey to represent Colombia on June 14th in Belo Horizonte. Colombia has always been an intriguing country for me. Just a year ago I was investigating what it would take to create adventure tours to Colombia and here I am now about to partake in Colombia’s first trip to the World Cup in 16 long years. And to be with the 3rd largest group that is attending the World Cup after the Brazilians and the US will be quite the experience. And by the way, their home jersey is pretty damn cool….
This blog is going to be specifically about my experience and travel to the World Cup this summer. A bucket list trip for sure and one that I will never forget…