The depression of the World Cup coming to an end plus the thought of leaving Brasil was giving me anxiety. I planned to be back in the States for both the Semi-final and Final matches. With some good connections and persistence, I was offered a place to stay for the remainder of World Cup, granting an 8 day extension to what was meant to only be a 5-day trip. I felt like the stars were aligning and funding this adventure from my own pocket as a “business expense” would be justified. I didn’t even think twice. I booked the flight change and finally left the trusted hostel. My time here was finished. I joined my friends, Gio and Julio, who were staying just down the street in Copacabana - before moving to my final (and fancy) destination up the coast. And even though both of my teams had been knocked out of the Cup (England and USA), I was still happy as hell to be in Brasil.
My faith was now with the Dutch. Other than wanting to shut up my Latin friends by having a European champion in South America, there’s only one reason why I was cheering for the orange guys, and that’s because of Louis Van Gaal.
If you follow football year-round, more specifically, if you follow the English Premier League (the best league in the world), you’ll know that Manchester United’s newly acquired manager is this splendid Dutchman. Whatever, I’m a little biased. But, my team (Manchester United) has had a rough year, and this is the man who has restored hope. Van Gaal is the light at the end of the tunnel. Our dark days are (hopefully) over and I was happy to watch his performance coaching Holland, while also cheering against the hundreds of thousands of Argentines who flocked to Rio for the Semi-finals.
When it comes to football, the Brasilians and Argentines have a lot of animosity toward each other due to some historical controversy. So, having 100,000 Argentinians on their home turf did not make the Brasilians very happy. To my dear Argentinian friends, Victoria and Max, I dedicate this post to you… even though you lost. Is that mean? Lol. Sorry, I’m not sorry. The English don’t like Argentinians much either. <3
The Semi-finals had yet to begin and I was still photographing Copacabana like a madman. I met people from all over the world in this two-mile radius of chaos. The ambiance was wild. I’ve never experienced anything like it.
Fans are a special breed of people…
The beach was a constant party, but the male to female ratio was seriously offensive. It was about 15:1, so I was having difficulty walking around without getting hit on or hissed at by drunk men. Not my cup of tea, but who was I kidding? This is football, not a fashion show.
The few girls that I did meet were hardcore fans. It’s nice to meet lady football lovers, especially topless ones.
There was nothing like watching the games at FIFA Fan Fest. And even though I feel like I got to pay more attention to them before arriving in Brasil, it was definitely worth the experience.
Now this is what my “cup” of tea looks like….
The strip was a 24 hour celebration. Brasilian or not, everyone caught the vibe of the energetic hosts.
I thought I’d take a photo of this rare sighting…..
When I changed the flight, Brasil was still in the running for the trophy. I was excited. I thought it would be cool to celebrate another win in the host country and possibly even see them in the Final. I’m sure some of you are already cringing just reading this, we all know what happened next. Due to heavy rain we watched the first half from the best cafe, Banana Tropical. Little did we know that the rain would set the mood for the somber evening to come.
We watched in awe as the Germans scored goal after goal in less than 4 minutes. I had never seen anything like this in the history of football. I was slightly regretting my flight change thinking how depressing it might be to stay in Brasil after this massacre. When the rain slowed down, I was eager to get to Fan Fest to photograph some gutted Brasilians. I know, I’m awful.
When the second half began, I watched in awe, still in shock of the what would be the most brutal loss in Brasilian history. All of a sudden, this lively strip turned into a dark depression while the Germans scored two more, the icing on the cake.
Some joy was restored after Oscar scored in the 90th minute. I had a laugh thinking, “If only they were playing by the last goal wins rule.”
This guy stuck out like a sore thumb. Please note the squad of policemen to the left.
I was preparing for the worst - expecting rioting and angry fans, but none of that was in sight. Brasilians will be Brasilians, happy and dancing on any account. I love these people.
The rain (appropriately) started up again and the streets cleared out. There wasn’t much to photograph or do, so we went home to get some rest. I still couldn’t believe what we had just witnessed.
After Argentina beat Netherlands on penalties, the Semi-finals were over. I was sad for two reasons - firstly, the Dutch were out, and secondly, I really wanted to see Brasil V. Argentina fight for third place. That game would’ve definitely caused some drama worth documenting. But I guess for the sake of peace, this was a better outcome. It was Germany and Argentina in the Final and I was on the way to my last destination for a few days of rest before the big game. This time I was going to a quieter area known as Barra. To my surprise, the hotel in which I’d be staying would be the same hotel as the Argentinian team. Blessed is an understatement.
The day the team arrived, the hotel was packed. I felt kind of cool being on the other side of the fans…
…while the other photographers stood behind a metal fence with envy.
As the team drove in, security told me to go inside. Damn it, I tried! But it was just as crazy inside as it was out.
I joined in cheering with the fans when the players came through the door.
After their arrival, I went upstairs to spectate from my room.
I still couldn’t believe where I was staying.
The morning of the Final, I woke up to the familiar sounds of Argentine singing that had already been drilled in my brain throughout the whole trip. “Maradona es mas grande que peleeeeee”… is what my mind had on repeat for an entire week, but not for much longer. Despite the fact that I made great Argentine friends, was staying at the team’s hotel, and I really do believe Messi is the best player in the world - I was now cheering for Deutschland. I felt the Germans deserved the win based on having an impeccable squad and playing the most consistently throughout the tournament. And, oh yeah - I still wanted a European team to win it all. ALEMANIA!!!!! as they say in Portuguese, the Brasilians were also rooting for das Germans.
Although, I wasn’t on my way to Maracana like the rest of the people staying at the hotel, I was en route to Copacabana to catch the Final at Fan Fest, followed by a direct flight home. I ate my favorite Brasilian foods for breakfast, Pao De Quiejo and Maracuja - that’s cheese bread and passion fruit - and hopped in a cab.
Not everyone was happy…
but most people were.
The sun was going down and the crowds were heading to the big screen. I followed, but not for long…
I took one last look at Copacabana before heading over to where I safely left my luggage for the day, Che Lagarto Hostel, right where I began this epic Rio journey. I watched the first half of the game at Che Lagarto with the staff, my newfound friends who had saved me countless times on this trip. The van to the airport pulled up at half-time - and just my luck, he had a satellite TV inside streaming the game. It was was a draw at full-time when I had to check-in to the flight. Who was in front of me in the line? Carlos Santana. I swore I had just seen him at the pre-show for the Final, he had come right from the arena to the airport. Now I didn’t feel so badly about leaving in the middle of the game. I heard cheers ringing throughout the airport: the Germans had scored. I may have missed a goal but my timing couldn’t have been more perfect, I made it through the gate with ten minutes on the clock.
I celebrated the final moments of World Cup 2014 sitting on the airport floor with a bunch of strangers who all spoke different languages, watching a tiny TV from the duty free store. What a way to go…
…and just like that, I was on my way home.
For more Brazil + World Cup on TheHundreds.com:
Senay Kenfe’s tales from the fringe and favela in “City Unlimited: Stories from Rio de Janeiro” Part 1 and Part 2