Saturday, July 26, 2014

Rumble in the Jungle



This is a story about how I'm psychic. Or more accurately, how soccer often follows the most ridiculous patterns possible, and sometimes, when it involves my team, I can be good at recognizing said patterns.  I mean really - once Germany (the team that cut short our most successful run in recent memory with a handball) and Ghana (our World Cup nemesis) had been selected for Group G, what other group could we possibly end up in?

(Read bottom to top for twitter.)


I'd chosen Portugal as an opponent I'd like to see a few weeks ahead of the draw. (Rose talked me down from wishing for Spain, but in hindsight, that may not have been such a bad pick.)


Note the date.

So when it came down to the fourth and last round, and Portugal was available for the final Group G slot...



I was thrilled to be in a group with Germany, Ghana, and Portugal - in part because the US has history with each of those teams, but also, because I'm a fan of Real Madrid. While Ghana and Germany both have a former Real Madrid player, and Germany has a current one, Portugal is pretty loaded with players I cheer for on a regular basis, the rest of the year. Including this one guy you've probably never heard of...



I was bummed that my Madridista friends, Shani and Sarah, had to cancel their trip. (They'd planned to follow Portugal through the group stage and meet up with me in Manaus, alas.) But I was looking forward to the opportunity to see Ronaldo play, live, for the third time in four years.

Unfortunately, the Portuguese Real Madrid players did not fare well in this cup. Ronaldo was injured before it even began, Coentrão suffered a thigh injury in the first game, and Pepe had an anger-management relapse when faced with Thomas Mueller's smug face. I discovered Portugal feels I didn't know I had when they played Germany.

But back to Manaus... I was staying at my third spot in the city (if you count the jungle), a home-stay apartment within walking distance of the stadium. Having local hosts to rely on, in Otilene and Scott, was really nice. And so was running into people I already knew...



At the U.S. Soccer/American Outlaws party the night before the game, I ran into a lot of the gang from the jungle! It was great. Instead of awkwardly shuffling out once Sunil Gulati had said his piece and we'd been featured on Brazilian news, I stuck around, got myself a Caipirinha, and had a ridiculously good time.



Of course, being in a new place meant new people as well. The apartment was filled on the second day by a small group from Boston. I met Kat, Andre and his son, and later, Joe and Melissa (Andre's family friends). We wandered around the market the morning of the game, then headed over to El Dorado to hand off the apartment key to Otilene. From there, it was a hot and sweaty march to the afternoon game.

 
America!

Portugal!


Once in the stadium, I checked out my assigned seat, but decided I'd be happier screaming my heart out in the American PMA section. I walked over to the area behind the goals, headed down the stairs - once again, no one was really checking tickets - and found a pair of empty seats. 


Where I was supposed to be sitting.
Where I ended up sitting.

Nani scored early for Portugal, which was rough. It took 60 minutes for us to equalize, but thankfully, Jermaine Jones did. Pandemonium erupted and total strangers hugged. At this point, I thought, "This game is going to end up tied. Please let us tie. But wouldn't it be awful if we went up first?" Which is exactly what happened. Deuce scored and we all went crazy. But in the literal last minute, Ronaldo (despite my repeated whispers of 'NOT TODAY, CRISTIANO') hit a beautiful cross, setting up a Varela header. The game ended 2-2. What had been about to become a huge party, deflated like a balloon instead.

On the way back to El Dorado, Kat and I had a nice chat about how well Beckerman and Beasley had done (experience! on Beasley's part), how we seriously missed Landon's clutch abilities, and how Klinsmann could have saved us in the last 15 minutes had he bothered to sub in the 86°, 90% humidity, weather.


Again, I had a late flight after the game. This time, I was able to get in a quick shower so I'd feel a little more human on the plane. The Manaus airport was pretty rudimentary. I killed a few hours sitting around, along with a couple hundred other US fans this time. On to Recife...

 American Outlaws nap time.

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