Tag: usa

World Cup Brazil 2014: Part 3 – Manaus-Sao Paulo-Natal for USA Portugal, Chile Netherlands and Italy Uruguay

Note: This is part three of a series about my world cup trip. Read part one here about Natal and USA/Ghana, part two about Porto de Galinhas and Costa Rica Italy here, or the entire series here.

After relaxing in Porto de Galinhas, I left my group to travel 5400 miles in three days to see USA/Portugal, Chile/Netherlands and Italy/Uruguay in Manaus, Sao Paulo and Natal, respectively. I left Porto de Galinhas with flip flops, shorts, a USA jersey, a sweatshirt, USA sunglasses and my tickets to the games, nothing more. My plan was to wake up at 4am, get to the Recife airport by 5 at the latest, then fly to Brasilia, then onto Manaus. But I almost didn’t make it.

We’d arrived in Porto de Galinhas two days earlier, but hadn’t filled up with gas. We’d planned to fill up upon arrival, but beach and caipirinhas got in the way. Instead, we decided to fill up at 430am on the way to the airport. But nobody told us that gas stations aren’t open 24/7 in northern Brazil. The first station, a half mile from our house, was closed. We asked the people partying (yes, partying at 430am in a gas station parking lot) where the next closest one was. They said there was one down the road. Closed too. The next one was closed, with all the lights turned off.

Enrique was accompanying me to the airport so he could use the car while I was gone, so the two of us continued until we got to a toll booth, already riding below empty on the gas gauge. I asked the toll booth operator if she could sell us a few liters of gas, but she said it wasn’t possible. I even offered to pay 3x the normal rate, but alas, no dice. I asked if there was roadside assistance and got an affirmative, so I asked if they could call now and have them bring me gas, but they said that they couldn’t call until we were fully out of gas. We decided to press on, against the warnings of the toll operators. They said that if (when) we ran out of gas that we had to stay on the highway and not get out of the car, as we had to pass favelas and other dangerous areas. As we pulled away they asked “first time in brazil?” and just smiled and shook their heads. Silly foreigners, expecting the gas stations to be open 24/7!

About a kilometer later, Enrique had the idea to go back to the tollbooth and have them call us a taxi. His idea saved me. As we pulled into the toll plaza again, an unoccupied taxi materialized out of nowhere. I jumped out of the car before he could pay his toll and asked how much it would cost to get to the airport. He quoted me a fair price and much to the shock of the toll operators, I jumped out of the car and into the taxi and was on my way. As we pulled away, I heard the toll operators yelling in a confused voice, “but where’s your luggage!”

Enrique turned around and made it back to within 2 blocks of our beach house and promptly ran out of gas. If I hadn’t turned around, I would have missed USA/Portugal and Chile/Netherlands. Two lessons learned: gas stations close early and there’s always taxis in Brazil!

Manaus – USA vs. Portugal

I needed to sell two extra tickets to the game and had been anyone wearing US colors if they needed tickets. Luckily the girl sitting next to me on the plane from Brasilia to Manaus needed a ticket, as did another guy she had met in the airport. Turned out the guys she had met were recent UW grads (Badgers are everywhere!) and I now had sold my extra tickets and had friends to hang out with before the game.

Manaus Spider
Manaus Spider

It made absolutely no sense to have Manaus be a world cup city. Although its a city of a few million people, it’s completely in the middle of the Amazon. You can’t arrive by road. Just boat and airplane. It’s 90% humidity and 90+ degrees. There’s mosquitos. Spiders. Crime. Hotels are incredibly expensive. And the local soccer team draws about 1000 people per game. But FIFA and its corrupt Brazilian partners decided to make Manaus a venue. They spent at least $300m on a stadium that was used four times and might be used as a jail afterward.

Flight into Manaus
Flight into Manaus

The flight into Manaus is extremely beautiful. You can listen to people describe the Amazon, but until you see it, you can’t appreciate just how big it really is. Swampy wetlands as far as the eye could see. A 1-2 mile wide river. Bright colors. Incredible clouds. But Manaus itself is just another past its prime big city. Manaus was one of the richest cities in the world during the rubber baron era, but when synthetic rubber was invented, it began its first precipitous and now slow decline. The Brazilian government wants to keep its hold on the Amazon, so Manaus is a tax incentive zone where manufacturers can produce products with little to no taxes.

The Amazon
The Amazon

The first thing that you notice when you land is the humidity. It hits you like punch in the face as you leave the airport’s strong air conditioning. You’re sweating immediately. Otherwise once you’re in the city, you’d have no idea you were in the middle of the Amazon.

It was all a bit surreal when we arrived at the American Outlaws party to find 500+ US fans drinking beer, caipirinhas, eating some of the saddest pizza I’ve ever eaten. There was a live band playing patriotic songs and every so often the national anthem would break out. We proceeded to drink beer and hang out with US fans from all around the country that had made the trek to the middle of the Amazon to watch the national team.

Manaus, USA Portugal, Bodypaint
Manaus, USA Portugal, Bodypaint

We piled into a taxi and were dropped off close to the stadium. We were so hungry that we stopped at the first shack/bar we saw that had food. It didn’t matter that a 13 year old was manning the grill and that the owners didn’t tell me what kind of meat it was until they sheepishly said “beef” after I asked for the 4th time, but in the moment it tasted amazing. You can’t do much better than mystery street meet on a stick in the middle of the amazon! Shockingly, I ate an incredible amount of street food in Brazil and only got mildly sick on my last night from a dodgy “dogao”, or street hotdog, in Salvador.

Manaus
Manaus

The stadium itself in Manaus might have been my favorite stand alone stadium. It’s small enough that you’re right on top of the action and the outside design looks like something that could be floating down the amazon. Really beautiful. A great place to see the game. But it just made no sense to build it just for four world cup games. What a colossal waste of money and resources, not to mention making four games nearly impossible for most people to go to.

IMG_3269

We had second row tickets in the US section and had a blast. Even though the US went down 1-0 inside five minutes, the fans were into it and screaming the entire game. When Jermaine Jones equalized with one of the best goals of the tournament, the entire US section went crazy. When Dempsey put the US in the lead a few minutes later, people really started to believe the US would qualify. When the ref showed 5 minutes of stoppage time, we booed mercilessly, but didn’t really think Portugal would muster much of an attack. After the first five minutes of the first half, the US really worked Portugal from end to end. But Cristiano wouldn’t be denied and made one of the best passes I’ve seen in person to a diving teammate who scored in the 95th minute. Even though the US had just tied Portugal and had 4 points from two games, it felt like a loss.

We were deflated and left to drown our sorrows in more brazilian churrasco, or steak, rice, beans and farofa. After dinner, we went to a bar for a beer, then I bid my new friends goodbye and went back to the airport to continue my adventure to Sao Paulo to see Netherlands vs. Chile twelve hours later. Manaus was a strange, expensive city in the middle of nowhere, but I’m glad I made the trip.

Sao Paulo – Netherlands vs. Chile

I slept a few hours in the airport, then the entire three hour plane ride and arrived in Campinas, about an hour from Sao Paulo at 6am for a 1pm game. I was still in my same outfit that I’d left 85 degree Recife and 95 degree Manaus, but arrived in 60 degree Sao Paulo in my flip flops, body paint stained US jersey, shorts and sweatshirt. I slept the entire bus ride into Sao Paulo and met up with some Chilean friends.

The look on the my friend’s face was priceless, but all he could muster was “you have something in your eye…” I knew I looked like a wreck, but I had to push on. I met up with another friend a few hours later and took a shower in his hotel room. As soon as I looked at myself in the mirror, I realized I must have scared my friend half to death! Some of the body paint from the night before had gotten into my eyes and had created a white streak across my entire eye. It looked like a big white cut across my eye or some strange tropical disease.

Chile Netherlands
Chile Netherlands

After showering, we took a taxi to the stadium, which is about 45 minutes outside of the main part of the city and met up with Enrique (who had a new Chile jersey for me). He’d had his own adventure, flying in from Recife that morning for the match. The stadium itself is really cool looking, but it was one of my least favorite venues because it’s hard to get to, isolated and there’s nothing to do around the stadium, as it’s located in a poor area of town with no bars, restaurants or really anything around it. And probably 30% of the seats (the ones behind the goal in the upper deck) are really, really far from the field. At least the stadium will be used after the world cup by Corinthians, one of Sao Paulo’s biggest teams.

 

Sao Paulo - Chile/Netherlands
Sao Paulo – Chile/Netherlands
Sao Paulo
Sao Paulo

Chile’s fans were the most impressive and most passionate of any that I came across. There were at least 100,000 in Sao Paulo, many of whom were paying whatever price they could to get into the game. They cheered loud and long during the game, even when they got scored on and even when they ended up loosing. The national anthem was worth the price of admission.

Marea Roja, Chilean Fans
Marea Roja, Chilean Fans, Sao Paulo

I wish I had taken better photos from our seats in the fourth row, but Chile looked like midgets compared to the Dutch. Chile was the smallest team in the world cup and the dutch were the second tallest. It looked like the u12s were playing the u18s, but the u12s were somehow holding their own. The game featured the two most impressive players I saw in person: Arjen Robben and Alexis Sanchez. Both players change the game just by being on the field.

Dirk+Kuyt+Alexis+Sanchez+DugU-pbOOZKm

Natal – Italy vs. Uruguay

After the game we went back to the airport to catch our 3am flight back to Recife. I was so tired and promptly fell asleep beneath a bank of phones and slept until they called our flight and then the entire flight to Recife. Still wearing my same clothes, we got off the plane at 6am and were on our way to Natal for the 1pm Italy/Uruguay game that afternoon. We arrived in Natal at 1030am, parked in the mall, had more gaucho food and then walked to the stadium. We drank a beer while we watched the crowds and met up with a Japanese friend of mine from the Japan/Greece game.

I had two extra tickets to sell and sold to two Uruguay guys who kissed me on the cheek they were so happy to get into the game. I saw one of FIFA’s henchmen directing the police to arrest ticket sellers and then the police taking people away. The saddest was when they arrested a ~25 year old Uruguayan guy with face paint and a flag draped around his back for selling his one extra ticket. He started crying knowing that he would miss the match.

The professionals mostly knew how to avoid the police and never got arrested, as far as I could tell. I saw the same scene at other matches, even when people were selling below face value. It would infinitely more ridiculous a week later when Rio police busted an illegal FIFA ticket selling ring worth a reported $100m per world cup. FIFA’s disgusting corruption really knows no bounds. It’s bad enough that FIFA were reselling their own tickets at 10x face value, but to have the gall to tell police to arrest fans selling single tickets and tickets for below face value is just too much!

Italy Uruguay
Italy Uruguay

The Uruguayan fans were really impressive. They got to the stadium early, chanted and sang though out the game and stayed late. It was a pretty boring game until Italy’s red card, but then the game opened up. Luis Suarez’s bite was right in front of us, but we could only see that he’d done something. I speculated that maybe he bit him, but nobody could believe that he would be so brazen in a world cup. The entire stadium erupted into pandemonium when Uruguay scored to put them into the knockout round and eliminated Italy in the group stage for the second straight world cup.

After the game we had lunch and then made the long drive back to Porto de Galinhas through a driving rain. We had two near death experiences on the road leading into Recife which again drove home the point why Brazilians were mad about spending money on the world cup when basic things like “this lane ends” signs were non existent.

After traveling 5400 miles in three days, sleeping in airports and airplanes for three nights, I was ready to get back to the beach and stay put for awhile. In past world cups I’d never done anything like this and I don’t think I will in the future. It was worth it, but just barely!

My 2013

Every since I started blogging, I’ve done a year end post summarizing what I’ve done in the past year. These posts are mostly for me, so that I can look back and remember what I did, what I was thinking and what was important to me each year. Previous versions (2000s2009,20102011, 2012).

I started and ended 2012 in nearly the same place: on a friend’s rooftop in Santiago, champagne in hand, surrounded by great people, watching a multitude of fireworks explode across Santiago’s expansive skyline. In between, the first part of 2013 continued on 2012’s theme: a time in flux. I started out preparing to become a professor for the first time. My business partner and friend Enrique Fernandez and I completely revamped our entrepreneurship class How to Build a Startup and began teaching at Universidad Católica in Santiago and Universidad Católica del Norte in Antofagasta.

Antofagasta was a real challenge, but it was extremely rewarding. While the two hour flight eight times in twelve weeks was challenging, the hardest part was teaching a class solo, 100% in spanish. I was really nervous my first class and could see from the looks on my students’ faces that they weren’t looking forward to a whole semester with my gringo spanish, but by the second class, I started getting better and by the final class, my spanish was much better and I wasn’t nervous at all.

I’m glad I got to practice in Antofagasta, because in August I taught another class completely in spanish to undergrads at Universidad de Desarrollo in Santiago. It was rewarding to see my students actually learn something each semester, see their self belief growing each week, and seem projects go from ideas to reality.

My blog continues to build traffic and I was featured in multiple international publications again this year on Startup Chile, Entrustet, Chilean Real Estate and the Madison entrepreneurial ecosystem. It was cool to see Google implement their deceased account option that we’d pushed for back in 2009. While I haven’t written as much as I would have liked, I read more in 2013 than I did in 2012.

I traveled back to Wisconsin in August to help organize the fourth annual Forward Technology Festival and was happy to see it keep growing. Matt, Bryan, Forrest and Preston have done an awesome job since I moved to Chile. Forrest continues to grow Capital Entrepreneurs and Madison’s entrepreneurial scene continues to get more national prominence.

While the first half of the year was a year still in flux, the second half was much more focused. After coming back from my trip home in August, I started Andes Property, a real estate investment company focused in Santiago and published The Expat’s Guide to Chile, a book about living, working and doing business in Chile, which has been consistently ranked in the top ten most popular books about Chile on Amazon. I also launched an ecommerce business, La Condoneria, that sells condoms online. It’s been fun to start to build a business from scratch again and to work with two great business partners. In November, I celebrated three years in Chile.

I also made it back to Wisconsin for my family’s Thanksgiving and my group of friends’ 9th annual Friendsgiving. It really was great to get back and see my family twice this year and it was amazing to see our group continue to grow with more engagements and our group’s first kid. I expect both trends to continue in 2014.

I explored more of South America, but didn’t travel as much as I would have liked. I made it to Chiloé and Uruguay, then visited Mendoza when my parents visited Chile for two weeks, and Pucón, Puerto Varas and Frutillar when my friend Polsky came to visit from the US. I’ve done a better job of taking advantage of going to the beach more in 2013 than in 2012, but plan to do it more in 2014.

I didn’t exercise as much as I would have liked, but continued to play squash and increased my soccer. On the sports side, I went to a Chile world cup qualifying match, some chilean club matches and watched the US qualify for the world cup. Overall, it was a year of transitioning into my next projects that I’ve since been able to sink my teeth into. I expect 2014 to be a very interesting one!

Favorite posts of 2013

What Entrepreneurship is Really Like

Your Internet Business Probably Isn’t A Startup

Privilege

Weonomics

How to Deal With A Smart Disruptive School Kid

My Talk From The Forward Technology Festival

How The Future Might Look

Seven Important Books

Siren Servers: Why are we ok with giving away our data?

How to Survive and Be Successful in a Siren Server World

Chronicle of Two World Cup Qualifiers

World Cup qualifiers are special matches. In South America, there are only 16 meaningful matches over four years to decide which 5 soccer mad countries make it to the World Cup. In North America, there are only 10.

Each game is a grinder. The pressure is high. Any screw up can mean dropped points and the potential to miss the World Cup. In most countries outside of the US, the entire country stops for each match. On match day, Chileans gather round their tvs to watch the game, accompanied by friends and family, piscola, beer and sometimes day long asados. The national mood rides on the result: a win national ecstasy, a loss, national depression, followed by assigning blame and national soul searching.

Last week, Chile sat in 6th place, on the outside looking in after 9 matches. On Tuesday they lost a hard fought away game to bottom feeder Peru 1-0 where they should have drawn and the entire country went into depression.

Next up was Uruguay, probably the best per capita soccer team in the world and a team Chile hadn’t beaten in something like 25 years. At 3.8m people, Uruguay are the reigning South American champs and took 4th place in the last World Cup. Chile needed a home win or else they would be in deep trouble and were at risk to miss the first South American World Cup since Argentina ’78.

My friends Mike (visiting from the US), David, Pepe and I got tickets to go to the match. It was my first South American World Cup Qualifier, though I’ve been to US qualifiers and World Cup games in Germany and South Africa. We met up in my apartment to have a few beers, then took a taxi to Chile’s Estadio Nacional. We got there just in time to hear the national anthems.

Estadio Nacional, Chile/Uruguay
Estadio Nacional, Chile/Uruguay

Our tickets were for a general admission section in the corner and it was really full, but we ended up with seats low down, but still with a good view. The crowd was electric, willing Chile to score. Chile obliged in the 11th minute, scoring right in front of us. The crowd went nuts. Chileans really believe they could win. The crowd was on Uruguay’s striker Luis Suarez the entire game, especially after he punched a Chilean defender in the face and got away with it.

Uruguay pushed back from the start of the second half and Chilean fans were suffering badly. Fans cursed players and screamed abuse at Uruguayan players and refs, while singing songs to support the team. Our section had a significant number of families attending together. Fathers attending with their young daughters all screamed as if they were alone with their best friends. Chile scored again in the 77th minute and the party was on. Uruguay brought on Diego Forlan who had a few close chances, but it wasn’t enough. Chile had won. Everyone left the stadium happy. Everyone was together, something that doesn’t happen very often in Chile. Chile was back on track, moving up to a tie for 4th.

We walked a bit, then caught a cab to watch the US take on Mexico in Mexico City, a place the US has only won once in 75 years. We watched surrounded by dejected Mexican fans as the US got its second away point in Mexico in World Cup qualifying and solidifying their road to the world cup. Although the US still doesn’t have the passion for soccer that much of the world does, the vocal US crowd in Denver in a driving snow storm for the victory over Costa Rica and the over 7m tv viewers for USA/Mexico shows that soccer is growing and gaining popularity. At 60% of a typical monday night football game, that’s huge progress.  If you get a chance to see a world cup qualifier even if you’re not a big fan, take it.

2010 FIFA World Cup: Amazing Expereince Despite FIFA’s Incompetence, Greed and Corruption

Note: This is the second in a series of posts about my experiences at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.  You can read the first post, Twenty Days in South Africa for the World Cup, to get an overview of what we did while we were there. This post is about the soccer portion of my World Cup trip.

When most people are traveling, they’re more likely to try new food, talk to people on airplanes and in bars and try new things.  Overall, people seem to be much more outgoing when they’re traveling.  I like to call it the traveler’s effect.  I’ve experienced it all over the world, but every four years when the World Cup comes around, I see the traveler’s effect on steroids.  This is why I love the World Cup.

Yes, there’s really good soccer, but that’s only a small part of it.  During the World Cup, people are more outgoing, willing to help others and have a good time.  Citizens of the host nation want to showcase their country and go out of their way to help travelers out and people who have traveled to the World Cup seem to be much more willing to reach out to each other.  It’s an incredible phenomenon and one of the reasons I’ll do what I can to never miss another World Cup in my lifetime.

I went to seven matches in five stadiums while I was in South Africa and saw 18 goals or 2.6 goals per game, which was above the tournament average.  Although the US didn’t get past the round of 16, all four games were really entertaining, especially our one win against Algeria.  That match moves to the top of the list of the best sporting events I’ve ever attended.

Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg – USA vs. England, June 12, 2010

Royal Bafokeng Stadium, USA/England

Our first match was USA/England in the small mining town of Rustenburg.  We stayed in a camp with tents and it was packed with USA and England fans.  Africa Ubuntu was the only place that advertised on the Internet and they were able to charge $50 per person per night for tents with beds.  It was a bit expensive, but it was worth it because we had transport to and from the stadium and tons of people to watch the other matches with.

We took our shuttle at 3pm ahead of the 830 kickoff and went to Lucky’s bar, a township bar that was close to the stadium.  When we got there, it was full of about 200+ really drunk English people and maybe 30ish Americans who were on their way.  The English are an interesting bunch, sort of like Chicago Cubs fans in that they haven’t won anything in a really long time, but expect to win each year.  Most were really nice before the game and even during the game, until the USA scored.

We had a great time with the English at Lucky’s and marched toward the stadium around 7pm so we could hear the national anthems.  On our walk to the stadium, a few English fans threw beer cans at us from their passing cars, but we didn’t see anything serious.  It was interesting that most of the English fans were 40-65 year old men, whereas most of the American fans were 21-30 year olds and there were clearly more American women than most nationalities.  If people my age keep attending World Cups like this, the USA will be the largest supporters group at all of the further World Cups.

Lucky's Bar before USA/England

The atmosphere in Royal Bafokeng was electric from the moment we got in.  The English have some great soccer songs and it was a pleasure to hear them singing over the vuvuzelas before the match.  As it got closer to 830, the temperature started to drop and we put on our extra layers.  The teams came out and we were ready for the national anthems.  At most American sporting events, many people view the anthem as a necessity and stand quietly waiting for the real action to start, but at World Cup matches, everyone screams the national anthem.  It’s enough to give you goosebumps.  It’s probably my favorite part of a World Cup match.

We gave up a really crappy goal 4 minutes into the game, and the English thought they were going to run away with it.  The US fought back and played really well, scoring on a howler by Robert Green.  I thought we played really well and thoroughly earned our draw.  England went right to the dressing room.  The English fans were not happy and headed for the exits.  We stayed in our seats and celebrated at the team came down to the supporters section to thank us for coming.

We went back to Lucky’s with our friends from Minnesota and met tons of locals.  The South Africans in Phokeng were so happy to see us.  We talked with hundreds of people and the common sentiment was that they were so happy Americans had come because they were worried that with the bad reports in the media, nobody would come.  It’s like when you throw a party and tell people it starts at 9pm and at 845 nobody’s there yet.  You have that empty feeling…what if nobody comes?  The South Africans, especially the ones in Rustenburg and Phokeng were having this feeling x100. At 915, the first person starts to come in and by 945, it’s completely full and you know you’ve done a good job.

Lucky's Bar After USA/England

We had friends who tried to drive back from Rustenburg to Joburg that night and said it took forever.  I’m really glad we missed the traffic and stayed in Rustenburg because we were able to check out Lucky’s, meet a ton of great people and experience some real local color.

Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban – Germany vs. Australia, June 13, 2010 & Spain vs. Switzerland June 16, 2010

Germany 4 - Australia 0

We left the next morning and drove the 7 hours to Durban, which is on the Indian Ocean on the east coast of South Africa.  We got to our guesthouse at about 5pm, ahead of the 830 kickoff.  We didn’t have tickets, but I wanted to go.  Our host, Florette, was kind enough to drop us off near the stadium and I walked over to try to buy a ticket.  I ended up buying a category 1 ticket for $70 when face value was $160 and had a great seat to see Germany completely destroy Austarlia.

Moses Mabhida is the best stadium I’ve ever been to in the world.  The architecture is beautiful and looks similar to the Calatrava designed Milwaukee Art Museum and the site lines are perfect.  It also has a cable car that you can take across the roof for views of the city and the stadium.  It’s located right off the beach in Durban and was about 5k from our guesthouse.  Although there weren’t many things to do right around the stadium other than a casino and the beachfront, Moses Mabhida Stadium and Durban in general where highlights of the trip.

Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban

I saw Germany destroy Australia 4-0 and then Switzerland upset Spain 1-0 and both times, the atmosphere was great.  The German fans love to clap in unison and the Aussies were clearly having a great time until Germany unloaded on them.  At Spain/Switzerland, most of the people were supporting Spain and it was eerily silent when Switzerland scored.  Their raucous fans went nuts in their supporters corner.  The Swiss are some of my favorite fans.  I saw Switzerland beat South Korea in 2006 in Germany and hand a ton of fun with their fans and this time was no different.  They remind me of Wisconsinites: they like beer, cheese and sports.  There were tons of neutral South Africans blowing their vuvuzelas and really getting into both games.

Ellis Park, Johannesburg, USA vs. Slovenia, June 18, 2010

Ellis Park, Johannesburg

Ellis Park is one of the older venues of the World Cup, but might have been the best one in terms of watching a game.  It’s sort of like Camp Randall, in that it’s located right in the middle of a neighborhood and the people around the stadium like to party before and after the match.  We had category 3 tickets, but they were the best seats we had for any match, regardless of category.

We started out at Radium Bar, about 3 miles from the stadium and had a great time meeting tons of Americans and signing US Soccer songs.  When we got inside, the atmosphere was again electric.  All of the South Africans were rooting for the US and it was incredibly loud.  The US gave up an early goal again and were down 2-0 at halftime.  I still thought we could score some goals, since Slovenia looked pretty weak and sure enough, Landon Donovan scored a great goal right at the start of the 2nd half.

People started to believe and Ellis Park got louder.  The US pushed for the equalizer for most of the second half, but finally broke through after Jozy Altidore had an awesome flick right into Michael Bradley’s path for the tying goal.  Ellis Park erupted and I got bruises on the backs of my legs from jumping up and down so much.  Everyone was hugging each other and the entire stadium was rocking.  Minutes later, the US took the lead and the stadium was the loudest I’ve ever heard a stadium.  Nobody heard the whistle from the referee who decided there had been a foul.  There clearly wasn’t and after the match, the ref was sent home by FIFA for screwing up the match.  We had no problems parking on the street and driving home and our car was exactly where we left it, with no damage.

Loftus Versveld, Pretoria, June 23 2010 – USA vs. Algeria

Prefamge at Loftus, USA/Algeria 12th Row

We were excited and nervous to watch this match.  We knew that we were likely the better side, but knew anything could happen.  If we won, we went through.  Loftus is normally a rugby stadium, but it had decent sight lines for soccer.  The US almost gave up another early goal, but were lucky not to concede.  After that, the US dominated, but couldn’t finish.  The refs mistakenly disallowed another US goal, but the fans were not deterred.  There seemed to be a bunch more US families and women at this match than there had been in the past, but that didn’t stop the crowd from being incredibly loud the entire match.

We thought we were going to score the entire match, but it came down to an amazing throw from Tim Howard, a great run by Donovan, a good cross by Altidore and then an awesome finish by Donovan in the 94th minute.  You know when I said that the 3rd US goal in the Slovenia was the loudest I’d heard a stadium?  This completely topped it.  It was complete pandemonium.  Beer was flying everywhere, people were screaming, some were crying.  There were still a few minutes to play, but I don’t think any Americans remember what exactly happened.  If you’ve seen the video of people around the world celebrating the US goal, it was like that but even crazier.  Everyone was so happy that Donovan scored and we won the group.  I don’t think I could feel like I did at that match for any other sporting event.

Celebrating USA/Algeria

Green Point Stadium, Cape Town, June 23, 2010 – Netherlands vs. Cameroon

Green Point Stadium looks amazing from the outside, but wasn’t completely finished on the inside.  I sat on the center line near the top of the stadium and my entire side of seats were temporary bleachers that didn’t seem all that safe.  I was probably 70 feet up and to my left there was a huge drop off protected by a small fence.

The Dutch are great supporters and painted Cape Town orange.  There seemed to be a bunch of white South Africans who were supporting the Netherlands as well, which added to the atmosphere.  Arjen Robben is a joy to watch, as was Samuel Eto’o.  As soon as Robben came into the game, he immediately took over and created the winning goal.  Although both teams didn’t have anything to play for, they both clearly wanted to win and it was a fairly entertaining match.

Green Point Stadium was the most fun to go to because it is surrounded by shops, bars and restaurants along the Cape Town waterfront.  While not the best looking stadium compared to Durban, Green Point was the total package and was more fun than most of the places we went in Germany 2006.

Royal Bafokeng Stadium – Rustenburg June 26, 2010 – USA vs. Ghana

I was back in Rustenburg for the USA/Ghana match after a crazy flight/sleep in the airport.  I met some friends, Andy and Chris, in the airport and we ended up back at Lucky’s and then onto the game.  Bob Bradley inexplicably started Ricardo Clark in the midfield and Robbie Findley at forward and both didn’t do well.  Clark was horrible and gave away the ball dribbling in his own defensive third, leading to Ghana’s first goal.  He was promptly subbed off.  The atmosphere was electric again.  90% of the fans were rooting for Ghana and the rest were from the United States.  Anytime Ghana did anything well, the vuvuzelas would go crazy.  If we had to lose to any team, I’m glad it was an African side like Ghana.

Overall, the soccer was great, the atmospheres exactly what you’d expect at the world’s largest tournament.  In the US, everyone’s asked me about the vuvuzelas.  At the matches, I actually really liked them, besides for the fact that you couldn’t hear fans singing.  The vuvuzelas brought the matches to another level and weren’t annoying.  They were much worse on TV.

The South African fans were incredible as well.  They danced, sang and had a great time, even at the games where they weren’t playing.  They were also quick to help and offer suggestions on where we should go and what we should do while we were in each city.  Each city felt safe and there were hundreds of police officers around each stadium to make sure that people knew it.  For all of the hand wringing in the media beforehand, South Africa staged a magnificent World Cup and were great hosts.  I just wish the US would have gone farther.

The Bad

The only drawbacks that I encountered were caused by FIFA.  FIFA is one of the most corrupt organizations in the world, along with the IOC, so many of the things that went wrong were caused by greed or outright corruption.

The first problem caused by FIFA was in the ticketing.  FIFA categorizes tickets in the stadium into four categories, with 1 being the best and 4 being the worst.  This world cup, category 4 could only be sold to Africans.  The problem was that in many cases, the $160 category 1 tickets were not any better than the $80 category 3 tickets.  My best seats were category 3 for USA/Slovenia, Category 3 for Spain/Switzerland and Category 2 for Netherlands/Cameroon.  The worst were category 1 for Germany/Australia and the category 1 tickets in Rustenburg were no better than my other category 3’s.  Since you can only choose a category ahead of time, not actual seat locations, you can get stuck with expensive seats that aren’t any better than the cheaper ones.

There were also large swathes of empty seats for many games, including two of the USA matches.  FIFA claimed that it was because people bought tickets and then didnt show up, but it was entire sections that were open, which doesn’t make any sense.  I think FIFA’s ticketing system was screwed up and didn’t show how many tickets were really available.  For USA/Slovenia, people were searching for tickets on the street, but there were 4-5 sections available in the stadium.  FIFA should have made sure that locals got unsold tickets to make the atmosphere even better.  It was a huge missed opportunity for FIFA to spread the game to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it and improve the atmosphere in the.

FIFA showed its greed by not allowing resales of tickets.  The only way  you could legally resell tickets was to use FIFA’s own system that cost 10% to sell and an extra 10% to buy.  If you had already printed your tickets, you couldn’t use the system and if you bought through supporters clubs, you couldn’t legally resell tickets.  If you were like our group, and many were, you had to buy tickets months in advance.  One person dropped out of our group, so we had 1 extra ticket for all of our matches.  According to FIFA, we weren’t allowed to resell it anywhere.  It caused fewer people to get into the stadium and higher prices outside because people were scared to get their tickets cancelled by FIFA if they were caught selling.

A few days before the round of 16, FIFA cancelled hundreds of tickets that had been “illegally” resold, causing the buyers to be screwed and the sellers to keep the money.  That’s just dumb and shows FIFA only care about the money, not the fans.  FIFA also wouldn’t let people give tickets away in sweepstakes or make their own travel packages.  All were deemed illegal by FIFA.

The second problem was FIFA’s overarching power.  South Africa (understandably) rented themselves out to FIFA for the tournament.  They acquiesced to new laws demanded by FIFA like “outside companies advertising inside the stadium is a crime.”  This “law” led to 40 Dutch women to be arrested and charged with a crime for wearing identical orange dresses to support a brewery.  FIFA also banned any local food from the stadium, so we were stuck with Coke, Budweiser and pies by a large company.  People decided to smuggle food into the stadium instead.  I understand that the sponsors need to make money, but jacked up prices (by South African standards) and poor food quality rubs people the wrong way.  FIFA also brought logistics companies into the country to care for the teams.  They used “blue lights” which were law-exempt cars that traveled at huge speeds all over the city to shuttle dignitaries all over the place.  They were dangerous for everyone else involved.

I also talked to one of the people who FIFA contracted to manage these people and he said that FIFA covered up all sorts of problems created by teams, delegates and others involved with FIFA.  I heard about a team getting caught with lots of cocaine, but it never made the media.  Another story was that a FIFA delegate stole about 10k from a player, but that was swept under the rug as well.  I’m sure there were a ton more problems that never made the media, but it’s pretty sad that one organization has all this power.

I also really dislike that FIFA uses politics to choose referees.  As you can see from some of the dubious refereeing decisions, the best referees are not all in South Africa.  The referee from Mali who blew the USA/Slovenia match is likely not one of the best 16 refs in the world.  Just pick the best 16 referees in the world, no matter where they’re from.  And let’s try to get some sort of replay for the next world cup.  It really wouldn’t be that hard!

The last and probably the biggest problem was MATCH, the official tour/accomodation partner of FIFA.  MATCH was the company that partnered with FIFA to “help” people find accomodation, flights and car rentals.  All MATCH did was buy up all of the reasonably priced hotels, guesthouses and B&B’s and then tried to resell them at 4-5x their price on the FIFA website.  I felt bad for the people who spent huge amounts of money on what would have been normally priced accomodataions, but that’s not the bad part.  Since FIFA bought up all of the reasonable places and the places that normal people could find online, many people didn’t come.  FIFA got greedy and it resulted in at least 50k people not coming to the world cup.  The best part?  MATCH and FIFA didn’t sell out their accomodations, so they turned back a bunch of rooms a month before the tournament, too late for people to book flights.  In pretoria, MATCH has reserved an entire guesthouse of 40 rooms, right across from the stadium.  FIFA was trying to get $350 per night per person on their website.  We called the place directly and they booked us in at $100 for the night total because there was only 1 other person staying at the guesthouse who had booked through FIFA.  Instead of an awesome guesthouse filled to the brim with world cup fans, it was only us and the one guy who paid the $350.  What a scam.

South Africa did a great job putting on the tournament and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I just wish FIFA would hold up their end of the bargain, become more transparent and make future tournaments even better.  I’m not holding my breath.