I have spent the past six months living in Portugal, having an amazing time in Lisbon with some great people and one of the most beautiful and historic cities in the world.
That is going to make this blog entry difficult to read for some of my friends back there, and for the thousands of readers I have who have found me through their (and my) love of the most supported club in the world, Benfica.
But I really enjoyed this game.
I may have been one of the most confusing people at the stadium yesterday: wearing my retro 1960’s Benfica jersey, but cheering for Germany in Portuguese , German and occasionally English, I got a few strange looks.
But I lived in Berlin for nine months during the amazing 2006 World Cup, (longer than I’ve lived in Portugal so far, to be fair), and have enjoyed their style of play ever since then, a style and a tournament which, I think, made it acceptable for a Brit to actually admit supporting their eternal rivals.
Plus, I can’t stand Pepe, the Real Madrid and Portugal defender who has never been tackled in his life, only fouled, (and usually horrifically), and yet miraculously has never fouled anyone in his life, only tackled them.
The irony of him being sent off after hat-trick hero Thomas Müller rolled about holding his face pretending to have been scarred for life was immense. But what kind of player thinks he can push his head against another player’s head, (I won’t call it a head-butt), in front of the referee during a World Cup match and not get sent off?
A Pepe kind of player.
Germany were superior before and after the red card: CR7 was inefficient throughout, (much to the dismay of the many 12-year-old girls in the stadium), and by the end of the game the German defence was practically taunting him, allowing him to take free-kicks with practically no wall, confident nothing would come from them.
Nothing came from them.
Portugal lost a striker and a defender through injuries, and with Pepe suspended now and Coentrão and Almeida looking doubtful, the USA, (after a laboured, late, dramatic win against their nemesis Ghana), may well fancy their chances of sending the best player in the world home early, to wait another four years to prove himself on the international stage.
Messi must be giggling into his cornflakes.
One of the strange things about the game was how full it was: people had been queueing up to sell tickets to the Spain vs Holland match, leading me to try to bring several new friends along to the stadium.
However, there were hardly any tickets for sale at the stadium, (despite the official attendance being a few thousand short of capacity, thanks to the ubiquitous empty sponsor seats), and it made me very happy that I have managed to get hold of tickets for all of the remaining matches here in Salvador already.
My favourite part of the match-day experience has quickly become the hour or so spent mingling with fans and staff after the final whistle blows.
I have now ‘collected’ photos with fans of 17 different nationalities in their team’s jerseys, (more than half-way there after only four days!), including meeting some fantastic Ghanians and Ivory Coastians outside the stadium.
I apparently made the volunteers’ day by telling them that I had been one of them during the London Olympics, and there was much singing and dancing and photo taking and flag waving with them and other appreciative fans. I even rekindled an old addiction by trading some World Cup pin badges with them!
Eventually we had to leave, as it’s not fun being lost around Salvador in the dark, but there was just time for me to meet a Bolivian carrying a Eusebio notebook, which i spotted. It was his suggestion to trade my beloved Benfica No.10 shirt for his pretty sweet Mario Götze Germany jersey: who was I to deny a fellow Benfica fan, wherever he was from?
My Scotch-Spanish buddy and I then rescued a lovely stray American and whisked her with us back to the city centre in our taxi, where we joined the growing crowds of Americans to watch the first draw of the tournament, (a 0-0 between a surprisingly good Iran and a surprisingly not very good Nigeria), over beers and conversation.
Four days of the competition gone, and I have seen ten goals live in two tournament-defining matches: have I seen the future champions yet? I chose Germany in my sweepstakes, and have no reason to change my mind yet, whilst Holland will show us in a few days’ time against Australia if they could be the real deal.
Today, we will see if Brazil can win without the help of dubious decisions and laughable flopping, and hopefully take the nasty taste out of my mouth and enable me to wear that gorgeous gold and green jersey again…