The storm I woke up to this morning continued all day and into the evening, keeping people off the streets and realising how little there is to do in Salvador when the weather sucks.
I therefore got to know my apartment very well today, finally making a list of which Panini stickers I need to complete my collection, (166 to go, in case you were wondering), and watching today’s three matches on the small screen.
The 1pm game may have been the worst of the tournament so far, as ‘dark horses’ Belgium, (should that be ‘red horses’?), put paid to the theory I made up that no team can play badly two games in a row in this tournament. Despite me cheering them on in my Jan Vertonghen Spurs jersey again, the match versus Fabio Capello’s Russia was desperately dull, leading some fans in the stadium to boo both teams.
Being held in the mythical Maracanã, the venue deserved a better spectacle, and the (many) empty seats were understandable, if disappointing. This was actually the only match FIFA had deigned to allow me to buy tickets to in the two years I attempted to get them online, and boy am I glad I managed to sell them to a guy in Rio online in the days before the games started!
In the end, it took a single magical move from Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, (lucky to still be on the pitch after a dire performance), to dribble through the Russian defence to the byline and cut a ball back for youngster Divock Origi to score the only goal of the game.
(No, I also had no idea who 19-year-old Origi was: a player so unknown that he doesn’t even feature in my Panini album! But I do now, and so do my beloved Spurs, apparently…)
I leave the final word on this match to BBC commentator Danny Mills, who wrote:
“…the fans have been really let down by this game. What a fantastic venue, in the centre of Rio, overlooked by Christ the Redeemer, but he would be completely disinterest in this game.”
Next up was a game I should have known would be a goalfest, since I had absolutely no interest in it: Algeria tonked South Korea 4-2 with a first half blitz which saw them go 3-0 up in twelve first-half minutes, before the Koreans came back into it.
A blend of smart play and apathetic defending saw another shower of goals in Porto Alegre, as opposed to the regular shower we were getting here in Salvador.
Friends joined me for the day’s blockbuster fixture, as the USA and Portugal rumbled in the jungle (of Manaus) to see who could either take control of the group, or go home in disgrace, or something in-between.
It was everything we had hoped for.
A defensive blunder gave the Portuguese a fifth minute lead through Nani; a wonder-goal from Jermaine Jones, (where has the ubiquitous name Jermaine come from in the past ten years?!), put the USA level and, with Ronaldo shooting high and wide every chance he got as if he were a normal football player, Clint Dempsey showed him how it was done by somehow scoring with his stomach to seemingly put America through and Portugal out.
But in the ninety-fifth minute, Ronaldo flung in a cross from the right wing and FC Porto’s Silvestre Varela beat the defence to head an equaliser past Tim Howard, who had been stunning all night and made one of the greatest saves I have ever seen from Eder after a Nani shot had hit the post.
If this isn’t the save of the tournament, it means there is an unbelievable save still to come!
Today was the end of the second round of matches, meaning tomorrow, and for the next four days, it’s business time (As the Flight of the Concords would have it).
Tomorrow, two pairs of matches kick off at the same time in order to avoid scandals like the one which occurred in 1982 between West Germany and Austria.
Australia play Spain in what is essentially a friendly, whilst Chile take on Holland in what is probably one of the best games of the tournament so far to see who claims top spot in the group.
More excitingly from a local point of view, the hosts take on Cameroon and Mexico face Croatia to decide who gets to hang around and who doesn’t, (and if, somehow, the ‘shrimps,’ as Cameroon are called here in Portuguese, somehow pull off a giant shock, I hereby leave my book collection to whoever will best look after them in case the country doesn’t make it through the night).
Some thoughts just over one-third of the way through the tournament:
-The vanishing spray they have brought in to international matches, in use years ago when I was living in Argentina, is one of the simplest and best inventions ever. One leading British ‘commentator’ has decided he doesn’t like the spray, which has led to some suggesting that one should be used on the other…
–Parties are still continuing on the beachfront until late into the night, giving me time to ponder such things as: how rich would the White Stripes be if they could get royalties for every crowd which started chanting the ‘Seven Nation Army’ intro?…
-And finally, I’m sure you have seen them if you use the interweb at all, but Google is putting out some pretty cute football-based ‘daily doodles‘ on their home page! Here is a link to all of the moving images so far, and here is yesterday’s offering:
Join me tomorrow for all the stories from the start of round 2!
And stay tuned for news about the forthcoming ‘Benfica to Brazil’ book coming after the competition ends! FOLLOW the blog to make sure you don’t miss anything!