A sad day for me: my final live match here in my home for the past five weeks, Salvador de Bahía.
It wasn’t the blockbuster match-up I had hoped for, (Brazil could have been here had they finished second in their group), and I was hoping to see one of the most fun teams in the tournament, Mexico, but had to settle for Holland vs the surprise of the cup, Costa Rica, who not only survived one of the Groups of Death, they were the killers, knocking out both England and Italy.
I forgave the plucky Ticos for knocking out England…and rocked my new Peru jersey!
I joined up with my Spanish buddies, Andreas and José, and we caused trouble all the way to the stadium: meeting fans from around the world, (from Spurs fans loving my Lilywhites jersey, to hundreds of ‘Ticos‘ which I think we all learned is the slang for a Costa Rican), enjoying a few drinks (and the match-day cups that we would be collecting for possibly the last time), and generally enjoying the bubbling atmosphere.
The globalising effects of the World Cup…
I had a seat five rows from the front behind one of the goals, but snuck in with the boys in the front row of the second level in the opposite corner. Incredible seats but, as it turned out, I had turned down the chance to watch the glory and agony of the penalty shoot-out up close and personal.
I hope somebody enjoyed my seat!….
Still, it was worth it: we drank and sang the game away, learning a very popular local song about Pelé being better than Maradona, (and that’s putting it politely in case there are any kids reading this), and singing some songs of our own, as well as me taking the chance to boo Arjen Robben every time he touched the ball. (He really is a fantastic player though!)
There may have been some alcohol involved in the taking of this photo, but we were generally just high on football…
For the first twenty minutes, we had to entertain ourselves: the match was dire, two counter-attacking teams meaning it was like a rock meeting a rock, only not as exciting as that sounds. Fans were actually booing the Dutch soon after kick-off for playing so defensively, and any neutrals in the stadium were soon behind the Central American minnows.
Sometimes, you just have to entertain yourself…
Things got feisty pretty soon, though, and although the Dutch were superior throughout the game, they could never quite find the breakthrough: the Tico keeper Keylor Navas was so good, (possibly the keeper of the tournament so far in a cup where there have been several, from Ochoa of Mexico to Howard of the US and Nigeria’s Enyeama), that some were suggesting Costa Rica change their name to Justa Keepa.
However, the entire defensive unit have to be praised, as Holland were caught offside more times (13) than any team in the World Cup since records began.
I really hope this was face-paint…
Offensively, Costa Rica didn’t offer much for the ninety-minutes, but what had been maybe the worst match in the entire tournament for the early stages soon exploded in the extra thirty.
Costa Rica actually had some decent chances to score, but The Netherlands through Sneijder hit just about every part of the Tico goal, (often via the Tico goalie), and in the 93rd minute of regular time a shot cannoned off a defender’s leg, almost took his face off, and bounced to safety off the bar.
For the first time in Salvador, we were going to penalties.
Our view of the evil penalties…
With minutes until full time, Andreas pointed out to me that Newcastle keeper Tim Krul was warming up on the side-lines, and that Van Gaal was almost certainly going to throw him on in the last minute to be a substitute penalty saver. He was right, much to the annoyance of the Dutch goalkeeper who hadn’t been warned of the change and took his anger out on a poor, innocent water bottle.
Krul, of course, went on to save two of the five penalties, and for anyone not wearing orange the party was over.
This Volunteer knew how to rock some WC accessories!…
Some say he took sportsmanship to the brink, (and maybe even pushed it over that brink), standing in front of the penalty takers and psyching them out, telling them he knew where they were going to shoot, (which he seemingly did, guessing right each of the five times). This was quite a feat, for a player who had only saved two out of twenty for his club.
(Which we won, too!)
One of the coolest shirts I’ve seen at the game: 1994 remembered…
With the games here finished, all that remained was to sweet-talk a volunteer into sneaking onto the pitch to grab me a few blades of grass for my ‘Grass from World Cup Stadia‘ collection; commiserate with the Costa Rican fans; and congratulate the Volunteers (a job I had hoped to be doing, and still hope to do in Rio for the 2016 Olympics) and trade all sorts of nonsense with them, (although I didn’t get a t-shirt as I had hoped, mainly because some Japanese fans had managed to trade their Samurai Blue jerseys for every one they could find!)
But I wasn’t disappointed by this because by the time I got home I had become approximately 73% Peruvian.
It began at halftime, when, surveying the crowd behind us, I had seen two guys wearing two of the most beautiful jerseys I had ever seen. As soon as the whistle blew for the interval, I bounded over to them and found out that they were fans of Universitario de Deportes, a Lima-based team in Peru.
My newest and proudest addition to my jersey collection…
With jerseys as beautiful as this, they were naturally now my team, (and the most successful in Peru’s history, apparently, although the third friend with them looked disgusted with the whole thing, being a fan of their rival!) I offered my 2010 England jersey in exchange: Juan Diego tried it on, considered it, and then pushed a hard bargain by refusing to trade. Except for my beloved Spurs jersey, which hopefully will look great on the streets of Peru!
For some reason, the England jersey wasn’t a deal-sealer…
…but eventually negotiations concluded happily…
…and London and Lima united!
And then, on the walk home, Peruvians (who, I now realise, are everywhere, and have the best jerseys) were constantly talking to me and giving me the thumbs up. When we met a group of guys in their gorgeous white national strip Andreas swapped whatever he was wearing for one of their jerseys, and feeling out-swapped I immediately managed to do the same with his friend, who squeezed somewhat awkwardly into my England shirt whilst I walked off with a baggy Peru jersey covering my U shirt.
We are all Peruvian tonight…
I have been wearing both with pride ever since, and look forward to joining the Lima boys for drinks in Rio de Janeiro, where it looks like we are all headed.
The home of Universtario, my new team…
Because, with the games ended here, my addiction to World Cup matches demands to be fed: today I am therefore hoping to find a cheap flight to São Paolo to see if I can somehow find a way in to Argentina vs Holland, (tough, with the insanity of the Argentine fans well documented!), and from there on to Rio, and the ultimate goal: to get a ticket for the Final.
Who will be in it? My money is on Argentina vs Germany, but with this tournament and its surprises, who knows? Either way, there is a 50/50 chance of the dream Argentina vs Brazil match-up, (although one of those options involves it being the only 3rd/4th place playoff match anyone has ever cared about…)
These guys were happy at least…
IN OTHER NEWS: Brazil are desperately appealing Thiago Silva’s yellow card which rules him out of their semi-final tomorrow against Germany…although it will be unbelievably suspicious if such a spurious appeal succeeds. They do not seem so keen on appealing all of the yellows which Brazil weren’t awarded in the foul-fest of a quarter final with Colombia, an atmosphere of fouls allowed to grow by the referee and which many now see as being one of the main causes of the knee in the back that led to Neymar’s competition-ending injury.
Well-wishers wished Neymar Jr. well in games all across the country…
Finally: I was up at 4am
yesterday morning in a vain attempt to try to understand, and then purchase tickets from FIFA’s website
for the Final
. Things might be easier for fans if, as I discovered whilst browsing the internet for ticket-related news as day broke, FIFA
weren’t so ridiculously corrupt and disinterested in fans. Vice President’s sons are allowed to buy as many tickets as they want
, it seems, and then to sell them to friends. Why wasn’t I born the son of a FIFA Vice President
? Maybe next time…
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