Ghana v USA, Monday 16th June 2014, 7pm


usa v ghana 1

It’s that time again. The World Cup. As I’m someone who finds it hard to drive past a kickabout by the side of the road without stopping, the only place for me to be this time of year was Brazil.

My flight from Johannesburg departed just as the tournament was kicking off and by waiting until the final boarding call I was able to watch the first half of the Brazil against Croatia game in an airport bar. I suppose, with the flight going to Sao Paulo, I shouldn’t have been surprised when there was a collective groan as Marcelo scored his own goal to put the hosts behind. Understandably there was a more positive reaction on the plane when the pilot eventually revealed the final score.

My onward destination was Rio, where I met up with Paul. He doesn’t watch much football these days, but he knows a good time when he sees one and a World Cup tends to fit the bill.

We didn’t have any live matches scheduled for Rio and even failed to make it to the Fanfest on the Copacabana Beach, choosing just to watch the games in a bar instead.

The first of many.

The first of many.

We did have a wander along the Copacabana before the football started and a brief paddle in the sea.

Just like Ronnie Biggs.

Just like Ronnie Biggs.

In the early morning at the beach there are still people sleeping rough on the sand. The police didn’t seem interested in moving anyone on and in addition to those who looked like they regularly spent the night outside there were many more who were probably new in town for the football.

There were also plenty of sea-front joggers, getting their training in before it got too warm. I was a little surprised to see Stuart Pearce run past me, although not as surprised as I was when he calmly overtook anyone who got in his way rather than scything them down from behind.

That saves a hundred and fifty quid a night.

That saves a hundred and fifty quid a night.

Paul reckoned that you can’t visit Rio without going to see that big Jesus statue. Surprising really, as he already had a very good view of it from his top floor hotel room. As I’d been allocated a room with a view of a storage yard I was quite happy to head out and have a look before the football started.

It’s a complicated process to get all the way to the top, involving three separate buses or taxis and two different ticket offices. We lost patience before the end and so viewed it from a distance. It was close enough.

A rare view from behind.

A rare view from behind.

Our first live game, Ghana v America, took place on a Monday night in Natal and so on Sunday afternoon we took the three-hour flight north. Natal didn’t look very impressive as we were driven through it after dark in a taxi, but that was okay as we were actually staying a little further along the coast at the seaside resort of Porta Negra.

The surrounding area had been affected by torrential rain over the previous few days, resulting in landslides, sinkholes and the cancellation of the Natal Fanfest. We didn’t see any of that though in Porta Negra, mainly because we spent the early part of Monday watching football on the telly in a bar.

A different bar.

A different bar.

Our hotel had organised a shuttle to the game. I didn’t see any Ghanaians on it but there were plenty of USA supporters. I’m fine with Americans. I’m even married to one.  Maybe I’ve just got lucky though as the ones on the bus spent the majority of the journey whooping and hollering.

They even cheered as the bus set off and applauded when it arrived in the drop-off car park. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such excitable adults. If they ever win the World Cup I imagine a few of them might spontaneously combust. It would probably have been kinder to all concerned if someone had put eyeless hoods over their heads until we got there to try to calm them down.

We had a ten minute walk to the stadium, past a couple of busy bars. There wasn’t much in the way of security forces, certainly nothing like the presence that the UK media had focused upon. There rarely is though. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a football tournament that wasn’t preceded by the suggestion that we were all likely to be murdered or locked up. Or both.

Natal security.

Natal security.

Admission to the stadium was well organised, with a barriered queuing system funneling people towards the gates. The game was sold out but there were fans outside trying to offload spare tickets. I didn’t see anyone buying but I got the impression that prices wouldn’t be high. They looked like fans trying to get rid of extra tickets they had been stuck with rather than touts after a profit.

Whilst I might have been a little less than impressed with the hoo-ha on the bus, I couldn’t fault the USA fans for their enthusiasm for dressing up. Most were in team colours, the exceptions tending to be those in fancy dress, notably a top quality Vegas-period Elvis.

The Arena das Dunas.

The Arena das Dunas.

It seemed like there was rain in the air and after witnessing the downpour on the telly during one of the earlier games at this stadium I was quite worried about the potential for drowning during the game. The tickets that we had were only Category 3 and so I wasn’t too confident that we’d be under cover.

The stadium has a roof, of sorts, but it appears to be more for show than for the benefit of the fans. If you were in the back few rows then I dare say you’d be fine, but most other places and you’d be in trouble. It looked okay in the poshest section where the roof will have covered the FIFA delegation and media seats.

We got lucky with our cheap seats, if you can call ninety dollars cheap. We were behind a goal but right up in the top corner. If it were to rain and providing the rain just came vertically down then we’d just about get away with it.

For those who like looking at tickets.

For those who like looking at tickets.

I’m amused at how much the rain bothers me these days. It wasn’t always like that. I remember going to watch the Boro at Oldham in the eighties and it pouring down all game. I was stood in the uncovered terracing behind the goal wearing a sheepskin jacket that may just have been briefly fashionable in certain circles, albeit fifteen years previously. That coat must have gained about three stones in weight by the time I got back to my car and when I removed it from the boot the following day it had dried solid and could stand up by itself.

Our seats were part of what looked like a temporary stand and so I assume that they will be removed after the World Cup to give Natal a stadium of a size appropriate for its needs. That’s fair enough. A full smaller stadium always beats a half-empty larger stadium for me.

View from the top corner.

View from the top corner.

As you may have seen on the telly the US took a very early lead. I did wonder how the fans from our bus will have reacted. Less than a minute into the World Cup and they’d already scored. Maybe they thought the scoring in football might turn out like basketball after all.

Ghana struggled to get back into the game until someone finally realised that what they needed was a Middlesbrough player on the pitch. With twelve minutes to go they unleashed Albert Adomah. Four minutes later Ghana had equalised.

"Boro Boys, we are here"

“Boro Boys, we are here”

I like it when I see a Middlesbrough player at the World Cup. Paul and I were there when Stewie Downing come on as a sub against Trinidad and Tobago in Germany and then again when Chris Killen (remember him? Thought not) turned out for New Zealand four years ago.

Unfortunately Albert’s influence was fleeting as America went straight back up the other end and scored the winner. Typical Boro.


14 Responses to “Ghana v USA, Monday 16th June 2014, 7pm”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    I super enjoyed this post Craig, I felt close to the pitch – very interesting and enjoyable reading ! I have been loving this Fifa World Cup 2014. So the world wait’s in anticipation for the 8th and 9th of July to see which two teams will play in the final on the 13th ? Brazil, Germany, The Netherlands, Argentina ? ole, ole, ole, ole.

    • onthetrailofthelionking Says:

      Thanks Tracy, hope you and Rob are still having a good time in Seoul. I’m going to go for a Germany v Argentina final, with Argentina just sneaking it. So it will probably be Brazil then.

      • Anonymous Says:

        Your prediction is right Craig, a Germany v Argentina final ! I think Germany will win. Enjoy your time in Brazil. We are enjoying the combination of Seoul and Burlington, Canada this year due to Robs work. Looks like you both are enjoying South Africa from fb pics. 🙂

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