50 random thoughts from the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil

Arena das Dunas in Natal. (By Steven Goff -- The Washington Post)
Arena das Dunas in Natal. (By Steven Goff — The Washington Post)

With the Americans bounced from the World Cup and the competition calendar on an insufferable and inexcusable two-day break, I have had time to gather a few random thoughts about my first 3 1/2 weeks in Brazil:

1. Sao Paulo is big: the metro area has almost as many inhabitants as quarterfinal combatants Netherlands and Costa Rica combined.

2. Sao Paulo is diverse: I ate Tex-Mex (several times) in a Jewish neighborhood across the street from a pastry shop called Barcelona, an American burger joint and two sushi bars.

3. I am sad to report Subway has infested all corners of Brazil.

4. Sao Paulo’s upscale malls would rival high-end destinations in the United States. The one near my hotel runs deep and then expands – retail fracking.

5. I’ve spent more time on media buses than Forrest Gump did waiting for his ride to arrive.

6. Portuguese is really hard; my brain defaults to Spanish.

7. The most eager Brazilian to practice English was a woman behind the counter at the gas station where I buy tall bottles of mineral water late at night.

8. The coolest player tunnel on Earth has got to be the one at Morumbi Stadium, home of Sao Paulo FC (not a World Cup venue).

(By Steven Goff -- The Washington Post)
(By Steven Goff — The Washington Post)

9. This guy got stuck in a Sao Paulo traffic jam.

(By Steven Goff -- The Washington Post)
(By Steven Goff — The Washington Post)

10. Not everyone here runs around in skimpy bathing suits. But male Russian fans in Salvador do.

11. Pedestrians rarely have the right of way.

12. I like Sao Paulo, but after three weeks as my center of operations, I am ready to pack tonight.

13. One-off World Cup work assignments are always too short: I would have liked an additional 24 hours apiece in Manaus, Recife and Salvador. I wouldn’t have minded another 25 in Natal.

Ponta Negra Beach in Natal. (By Steven Goff -- The Washington Post)
Ponta Negra Beach in Natal. (By Steven Goff — The Washington Post)

14. I will never moan about difficult travel after hearing about a media colleague who lost a credit card, had another one cloned for $46,000 worth of charges, got stuck in a middle seat in the last row of an overnight flight, had his hotel door knob fall off and his flight home cancelled.

15. The World Cup stadiums are very nice; the white elephants are not.

16. Nicest touch in stadium media centers: bean-bag chairs.

17. Nicest reunion in a stadium media center: me, ESPN’s Jeremy Schapp and the New York Times’ Christopher Clarey – graduates of the NBC research unit at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

18. The tourism representative in Manaus, a woman named Cristina, is an attorney and civil servant who knows all of the lyrics to “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers.

19. “Chelsea Lately” was on TV in Recife; CNN International is necessary but mind-numbing.

20. I kinda want to see “The Grand Budapest Hotel” in Portuguese while drinking a caipirinha.

21. I won’t speak for all 300,000 visitors, but despite dire warnings about airport chaos and delays, I have had no major problems flying in and out (and in and out and in and out) of various destinations — other than the time my ticket was in the name of a photographer named Carl.

22. On one flight, an attendant woke me from the early stages of a cat nap to present a gift. I had won a seat raffle: Brazil jersey, cap and key chain stuffed in a string bag. In America, you pay for a pillow.

23. Late-night terminals after a U.S. match were scenes out of the “The Walking Dead” – or more appropriately, the “Walking Red (white and blue).”

24. The Ohio University interns working with the USSF’s communications department have bright futures.

25. You can’t kick a ball without striking an American here; even some of the bilingual stadium workers and volunteers are from the States.

26. On Selecao gamedays, the streets of Brazilian cities clear out quicker than beach-goers fleeing an approaching hurricane.

27. On Selecao gamedays, dogs wear Neymar sweaters.

28. World Cup qualifiers are largely for the common man; the World Cup is largely for the upper classes.

29. Some taxi stands include lock boxes containing small TVs for idle drivers to watch matches.

30. Brazilians are expert graffiti artists, emphasis on “art” (and protest).

31. Like four years ago in South Africa, I will experience the shortest day on the calendar twice this year.

32. All sunrises are wonderful; a sunrise at 30,000 feet soaring over the Amazon is the final vision before arriving in heaven.


(By Steven Goff — The Washington Post)

33. I have enjoyed covering World Cups in South Africa and Brazil, but it’s time to return to western Europe and ride the rails between venues. England, Spain or Italy would do just fine, Sepp.

34. Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders) outscored Cristiano Ronaldo. So did Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls).

35. Colombian five-goal scorer James Rodriguez is the tournament’s best player so far. But don’t pronounce his first name the way it looks; it’s “Hahm-ez.”

36. Greece’s Sokratis Papastathopoulos insists on standard pronunciation.

37. I want to see Luis Suarez square off with a pool of piranhas.


(AFP/Getty Images)

38. Although I couldn’t understand a darn word, I was mesmerized by Lothar Mattheus (Germany), Carlos Alberto (Brazil), Daniel Passarella (Argentina) and Fabio Cannavaro (Italy) analyzing the day’s matches from the same TV set.

39. The U.S. squad plays with more heart than perhaps any other country in the World Cup (or world). Now if only it could develop a No. 10.

40. Tim Howard could save the rain forest.


(By Guillaume Horcajuelo — EPA)

41. Fellow CONCACAF keepers Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico) and Keylor Navas (Costa Rica) could help.

42. The U.S. men’s national team has a fantastic and classy goalkeeper. The U.S. women’s national team has a fantastic goalkeeper.

43. The pitch-invading fan during the U.S.-Belgium match was on the field longer than England.

44. Oddly, the No. 1 story on The Post’s sports site for a spell this week was my blog item from two months ago about Arsenal’s Ethiopian-German-American teenager Gedion Zelalem nearing U.S. eligibility. (To the best of my knowledge, he got it.) Family and confidants remain mum, but with the U.S. World Cup campaign over and a new cycle starting, confirmation can’t be far away.

45. From this day forth (or at least on Friday), we are all Ticos.


(By Esteban Felix — Associated Press)

46. I miss my wife. I miss my college-bound son.

47. I will miss the Fourth of July and Hurricane Arthur.

48. I miss RFK Stadium.

49. Next: Brasilia on Saturday for the Argentina-Belgium quarterfinal, Belo Horizonte on Tuesday for a semifinal (Brazil vs. Germany?), and Rio on July 13 for the final (Brazil vs. Argentina?).

50. I do love writing about this game.

A viagem continua …

 

Steven Goff is The Post’s soccer writer. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the international game, as well as local college basketball.
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