World Cup fever hits diplomatic Washington

Brazil 0, Croatia 0

Five minutes before the first match of the World Cup, 400 people were packed into the residence of Brazilian Ambassador Mauro Vieira for Thursday’s opening game from São Paulo. Men, women, even babies were transfixed by the 10 huge television screens, afraid to miss one second of the action. In this alternate universe, the gods are bronzed-faced Adonises and everyone bleeds yellow and green.

Every four years, diplomatic Washington takes an unofficial sabbatical. Embassies insist that work will continue uninterrupted during the month-long World Cup. Everyone is lying.

“I’m very excited,” said Vieira, who greeted every guest with a hug. “Brazil is very proud to host the World Cup — soccer is followed by almost 3 billion people around the world, and it’s great to receive so many Americans here to celebrate.” Unsaid: How many of his guests were playing hooky.

For futebol devotees, World Cup fever combines the Super Bowl, March Madness and the Olympics — but “much more intense,” insisted one guest at Brazil’s viewing party. Half the crowd, including the ambassador, wore Brazil’s yellow soccer jerseys, and 90 percent sucked down caipirinhas or beers provided by co-hosts Anheuser Busch-InBev and Nike. No sign of Fuleco, the Brazilian three-banded armadillo and official tournament mascot. Or caxirolas, the rattle noisemaker (this year’s answer to the vuvuzela), already banned from the stadiums.


The Brazilian Ambassador to the United States Mauro Vieira, center, watches as the teams are introduced before the Brazil-Croatia match during for a viewing party to watch the first game of the World Cup hosted by the Brazilian Embassy on Thursday, June 12, 2014. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Brazil 0, Croatia 1

Disaster. Just 11 minutes into the match, the ball bounced off a Brazilian defender’s leg into the net and scored a goal for Croatia. The crowd let out a collective moan.

Over the next two weeks, each of the 32 teams plays three games before the dreaded knockout round — so embassy employees and other fans will need an understanding boss, or at least three well-rehearsed excuses to duck out.

British Ambassador Peter Westmacott is rooting for England to bring home the trophy “after 48 years of hurt,” since Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland didn’t qualify. “I just hope productivity doesn’t suffer too much as televisions around the building are switched from news to sport over the next few weeks,” he said.

England’s first game is against Italy on Saturday, which means a day off for most diplomats. The Italian Embassy, assured a staffer, will be “open for business” next week during Italy’s noon games against Costa Rica and Uruguay, broadcast in the embassy’s auditorium. “It’s such a great time because it’s lunchtime.”

The Germans are hosting a giant viewing party in Dupont Circle when their team plays the United States on June 26. “We wanted to give the public the opportunity to follow that match because we know there are a lot of soccer enthusiasts in this country — and this is the match,” said Stefan Messerer, deputy head of press operations.

The German team will play Portugal and Ghana next week without any interruption in work flow, insisted Messerer. “Of course, everyone at the embassy will take a break when the match is on. It might be an extended break, but we are Germans and we’ll do overtime to make it up.”

Brazil 1, Croatia 1

Brazil scored its first goal in the 29th minute. Fans at the party went crazy with relief, a collective sea of yellow hugging and screaming.

The fact that Croatia had managed any points was an affront to Brazil’s fans. Croatia is an underdog in the tournament, but not as big an underdog as Team USA, whose own coach has basically written off the team as having no chance this year. The Americans are in Group G — a.k.a. the Group of Death — with powerful Germany, Portugal and Ghana.

Amid the sea of Brazilian jerseys, one guy stood out in a USA jersey. “I’m rooting for the USA,” said William Ostick, the State Department’s director of Brazilian and Southern Cone affairs. “We cover five countries, so I couldn’t pick a favorite” among the South American contenders. And this party? “This is work,” he said with a grin. “Not hard work. Very pleasant work.”

One special American fan? Vice President Biden, who will head to Brazil to see the United States play Ghana on Monday — then make nice with President Dilma Rousseff, who canceled a state dinner in Washington in October after she learned the National Security Agency had spied on her and her advisers.

Brazil 2, Croatia 1

An hour into the match, the Brazilians went ahead on a controversial penalty kick, which was wildly protested by the Croatians but celebrated by everyone at the party.

Even under a tent in Washington, you could feel the crushing pressure for Brazil to win the World Cup. They’ve done it five times before; the pressure to win a sixth title before a home crowd is enormous, especially to offset the protests by all those who thought the billions should have been spent on, say, the poor.

But defending champion Spain has a real shot to repeat, despite Friday’s 5-1 trouncing by the Netherlands (whom they defeated in the 2010 final). The team was here last weekend for training at RFK Stadium and a friendly match against El Salvador at FedEx Field before heading to Brazil. Spanish fans are afraid of jinxing their team by being overconfident, so the embassy isn’t planning any special events yet.

Other countries are more relaxed, perhaps because they’re not expected to be serious title contenders. The embassies of Australia and Chile co-hosted a party Friday for their match at the Aussie Embassy — lots of national food and drink (wine, beer and pisco sours) and an exchange of national jerseys by the deputy chiefs of mission.

And for all those countries whose teams didn’t qualify for the tournament: The embassy of Ghana has invited their staffs to a public viewing party for Monday’s match against the United States.

Brazil 3, Croatia 1

With mere minutes left in the match, Brazil dribbled in an insurance goal. One step closer to the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 13. One more reason to party.

“You’re here for the game, but you’re also seeing friends,” said Georgetown University law professor Mark Vlasic, a longtime buddy of the ambassador. “If people get along, countries get along.”

For the most part. The Croatians held their own small party Thursday — which, considering that penalty call, was probably for the best.

Roxanne Roberts is a feature writer for the Style section.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Lifestyle