|Arenas Das Dunas in Natal|
We got lucky that this game just dropped right in our laps. When planning this trip, we decided to just plant ourselves in one city and see the games that passed through. I gave my friend Steve four choices among the 12 World Cup host cities in Brazil that were places (a) I had not yet gone to, and (b) wanted to go to, and (c) where Brazil would not be playing since tickets would be impossible and the town would be chaos. So that meant the choices were Recife, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and Natal. Recife and Natal were beach towns. The hotel situation would be better in Natal. (We didn't know that the stadium transportation situation would be SO much easier in Natal.) So we picked Natal.
Then the schedule was announced and sitting there on June 16 as our "Group G 3 v. Group G 4" game was USA v. Ghana. For those of you not "in the know" about international soccer, Ghana is, literally, the bête noir of USA soccer. (Literal translation of "bête noir": black beast.) Ghana has knocked the USA out of the competition in the last two World Cups and here they were, in the so-called "Group of Death" with Team USA, along with Germany and Cristiano Ronaldo (a.k.a., "Portugal").
This game was most definitely an elimination game. Given how tough Group G is expected to be, it is very reasonable to think that the loser of this game would be, for all practical purposes, eliminated from the competition. And given Germany's destruction of Portugal earlier in the day, the door was wide open for the winner of this game to advance to the knockout rounds. But first either the Stars 'n Stripes of the USA or the Black Stars of Ghana would have to survive the other.
And I was there.
During the Bataan Death March walk back from the Mexico/Cameroon game a few days earlier, we had a chance to scope out parking options en route. We decided to park at the lovely, upscale "Shopping Natal," about a mile south of Arenas Das Dunas.
|Pittsburg, albeit misspelled, is a restaurant in Shopping Natal|
|Walking to the stadium|
|Action shot. This is sports photography at its most personal.|
Back to the action. USA then got a corner kick with only a few minutes left to play in regular time. As soon as I said, "The only way for Team USA to win this game is to make something happen on a set piece," some kid named John Anthony Brooks made something happen on a set piece. The place went wild. Ghana had nothing left in them. Even with five minutes of added time, Ghana could do nothing. And then the final whistle blew:
It was then time to walk the mile back to Shopping Natal. The rain had started back up because, well, it wouldn't be a World Cup in Brazil without rain, now would it? We got back to Shopping Natal quickly. The mall was still open (nice), but I couldn't remember where the car was parked (not nice). The security guard in the mall walked us to where in the mall you pay to park. Seven reaies to park! The equivalent of $4.00 US. For a major sporting. That was less than the cost of riding in the cab from the hotel door to the hotel gate in Olinda. He then walked us around the parking garage until I remembered we were parked on D1 (deh UM). And there was the black Fiat.
Well, of course there would be a black Fiat there. Every car in Natal, at least in Ponta Negra, Natal, is a black Fiat.
Anyway, I will tolerate no bad talk about mall cops ever again. Well, mall cops in Brazil.
I used to do these vacation blogs and they were mostly pictures held together with a little commentary as the mortar. So far, this has been mostly commentary with only a few pictures. We are about to switch into the "vacation" phase of this trip and out of the "sports spectator" phase. Which, hopefully, means more pictures and less talk. Hopefully.