from Sandy Needham

Monday, July 5, 2010

World Cup Dispatch

In order to write a dispatch closer to real time, I am interrupting my dispatches from our recent month-long trip to insert a quick one about the soccer World Cup. Brazil is always considered a formidable contender, having won the Cup five times.

We were on a cruise from LA to Mexico when the series began. Newton sat in Jacuzzi’s describing the rules and the points by which teams advanced in the series to ever more curious Americans.

Newton was able to slip away from his trade show in LA with a friend to watch the first game Brazil played against North Korea. Brazil prevailed 2 to 1.

He had the tough luck of missing the second Brazilian game, against Ivory Coast, because we were attending a wedding in New Jersey at that very moment. The wedding was sublime, so Newton got over it. Brazil won 3 to 1.

Back home in Brazil, Newton was donning his Brazilian team shirt and showing up at the local venues or taking breaks from his work to catch the games on the living room TV. Brazil tied Portugal 0 to 0, then joined the “round of 16,” which meant each team wins or is eliminated. Here Brazil beat Chili, 3 to 0. There was nearly always the sound of fireworks outside during this spell, as either a Brazilian win or a loss by another country that might improve Brazil’s chances would inspire celebration. I was not following the games very closely.

Our daughter Elise, the most Brazilian in the family, caught the Brazilian matches once she was back in New York City:

“I didn't make it to Little Brazil - I’m watching the game at a bar by my apartment with an Irish, Honduran, American, Albanian, Mexican and Slovenian - all guys ... Found my Brazil shirt!! Representing!”

The next game, she made it to ‘Little Brazil’ (45th and 46th streets between 6th and 7th Avenues) and watched amidst a crowd of Brazilians in a Brazilian bar, again in her team shirt.

The last, fateful game she watched at home, recuperating from a week of heavy video work for, are you ready? Not the Jonas Brothers or one of their teen cohorts, but Meatloaf! As I said to her, “Let’s hear it for the music of Mom’s generation!”

Our son Jake was otherwise engaged during this time with preliminary tournaments to the annual World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. This will be his third year to enter. Even though he is not a big sports fan, he did make a couple of World Cup bets.

Newton and I ended up last Friday at quite the spot to watch what turned out, sadly enough, to be Brazil’s last game in the World Cup. They were playing the Netherlands in the quarterfinals. Our friends, Monique and Roberto, own a bar called Bohemia in downtown Natal. Monique is Dutch and works at the Dutch consulate here; Roberto is a Carioca (from Rio). The bar was about ¼ full of Dutch people, forming a definite orange section in the room. The rest was filling up rapidly with an ocean of yellow and green. I believe all the guys in the room had on Brazilian team shirts…I even lost track of Newton going in and thought I’d never find him! Our friend Lorraine from Malawi who lives here was meeting us there. Her husband Tom was working in the UK repairing a deep-sea rig. We were able to secure bar stools in a corner with a great view of the large TV screen. The place was very loud with whistles, vuvuzela horns, all manner of noise-makers, and constant commentary - grumbling or celebrating - just about every minute of the game. Whether Dutch, who could make plenty of noise, or Brazilian, there was quite magnified reaction every play, every change of ball ownership, every foul and, of course, every goal! A local newspaper actually interviewed the three of us and asked our predictions for the score, but more serious media was videotaping an interview with Monique and Roberto and capturing the collaborative nature of the party happening there. (Update: Newton was recognized by the receptionist at the chiropractor today from his photo in that newspaper that interviewed us. We will buy one soon, as we discovered one cannot read it online without a print subscription.)

I predicted a score of two to one, Brazil. Alas, that was the final score, but in Holland’s favor instead. There was a burst of orange celebration and, fortunately, no hot heads getting too carried away with Brazil’s defeat; just some long faces. As Newton described later to Elise, “about fifteen minutes after the game was over, the Brazilians were dancing to the live music!” I think they had already become resigned to a loss when the team clearly lost its dominance in the second half.

We had a great lunch afterwards with Monique and friends, including a Dutch guy we already knew and a Spaniard. I could see sports fan potential for myself in such a fun event, though no one should take that too seriously!

Here is a sample of fans from both sides that day in quite larger venues: (Some of the Dutch guys at Bohemia had these large plastic hands in orange. It was hilarious watching them sing along to their national anthem at the beginning with these huge hands over their hearts!)

Brazil Wcup Soccer

Fans watching soccer on a giant screen celebrate as Brazil scores a goal against the Netherlands during a South Africa 2010 World Cup soccer match, on Copacabana Beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Friday July 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Netherlands Brazil Soccer Wcup

Fans of the Dutch soccer team watch their team perform during the World Cup soccer quarterfinal match against Brazil, on a screen in the center of Amsterdam, Netherlands, Friday June 2, 2010. The Netherlands defeated Brazil with a 2-1 score and will move on to play the semifinal. (AP Photo/Evert Elzinga)

Brazilians were able to break out their amassed fireworks the next day when their arch-rival, Argentina, was defeated by Germany. Newton could overhear the carnaval of fireworks going off as he spoke to his father on the phone in São Paulo! The long-lost chances for all-South American semi-finals have given way to Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Uruguay. I was rooting for Ghana to make it so Africa would be represented (and because I met two Ghanans I adore last year – two of the stranded fishermen), but Uruguay prevailed by way of those heart-stopping penalty kicks that are used to break a tie at this stage of the tournament. It is here that I will include a fabulous link to the NY Times where a slideshow of photographs from various poor areas of Africa shows the young players and their handmade soccer balls – very moving:

We were pretty proud of the American team, who played very well this year. It seems the interest is growing in the US. As a lovely old guy on our cruise observed, “Soccer will never become big in the US because the game-breaks are too short to sell anything on TV.” Probably right, but as more and more kids’ leagues form, there is increasing interest.

See you in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup!




  1. I must say that I enjoyed what I was able to see of the World Cup better than what I was able to see of the Olympics. Given that they are both every four years, I do believe that soccer (football to the rest of the world) will become a major event in the U.S. It is building more and more interest. I noted this year that almost all of the restaurants had the games on their TV. Given that the games were played in the early morning and early afternoon had something to do with it since it was not competing with baseball. And I think advertisers will figure out how to pay for it if interest builds regardless of the fact that they don't have time outs (much less TV time outs) and each period lasts close to an hour.

    I do think that FIFA will have to do something about the officiating. There were so many obviously bad calls in the games that I think the fans will not stand for it. They will have to increase the number of officals on the field and maybe even have goals called by a special goal scorer as in hockey.

    Anyway, I suppose Brazil will soon begin the frenzy even though it is still 4 years away.


  2. Yes this year has been the most popular for the World Cup in the USA - For the past month my Facebook and Twitter have been constantly flowing with rivalry and discussions...lots of the bars in NYC were opening at 9am to show the games - people were wearing soccer Jersey's all over the place and I've already had about 10 of my friends ask me if they can go with me to Brazil for the next one! Plus - you forgot to mention that Jake did bet on some games so he was interested as well ;) P.S. Now i'm rooting for Spain in the final!


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