2 Memorable Experiences at FIFA FanFest

I watched two games at FIFA FanFest: USA vs Belgium and Germany vs Brazil.

I’m sure people are more curious now about Germany vs Brazil, but I’ll start with the first game we saw there.

USA vs Belgium
The USA vs Belgium game was so fun to watch, even though it didn’t work out in our favor. It was the first day our whole Rio group was together and we went straight to Copacabana beach ready to cheer. The beach was crowded, but nothing like we’d see for the Brazil game a week later. Everyone was in good spirits and we saw USA gear all around us.

Which led to taking a lot of pictures with people decked out in American flags. I have just one, but Steph’s disposable camera has plenty more that I can’t wait to see. I never saw any other groups of fans dressed up like the Americans were. Most of the time there’s a lot of people wearing jerseys and some flags or scarves, but for USA we saw everything from American flag speedos and sequined top hats to the Statue of Liberty.

We met a ton of Americans, lots of Californians actually, and participated in a spontaneous women’s bathroom line U-S-A cheer. But the support for the US wasn’t just from other Americans. Between games there was some very strange live music, and then the FanFest sound system put on Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA. It seemed like everyone was with us. Then they transitioned to EDM. We guessed this was also for the young American crowd.

FanFest itself was an ok scene. My impression of it was that it pays off to be strategic about where you stand, and if that works out then it can be really fun. We got in at the end of the first game so all the Argentina fans were clearing out as we were walking in. This worked in our favor – we got a spot right in front of a fence at the back of the main viewing section. So we were still very much there, but we were also really close to a quick exit to the bathrooms. And the best part was that instead of needing to go to the bar for more beers, we could turn around to the little beer vendor we made friends with right behind the fence and get a new one without having to move. I even watched most of the game perched on the fence so I could see over all the tall people’s heads in front of me.

So with our fantastic location picked out and our friendly Canadian neighbors cheering on our side, we were in prime spirits when we had to watch the USA get kicked out of the tournament. Such a sad moment only deserved the best send-off we could give them: copious more beers and a night swim.

Even with the exit of the US team from the tournament, this day will go down as a favorite of my time in Rio. There’s nothing quite like cheering on your country with your friends and thousands of other USA fans, especially when you’re on a beach in Brazil.

Germany vs Brazil
Since I’ve gotten this question a few times already: Yes, it was that intense. But only for about 10 minutes. As soon as everyone settled into the fact that Brazil would not have a chance, the riots let up and people got on with watching or not watching the game.

FanFest started out crazy due to the sheer number of people there and the looming storm clouds. By the time we made it to Copacabana beach the official FanFest was already full, so we joined the masses heading to a second backup screen not far away. This screen was just perched on the beach; no security to get in, no fence around it, no vendors. People were coming around selling things like they would any other day at the beach: beers, caipirinhas and snacks for R$5 (and in this case, capa de chuvas, aka ponchos – this brilliant guy made a fortune selling basically plastic bags thanks to the impending storm).

The entire tournament we’ve all been wondering why each city has only one FanFest. For Euro Cup 2008, the small city of Basel had 3 alone. Why would Rio or Sao Paulo try to fit everyone into just one? If there was a second option instead of this back-up screen maybe the mayhem could have been avoided. Or maybe nothing would help when the home team goes down 5-0 in under 30 minutes.

Before the game started everyone was so excited, singing the Brazilian national anthem loud and proud. The storm clouds couldn’t even deter us. It didn’t last.

When Germany scored the first goal, as a Germany soccer fan, I jumped up and cheered and high-fived a German nearby. For goal 2, I stayed seated and quietly clapped. By 3 I didn’t react. By 4 I turned to Steph and said I wish I’d brought my Brazil bandana; you could feel the anger in the crowd. We tried to untie hers from around her dress but then goal 5 happened, and suddenly a rush of people was coming in our direction. There had been gunshots fired and everyone was running towards the screen pushing one another, stumbling over the beach chairs they had set up (terrible idea) and generally panicking. After almost getting separated, Steph and I grabbed each other while Nick tried to calm the crowd. We ripped her Brazil bandana off and tied it around my neck. We joined some other foreigners for a minute to figure out what to do next.

They were heading closer to the ocean, thinking it was safer than the streets. We opted to stay on the beach now that things were calmer and there were riot police everywhere (and we were still hoping to find a friend who had gone to the bathroom at the most inopportune time). For the most part, it settled down after that, probably because the police were all over the place and helicopters with spotlights were circling above us the rest of the game. Apart from an almost theft right next to us leading to another almost fight, the rest of the game was more or less tame. A lot of people left.

This was one time that I was happy I was not wearing my Germany jersey. At halftime blonde-hair blue-eyed Steph and I were asked by Brazilians if we were German and adamantly replied “no we’re American!” But by the second half everyone was resigned to the loss so the intense environment died down.

Until the game was over and the gods unleashed one hell of a rainstorm on Rio. Remember that time I was the wettest I’ve ever been in Iguazu Falls? This night was number 2. We ended the night running through the streets in a torrential downpour to get to the dry subway and home.

In the end, both visits to FanFest were memorable, but for very different reasons.

I’m not sure where I’m watching the final yet, but I do know I’m happy about one thing: the only team Brazil hates more than Germany right now is Argentina, so at least the city is on my side this time.

Side note: all images were taken with my GoPro on a wrist mount. It was the most secure way I could think of to bring a camera into FanFest, which was proven right during the riot. It also meant that I didn’t have to worry about it during the night swim and running through the rain (although those pictures and videos are a little hard to see).



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