My travel experience has convinced me that the best plan is to make no plans — or at least to keep plans as flexible as possible — and my experience of watching Brazil’s first match in this hubristically hopeful host nation has confirmed my conclusion that spontaneity and flexibility bear the sweetest of fruits.
I had spoken with other acquaintances about watching the match in the city’s main plaza (near the picturesque 19th-century opera house) or in the hostel where I stayed a few nights when I initially arrived in Manaus (until the price of a dorm room quadrupled overnight due to the World Cup), but the morning of the match the receptionist’s son (who takes advantage of his mother’s job in order to get a free nutritious breakfast) generously invited me to watch the match with him and others at his “humble” home.
Desirous of being surrounded by locals and witnessing their experience with the initial match of this contentious World Cup, I unequivocally said: Sim, muito obrigado pelo convite (Yes, thank you very much for the invitation).
On the way to my new friend’s peripheral neighborhood of Manaus, the streets were eerily empty. Though there was no traffic in the main streets of the city, once we got to his neighborhood we began taking “shortcuts” down narrow pathways that his motorbike likely navigated through quite smoothly on normal days. This day was not normal, however, and many different groups of neighbors had placed TVs, couches, chairs, makeshift barbecues and other obstacles in these pathways in order to watch the match as collectively and comfortably as possible within these confined and cohabited pathways.
After jumping off and on his motorbike several times in order to maneuver the many obstacles, we finally arrived to his home, where some 20 to 25 people of all ages were intently staring at a TV, yelling and gesticulating things I mostly failed to comprehend. Marcelo (Brazil’s left back) had just scored on his own goalie in the 10th minute, giving the Croats an early 1-0 lead.
Once the ball was back in play, the intent collective focus on the TV continued, though the group gradually grew much quieter. The relative silence was broken in the 29th minute when Neymar’s shot from about 22 yards out narrowly rolled past the diving Croat keeper, hit the goal post and then the back of the net. Within seconds the madness of fireworks exploding, adults screaming and children running made me feel like I was in a war zone.
After a couple minutes the scene calmed, but the battle continued. Brazil got a second goal to take the lead from a pênalti roubado (an unfairly received penalty kick) in the 70th minute, which even these fanatically biased Brazilians did not deny and, thus, did not celebrate with similar fervor.
Fervent celebrations ensued with Oscar’s lovely and well-deserved golaço (great goal) in extra time. Despite being a Thursday, the celebrations continued in this poor neighborhood of Manaus until I left around 11 pm, and I am sure they lasted much longer.