It’s been a well-documented rocky road leading up to the biggest soccer event in Brazil, culminating with a wave of high-profile protests over the last few weeks. I have had my own reservations along the way as well (which I document regularly on my Twitter feed, @RaubOnTheRoad, if you’re interested), but let’s not get things twisted: Soccer is the end-all, be-all in Brazil.
Brazil’s equivalent of the Supreme Court doesn’t meet during Brazil’s most important soccer matches; banks are closed; nobody whatsoever goes to work. You can fall asleep on Av. Paulista, the most important street in the Southern Hemisphere’s largest city, and not get hit by a car. Nothing happens besides eyes being glued to the beloved Selecão (as the national team are referred in Portuguese). It is absolutely amazing to see.
From outside Brazil, the football world waits anxiously to see whether Brazil will silence the naysayers, but I witnessed all the evidence I needed when I attended a Confederations Cup match, considered a dress rehearsal tournament for the far more high-profile soccer event of the year in 2014.
Starting with the ticket buying process and ending with the free metro ride out of the recently-debuted Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro on June 16, I found the seamlessness of it all truly shocking. Though I felt the same anxiety we all know and love from buying big concert tickets online – my hands were shaking with anticipation as I tried to purchase tickets for Mexico vs. Italy several months ago – I somehow received amazing seats in a few seconds. I received a confirmation email and was asked to pre-book a ticket pickup point in Rio. Since I don’t live there, I wearily had to book that for the day of the match.
Arriving in downtown Rio at the designated ticket pickup point at the Windsor Guanabara Hotel on match day, I waited all of 15 minutes to receive my tickets. Everyone spoke great English and the whole thing was completely painless. Though we all had a laugh about the fact that the line for people who had pre-booked their ticket pickup was longer than the one for these who didn’t, we all acquiesced to the familiar Brazilian excuse for everything: “Isso é o Brasil!” (“This is Brazil!”).
Entering the stadium couldn’t have been more pleasant – most of the 73,123 of us in attendance arrived by metro, which was free for ticket holders, uncramped and cinematically empties fans out directly onto the ramp leading to the stadium. It’s quite impressive. Despite metal detectors, there were no lines to get in and no crowds to fight though. From metro to seat: 10 minutes. The new stadium? A palace of sport, packed to capacity and doused in international color, a true spectacle.
The one hiccup was the concessions. While the prices were shockingly not coronary-inducing, the beer lines, which Brazil didn’t even want and fought a long battle with the international soccer association before relenting, took ages, mainly due to the fact that no limits per person were imposed. So, the 12 people in front of you might equal 57 beers. The food was uninspired, led by pathetic hot dogs (ketchup and mustard gone fore the game even started), Doritos, Brazil’s version of Ruffles, popcorn, candy bars and polvilho (cassava starch crackers – the one bright spot). But hey, you’re there to watch a soccer game, not dine in a 3-star Michelin restaurant! Still, the food and drink need a re-think.
So, despite dreadful press and a sorry state of affairs when the world’s spotlight is shining its brightest, I promise you, Brazil won’t let us down in regards to this tournament.
Now, whether or not it’s money well spent is an entirely different matter.
*It should be noted that games in Recife didn’t quite go off without hitches: Long lines and transport conundrums seemed the norm, but hey, Isso é o Nordeste!
Heading to the biggest soccer event of the year? LATAM Airlines Group operates nearly 50 flights per week between Miami, New York and Orlando to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.