Inside a Match at the World’s Biggest Football Tournament

We’re nearly a week into the world’s biggest football tournament. There have been some questionable refereeing, a few scattered protests and a complete bludgeoning of teams from the Iberian Peninsula but all in all I think most folks would agree that Brazil has been a blast so far. Most surprising? The airports have been purely pleasant and without any of the predicted craziness and chaos, at least on the five flights via six airports your Brazil Insider has thus far been. 

Your Brazil Insider with his wife   Inside a Match at the World's Biggest Football Tournament  Z

Your Brazil Insider with his wife – photo courtesy of Kevin Raub

Your Brazil Insider hasn’t personally faired quite as well, however. This blog post was suppose to be about the Colombia X Greece match in Belo Horizonte on Day 2 of the tournament, but pickpockets operating in the secure corridor set up by FIFA to funnel match attendees to security checks managed to snag our game tickets right out of our front pocket (read: The secure corridors are not all that secure!).


Just like that, the Colombia x Greece dream was dead. So, if you’re going to a match, heed this very serious word of warning: Do not put your tickets in your front or back pocket. Get a money belt or stuff them in your shoes or stuff them somewhere (anywhere!) that these thieves cannot reach (think jail contraband smuggling methods!). No, I’m not joking.

Colombian and Brazilian fans  Inside a Match at the World's Biggest Football Tournament  9k

Colombian and Brazilian fans – photo courtesy of Kevin Raub

At any rate, onwards and upward. This blog now comes to you by way of the USA x Ghana match in Natal two days later instead. I suppose the bright side is that since your Brazil Insider is American, he would have a better time, anyway, though it doesn’t take much to have a better time than a robbery. At any rate, logic proved correct! Luckily, we crashed with a friend who lives within walking distance of the stadium, but if the dedicated shuttle bus set up for the stadium from various strategic points around the city was anything like Belo Horizonte, things flowed seamlessly (I was impressed). We gave ourselves several hours before kickoff to arrive with plenty of time to spare for a good old American tailgate with the American Outlaws, the wild and crazy Team USA fan base, who, incidentally, bought more tickets to this football tournament than any other nation besides Brazil. It didn’t take long to find them.

The American Outlaw party, which was one of two official pre-game parties (the other being thrown by US Soccer) virtually shut down an intersection near the stadium, with police blocking traffic so American fans could run back and forth across the street to empty out a BP gas station of all it’s inebriating solutions. A nearby Habib’s, a sort of Arab-themed Taco Bell-level place, didn’t know what hit them when swarms of American fans took over the place for cheap eats prior to entering Natal’s Arena das Dunas.

Team USA's fans  Inside a Match at the World's Biggest Football Tournament  Z

Team USA’s fans – photo courtesy of Kevin Raub

Entering the stadium was crowded but smooth, with Natal opting for a gated, winding maze-style entrance to thin crowds before the metal detectors – a much better system than Belo Horizonte, whose wider lanes allowed for pickpockets to operate, as previously stated. Once through security, everything was golden. There were no lines or confusion to enter our specific gate and seeing the interior lights of the space-age Arena das Dunas for the first time was a beautiful moment. Refreshment lines were long but bathroom lines were short. Pick your battles!

We had barely found our seats – less than 50 rows from the pitch – when the Americans scored! Clint Dempsey belted home the 5th fastest goal in this tournament’s history, clocking in at just 29 seconds – right in front of us! The arena exploded. The atmosphere was electric. This would be Team USA’s night to end the Ghana curse once and for all (the African nation is notorious for beating the USA in important matches). Until the 82nd minute, things settled in, with the Ghanaians dominating possessions but creating few chances on goal. In the stands, there was a brief altercation between some Brazilians who wanted to sit and some Americans who were intent on standing; and a lot of anti-American sentiment coming from several Australians, but overall things were sailing along.

USA scored the 5th fastest goal in this tournament's history  Inside a Match at the World's Biggest Football Tournament  2Q

USA scored the 5th fastest goal in this tournament’s history – photo courtesy of Kevin Raub

Then Ghana equalized. Ouch! That hurt! The USA would never get out of this group with a tie here, and you could sense the collective exasperation and dread in the stadium, which was dominated by American fans save a particularly vibrant Ghana section that ever stopped drumming the entire match! The air was sucked right out of Arena das Dunas in an instant. But four minutes later, an unlikely American hero in John Brooks, a player who could have still played for Germany until the moment he decided to step onto the pitch with an American uniform, entered the match and banged home a dramatic header off a corner kick to seal the win for the USA in the 88th minute, a dramatic bookend to compliment the early heroics of Dempsey. Wow!

Living abroad, I have come to understand that where sports are concerned, the world often associates Americans with a never-give-up, it’s-not-over-until-it’s-over attitude that for me was just part of life growing up in athletics in the States. But I now realize it’s an often respected trait of Americans that the USA reinforces time and time again. And people admire the USA for that.

Even the people who just wish we would sit down.

Arena das Dunas, Natal   Inside a Match at the World's Biggest Football Tournament  9k

Arena das Dunas, Natal – photo courtesy of Kevin Raub

TAM Airlines operate nearly 50 flights per week between Miami, New York and Orlando to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. From there, domestic flights on TAM are available to all host cities.


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  • Kevin Raub

    Co-author of Lonely Planet’s Brazil guide and coordinating author…
  • Photo: By Carla Peirano, in Magazine Photos by: Stefan Schmeling Young, sophisticated and laid-back. That’s Vila Madalena, São Paulo’s hippest neighborhood, a vibrant place where fashion, art and design co-exist with graffiti and a stylish crowd. It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in winter here in São Paulo, Brazil. I can observe everything and everyone from the strategically located Amüse Food Store, on the corner of Girassol and Aspicuelta. While I wait for my iced tea, I observe the passers-by, most of them women united by their fashion sense and their desire to shop. You sense a certain self-satisfaction in the way they walk. Unlike other São Paulo neighborhoods, this neighborhood in the western part of the city is fashionably chic, but in an unpretentious way. Folks around here obviously pay attention to their look, but there’s a personal stamp in the way they dress. It’s quite different from what you see on Rua Oscar Freire, for instance, where the fashion parade is legendary and most pedestrians look like they stepped straight out of a fashion magazine and into this endless metropolis. It’s no accident that style lovers flock to the winding streets of Vila Madalena. This bohemian neighborhood began its transformation in the 1970s, when young students of art and fashion began to rent and share large houses. Over time, these homes were converted into art galleries, studios and casual restaurants, a chaotic and spontaneous process that nurtured the spirit so evident in the neighborhood today: bohemian, vibrant and full of color. Welcome to Vila Madalena A style all its own. That’s what you’ll find on the streets of Vila Madalena. It’s the perfect place for folks who want to be seen as well as those who would rather people watch, taking in trends, styles and bold statements in clothing and colors. When I stroll the streets here, I am constantly looking around, admiring these well-turned-out fashionistas. I’m struck by the way they’ve managed to achieve such a casually sophisticated look. It seems spontaneous, unplanned and, as result, totally authentic. As I sip on my iced tea, I talk with some girls who are next to me. They tell me they’ve come on a shopping tour of the local stores. They share some addresses and recommendations that I try to memorize as though they were secret formulas. They tell me that my best bet is to start my tour on the nearby street of Girassol. They leave with complicit smiles, as though they’ve helped out someone in dire need. I’ve finished my tea, so there’s nothing left for me to do but immerse myself in Vila Madalena. I walk down Girassol, and before long, I come across Uma, a surprisingly sophisticated store, with a collection dominated by clear and simple lines. Suddenly, I feel like I’m shopping in Tokyo, not São Paulo. I keep walking until I reach the store of Juliana Bicudo, a local shoemaker who designs handmade footwear. Her eponymous shop is both elegant and colorful, and the collection is divine. I adore these shoes because they can be worn to formal and informal events alike, depending on the rest of your outfit. She even has a wedding line with custom designs to accommodate the style of each bride. Crossing the street, I encounter the metallic blue suede and classic lines offered by Luiza Perea, another gifted shoe designer. This shop looks more like a living room. It’s a real delight. I’m barely through the door before they invite me to sit down and have something to drink. The designs are terrific. You can really see the dedication and care in the creations. The two women who make the shoes are usually in the store, so any questions you have can be answered by the shoemakers themselves.   Unlike other São Paulo neighborhoods, Vila Madalena is all about fashion but in an unpretentious way. Peixaria, a stylish but authentic restaurant, offers a taste of the beach in the middle 
of the city. Style on the Sand My tour continues. I soon come to La Cervecería, where the fun atmosphere, conversation and clinking of beer mugs is impossible to resist. When I’ve finished my chope (draft beer), I leave on the heels of two attractive women. They tell their friend who’s parking her car that they’ll meet her at Mocambo. I wonder what kind of clothing they sell there. As my imagination is busy at work, I arrive at a tiny space dedicated to… tattoos? I’m a little disconcerted. All of a sudden, I’m surrounded by rough-looking types straight out of a motorcycle magazine. The owners tell me they only do custom tattoos, one-of-a-kind designs for each client. Maybe that’s why the cool girls who led me here are so excited about a place that seems tailor-made for tough guys. In the small, dark space, they give me some more tips to continue my tour. One of their more interesting suggestions is Chapéu, a heavenly bathing-suit shop. I’m told it’s one of the most popular stores of its kind in São Paulo. And in a country where beach life is an institution, that really says something. The collection of bathing suits is varied and elegant. The designs and styles seem intended for a social event rather than the beach. I envy the women who can pull them off, but I’m afraid that on other Latin American beaches, they’d be more cause for gawking than admiration. I’m fairly certain that you have to be Brazilian – and be in Brazil – to wear them. I leave Chapéu and head down Rua Mourato Coelho. I spot the window of the shop Tonus, and I’m transfixed. I decide to go in. The clerks explain the ideas behind the designs. The back part of the shop features the workshop where designer Sergio Tonus comes up with his creations. Tonus himself explains the production process to me. His designs from the shop’s nine years of existence are carefully displayed on hangers.   The many worlds of Vila Madalena: 
tattoos at Mocambo and rockabilly style 
at Barberia 9 de Julho. With no set destination, I wander through Vila Madalena. Eventually, I come to Barberia 9 de Julho, a barbershop with the air of a rockabilly club. The parking spaces outside are taken up entirely by motorcycles. There’s also a dog sporting a bandana, patiently waiting for his owner. I continue along with no end in mind, accompanied by the impressive graffiti that adorns the walls, shops selling Japanese products, ceramics studios, art galleries and a few eateries. I’m hungry, but all the clothing and design stores keep distracting me. One highlight is the shop owned by Fernanda Yamamoto, who specializes in creations made with patterned fabrics. Best of all, there’s an outlet section with clothing from past seasons at reasonable prices. Another great place is Trash Chic, a mix between a fashion museum and a Buddhist temple. They even have a small altar in honor of Coco Chanel. The collection includes pieces by Valentino, Nina Ricci, Prada and Chanel. It’s the finest vintage store I’ve seen in my life. Finally, I end up at Peixaria. This beach-inspired restaurant is full of grilled seafood, endless caipirinhas and infectiously cheerful people. It turns out to be an excellent choice and a great way to end my adventures in Vila Madalena. in    

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