Dirty Tackle's Ryan Bailey is in Rio de Janeiro covering the 2014 World Cup for Yahoo Sports. In this irregularly dispatched diary, he will share his experiences of Brazil, his thoughts on the games and his overt humblebrags...
At the halfway point of the World Cup, a total of 1,629,227 fans had attended a game in one of the 12 host venues. Thanks to some extremely serendipitous circumstances, I became one of them when a ticket to Belgium's Group H clash with Russia at the Maracana came into my possession.
But this was no ordinary ticket. It was a "hospitality" ticket. Judging by my experiences at Premier League games, I assumed this would mean access to a room with nice carpets, free soft drinks and slightly stale sandwiched cut into triangles.
How wrong I was.
To put it mildly, the hospitality was so opulent and grandiose it would make Kanye West feel embarrassed. Waiters walked around with sushi platters on silver trays, the buffet served Filet Mignon and champagne glasses were kept topped up as a matter of course.
The luxury lounge had an open front that looked out onto the field on the halfway line, a few feet above the television gantry. (Despite this magnificent vantage point, several folks decided to stay camped deep in the lounge, occasionally glancing at a television screen to see if there was still football happening.)
And thanks to FIFA Law, we were allowed to take our complimentary alcoholic beverages out to our seats — something I have never experienced at a game before.
Essentially, I experienced a game just like a FIFA delegate would. And for that reason, it felt a little bit dirty.
[Slideshow: Throwback pics - World Cup stars in their youth]
As penance for this lavish experience, the Football Gods of Karma made me endure a pretty dull game. (To make matters worse, I skipped out a few minutes before the final whistle to avoid the heaving human traffic outside the stadium that had delayed my arrival. This meant I missed the goal.) However, the experience of witnessing a World Cup match live will always live with me.
Earlier this week, I also had the privilege of meeting Detroit Lions defensive tackle and USMNT fan Ndamukong Su. For a 300lb giant who smashes into people for a living, he was extremely gentle mannered, and actually quite shy.
Despite his preference for gridiron, Suh has actual football in his blood: his father played semi-professionally and his sister is a current member of the Cameroon women's national team. Apparently, he only switched away from playing soccer when his towering frame outgrew the sport.
Away from the stadiums and NFL stars, this trip has taught me many things about the brilliant quirks of Brazil. There are constant public holidays (the whole country has the day off when Brazil plays, and no one in Rio goes to work when there is a game at the Maracana). True to the stereotype, there are monkeys hanging from telephone lines everywhere. And fast food can take upwards of 30 minutes to be served. But the strangest thing is the TV.
Immediately after match broadcasts, you will either see a news bulletin or a zany variety show almost exclusively staffed by women in small bikinis. Some of them are even covered in Panini stickers. And the news broadcasts? Well, if you're lucky, they feature Brazilian Batman.
Rest assured, Rio. Your streets are safe tonight.
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