RIO DE JANEIRO – Their expressions changed, and their smiles crumbled. It was clear none of them knew.
While Nigerian fans watched their national soccer team play against Argentina on the big screen here at Copacabana beach, their nation was dealing with another tragedy: a bomb went off at a shopping mall in the capital city of Abuja, killing at least 21 and injuring more. Horrific photos circled the globe, depicting body parts littered on streets and sidewalks, and fans here were cocooned in a temporary escape from an awful reality.
Then the game ended, Nigeria losing 3-2 in a hard-fought match, and the awareness began.
"Again?" said Emeka Ogeonna, 29, who was born in Enugu (250 miles south of Abuja) and lives in New York City now. Told the bombing happened just before the match against Argentina began, Ogeonna took a deep breath.
"Cowardly," he said. "It's awful. Terrible. There's no reason for it. It's a shame that we're seeing this at all, but World Cup is supposed to bring countries together."
Islamic terrorists are blamed for the incident. The extremist group Boko Haram has been setting off explosions regularly in the northeast part of the country, but recently the bloodshed has moved south, into bigger cities including the capital. Last week, in the city of Damaturu, 14 died and 26 were injured in a similar bombing at a World Cup viewing site.
The government seems unable to handle the situation.
"People are dying in the country," said Ugboko Onus, 35. "I want the American government to help us. I'm not happy. I need people to come and help us. I have a family in Nigeria. I don't know what to do. I really need Americans to come and help us, you understand?
"I don't know what [Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan] is doing."
Shock mixed with fear and anger for several of the Nigerian supporters, who were surrounded by thrilled Argentinian fans leaving after their team's victory and excited French supporters flooding the beach for their team's late afternoon game. Nigeria's soccer loss, and the entire event, was quickly forgotten despite the fact that their team advanced to the knockout stage of the World Cup.
"I'm shocked right now, because I'm just hearing from you," said Falaju Oden, 24, of Lagos. "It's very bad news. People watching the World Cup are there to be happy and rejoice. And suddenly we hear of the bomb. It's very bad news. I don't know what to say. This is three or four months now. So I don't know what to say. I'm in a bad mood. A very bad mood."
Terrorism at viewing parties is a scary trend during these games. Nearly 50 Kenyans were slaughtered earlier this month as they watched the tournament. Marauders knocked on doors, asked residents if they were Muslim, and killed them if the answer was no.
Wednesday's news out of Abuja created a ripple of frustration and helplessness. More than one Nigerian wanted military reprisals to begin immediately.
"It needs to come to an end," said Moju Oritsetimeyin, 22. "I think there needs to be some action at some point. The government hasn't taken its role seriously in terms of protecting the people."
The World Cup is the ultimate occasion for gathering in large groups, and that creates vulnerability. There have been no incidents in Brazil or in the U.S., but it's impossible not to be somewhat concerned considering the sizes of the crowds on the subways and in open spaces.
For these Nigerian fans, though, the worry is not here, but at home.
"I don't feel safe in Nigeria," said a man named Temi, who lives in London. "The majority of people are fine but you don't know what's going to happen. I have to call my family to find out if anyone was affected."
He then asked for his surname to be withheld, out of fear that his relatives could become a target.
- Sports & Recreation