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...
It's not often that one gets the chance to talk with a legend of the game. This week, however, I've managed to spend time with two.
On Wednesday, I headed to a slightly dilapated — and perilously non-air conditioned — sports club in Rio with a slew of journalists to speak to a 73-year-old who knows a thing or two about winning the World Cup.
Pele looked a little frail, hobbling into an event organized by Subway and moving with the fragility expected of a septuagenarian, but his mind was completely sharp when he proceeded to field questions from a group of local kids.
After sharing his football secrets with the next generation, Diego Maradona's least favorite person then spoke to journalists, including this starstruck Yahoo reporter who asked about the plethora of goals we have seen at the 2014 tournament:
A few days ago, on the morning of England's bout with Italy in Manaus, the good folks at a certain swooshy apparel brand were kind enough to let me speak to another fabled star of this competiton: Fabio Cannavaro.
The 2006 World Cup-winning captain was intimidatingly handsome — most of those in his presence had trouble finding their way home after getting lost in his eyes — but an absolute pleasure to speak to. At the end of our chat, I said: "Thanks for your time, and I hope you lose tonight." He didn't mind the cheeky parting line, but apparently I tempted fate.
Aside from meeting and mildly insulting legendary players, I've also been spending a lot of time mixing with fans in this beautiful city. One of the most surprising discoveries on the streets and beaches has been how subdued the home support has been.
After witnessing a relatively underwhelming crowd response at the FIFA Fan Fest on Copacabana Beach during Brazil's opener with Croatia, I headed to Sao Salvador Square in the Laranjeiras neighborhood to sample the World Cup viewing experience of the average Rio resident.
The local authorities hadn't put on any festivities, so the residents made their own viewing party. Someone's ancient 4:3 ratio TV was dragged out into the square in front of equally ancient folding chairs, while a freshly-purchased flatscreen TV was perched precariously atop a VW camper van which was curiously decked out with Megadeth logos.
Home made caipirinhas and beer were steadily flowing, a BBQ gently simmered and the van's speaker system pumped out loud rock 'n' roll before and after the match (contrary to expectation, Megadeth van exclusively played The Offspring).
But the locals weren't overly enthused.
This might have a lot to do with the disheartening Selecao performance, but according to some folks I spoke with, Brazilians aren't the most crazy and zealous fans at the best of times. Apparently, their Carnival-loving ways and unwavering positive demeanor have deceived us.
A group of fans who need absolutely no excuse to go completely insane, however, are Brazil's fiercest rivals Argentina.
This is the reaction of the fans on Copacabana Beach when the Albiceleste scored their early opener against Bosnia, and it does little to justify their boisterousness. They were bellowing out chants, setting off flares, dancing like a drunk uncle at a wedding and generally showing the hosts how it's done.
In my experience thus far, the only other country who have shown passion on the same level as the Argentineans has been the USA's traveling army, who are the largest ticket-holding nation outside of the hosts.
I watched the Ghana match at Shenanigans bar in Ipanema, which was completely taken over by the red, white and blue.
There was raucous chanting before the match and a thunderous noise when Clint Dempsey opened the scoring early on. When John Brooks found the winner in the dying minutes, the entire place exploded with a mixture of relief, ecstasy and inebriation. My shirt was subsequently drenched in other people's beer as I left the venue, but it was a small price to pay to be a part of the experience.
I'll sign off this entry with a picture I took at the top of Sugarloaf mountain. With or without the biggest event in football, this city is amazing.
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