FORTALEZA, Brazil – He waited 18 years for this?
It was Hades hot, sun blasting off the pavement and causing rivulets of sweat to tumble down his face. Obi Egekeze and his two brothers walked past rows of houses with kids out front selling água and cerveja. The only shade to be found was under the clotheslines filled with hanging Brazil jerseys. The bus the brothers took to the Germany-Ghana match could not get them close to the stadium. They got off and walked. There was still more than a mile to go.
Egekeze's a player, not a spectator. He started as a placekicker for the Maryland Terrapins for two years, in 2007 and 2008, and only nine people in the more than 100 years of Terps football have scored more points than he has. This was his first soccer match, and one of only a handful of games of any sport he's attended, and he wasn't used to watching.
"I like knowing what's about to happen," he said as he trudged up a long, sloping hill leading to the stadium.
Ah, but no one could have known what was about to happen on this Saturday.
Egekeze and his two brothers, Nkem and Ndu, have all just received their graduate school degrees. Obi got an MBA from the University of Illinois, Nkem got his M.D. from the University of Michigan, and Ndu became the first full-scholarship basketball player from Penn State to get a degree in mechanical engineering. This was their present to themselves: One World Cup game. Just one.
Nkem had been planning to do this for 18 years, since he came to Argentina to visit a host family and promised himself he would drag his brothers back to South America someday. Saturday was the day. Obi liked this particular game, in Fortaleza, because it was near a beach.
They came all the way here, all the way down to Brazil and all the way up that scorching hill. They sat in their seats and met the Uruguay fans to their right, the Mexico fans in front of them, the Germany fans to their left and the Ghana fans behind them.
What the brothers witnessed was a soccer combustion: a dam bursting into four second-half goals and a thrill ride that even left the players shaking their heads.
German coach Joachim Loew called it "an open exchange of punches."
The first half was scoreless: the Germans doing what they do, playing compact and waiting for chances. Their intent was to stifle, because as Loew said, "We knew it was impossible to run against Ghana for 90 minutes." Especially in that heat.
The teams came out again after intermission and Ghana started to play with more of an edge. They were going to go for it, come what may.
"Ghana really threw everything against our goal," Loew said. "They left us a bit more space for counters. That's how this match developed in a way to have such dynamism."
That's a word for it – dynamism. Both sides started running with what Loew called "that instinctual striving for victory." It resulted in four unforgettable goals.
Obi and his brothers came to this match wondering how this experience would compare to college sports back home. Obi had played in Tallahassee. He had played at Death Valley in Clemson. He had played in the loudest college venue he's ever entered: in Morgantown, W.Va., on a Thursday night.
This was a sound unlike any he's ever heard.
"When that place erupted," he said, "it erupted."
The best was yet to come.
Ghana's Asamoah Gyan burst through the German backline and blasted a strike past Manuel Neuer to give his team a 2-1 lead. At that point you could sense the shock of the entire world: Ghana had come back from a deficit to go in front. The game had gotten out of the Germans' control, which is extremely rare. "It was quite intense," Mustafi said. "It's always difficult to defend when there's too much space."
This was just what the Ghana side had practiced, just what they wanted: a playground shootout.
"It was 50-50," smiled Ayew after the game, reliving the memory of having the vaunted Germans reeling.
Germany's Toni Kroos had another way of describing it.
"That last 20 minutes, it was whoosh, whoosh, whoosh," he said, waving his index back and forth. "That's not our game."
Asked if he liked it, he exhaled. "That last 20 minutes? No."
The crucial moment: Loew made a substitution, and into the match came a legend.
Miroslav Klose, age 36 and fighting off a difficult year, ran onto the pitch and into history. He quickly snuck into the box and behind a Ghana defender, then he stuck out a right foot and gracefully deflected a cross into the net. It was the 15th World Cup goal of his storied career – tying him with Brazil's Ronaldo and tying the game. The Egekeze brothers had stumbled into a historic moment.
"He was only two minutes on the pitch and he scored that goal," Loew marveled. "It was sensational for his career."
It was sensational, period.
So was what came next: chance after chance at both ends of the field. Obi and his brothers could see the fatigue on the players' faces. Everyone on the pitch was depleted, and yet the game went even faster, unspooling into chaos.
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The crescendo came in the last seconds, as Muller went for a header and collided into the shoulder of Ghana's John Boye. Both men went down, and blood gushed from Muller's face.
"That was two men giving up themselves, giving up their bodies," said Egekeze. "For their teams and their nation. To win or save the game."
Then it was over. The sun had started to set. The brothers made their way out, in awe. Obi called it "incredible."
Loew, when asked if being a coach in that game was fun or "hell," he said it was both.
"For a spectator," he said, "I can imagine nothing more interesting."
That's the reward for 18 years of planning: two national teams and a sport at its very peak. That's what the Egekeze family walked up the hill for on Saturday.
Obi had to take on a morning flight back to the States. He returned to his hotel at 9 p.m. and started to pack. He decided he would leave for the airport at midnight.
He knew he would never sleep.