When we negotiated our tour arrangements for our visit to the Pantanal, one of the key points was that there had to be arrangements for son Joe and me to travel back to Cuiabá to watch Nigeria play Bosnia (adding an extra $450 to the cost of the tour!). As it turned out, there were nine of us at the Pousada Canto do Arancuã who needed to be back in Cuiabá, although Joe and I were the only ones who needed a ride back into the Pantanal so there was a van to transport us (no doubt saving the tour operator a pretty penny!), but it left a little earlier than our original arrangement called for; another passenger on the van, who had already been to two games at Arena Pantanal, said that the stadium wasn’t even likely to be open two-and-a-half hours before the game So, instead of going directly to the stadium, Joe and I decided that we would go with almost everybody else to Joel Souza’s Pousada Ecoverde, where they would be staying.
As we arrived, Germany’s game against Ghana had recently begun, so we settled down in front of the TV to watch the game, which was scoreless as we arrived. Germany scored first, the beginning of what people would have assumed to be a rout – but then the unthinkable happened: Ghana tied the score, and even went ahead! There was a German fan watching with us, and when I remarked on the German we had met in the airport in Miami, who said with quiet confidence that Germany as going to win the cup; he said that fan could not be a true fan who understood football. He repeatedly complaining that the German team was “playing too pretty,” as as each German veteran touched the ball, he would say, “Schweinsteiger, what are YOU doing on the field,” “Lahm, what are YOU doing on the field.” Germany tied it up late; just as well, the American fans felt, because did not want to face a German team that needed to win to be sure of advancing. Still, that Germany could not beat Ghana, even though the US team had managed to do so, seemed a promising sign.
At this point, six of us piled into a cab to ride over to the stadium; we were dropped a block from the entry gates. The arriving crowd seemed mostly local, many pairs of teenagers, couples of various ages, families with young children; we saw no Bosnian fans arriving (although there had been a few Bosnian fans on our flight from Brasilia – I had not noticed their identity as they boarded the flight, but their chanting as they gathered in the Cuiabá airport was unmistakable), and only a handful of Nigerians.
I had come to the game with no particular routing interest – I just wanted to see a good game. Seated directly in front of us, though, were a pair of English fans in their twenties who had arrived planning to cheer for Nigeria; one was sporting a Nigerian flag; another fan near us had gone so far as to wear a Nigerian outfit. There were also a small group of Nigerian fans a few rows in front of us. Led ny the English fans, chants of “Nigeria” began to predominate in our section; I joined in.
The game was fun to watch. Early on, Bosnia seemed to dominate the attacking chances, and even scored a goal right in front of us, only to have it called back for offsides. From where we were sitting, behind the goal, we could not judge whether the call had been correct. Eventually, though, the speed of the Nigerian players began to manifest itself; finally, a speedy player managed to beat the Bosnians to their end line; he then beat his defender along the end line, and crossed to an onrushing Peter Odemwingie, who put the ball into the net. “Peter Odemwingie! Peter Odemwingie!” our English fans led the cheers.
That was the only goal of the game, but it did not lack for other attacking chances, including a shot off the post that rattled the Nigerian goal right in front of us. Our English fans, though, were apparently bored, so they decided to teach some young Brazilian men near us hoe Manchester City fans cheer for Yaya Toure. I think highly of Yaya Toure, and it was an interesting cheer, but as they led it over and over again, I could not help wondering why they though it relevant to the day’s game – did they think African players from different countries are fungible? Or did they know understand that Toure is Ivorian, not Nigerian? It struck me as pretty racist.
The game ended 1-0, a nice victory for an African team that gave it a chance to advance to the next round while eliminating Bosnia – quite a surprise considering that Bosnia had thoroughly dominated its group in European qualifying.
The crowds poured out of the stadium, walking in throngs back toward the main part of town. Joe and I proceeded to look for a taxi that could bring us back to Pousada Ecoverde (we had no chance of finding it on foot). We joined a taxi line a few blocks from the stadium, but no taxis were able to get through to the taxi stand, so we keot walking down the dame street until groups ahead of us began nabbing cabs driving toward the stadium; each cab would then make a U turn to get away from the stadium area. Finally, it was our turn; we reached the Pousada a bit after 9 PM. Joel Souza, whom we needed to reach to to find our driver back into the Pantanal, was nowhere to be found; at the suggestion of a guest, we looked for him at a bar/restaurant at a liocal square. It was 9:30 before we were on our way, and the driver was diverted from the direct road south, which poassed near the stadium, by a roadblock that had been erected so that team buses and their accompanying press could pass. It was 11:30 PM before we reached the Pousada Canto do Arancuã, with our pre-breakfast morning walk set to begin again at 5:30 AM (Joe decided to skip that walk).
It had been an exhausting day. Maybe crazy to have traveled into Cuiabá and back in a single day for a soccer game. But such is our World Cup this year.