|Gavin joined the Dutch fans in rooting on their beloved Oranje in Salvador.|
After less than 24 hours in São Paulo, I flew Salvador, the capital of Bahia state. While today Salvador is known as "the friendly city of Brazil", its history isn't quite so happy; Salvador was a major hub for Brazil's slave trade. Today it still has a high concentration of African-Brazilians, and has become a cultural hub. Brazilian dance style Capoeira originates in Salvador, where the music is heavily drum-based, making it easy to lay down a beat and start a street party.
That is exactly what happened the day of the World Cup's opening match. By lunchtime, the excitement was already evident in Salvador when drum group Olodum began a performance in a central square. (Check these guys out, they are legit. They were in the Michael Jackson video "They Don't Care About Us".) By 3PM the square had evolved into a sea of yellow, green, and blue as everyone—Brazilian or otherwise—was sporting Brazil's colors. (I had always suspected that at the World Cup, the host nation becomes everyone's de facto second-favorite team after their home country, and this was definitely the case with the Aussies, Brits, and Americans I was hanging out with.)
|Salvador holds over 2,000 churches, but none more magnificent than the Church of São Francisco.|
A collective groan echoed across the city when Croatia, not Brazil, surprisingly scored first, via an own goal. However, the misery was short-lived, as the Brazilians struck back quickly; when star Neymar scored, a seismic eruption of noise reverberated through the streets. Brazil eventually managed a 3-1 victory, but not without some controversy over a dubious penalty call for Brazil and an equally bad decision to disallow a potential second Croatia goal. But with Brazil's win in the bag, the conversation quickly shifted to the next day's match in Salvador: Spain v. Netherlands.
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|Salvador's Pelourinho district is home to richly colored buildings that reminded of the Rainbow Row in Charleston.|
In the stadium, I found my seat behind one of the goals, in the midst of a large group of Spanish fans. I started to chat with some of the Spanish supporters, who were immediately upset at the sight of my Germany jersey (a major rival). I migrated over to a small pocket of Dutch fans, who had soon painted a Dutch flag on my face. My earlier decision to remain neutral for this match now forgotten, I became a Holland supporter.
|Before the fateful match, Dutch supporters filled a Salvador city square.|
The Brazilians in the audience, by contrast, spent their time heckling Spanish striker Diego Costa, a Brazilian-born star who had turned his back on the nation of his birth to play for Spain. Every time he touched the ball, he was greeted with boos and lewd chants.
Costa and his side dominated the match until late in the first half, when Dutch striker Robin van Persie scored on an amazing diving header. Inspired, the Dutch came out on fire in the second half and took it to the Spaniards. Arjen Robben, who I have seen terrorize teams back in Germany's Bundesliga, controlled a long ball, cut inside on his left foot, shook two defenders, and chipped the ball over the onrushing Spanish goalkeeper. The stadium erupted.
|Not bad seats to see a historic game!|
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As I left the stadium (to rendez-vous with some new Aussi friends and cheer them on in their match against Chile), a few Brazilians sitting nearby told me, "Good luck to the USA, we will be cheering for you!" I thanked them and smiled, excited to soon head to Natal to cheer on the USA. As much as I enjoyed Spain v. Holland, I had no real ties to either country. I wanted to be among Uncle Sam's Army screaming for OUR team, singing OUR songs, and wildly celebrating OUR goals.
Fortunately, I will link up with Uncle Sam's Army on Monday, and be in the stadium when we finally open our World Cup against Ghana. I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!
|Despite forgetting his funny Dutch triangle hat at home, Gavin still managed to make some new friends.|