Jermaine Jones, a Rastafari by nature and a USA defensive midfielder by profession, captures the ball from a mistimed clearance. Then follows a momentary pause, where Jones cranes his neck left and right in quick succession, searching for reinforcements. No one is around, so the dreadlocked midfielder decides to go for glory.
The ball screams into the back of the net — 1-1 — and USA are on level terms with mighty Portugal. But the celebration images from the gigantic screen don’t seem to match the reactions at the fan-fest I’m at in, Copacabana, Rio. Obviously, the Portuguese fans have been stunned into silence. But what about the Americans?
Well, to put it plainly, they don’t seem to give a hoot.
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“Was that it?” asks a confused man in an Uncle Sam jumper standing just in front of me, to his lady friend dressed like the Statue of Liberty. “I’m so glad that I didn’t spend thousands of dollars to go to Manaus to watch this live. My buddies were doing their best to convince me but soccer is not really a spectator sport, is it?”
My first reaction is to smell my drink. Seems fine. Then I check my ears. No wax. Then Miss Liberty confirms my able eavesdropping abilities with this reply. “I mean, it’s crazy that so many countries go crazy about this sport and good for them. But soccer is no basketball. It’s not end to end stuff. And where are the cheergirls? I was a cheergirl. To be honest, you need cheergirls in a sport like this to tune up the excitement. I mean, our moves with the pom poms will kill them.”
I want to kill myself first. It’s the 64th minute of the most exciting match of the World Cup so far and Team USA (having come from behind to beat Ghana in their opener) are playing a most mesmeric brand of attacking football to convince Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest of this world that they are no pushovers. Everyone seems to be convinced, except those waving the stars and stripes around me.
Thanks to their proximity to South America, they are all around too. To my left and right at the fan fest, in the bunks above and besides me in my youth hostel. On the dance floor and at every beach in Rio. And, most importantly, they’re in my ears. “When there’s a ‘touchdown’, why don’t they play music at these fan zones to get us all excited?” continues Uncle Sam. “I mean, it is the free world right? Can’t they play music?”
There are 80,000 screaming fans, mainly Brazilians and Portuguese, chanting at the fan-fest — seems like music enough for me. So I decide to ask Miss Liberty just why she came to Brazil during a World Cup in the first place. “It’s a group thing, you know? Most of the boys in Uni (university) wanted to get here to be a part of a crazy party,” she says, pointing towards a herd of men lounging about on beach-chairs turned away from the large screen.
They don’t seem very interested, not even when captain Clint Dempsey puts USA (or USMNT, as the Americans call their football team) ahead in the 81st minute. Dempsey is on the verge of knocking Portugal out and taking USA through to the knock-outs. The idling herd, though, is on the verge of of taking their USA flags to the closest nightclub. “The football’s nearly over for the day, guys,”says one herd member to another. “Time for the real party to begin.”
It’s the 95th minute, the fifth and final unit of injury time. Thirty seconds after the herd leaves and thirty seconds before Portugal is knocked out, Silvestre Varela meets a Ronaldo cross with his head and hammers in the equaliser. All of Rio explodes. The Portuguese fans begin their party on the streets and the Americans do same in the bars.
Were those USA fans gut-wrenched? No, they didn’t give a hoot in the first place.