defender Henri Bedimo drags him down by his cheek. There’s a buzz of anticipation as Neymar Jr stands over the free-kick just outside the box. As he shanks it, the airport in Brazil howls collectively.
“Can we watch the Mexico-Croatia game instead?” suggests a Brazil fan lucky enough to be seated on a bean bag, to a ripple of giggles. With three teams in Group A in contention for two Round of 16 berths, both matches are being played simultaneously. The second one is being played in the far away Arena Pernambuco in Recife, not inches away from where we’re seated.
Viewing Brazil doesn’t get any easier, not when defender Allan Nyom’s assist helps Cameroon equalise in the 26th minute, just seconds after he was caught on camera intentionally felling Neymar miles off the ball.
Had the referee seen it, Nyom would’ve been booked, if not sent off. But as the man who shouldn’t have been there in the first place celebrated, others who desperately wanted to be there growled. For us, the wretched match had finally come alive.
Every try, touch and tackle is cheered; no one is lying down anymore. The Selecao respond by stepping up their collective game in the second half, qualifying top of the group with a resounding 4-1 win. Now, the scenes inside the airport are not too different from what it must be outside the stadium but this joy, too, is short-lived.
About an hour after the game ends, spectators from the Estadio Nacional return to the airport drunk on success, with trumpets and flags they had blown and planted recently at the summit. Now we’re back to loathing them, as they pass us on their way down from greatness.