By Mike Woitalla
The viewing area at the Copacabana Fan Fest is long but narrow -- about 30 yards wide. So there's not much elbowroom, even when it's below its 20,000-person capacity.
But the fans circumvent a sand castle adorned with plastic beer cups a 7-year-old girl, wearing a Mexico jersey, is working on two hours after El Tri’s elimination. By now the Greece-Costa Rica game is underway. The young man at the Information Booth says for more popular matchups, one can barely move. The line to enter has reached half a mile.
Many of the queries he gets are from people who have had their wallets or phones stolen. “But that can happen anywhere,” he says.
He’s worked every game, he says, but did not hear about the woman reported being stabbed by a group of boys who tried to steal her purse on Saturday. He’s seen just one fight, between rivals of Brazilian clubs, and says it wasn’t severe.
Today is completely peaceful and friendly -- and surprisingly sober. Some Mexican fans, as they slalom through the crowd, sing “Cielito Lindo,” belting out the chorus, “Ay, ay, ay, ay, Canta y no llores” (Sing, don’t cry).
The first six fans I meet are from Brazil, the USA, Argentina, Germany, England and Australia.
At the Information Booth, I ask about the food selection, as I can’t seem to find any concessions besides beer -- a 12-ounce Brahma costs $2.75 – soda and water. “They only sell hot dogs and they taste like s***,” he says.
Fan Fests became a big part of the World Cup experience in 2006 in Germany, where 16 million cumulatively watched games on the big screens throughout the tournament.
The Copacabana Fan Fest is on the beach, but you can’t see the ocean because the fest is enclosed by temporary metal wall. Besides a zip line, and the high-quality big screen, most notable are booths of various World Cup sponsors.
We leave at halftime to find a more comfortable place to watch the game and get a snack -- Aipim frito (yucca fries). Costa Rica wins when Michael Umana slams home the deciding shootout penalty kick. Every one in the place celebrates the Costa Rica win although none appear to be Ticos.
Umana, now with Saprissa, played 15 games for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2005 and 50 for Chivas USA in 2010-11. Columbus Crew defender Giancarlo Gonzalez also converted his penalty kick. It’s the second straight day that a player with MLS connections starred in a shootout. On Saturday, Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar stopped two shots against Chile to save the host from a shocking early elimination. Julio Cesar, after losing his starting spot at Queens Park Rangers played seven games for Toronto FC to prepare for the World Cup.
All the morning newspapers featured Julio Cesar on the front page with most of them calling him the “savior.”
The Brazilian performance had been most discouraging for a team expected to win the World Cup, but the fans are keeping the faith. “We’ll get better” … “The referee robbed us of two penalty kicks” … “The win showed we have luck on our side.”
A 60-something woman we’ve asked for directions uses the expression “pernas de pau” to describe Brazil’s performance against Chile. They played as if they had “wooden legs.”
“But they’ll still win the World Cup,” she says.