Gameday is finally here! In an effort to get back to Manaus as early as possible, we took the first taxi out the next morning at 7am. Three (sleepy) hours later, we got dropped off at our hotel which was a ways out from the center of town. No one seemed to have heard of our hotel or the street it was on, mostly because our hotel was recently constructed in the middle of nowhere specifically to create more rooms during the World Cup. That certainly explained why, after months of fruitless searches for hotel availabilities in Manaus during the World Cup, this hotel magically appeared out of the blue 2 months before the event. Unfortunately, the price we paid for one night ($350) was also purely reflective of World Cup price gouging (normally $85/night).
Since we had a little bit of time to explore before the game, we decided to take a taxi into the Centro to check out the famed Teatro Amazonas. Built during the rubber boom in the 19th century, the theatre was seemingly out of place in the middle of the Amazon with its ornate jeweled dome and intricate ceilings. Recently revived, the theatre now serves as home to the Amazonas Philharmonic Orchestra, the Amazonas Chorus, and the Amazonas Dance Corps. Once back outside, we stumbled across a really cool market on a nearby street with local wares, fresh juices, and baked goods. Here, we were introduced to Brazil’s empadas, little pastries filled with sweet or savory fillings – doce de leite (aka dulce de leche) was our favorite (shocker).
By this point, it was time for us to begin making our way to the game, but not before making a pit stop – way out of our way – at Ponta Negra for the US Supporters pregame party. US Soccer and the American Outlaws had made arrangements to host pregame parties the night before and the hours leading up to each US match, and this one was in a pretty random space called “Classic Hall.” On the way there, we saw a bit of commotion with a helicopter and a ton of police cars by a military field – following the source of the commotion, we realized that leading the way for the massive entourage was the Portugal team bus. Pretty cool sighting! (alas, I wasn’t quick enough to find my camera and snap a quick shot) By the time we arrived at 2:30pm, the party was in full swing, and shortly thereafter, winding down as fans already began making their way out to the stadium in preparation for a 6pm kickoff. We stuck around for one drink – my first caipirinha in the country – and out of fear of missing out on the pregame festivities, hailed a taxi over to the stadium.
As expected, security check points were set up far from the stadium, so we got dropped off as close to the arena as possible and had a chance to take it all in on our walk into the stadium. Even though it was still more than 2 hours before kickoff, the area was very much alive with fandom. The stadium itself was brand new and pretty nice – the design was inspired to look like the local straw baskets indigenous to the region and the gutters served to recycle the plentiful rainwater the area receives. Inside the stadium, there were some fan activities set up but once you got to the concessions area, it was very standard throughout the stadium and across all stadiums: cheeseburgers, double hot dogs (quente-cachorro), chips, cold sandwiches, and beers. For a stadium, the beers were very reasonable – $4.50 apiece – but comparatively still inflated against the local going price of $1.
We looked at our tickets which appeared to be behind the goal, row A…hmmm, sounded too good to be true…but we walked down, and down some more, and lo and behold – our seats were literally in the FIRST row in the entire stadium! And to make matters sweeter, since we bought the tickets through the US Soccer Supporters Club, our seats were smack in the American Outlaws section. So not only were we in the most animated, spirited section in the stadium, but we were destined to be on TV when our section erupted after each of Team USA’s two goals that were scored right before our eyes. And every time a goal was scored, beers and cups went flying everywhere – and I mean everywhere – so being in the front row, we really got it all. But it was well worth it, to see both Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey’s goals to first tie the game, then take the lead. I was all ready to take a video of the massive celebration at the end of the game when in the 5th and last minute of stoppage time, Portugal scored a heartbreaker of a goal to stun the Americans into a 2-2 draw. The loud and crazy atmosphere quickly went silent although the irony was that going into the game, nearly every American would’ve killed to get a point just to stay alive. Nonetheless, it was a blast, and Doug and I both agreed it was the best sporting event either of us had been to. Those front row seats certainly didn’t hurt the case!
After the game, in an effort to wait out traffic, we stopped by Arena Bar, a rather large warehousey space that served food and drinks directly adjacent to the stadium. Here, we enjoyed a few more Brahmas and croquetas and watched the fateful goal over, and over, and over again…
HOW WE DID IT:
Match tickets were bought through the US Soccer Supporters site (redirected via FIFA’s official ticketing site). There were several windows during the World Cup lottery period (November, January, February) and after numerous failed attempts, we finally scored tickets in the February drawing. Definitely a good call to apply for tickets through the country you support since the likelihood of sitting with fellow supporters is far higher.
Stayed at Hotel Talissa 1 for just a night while we were in the city, which we booked through Booking.com. It was otherwise too expensive during the World Cup to stay for longer although it would’ve been cool to explore more of Manaus.