Wednesday, 16 July 2014 | MYT 9:17 PM
Thrilling trip to land of Jogo Bonito a feast for the senses
The Budweiser team members, winners and local media in Rio de Janeiro for the World Cup Finals.
BRAZIL – the land of sun, sea, sand, samba and soccer (though not necessarily in that order) – has always intrigued me.
It seemed like a place where the fun never ends.
So, when I was invited by Luen Heng F&B Sdn Bhd, the sole importer of Budweiser in this region, to travel to Rio de Janeiro to catch a World Cup semi-final match live last week, I was thrilled to bits!
I thought the chance of going to Brazil to watch even one match had passed me by because by the time the call came, it had been three weeks since the World Cup began.
The invitation came on June 27 – courtesy of Luen Heng F&B Sdn Bhd general manager Kenneth Soh.
And so, on July 6, there I was – together with two Chinese daily reporters (Ling Leong Seng of China Press and Chuah Gek Keng of Sin Chew) and two winners of the Budweiser World Cup contest (Chee Wai Meng and Kamalesa Rao Letchimanan) – all set to fly off to Rio de Janeiro.
After nearly 30 hours of flying (including two stopovers), we finally landed in Rio.
And guess what?
Our hotel was located right in front of the world-famous Copacabana beach!
How lucky can you get?
We had an eye-ful watching the girls in their skimpy bikinis. We also had a whale of a time by the beach just people-watching (or what some would call ogling!) and taking a dip in the icy-cold waters of the Atlantic ocean.
We also did the usual touristy stuff – like visiting the world-famous Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain over the first two days, not to mention trying out the local cuisine – and drinks.
A trip to Rio will never be complete until you’ve visited the two most iconic beaches – Copacabana and Ipanema. We walked the length (well almost) of both the beaches.
Then came the first of the two semi-final matches. We watched the first – between hosts Brazil and Germany – at the FIFA Fan Fest area on the Copacabana beach with the thousands of Brazilian fans.
Although the match started at 5pm, the beach was already a hive of activity from as early as 10am as hordes of Brazil fans began making their way to the beach, turning it into a sea of yellow and green!
Our group headed out to the beach at 4pm – an hour before kick-off and the beach was already full.
It began to rain but that didn’t stop the Brazilians – or us – from turning back or running to seek shelter.
Although our group got separated in the crowd, Ms Chuah, Kamal and I managed to stay together.
But even that didn’t last long – as we lost Kamal in the crowd.
It seemed like the whole of Brazil was there at the beach.
I did the customary picture-taking with the Brazilian fans – mostly girls, of course (although I’m sure my wife doesn’t mind, I think!).
Once the match kicked off, the noise level reached a crescendo.
Almost everyone there was rooting for the five-time champions. Unfortunately, the steely Germans had other ideas.
Joachim Loew’s men obviously didn’t read the script, plonking in four goals in quick succession.
When the first goal went in, the Brazilian fans were surprised. It didn’t bother them that much.
Then the second one went in. They were a bit worried but not unduly alarmed.
Then the third one went in. This time they were cursing and swearing. I may not understand a word they said, but I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant to the ears!
The moment the fourth goal went in, they were furious! But that was also the moment when everything turned chaotic at the Fan Fest area.
Suddenly, there was a loud explosion nearby – as if someone had fired a shot or let off fireworks.
And before you know it, the fans nearer to the beach began pushing and shoving their way towards the road side.
Everyone began running for safety, afraid of being crushed in the human stampede!
I was scared and was about to bolt off to when I remembered Ms Chuah. Turning to her, I grabbed her hand and we both pushed and shoved our way to safety as well.
Once we reached the road side – and away from the human stampede on the beach – we turned to see what was the cause of it all.
Frankly, I have to admit that I actually thought that it was the tsunami!
After asking around for a while, we found out that the people were actually trying to flee from a fisticuff between rival fans near the edge of the beach.
Once the police moved in and arrested several suspects, things slowly got back to normal. The fans returned to watch the game – although many preferred to watch it from afar this time.
It was a miracle that no one was seriously injured in the stampede.
Those who stayed to watch must have regretted their decision as Brazil were trounced 7-1 by the mighty German juggernaut.
Credit though to the Brazilian fans as they celebrated their team’s consolation goal as if they had won the World Cup!
At the end of the game, there was a downpour! It seems as if even the gods were crying for Brazil.
The next day we left for Sao Paulo – about an hour’s flight away – to watch the second semi-final between Argentina and Holland at the Arena Corinthians.
This time, the only real excitement we experienced was seeing the samba dancers up close and personal as they wiggled and jiggled their way in the skimpiest of clothing.
As for the match, it was a cagey affair and the real thrill came in the penalty shootout. I was glad Argentina came out tops (can’t stand the sight of Manchester United’s Robin van Persie or their new manager Louis van Gaal in the final!).
So, that was my first ever trip to a World Cup Finals. And what a trip it was.
Thanks Luen Heng – and Budweiser!
Now, bring on Russia 2018!