From the opening match between Brazil and Croatia, I knew that I’ve never experienced a sporting event like the World Cup and would probably never see anything like it again.
I didn’t fly in for the tournament like thousands of others. Instead, Rio de Janeiro is currently my home. I’ve watched the city’s excitement steadily grow as the World Cup drew nearer–streamers and flags hung and Cariocas proudly sporting their country’s colors. Take away the very small number of protesters and I’ve seen a unified and welcoming city.
Many would argue that Brazil is the spiritual home of futbol, and the country hosting the World Cup is like pouring gas on a flame. It’s difficult to put into words the atmosphere of Rio when Brazil is playing. The hours leading up to the matches are frenzied–horns, whistles, the pounding of drums, fireworks, and people cheering in the streets. Cariocas are given at least half days off for the matches, even if they’re not being played in the city. Bars and restaurants are filled to the brim, and humble beach kiosks have sandy customers glued to small televisions.
In stark contrast, once the game begins the city is eerily quiet. It’s like the apocalypse has arrived. Beaches and streets are deserted, and stores are either closed or empty. Only after Brazil scores a goal are you reminded that you’re in a city of over six million. The din of cheers is deafening.
The World Cup is more than a massive sports-themed party. It’s a connector. People from around the globe are brought together by their love of futbol and country. I’ve seen a rainbow of nations together hoisting beers and reliving the day’s matches. It’s not about politics, religion, or country borders.
It’s about futbol.
From the moment I witnessed the throng of fans along Copacabana during the World Cup’s opening match, I knew that I wanted to capture people from each of the 32 nations. Between the enthusiasm, costumes, national pride, and alcohol, the fans have become my favorite thing about the World Cup. Some countries have been simple to find, while others have proved to be elusive. I’m currently missing seven five countries, but I will continue to seek them out.
I was hoping to get a group shot of the Algerians, but they were intently negotiating the price and validity of a pair of tickets. I wouldn’t dare interrupt such important business. Meanwhile, the only other Algerian I saw was cashing in on his 15 minutes of fame by doing a TV interview.
Honestly, I don’t know who is actually left in Argentina, because it feels like the entire country is in Rio. These guys were absolutely nuts. As they danced down Copacabana singing, other Argentinians joined in. It was like some kind of baby blue Broadway show. There’s not much that makes me laugh more than watching Brazilians roll their eyes when Argentinians break into song. It’s such a great rivalry.
I’ve seen quite a few Aussies, and they’ve all been mild mannered. I know. SHOCKING. But next to the Argentinians, every other fan appears to be in a coma.
After over a week of searching, I finally spotted these two Belgian fans. Sitting at the table next to me, they were celebrating Belgium’s victory over Russia.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
These three weren’t what you’d call gregarious, but were nice enough to let me take their photo. Now, I did have dinner next to two guys from Bosnia, and they were much more talkative. As children they’d fled to Copenhagen during the war, and when B & G qualified for the World Cup, the guys decided to support their birth country by following the team around Brazil.
As you can imagine, I have my pick of Brazilian fans. Rio has been drenched in green and gold for nearly a month, but these two fan photos are my favorites.
This little girl was shopping for a new game day shirt with her grandmother when she took off her Brazil-themed headband and fixed her hair. She just might be the next Adriana Lima.
While everyone was intently watching the final minutes of the Brazil vs Croatia match, I was watching the crowd. Just seconds after I snapped this photo, this woman and the crowd erupted as Brazil scored its third and final goal of the game.
In Rio, Cameroon fans are as elusive as a one-piece bathing suit. I did happen to see this guy, who isn’t actually from Cameroon, but was sporting the jersey. I’ll take what I can get.
There are a ton of Chilean fans in Rio, and I have a love-hate relationship with them. Every time I see their flag I do a double take. It is far too similar to my beloved Texas flag.
Though they be but small in number, they are fierce. Cheer on, Colombia!
According to oddsmakers, Costa Rica was the longest of long shots to win the World Cup. However, after great showings against Uruguay and Italy, the Ticos are propelled to the round of 16. I’d imagine that beating Italy was easier than finding an actual Costa Rican fan on the streets of Rio. Thank goodness for this guy. Pura Vida!
Let it be known that I’ve seen several Croatian fans sporting their checker board jerseys. However, none of those times did I have my DSLR with me.
Apparently this guy is representing the entire country of Ecuador in Rio. Well done, sir.
Well, the World Cup hasn’t quite gone as the English would have hoped. I wonder if this guy will get a tattoo of a dagger through his heart to commemorate the early ousting.
I found these French fans in a sea of red during their game against Switzerland. Considering the thumping France gave the Swiss, it’s no wonder they’re smiling.
What’s better than one man in lederhosen? SIX men in lederhosen! Prost, Deutschland!
I figured Ghana would be one of the more difficult countries to find, and I was right. Luckily, this guy appeared out of nowhere on Ipanema on the afternoon before the USA played Ghana. After I snapped the photo, he told me that Ghana would again defeat America. Not so fast guy from Ghana…
If the Greek fans look anything like their national team then I’m REALLY missing out. I’ve not given up on my search, that’s for sure.
As the sun was dipping below the horizon, Greece appeared at the Arpoador. He’d just arrived in Rio that day, and I was lucky enough to spot him.
I’d be more likely to find Honduras on a map with my eyes closed than another one of their fans in Rio.
Iran is another country that I thought would be difficult to spot. Turns out, this couple was one of my very first photos.
Mamma mia! Finding a good carbanara in Rio is a hell of a lot easier than finding an actual Italian. This literally is the only fan I’ve seen. Has their 2006 World Cup championship memory faded so quickly? Where are you, Italy?!?
I knew that finding an Ivory Coast fan would be a challenge. Not only is it a small country, but the team doesn’t play in Rio at all. Alas, I’ll keep looking.
These guys from Japan are among my favorite fans that I’ve encountered. Look at them! What great senses of humor, which I predict will come in handy after Japan is eliminated from the tournament.
The fans from Mexico have been many, and I’d have to give them the award for most creative. From their sombreros to the mariachi costumes to their good-natured ribbing of opponents, Mexico is one of the teams I’m rooting for not named USA. I want to see what Mexico’s fans will do for the elimination rounds. I predict people wearing golden eagle costumes with rubber snakes in their mouths.
What can I say about this Dutch group of guys? They were beyond drunk and possibly the most happy people on Copacabana. I just wish I’d gotten a photo of their orange clogs.
Nigeria, where are you?
Meet João and Sara of Spirits Trek. This Portuguese couple have been traveling, working, and volunteering around the Caribbean, Central America, and South America for several years. They’ve made their way to Brazil for the World Cup, as well as to visit family. I was fortunate to spend a few days with this brilliant couple and look forward to seeing them again soon. And in no way am I holding Portugal’s tying, last second goal against João and Sara. They can’t help where they were born.
Perhaps the most surprising of all my missing countries is Russia. Normally I can’t travel anywhere without running into a Russian. I suppose Rio is the exception.
Finally, I found Russia! I jumped up from my beachfront table and chased these guys down Copacabana. They were very happy to have me take their photo. Can’t you tell?!?
These Spanish fans were grinning ear to ear prior to their game against Chile. Hours later, however, they were crying in their beers. Spain’s hopes of winning back-to-back World Cup championships were crushed like mazuela grapes.
In 2002, South Korea co-hosted the World Cup with Japan. That year the country also finished in fourth place. Perhaps they are still celebrating that showing at home, because I’ve not seen one hint of a South Korean anywhere in Rio.
I had my choice of Swiss fans, as the country’s tourism board has taken over a bar at Lagoa near my house. The tropical-style outdoor bar has been transformed to a mountain chalet, complete with sheepskin rugs, skis, and a massive TV screen for watching World Cup matches. I was a bit nervous about asking any of the Swiss fans for a photo considering France was whipping them, but this guy had a friendly face.
I’ve heard many Americans on the street and in restaurants, but finding fans wearing the stars and stripes has been another story. Finally, the team’s first game rolled around, and I spotted a guy in a red, white, and blue body suit. He definitely takes national pride to another level.
And what can be said about the trio of proud Americans? I caught them doing pullups on the exercise equipment on Ipanema. Guys, I salute you!
Tiny Uruguay has won two World Cup titles, which include the first tournament in 1930 and 1950, when they beat host country, Brazil. Perhaps Brazil is still bitter about that loss and have banned Uruguayans from entering the country. You never know with this futbol-mad nation.