The final match in Salvador featured the fewest goals but the most drama. As this was my sixth match here, I felt comfortable in the routine and waited until Argentina defeated Belgium before getting on the bus to the stadium. I was more than a little melancholy knowing this was my last match of the tournament.
Since this was a quarterfinal, seats were at a premium and I was stationed close to the goal about even with the six yard box. It would’ve been a great seat had there been any goals but there weren’t. It was a great match none the less with plenty of excellent goalkeeping and defensive work to deal with all the chances that presented themselves. I have been supporting the Netherlands throughout this tournament and am happy to report that they advanced to the semifinals on penalties.
I hung around in my seat as the rest of the crowd left, chatting with two fellows who live in Tokyo now but are from Wales and New York. Savoring the memories of all the games here, I wanted to bask in the afterglow for as long as possible but, nature called, as they say.
After taking care of that important business, I stopped by the official souvenir stand to see what was left and saw something that would make an excellent gift. Unfortunately, these souvenir stands are fine examples of the lack of forethought and organization that I’ve noticed throughout my stay. In this case the customers mass at the counter to examine what’s available and then try to get the attention of the four or five people running around behind the counters collecting the items for purchase. There is no line for customers and the workers are so frazzled that they just deal with the loudest person demanding attention.
I’m no good at demanding attention and patience wasn’t working as Brazilians were muscling in front of me and being served. Fortunately, someone had left a clothes hanger on the counter so I grabbed it and used it to extend my reach and got the attention of the fellow I believe was the manager because he didn’t seem to be doing very much. I didn’t have enough Portuguese to make my case that no one was helping me so I tried to put as much frustration into my voice as possible, speak in English and point at the item I wished to purchase. At first he seemed to indicate that I had to wait so I increased my frustration level 15% and tried again. I’d like to think that he saw the problem and stepped up to fill the gap but I’m pretty sure he just wanted to get rid of me.
That’s not the end. Rather than take my money and give me the item, the process is to put the item in a bag, give the customer a number associated with the bag and then have the customer stand in a line. So I go from one bottleneck to another and stand at the end of the line but know that at least my purchase is waiting for me. Of course, Brazilians don’t have any trouble jumping queues or cutting in line or even both. Everyone was getting frustrated and after at least 40 minutes, I checked my clock, I finally made it to front and paid for the item. This was probably an hour after the match concluded.
While later than I usually leave the stadium, I was pretty sure things would be safe for my walk to the bus. While I wouldn’t be packed into a crowd, I assumed there’d still be people partying along the way. As I approached the north exit, I saw the Netherlands team bus leaving and then noticed that the north exit was blocked. Some stewards has closed a gate in the fence, preventing me and a couple of dozen other fans from proceeding. I thought maybe it was so the Netherlands bus could leave unimpeded but that wasn’t the case as they still weren’t letting us out even after the bus was long gone.
I asked the steward in my best Portuguese which way I should go to get to my bus and, using hand gestures, he asked me to wait. Once again the crowd was getting frustrated. Maybe the stewards were making a reasonable case in Portuguese to the locals but they didn’t seem satisfied. My steward wandered into the middle of the crowd so I look around to determine my next best alternate route when I felt the crowd move. I turn to see that a few people had made it through the gate and the steward was trying to close it again, increasing the anger of the remaining fans. I am not exactly sure what happened next but suddenly the gate was flung open. I think someone in the crowd physically overwhelmed the steward but I did not see it. Moving with the crowd I quickly walked through the gate while other stewards on the outside swarmed to herd us back. Something happened behind because instead of being herded, the stewards rushed past me to deal with whatever was going on behind me. I thought it best to continue walking away briskly as the police took notice and moved in.
Needless to say, I made it back to my apartment safely but it left a sour taste in my mouth after a marvelous match and a magnificent month of football.