Loyola graduates report from the World Cup

By Brigid Hamilton  |  Photos courtesy of Michael Tirone, '08

A love of the game and an invitation from natives they had met while traveling in Asia years before inspired Michael Tirone and Colin Martin, ’08, to attend the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.

But it was a love of the World Cup itself that had them packing their bags for Brazil and the 2014 tournament last month, eager to see how the mix of passion, patriotism, and play would transform the South American host nation.

“We thought, if a country like South Africa whose second favorite sport is soccer (the majority of South Africans prefer playing and watching cricket) could be that alive during the World Cup, Brazil would be even grander, being as it is ‘the mecca of futebol’,” Tirone said.

So the two friends, who met during their freshman year at Loyola and first bonded over their love of the game on the men’s club soccer team, bought plane tickets to Rio for a return trip to world’s largest sporting event.

Martin and Tirone, '08, atop Corcovado in front of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro

Brazil bound

“The people in Brazil were very warm and welcoming, but also incredibly prideful and passionate towards their host nation’s team—almost to a fault,” Tirone said.

“They were focused on one thing throughout the four weeks of the tournament, and it was winning their sixth trophy. The cities showed great hospitality to international fans, but everything was draped in green and yellow and expectation. And with good cause. Brazil is the most successful nation in World Cup history.”

This was a far cry from their time in South Africa, a nation with little experience in the World Cup with no expectations for success. Tirone and Martin had found traveling in South Africa to be relatively easy, due to the proximity of the stadiums to cities and the fact that the majority of South Africans speak English, and it wasn’t difficult to get tickets to the games they wanted to see.

But the sheer size of Brazil proved to be challenging for travelers. A language barrier was more apparent. And obtaining tickets for matches was difficult, due to the complicated FIFA lottery system and the fact that Brazil was the most popular host nation in World Cup history.

“In South Africa we saw upwards to nine matches in beautifully built stadiums. In Brazil we saw two matches, and both stadiums still showed signs of further construction, similar to the many unfinished airports that were pre-maturely opened because of the World Cup,” Tirone explained.

A panoramic view of the newly built (and not yet completed) Arenas das Dunas in Natal, where the Italy vs. Uruguay match was held

Memorable matches

Still, Tirone said the games they were able to spectate from stadium seats were memorable for different reasons. They attended the Uruguay vs. Italy match in Natal, a coastal city in the northeastern part of the country. Two days later, they cheered on the United States in Recife.

And they attended matches outside of the famous stadiums as well. While in Foz de Iguaçu, they crossed the border into Argentina to watch among the locals as Argentina played Iran in a nail-biter.

“A day trip over the border to Brazil’s disdained rival got us awesome panoramas of the Iguaçu Waterfalls. After taking a speedboat ride inside and underneath one of the world’s largest falls, we dried off our clothes and watched the match with hundreds of Argentinians on television. We got to see Lionel Messi score the game-winning goal in the dying minutes of the match,” Tirone remembered.

Waving the American flag to celebrate a U.S. victory over Ghana at the FIFA Fan Fest on Copacabana Beach, Rio

The most exciting and memorable USA match they watched was the first group stage match against Ghana.

“We were at the FIFA Fan Fest in Rio on Copacabana Beach with our feet in the sand with thousands of other fans watching the massive screen. We scored the first goal in 29 seconds, and then the game-winning goal with just minutes remaining… The celebrations afterwards felt as if we were in the stadium as it happened, and lasted throughout the night,” he said.

“It’s a moment I won’t soon forget.”

Making Uncle Sam proud

While both Tirone and Martin rooted for the United States, Tirone also supported Italy, “the home of my paternal grandparents,” and enjoyed rooting for African nations who are, more often than not, the underdogs in their matches.

As far as fans go, Tirone proudly reports the United States had one of the best contingencies in Brazil (and in fact, the United States was the world’s second-largest market for World Cup tickets, behind only the host nation).

Tirone and Martin proudly displaying their country's colors.

“As an America, I was proud to drape myself in my country’s flag and support a team that I truly believed in and enjoyed watching play,” Tirone said.

“Sadly, I think the World Cup and the Olympic Games are some of the few occasions that people can proudly—and safely—wave their country’s flag in a foreign land without ridicule or harassment. I did so happily and, at times, comically,” he admitted.

“For the USA vs. Germany match, we wore full-body American flag onesies with red, white, and blue scarfs, flags, hats, and memorabilia.

“We had pictures taken of us by fans from the U.S., Brazil, Germany, and France. FIFA employees posed with us. Complete strangers politely asked us to pose with them, and some locals asked if they could have our American flags and scarfs,” he said.

Rain in Recife

In Recife, the climate was not ideal, to say the least.

Brazil’s fifth-largest city, which lies about 200 miles south of Natal on the coast, endured more rain in three days than the city typically sees in a year. Torrents of rain soaked players, fans, and the field for 12 straight hours.

“The locals claimed it was the most amount of rain they had seen in the city their entire life,” Tirone said. “An eight-hour traffic jam on match day resulted in us taking the metro with thousands of other fans, but some fans were not as lucky. We met dozens of USA fans that missed our final group stage match versus Germany due to the mass flooding.”

On their packed metro ride to the stadium in Recife, Tirone and Martin saw neighborhoods that had been completely devastated by flooding. “Families were fighting to save their belongings and homes. The water level reached the roofs of the houses,” he remembered.

“It was a surreal experience seeing people’s lives being jeopardized by Mother Nature while we rode a metro overflowing with happy, chanting fans.”

“Seeing the world as it changes”

This trip was about soccer, yes. But it was also about new experiences.

Together, Tirone and Martin traveled over 6,000 miles across the country, eating the delicious local cuisine; playing soccer with other fans and locals on the beach; hiking to the top of Corcovado Mountain to the Christ the Redeemer statue; and reuniting with friends they met during their time at the World Cup in South Africa four years ago.

Flip-flops stand in as goalposts on the beach in Natal

If he hadn’t attended Loyola and taken part in the opportunities for travel, service, and cultural immersion the University offers and encourages (specifically the Bangkok program, through which he studied and then taught abroad in 2006 and 2008-2010, respectively), Tirone says he would never have found himself on this and other international adventures.

“I would not be nearly as interested in, comfortable with, or utterly passionate towards travel. And a lot of that has to do with Father Nash and his tremendous dedication to the (Thailand) program, the school, the spiritual education behind international travel and leadership.”

“Thanks to all that Loyola has offered me, I have been able to not only learn and serve in the changing world, but I have gotten to see much of the world as it changes.”

Tirone, who received his degree in Communications from Loyola, lives in Baltimore, where he works in digital marketing at R2integrated and as a freelance photographer for his own company.

As for his next adventure, he has already his sights on World Cup 2018… in Russia.

Bookmark and Share

No Comments

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment