The Beautiful Game

Sunday, September 9th 2007

Soldier's Field, Chicago, IL

I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the International Friendly that occurred this past weekend in Chicago between the USA and #1 World Rank, Brazil. The match was billed as 'Clash of the Champions' since Brazil won the CONMEBOL Cup and the US won the CONCACAF Cup - basically North American champ against the South American Champ. Perhaps Clash of the Champions was technically correct, although by that rationale, a match pitting American hero, Joey Chestnut against your uncle that can eat the most hotdogs at your family reunion would also qualify...so, whatever.

As the two or three of you who follow soccer can testify, this match was particularly exciting because Brazil was bringing some of the world's best footballers, namely Ronaldinho and Kaka. Yes, bigtime Brazilian soccer players go by one name. (When I discovered this phenomenon in high school, I instructed all of my teachers and friends to refrain from calling me Nick Swanson. From here on out I would simply go by 'The Hundley'.) Much like the previous Soldier's Field game I went to against Mexico, the crowd was at least 80% for the visiting team. Oddly enough, many people I talked to who were clad in Brazil jerseys were not Brazilian, nor had any family ties to Brazil, they simply liked them. What has become of patriotism?

The tailgating scene was not quite on par with the Iowa/NIU game the week before, but was spirited nonetheless. Samba and salsa music was all the rage, as was the practice of grilling exotic recipes on the charcoal grill. Being a previous US game tailgater, I decided to try my hand at doing some carne asada with beans and all the fixins. In what could only be deemed a great success, we actually had Sport TV from Brazil stop by our site and film me grilling and heating up refried beans. They were a might bit shocked to learn that I could not reply to their inquiries in Portuguese, and moved on. Yes, The Hundley is now a star in South America. Positively buzzed and working on great sunburns, we headed into the stadium to grab our $105 tickets.

The stadium was about 3/4 full, with the announced attendance being around 43,000, a far cry from the Mexico sellout, but still impressive. Seeing the teams warmup, I was shocked to see how hard the Brazilians went while warming up. Expecting to see loafing because they knew they could beat us with their B-squad, I was surprised to see the two hardest working were their two best players (and perhaps two of THE BEST in the world), Ronaldinho and Kaka. After going through the introductions and both anthems, it was time to roll.

I'll spare you the details (you can read a recap here if you wish), but know that watching Brazil play was watching poetry in motion. Yeah, that's a bit sappy, but look at it as if seeing Jordan carve fools up, or Maddux working efficiently in his prime. It was something that even soccer newbies noticed - "I don't really know much about soccer, but I know those guys are good."

The US played much better than I had anticipated, but even at 4-2, the game wasn't close. Brazil vastly outplayed and outworked the US, with Ronaldinho dictating the action and making the crowd 'Oooh' and 'Ahh' with his flashy dribbling and passing, and ultimately scoring an impressive goal from a free kick, Beckham be damned. The score would have been much worse had the US not had Tim Howard in the net deflecting point-blank shots and making spectacular saves, even after dislocating his finger.

I'm not here to try and convert you all to soccer, just bringing awareness of The World's Game. I'd strongly recommend watching a game sometime, preferably a European league game or an international competition. I think you'd definitely develop an appreciation for 'The Beautiful Game'. Otherwise you can just pepper the comments section with homophobic taunts! Ciao!

Click the pictures to see them in high-res. No I don't work for the AP, stop asking.


Both starting squads hit the field with their accompanying 'mini squads'.


US Defender Steve Cherundolo serves a long pass into the box


Ronaldinho on a corner kick


Bend it like 'El Gaucho'


Funny, DaMarcus, I don't remember you playing?


When in Rome, make carne asada. It may get you on Portuguese speaking TV.


I don't know how to say 'Super Fan' en portuguesa

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