Matthew Niederhauser is reporting from Brazil with support from the Pulitzer Center.
My second contribution to this blog also requires a short preamble. I love Salvador. I first came here in 2006 to experience its carnival, one of the largest street parties on the planet. It was madness. I spent a week consumed by music, dancing, and other frivolities. The city is truly captivating with its amalgamation of highrises, hills, colonial architecture, beaches, and favelas. When flying in from above, it emerges as a rich, textured urban carpet. The beautiful beaches of Bahia are also near at hand for those looking for an immersive tropical experience. All in all, a great place to be for the World Cup.
Unfortunately my travel schedule only allowed for about 12 hours in Salvador. I tried to head directly to the newly constructed Arena Forte Nova but immediately got snarled in about two hours of traffic. Salvador is not always very conducive for vehicular travel, especially while hosting its first World Cup match. There are interesting shortcuts through the confounding warren of streets, but they often leave you in an even more bottlenecked situation. After finally putting down my bags in a friend's hotel room, I headed over to the Arena Forte Nova. It is actually a spectacular sight—completely different from the boxish eyesore that is the new Corinthians edifice in Sao Paulo. The Arena Forte Nova's saucer-like shape is nestled between two hillsides covered with a mishmash of housing. Then there is a lagoon winding away from its base. It fits in and stands out wonderfully amongst the jigsaw patterns of Salvador.
As I began to roam around the stadium, I definitely felt the tug to go inside and see Spain and Holland go at it again. I was in South Africa for the last World Cup and ended up following the Dutch team as they progressed through the knockout rounds. It was shaping up to be a classic rematch from the finals four years ago. However, I also started to get addicted to hearing the roar of the fans whenever a goal was scored or some other excitement occurred. The voice of the stadium resounded through the tiny vale that the Arena Forte Nova occupies. It sent shivers down my spine. I actually spent most of the match with a nice family having a boisterous barbecue in a favela overlooking the stadium. Beers and steaks were being handed around freely as neighbors streamed in and out. The politics of Sao Paulo seemed far away. There was an amazing view of the clouds moving over the stadium and letting out short cloud bursts from off the ocean. The poorest neighborhoods in Brazil often have the best overlooks.
Anyway, I must digress now into match commentary. Holland humiliated Spain, especially Casillas in goal. When the Dutch are firing on all cylinders, they are hard to stop, especially if van Persie is on form. What an amazing header. Robben also put on a clinic with his outstanding footwork. Holland came out of the gate with a start, and if their confidence continues, they will be hard to stop. My heart is still with the Brazilian team (and secretly hoping for a USA win), but there is going to be some stiff competition out there. I must now run off to another classic matchup, England versus Italy in Manaus. It's going to be a rumble in the jungle. More details to come tomorrow.