May 18, 2013
Friday & Saturday
Apologies for holding back this update for 24 hours--weather forced the cancellation of yesterday's planned boat trip to a tropical island and the ensuing day was fairly low-key. We instead took the morning off before an afternoon bus trip that included a bit of history and a bit of shopping.
Dinner was the highlight of the night, as our your director, Sergio, walked us a few blocks to a local steakhouse. Our group--which took up nearly half of the restaurant--sat in front of the chefs next to the restaurant's piano. Ashley Oswald and Cheyna Williams decided to entertain the group before a local gentleman got up to play piano with Ozzie.
The entire group sang "Happy Birthday" to Sergio and presented him with a pair of Vanderbilt polos to remember us by. The meal was outstanding, with perfectly cooked steaks complemented by not one, but two starches--rice appears to be a meal staple here, and a potato of choice (in this case, french fries) is often paired on the same plate.
The weather was still cloudy on Saturday and the team had another free morning. After lunch, we loaded the bus to head west and take in a local soccer match. Originally, the plan had been to see a game on Sunday when we arrived, but due to renovations at the largest stadiums in the city ahead of next year's World Cup, the game was moved three hours outside of town.
We were fortunate to have any opportunity to see a game in Rio, but we really lucked out by witnessing a game that was for a trophy. The U-20 club championship came to the Bangu (about an hour from our hotel) with Fluminense holding a 3-0 advantage over rival Flamengo. After training with the folks at Fluminense on Wednesday, everyone in our group chose to root for men in the white, maroon and green kits.
Needing at least three goals for a shot at the championship, Flamengo started quickly. It took two nice saves from the Flu goalkeeper in the first 15 minutes to keep the game scoreless. The red and black then won a penalty, but again the keeper was up to the task. Flamengo would score once in the first half after a beautiful long ball down the right side led to a cross to the six-yard box that found a player wide open on the back post. A few minutes later there was a no-call that could have been a second penalty kick for Flamengo, and the match was heated from that point on.
The stadium was small by local standard, but a good number of fans from both sides came out to support their club. Flamengo fans appeared to outnumber Fluminense fans about 3-to-2, but both groups were loud for the entire 90 minutes. To our right, the Flamengo section had a drumline that played non-stop for the whole game. For its part, Fluminense had a number of devoted fans in and around our section that will certainly be hoarse in the morning.
As you can imagine, the appearance of a women's soccer team from the United States was noticed by most people in attendance. It was newsworthy enough that at halftime the team was approached by a local reporter from SRZD and a couple of the Commodores were interviewed on camera.
Both teams had chances in the second half, but Flamengo had more opportunities as they pushed numbers forward out of desperation. At least three times in the final 20 minutes the ball rolled just wide of the Flu goal. At that point, we were rooting for another Flamengo to make it a one-goal game and ramp up the energy. Though even with the two-goal advantage, the rivals cared enough for one player from each side to see red card in the game's final 10 minutes.
Following the game, we cheered on Fluminense as they danced around the field and raised the trophy (and a number of players) into the air. Before leaving the stadium, the Commodores paused to take a picture with Brazilian soccer star Bebeto, a member of the 1994 world championship team. Night fell as the bus returned to the hotel for our final night in Rio. This had been an amazing week and everyone will be sad to leave but excited to see our families again.
Below is some bonus footage of Taylor Elliott and Cherrelle Jarrett at the local marketplace across from our hotel. Also of note, included in the photo gallery are two pictures from Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf Mountain), a side trip that this author took Saturday morning.