One nation under a groove – Ivory Coast 2 Japan 1

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Who are the best team at the World Cup? Think I’ve already seen them.

They are the Ivory Coast fan band. Six drums, five male drummers and 25-30 synchronised maracas shakers/dancers, most of them women.

They hammered out a faultless rhythm throughout both halves of an enthralling opening game in Recife.

Forty-five minutes of pummelliing for the first half, break for half-time and then another 45.

At the end the drummers – fit as a fiddle and not a kilojoule of fat on them – had probably put in more physical effort than anyone on the pitch.

On a night where enormous moths as big as your hand flitted past you from the enclosure specially created for Brazil’s moth community, many at the game were drawn to the shining light of the band.

The gangway near them was chocker as neutral fans poured down to get closer to the drummers. You could hardly move and empty FIFA-only seats were commandeered in a bid to get near.

In fact, it appears the 50 or so Ivory Coast fans are the only ones to make the trip as belief in the national team’s chances has ebbed.

You could have danced your way through the whole of this game. So we did.

Football as disco. Outside the stadium, the Budweiser bar in the fan area was packed for the end of England-Italy. A thumping dance soundtrack drowned the commentary.

Up in the gods, a guy walked passed in a Joy Division Unknown Pleasures T-shirt and AC/DC was played over the PA.

A digital meltdown meant I couldn’t take photos, the iPhone was sick after near-death drowning in the Biblical flooding at Mexico v Cameroon that turned my toenails grey.

This match too was played in a downpour. People looked aghast when you assured them that it had been ten times worse the day before.

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Ivory Coast came out complacently and started to stroke the ball around confidently but the nippy Nippon darted around, winning tackles and their crisp passing started to take a toll.

A clever near-post corner, whipped in low and fast to counter the Ivorians’ height caused havoc and was half-cleared.

A superb square ball was played into to Honda who imitated the car. He turned tightly and under no challenge, drove home from 12 yards.

That set up a high-octane ten minutes for the Japanese who motored round the pitch as though propelled by power steering.

The Elephants played like their nickname. They lumbered and puffed and panicked.

They were rocky and did well to limp to half-time one down. One more goal during a patch as purple as their kit and Japan could probably have knocked them out of the World Cup.

That was when the band came to the rescue.

Throughout the first half and hugely outnumbered by Japanese fans, they had pumped up the Funkadelic beat.

The second half saw Ivory Coast mount steady, relentless pressure.

Taking their cue from the band, the rhythm intensified. A Mexican wave roused the crowd. West African muscle started to have an effect against the less physical Japanese and Ivory Coast climbed back into the match.

Post-match media narrative had it that Droggy-ba, as the guy next to me kept shouting, turned the game after he came on.

He didn’t though he certainly made a difference. Ivory Coast unleashed the Beast and he stood out for sure.

Crosses for both goals, which were near identical, came from Toulouse right back Serge Aurier . Nippon netminder Kawashima should have saved the second scored by Gervinho.

Droggy-ba certainlymade a difference. He almost trapped one hoicked clearance between his pectorals and he was treated wearily by the wearying warriors of Japan, rarely losing possession.

Fan of the match

20140616-201004-72604012.jpgThis isn’t him at the game, but it is the surreal statue-esque Ivorian who acts as standard bearer for the CNSE – the Ivory Coast official supporters group.

I first thought it was a shop mannequin on the terrace then was startled to see him move.

He’s painted in the national flag colours, wears and orange and bra and had a floral headgear, different to the one above, and different flowery earrings.

His reaction to an Ivorian goal is to strike a pose, a striking stillness which of course is totally at odds with the jubilation going on all around him.

He exudes a sort of John Lydon punk aloofness which adds to the surreal Ivorian vibe.

A tweet captured him:
https://twitter.com/sbnation/status/477980247028424704

And finally

The game finished just before midnight. A suitably surreal end to a day which had seen us pestered in Olinda by a plague of clowns touring the historic centre talking nonsense to people (they were clearly drama students on a project).

To avoid standing in the downpour many fans milled around, with the moths, for an hour.

One guy held the best banner: “Brazilian philosophy teachers support Côte d’Ivoire. Allez les Elephants!”

The Japanese even cleaned their end up and put it all in wrapped plastic bags, neatly piled together.

It was 1am before we headed to the buses, accompanied by a motley crew – Brazilian girls dressed as geishas, Japanese dressed in onesies from, to us, unknown cartoons.

The stewards just waved their arms pointing us at all times in directions we were already going.

The West African beat had long subsided but in my head the pounding beat, which drowned out the stadium PA and thousands of Japanese fans was still thudding through my brain.

With one maybe two more Ivory Coast games to see on this trip, bring on more of the groove.

It’s the best gig in Brazil.

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