Uncle Samba bows out – Belgium 2 United States 1

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Belgium versus the US. I almost didn’t fancy it. You don’t expect thrills.

You buy the ticket, do the calculation and think the match has Belgium v Portugal written all over it. Should be good.

There was nothing in the build-up to suggest we were about to see the best contest so far.

A saving grace about Salvador is that the Fonte Nova is bang in the middle of town.

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A stroll from the fascinating and colourful Pelourinho, a mix of slum housing and bewitching Brazilian architecture, cobbled streets and a promenade overlooking the Atlantic. Samba city.

By now, pre-match routines are estabished. There’s always loads of born again Christians en route, proselytising, not for Brazil, but the Almighty, the poor and foetuses

Brazil is full of born again churches and their congregations have got in on the act even if none of them seem to go to the games.

And ten minutes before kick-off, on the dot, AC/DC were blasted out – is there just one CD at FIFA which has been copied and given to all 12 venues? – as at every game I’ve been to. I fully expect to be played at domestic games I hope to watch in Rio later this month.

Nothing prepared you for what was to come. And in retrospect the chance set up almost immediately after kick-off by Prince Harry lookalike Kevin de Bruyne could have spoilt a fantastic night out, had it been converted.

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The match reminded me, at a certain level of the 2006 World Cup semi between Germany and Italy.

The common factor of course is Jurgen Klinsmann.

That semi-final was characterised by German adventure, always being stifled by Italian defence.

Germany’s Euro 2004 had left them with uncharacteristic self-doubt but Klinsmann’s side grew as the tournament progressed.

He gave them confidence, rather than swaggering arrogance and you can still see his legacy in the side today. Just ask Herr Klose.
They became good to watch, too.

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So when David Odonkor came on as an out and out winger he flew down the flanks and the Germans came close to equalising.

Here, Jones, the replacement right back Yedlin and Beasley in the first half, were marvellous.

Topping it all was the Yankee Pirlo Michael Bradley, pushing the ball into the space for the wing play to flourish.

I can’t recall a single instance of him being robbed while on the ball. He was just as good as Tim Carroll.

Centre half Omar Gonzales stood out too.

It was also the best crowd of the six games I’ve been to.

Greece v Costa Rica on Sunday was tepid. The biggest chant on the night from my end of the game was ‘aqui’ (here), in a bid to sway a decision to have penalties taken at our end.

Here, the roars for all three goals were deafening. If the States had managed a leveller, everyone would have gone bananas.

There’s been talk of this being the best World Cup ever. Well, this was the case for.

You don’t expect to find the United States sending you into raptures of wonder with an admirable style of play. They’re perennial bit players with maybe with an eccentric goatee-bearded centre-half (Lalas), or a Swindon right-back.

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The fact they featured in two of the best games so far, this and their game with Portugal shows the World Cup has fewer makeweight teams in it.

Extra time was mental. Belgium’s two goals in two minutes seemed to have killed off the game.

But Green’s goal heralded a frantic last period – as a pal put it – the best extra time ever.

The roar for his goal was immense.

It might not end up as the best World Cup ever but it’s been the best for unexpected, wonderful delights.

The US in particular. I thought they would finish bottom of their group but they impressed me more than any other side, purely because of their sense of adventure and previous history suggesting they would be efficiently dull.

And if you thought that was the end of it, well not by a long chalk.

The game was over, but for Salvador, celebrating its independence the following day, it was just an aperitif.

Back in the centre, pounding drummers paraded through the streets.

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The Pelourinho was packed with up to 50,000 people crowding round and dancing.

If anything it was even better than the match.

Fans wandered round, literally stunned. I bumped into a friend from Cardiff, wandering in a reverie round and round the streets, soaking up the energy. Six hours after the game he was reluctant to head back to his hotel.

It was the kind of freewheeling, off the cuff relaxed moment you hoped would be a daily experience here in Brazil.

Salvador, a popular tourist destination, is used to putting these things on. It was like Glastonbury but better.

Hundreds of people lined a staircase to hear a Brazilian ensemble pump out funk, jazz and reggae sounds.

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One guest singer got up from the crowd to front the band.

He asked: “Is there anyone here from the United States? Put your hand up if you are.”

He told the band what to play. The familiar bass riff kicked in and he started, in a passable falsetto: “Well you can tell by the way I use my walk …”

Stayin ‘ Alive.

The US didn’t manage to. But, Gee, it was one hell of a night.

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