BY DR. JOAQUIN ZAGARRA
It was always my dream to experience a World Cup in person! It was a huge item in my bucket list ever since I was growing up, but I never got to do it for a different reason every time around. Finally the right opportunity came in 2014 and the circumstances were just perfect. Colombia made it to the finals, it was in Brazil (a neighboring country), the chosen city where Colombia would play was Belo Horizonte, where a very close friend and godfather of my eldest daughter lived, and he invited me to stay with him. It couldn’t have been any better, or so I thought then…
Two of my daughters are married to football-fanatic brothers who were well on their way with preparations for their backpacking trip for this great event, as they had done for previous world cups. I first spoke to Felipe (one of my sons in law) about the idea of going to Brazil to follow Colombia on this exciting event. Once he confirmed that my intentions were real, he started to help me out, which is really an understatement because in a matter of hours I was already a member of FIFA, and in the days that followed had bids for the games Colombia would play, I also had airplane reservations and hotel bookings. This was amazing, but not a major feat for Felipe, who is very knowledgeable and resourceful in these matters, aside from being a great fan of the national team.
Preparations went smoothly as the event got closer and closer and my excitement grew. I ended up traveling with my wife Claudia and my youngest daughter Laura to Belo Horizonte, where Colombia would play the first game against Greece and we lodged at an apartment my Brazilian friend got for us. The afternoon of our arrival, we teamed up with the Pradilla brothers to look around the city where we saw thousands of Colombian fans swarming the streets and parks in the unmistakable yellow jersey of our national team. Daniel Pradilla had a “Pibe” yellow wig, and Jorge Pradilla had his head carefully shaved like a soccer ball, and needless to say, they attracted A LOT of attention. All of us were interviewed for local TV and radio news. It was a pleasure to experience a World Cup in the company of diehard fans like the Pradilla brothers, but beyond that we all enriched our lives by experiencing such a massive world event with such meticulous preparation. Without a doubt, their Backpacking Football venture has all the ingredients to become a major success for soccer fans around the globe.
My first World Cup game live was a beautiful and unforgettable experience. The Belo Horizonte stadium was an immense tide of yellow jerseys, mostly Colombians, but surely also Brazilians who rooted for our team against a European rival. Singing the national anthem in a stadium with thousands of fans was a chilling, and somewhat spiritual moment that made many of us shed tears. The nationalistic passion that soccer can elicit is hard to believe or describe, it is something that can only be felt.
Beyond this first game, all the trip logistics were unfolding perfectly as Colombia kept winning and winning to our delight and amazement. Celebrations were abundant in each of the cities where Colombia played and won. Caipirinhas kept coming and going as Daniel refined his skills in post-game cheers that earned him praise and loud support from many enthusiastic followers.
We traveled to Brasilia, a beautiful city with a modern and gigantic stadium, where we watched our national team beat the Ivory Coast in a tough match. Our next stop was Cuiaba where Colombia overpowered Japan with a magnificent performance by James (#10 jersey), sending us to the second round for the second time in our soccer history. Our enthusiasm grew and we (mostly Felipe) chased the Colombian team bus for several blocks just to wave and express our passion and gratitude for what they were doing for our country.
We were to face Uruguay in a sudden death second round game to be played in Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, our soccer trip was scheduled to end after the first round with a little bit of additional touring around to follow. We traveled to Rio with our backpacks and carrying with us a plethora of enthusiasm and high hopes. There again, we ran by for several blocks when we spotted the Colombian national team approaching the hotel area. The day of our trip back home, Colombia was to play Uruguay in a decisive match. We were fortunate enough to watch this exciting match in an airport restaurant with a big screen and plenty of fans. Again, our national team won, making history…first time ever in the third round! We left the World Cup, ending our fantastic trip and knowing that we would have to play against Brazil in a fourth round match, the host country and five times world champion. In retrospect, losing that game to Brazil was a blessing in disguise and probably saved Colombia from greater disappointment had we faced Germany, who beat Brazil 7-1 in the most surprising result ever. They became the new world champions and will reign as such until the next World Cup in Russia 2018.
Needless to say, a World Cup experience is like bliss for a soccer fan, and this is something I can get hooked up with easily, especially if Colombia participates. Travelling with experienced fans like the Pradilla brothers made things a lot easier for first timers like us, and they have relayed all their expertise in their service venture, Backpacking Football. By all means, check it out and make your plans for Russia 2018.
Joaquin Zagarra DDS, MDS
Dr Zagarra was Born in Bogota, Colombia. He’s a die-hard fan of the Colombian National Team and Atletico Junior. In his free time, he enjoys practicing yoga and meditation. Currently saving for Russia 2018.