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World Cup fans swim to stadium to see U.S. versus Germany in Recife

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RECIFE — The weather forecast in Natal for the first U.S. game versus Ghana read heavy showers. Fortunately, the clouds parted the day before the match and the U.S. enjoyed sunny skies for three days on the Brazilian coast before moving west into the jungle.

In Manaus, the weather forecast predicted thunderstorms for the entire week the U.S. occupied the Amazon. Yet again, the U.S. team and its supporters enjoyed perfectly clear (albeit scorching hot) temperatures before and after the match against Portugal.

In Recife however, the incredible weather well of luck ran dry, as the stormy forecasts finally came to fruition during the third U.S. group stage game yesterday against Germany.

The Brazilian people have said the same thing about the recent swell of rainstorms that have overcome many of the country’s host cities during the World Cup. “We’ve gotten very little rain the past two years,” a taxi driver told me upon my arrival in Recife. “We get a little every now and then, but we’ve NEVER seen rain this.”

It was apparent yesterday in the usually sunny coastal city. Recife, which sits almost exactly at sea level, was flooded to the ankles on every corner. Streets were completely inaccessible, thus making driving (either by rental car or by taxi) nearly impossible.

Which meant all 40,000-plus fans with tickets to see U.S. and Germany were limited to a single Metro line to and from the stadium. My face below pretty much sums up the efforts and emotions fans went through during the process.

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To make matters worse, the stadium itself was located in the middle of nowhere in the neighboring town of Pernambuco. Walking the 14.5 miles to the stadium was completely out of the question as well. Not that it mattered, since fans couldn’t walk more than two blocks outside without becoming utterly soaked either from the downpour above, or from trudging through pools of water on each street and sidewalk.

So aside from the few lucky fans who happened to be staying directly next to a metro station, the rest in attendance were forced to wade through the storm to get to the nearest train. After finally finding cover we had to wait in endless ticket lines, only to wait even longer to pack onto the train everybody in the city was trying board. It doesn’t end there, either.

After getting off the 40-minute train ride from the city, fans piled into transport trams, which were surprisingly organized and efficient due to the massive number of vehicles available. At least that’s what we thought, until the tram dropped us all off a half-mile from the stadium at the peak of the day’s downpour.

“Is there another tram to the stadium?,” I asked a stone-faced police officer with an AK-47 and a drug dog by his side. He responded by gesturing his pointed barrel to the right with a head-shake in a manner indicating, “Nope, walk that way.”

What he really meant to say, I soon discovered, was “RUN that way.” And that’s exactly what we had to do.

It was clear that Recife wasn’t prepared for such conditions, and did not have a back-up plan in place to accommodate for the transport of 41,000 people other than to pack them onto the same metro line. But to be fair, there wasn’t much they could do. The rain was persistent, and the streets were so flooded that any attempt to clear the path would have been futile.

What could they have done, airdrop the fans into the stadium? Sure, many fans arrived late to the game, but believe me, they all got there.

As for the two-hour total transport through use of trams, buses, trains and good old fashioned running; it’s all just an extra element in the tale to which I consider to be the greatest sporting experience of my life. Because once we arrived, rain or shine, it became apparent how impossible it was to beat a front-row seat to see the U.S. advance out of the 2014 World Cup Group Of Death.

See you in Salvador, Belgium.

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