World cup 2014
Road to Rio

Road to Rio: Heartbreak for hosts means we're heading to the final - for a price

Dream of heading to a World Cup final comes true - after a lengthy search and multiple ATM trips

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 July, 2014, 12:32am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 July, 2014, 9:11am

Having watched Brazil's humiliating capitulation to Germany in a remote log cabin in the Chapada Diamantina National Park, it's hard to gauge how the result will change the atmosphere there, but after landing in Rio there's a distinct sense the party's over.

Gone are the smiling Budweiser girls giving out free cans of beer at the airport, while the ubiquitous green and yellow bunting we've seen on streets and town squares is conspicuous by its absence. Even the weather seems to be in a funk, the rain drizzling down petulantly from the gloomy sky.

Brazil flags still fly from many windows but it's hard to tell whether this is a defiant show of support or mere absent-mindedness.

There's a moment of silence as we exhale sighs of relief and at last allow ourselves to believe: we are going to the World Cup final

Ipanema has a sunny, happy-go-lucky place in our collective imagination, but when we arrive it seems more choro than bossa nova, dominated by umbrellas and raincoats instead of bikinis and golden bodies.

Given our most pressing objective is to track down final tickets, this is probably no bad thing, and we send out messages on every medium short of semaphore and smoke signals. Our persistence finally pays off when we hear from Pete, a former teammate from Wan Chai Spartans.

Despite the fact he now lives in Ulan Bator, he is in Rio and has a Brazilian friend who is happy to cash in his tickets now the Selecao have been sent packing.

Four seats together, at significantly less than we've seen elsewhere, seems almost too good to be true, so we arrange to meet the following day.

Brazilian ATMs have a maximum withdrawal limit of 1,000 reais (HK$3,500) a day, which leaves us considerably short of our magic number.

But a bit of experimentation reveals this only applies to each individual bank, and so we spend the afternoon zigzagging the main shopping drag of Ipanema making withdrawals at every hole-in-the-wall that will accept our cards.

A few hours later, we are standing in a circle looking down at the quartet of colourful tickets that have replaced the somewhat preposterous pile of bills that lay there a few minutes before.

There's a moment of silence as we exhale sighs of relief and at last allow ourselves to believe: we are going to the World Cup final.

Coming to Brazil for the World Cup was, for me, the fulfilment of a dream that I'd carried in my heart since a seven-year-old boy watched Diego Maradona lift that impossibly golden trophy aloft in 1986.

Going to the final is a dream within a dream - and apt that it will be contested by the same two teams as that seminal day in Mexico City.

Whether the game is as remarkable as the Germany-Brazil semi, or as dull as Argentina-Netherlands, it will be the perfect end to a trip that has exceeded my expectations in every way.

Nine matches, seven cities, four weeks, three partners in crime and countless caipirinhas all add up to an experience that was worth every moment spent planning and booking over the past nine months.

For all the pre-tournament doom and gloom, and despite the performance of its team, Brazil has hosted a World Cup it can be proud of. And it's a World Cup that I've been proud to be a part of - all the way to the final whistle.