Fan Faces from the World Cup, Rio de Janeiro

From the opening match between Brazil and Croatia, I knew that I’ve never experienced a sporting event like the World Cup and would probably never see anything like it again.

I didn’t fly in for the tournament like thousands of others. Instead, Rio de Janeiro is currently my home. I’ve watched the city’s excitement steadily grow as the World Cup drew nearer–streamers and flags hung and Cariocas proudly sporting their country’s colors. Take away the very small number of protesters and I’ve seen a unified and welcoming city.

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Many would argue that Brazil is the spiritual home of futbol, and the country hosting the World Cup is like pouring gas on a flame. It’s difficult to put into words the atmosphere of Rio when Brazil is playing. The hours leading up to the matches are frenzied–horns, whistles, the pounding of drums, fireworks, and people cheering in the streets. Cariocas are given at least half days off for the matches, even if they’re not being played in the city. Bars and restaurants are filled to the brim, and humble beach kiosks have sandy customers glued to small televisions.

In stark contrast, once the game begins the city is eerily quiet. It’s like the apocalypse has arrived. Beaches and streets are deserted, and stores are either closed or empty. Only after Brazil scores a goal are you reminded that you’re in a city of over six million. The din of cheers is deafening.

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The World Cup is more than a massive sports-themed party. It’s a connector. People from around the globe are brought together by their love of futbol and country. I’ve seen a rainbow of nations together hoisting beers and reliving the day’s matches. It’s not about politics, religion, or country borders.

It’s about futbol.

From the moment I witnessed the throng of fans along Copacabana during the World Cup’s opening match, I knew that I wanted to capture people from each of the 32 nations. Between the enthusiasm, costumes, national pride, and alcohol, the fans have become my favorite thing about the World Cup. Some countries have been simple to find, while others have proved to be elusive. I’m currently missing seven five countries, but I will continue to seek them out.


I was hoping to get a group shot of the Algerians, but they were intently negotiating the price and validity of a pair of tickets. I wouldn’t dare interrupt such important business. Meanwhile, the only other Algerian I saw was cashing in on his 15 minutes of fame by doing a TV interview.

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Honestly, I don’t know who is actually left in Argentina, because it feels like the entire country is in Rio. These guys were absolutely nuts. As they danced down Copacabana singing, other Argentinians joined in. It was like some kind of baby blue Broadway show. There’s not much that makes me laugh more than watching Brazilians roll their eyes when Argentinians break into song. It’s such a great rivalry.

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I’ve seen quite a few Aussies, and they’ve all been mild mannered. I know. SHOCKING. But next to the Argentinians, every other fan appears to be in a coma.

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After over a week of searching, I finally spotted these two Belgian fans. Sitting at the table next to me, they were celebrating Belgium’s victory over Russia.

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

These three weren’t what you’d call gregarious, but were nice enough to let me take their photo. Now, I did have dinner next to two guys from Bosnia, and they were much more talkative. As children they’d fled to Copenhagen during the war, and when B & G qualified for the World Cup, the guys decided to support their birth country by following the team around Brazil.

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As you can imagine, I have my pick of Brazilian fans. Rio has been drenched in green and gold for nearly a month, but these two fan photos are my favorites.

This little girl was shopping for a new game day shirt with her grandmother when she took off her Brazil-themed headband and fixed her hair. She just might be the next Adriana Lima.

While everyone was intently watching the final minutes of the Brazil vs Croatia match, I was watching the crowd. Just seconds after I snapped this photo, this woman and the crowd erupted as Brazil scored its third and final goal of the game.

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In Rio, Cameroon fans are as elusive as a one-piece bathing suit. I did happen to see this guy, who isn’t actually from Cameroon, but was sporting the jersey. I’ll take what I can get.

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There are a ton of Chilean fans in Rio, and I have a love-hate relationship with them. Every time I see their flag I do a double take. It is far too similar to my beloved Texas flag.

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Though they be but small in number, they are fierce. Cheer on, Colombia!

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Costa Rica

According to oddsmakers, Costa Rica was the longest of long shots to win the World Cup. However, after great showings against Uruguay and Italy, the Ticos are propelled to the round of 16. I’d imagine that beating Italy was easier than finding an actual Costa Rican fan on the streets of Rio. Thank goodness for this guy. Pura Vida!

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Let it be known that I’ve seen several Croatian fans sporting their checker board jerseys. However, none of those times did I have my DSLR with me.

Croatia Flag


Apparently this guy is representing the entire country of Ecuador in Rio. Well done, sir.

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Well, the World Cup hasn’t quite gone as the English would have hoped. I wonder if this guy will get a tattoo of a dagger through his heart to commemorate the early ousting.

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I found these French fans in a sea of red during their game against Switzerland. Considering the thumping France gave the Swiss, it’s no wonder they’re smiling.

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What’s better than one man in lederhosen? SIX men in lederhosen! Prost, Deutschland!

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I figured Ghana would be one of the more difficult countries to find, and I was right. Luckily, this guy appeared out of nowhere on Ipanema on the afternoon before the USA played Ghana. After I snapped the photo, he told me that Ghana would again defeat America. Not so fast guy from Ghana…

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If the Greek fans look anything like their national team then I’m REALLY missing out. I’ve not given up on my search, that’s for sure.

As the sun was dipping below the horizon, Greece appeared at the Arpoador. He’d just arrived in Rio that day, and I was lucky enough to spot him.

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I’d be more likely to find Honduras on a map with my eyes closed than another one of their fans in Rio.

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Iran is another country that I thought would be difficult to spot. Turns out, this couple was one of my very first photos.

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Mamma mia! Finding a good carbanara in Rio is a hell of a lot easier than finding an actual Italian. This literally is the only fan I’ve seen. Has their 2006 World Cup championship memory faded so quickly? Where are you, Italy?!?

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Ivory Coast

I knew that finding an Ivory Coast fan would be a challenge. Not only is it a small country, but the team doesn’t play in Rio at all. Alas, I’ll keep looking.

Ivory Coast Flag


These guys from Japan are among my favorite fans that I’ve encountered. Look at them! What great senses of humor, which I predict will come in handy after Japan is eliminated from the tournament.

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The fans from Mexico have been many, and I’d have to give them the award for most creative. From their sombreros to the mariachi costumes to their good-natured ribbing of opponents, Mexico is one of the teams I’m rooting for not named USA. I want to see what Mexico’s fans will do for the elimination rounds. I predict people wearing golden eagle costumes with rubber snakes in their mouths.

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What can I say about this Dutch group of guys? They were beyond drunk and possibly the most happy people on Copacabana. I just wish I’d gotten a photo of their orange clogs.

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Nigeria, where are you?

Nigeria Flag


Meet João and Sara of Spirits Trek. This Portuguese couple have been traveling, working, and volunteering around the Caribbean, Central America, and South America for several years. They’ve made their way to Brazil for the World Cup, as well as to visit family. I was fortunate to spend a few days with this brilliant couple and look forward to seeing them again soon. And in no way am I holding Portugal’s tying, last second goal against João and Sara. They can’t help where they were born. 😉

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Perhaps the most surprising of all my missing countries is Russia. Normally I can’t travel anywhere without running into a Russian. I suppose Rio is the exception.

Finally, I found Russia! I jumped up from my beachfront table and chased these guys down Copacabana. They were very happy to have me take their photo. Can’t you tell?!?

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These Spanish fans were grinning ear to ear prior to their game against Chile. Hours later, however, they were crying in their beers. Spain’s hopes of winning back-to-back World Cup championships were crushed like mazuela grapes.

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South Korea

In 2002, South Korea co-hosted the World Cup with Japan. That year the country also finished in fourth place. Perhaps they are still celebrating that showing at home, because I’ve not seen one hint of a South Korean anywhere in Rio.

South Korea Flag


I had my choice of Swiss fans, as the country’s tourism board has taken over a bar at Lagoa near my house. The tropical-style outdoor bar has been transformed to a mountain chalet, complete with sheepskin rugs, skis, and a massive TV screen for watching World Cup matches. I was a bit nervous about asking any of the Swiss fans for a photo considering France was whipping them, but this guy had a friendly face.

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United States

I’ve heard many Americans on the street and in restaurants, but finding fans wearing the stars and stripes has been another story. Finally, the team’s first game rolled around, and I spotted a guy in a red, white, and blue body suit. He definitely takes national pride to another level.

And what can be said about the trio of proud Americans? I caught them doing pullups on the exercise equipment on Ipanema. Guys, I salute you!

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Tiny Uruguay has won two World Cup titles, which include the first tournament in 1930 and 1950, when they beat host country, Brazil. Perhaps Brazil is still bitter about that loss and have banned Uruguayans from entering the country. You never know with this futbol-mad nation.

Uruguay Flag



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  • Jenna
    June 24, 2014

    What a fun post! That American fan kinda gives me the creeps! 🙂 I’ve seen lots of footage of the fans in Sao Paulo–people from many different countries just hanging out in the streets, drinking and making new friends.

  • Penny Sadler
    June 24, 2014

    I love Mexico with their sombreros and the Italians who somehow manage to looks stylish wrapped in that flag. 🙂

  • duaba
    June 24, 2014

    i LOVE this photo series! I hope you get to complete your collection cuz that would be awesome. Good luck and happy hunting!

  • Joao Reis and Sara
    June 24, 2014

    Ain’t that Portuguese couple cute!!! 🙂 Thank you Leah for taking some of your time to hang out with us, it was really super to share our experiences, as you are really an inspiring traveler. And hey, we are heading back to Rio so you’ll probably see the Portuguese flag again, you will remember that last minute goal! 🙂

  • Lance | Trips By Lance
    June 24, 2014

    I wish I would have realized what type of sporting event I was fortunate to attend when I was in Atlanta in 1996. I’ve been wanting to get back to a big sporting spectacle since but just haven’t done it. I think it’s fantastic that you are there having this experience. I also find myself somewhat rooting for Mexico after my recent visit there, especially since my second nation (England) is out.

  • Loz in Transit
    June 24, 2014

    One of your photos has Nazeem Hussain in it. An Aussie comedian who has the enviable task of doing ‘man of the street’ segments in beautiful Rio for a variety show that accompanies the World Cup in Australia.
    I imagine there would be tons of media in all sorts of languages with roving microphones everywhere. I’ll always remember Nazeem as I saw him at Edinburgh Fringe where his set was cringingly brought to a halt. Let’s just say his material didn’t impress.

  • Traveling Ted
    June 24, 2014

    Very cool idea. I like this post much better than the photo galleries you see on the news sites. This post shows more character with the little vignettes rolled around the photos from each country.

  • Geri
    June 25, 2014

    Very beautiful and emotional photos! Wish you to complete your collection and to share with us!

  • Alexandra
    June 25, 2014

    Best World Cup photo series I have seen! So fun! Happy hunting for your last few countries.

  • Erin
    June 25, 2014

    Fantastic post, it’s great to see all the different costumes and faces! And that little Brazilian girl is a stunner, you’ve captured her at just the perfect moment 🙂

  • Greg | Travel Blue Book
    June 25, 2014

    Ha! This is so much fun! The World Cup is such a great, truly worldwide festival. Thanks for sharing your photos. (I love the Japanese fans too. How could you not?)

  • Adrienne @ AdrienneAway
    June 25, 2014

    Great pics. Wish I was there!

    Vamos Chile!

  • Laura @Travelocafe
    June 25, 2014

    What a cool post idea, Leah! The Americans are very creative indeed 🙂 Not a football fan but this put a smile on my face.

  • Laura
    June 25, 2014

    So jealous you’re in Rio during the World Cup! I love this post and seeing all the fans from around the world. One of the great things about the World Cup is how it brings people together. Thanks for sharing!

  • Alli
    June 26, 2014

    It is turning out to be a great tournament as expected because of the colorful lives of the host nation. You should be proud with the outcome so far as a Brazilian and you should be proud with the national team as well. England is already home.

  • Jeff Titelius
    June 26, 2014

    I just LOVED LOVED LOVED this post!! Not only have you captured the spirit of the World Cup, you’ve captured the spirit of the world!! Look at all of those smiling faces!! This must have been so much fun for you and them too!! Great job!

  • So much love for this post, Leah. Totally fun idea! You’re right about futbol being a connector. I think as travelers, we are better able to understand this concept. I try to explain to people at home why I get so excited about the World Cup and I just get head shakes and blank stares. Your commentaries are hilarious and, uh, HELLO American boys with 6-packs in tiny shorts!

  • What a wonderfully fun idea for a post! I love it! The trio of US men was certainly entertaining!! And yes, the dagger through the heart may well be appropriate for the Brit – we Brits really haven’t come up trumps in this world cup….or any world cup for a long long time for that matter!!

  • Erin - The World Wanderer
    June 29, 2014

    LOVE the idea behind this post and your pics are fab! So sad about the missing Croatian fans, as I always count them as my team…have to do my grandpa proud some how! 😉

  • Scott - Quirky Travel Guy
    July 7, 2014

    What an awesome collection of photos! You really captured the spirit of this event. How cool to be in a place where such a massive event is taking place.

  • Charu
    July 10, 2014

    What a superb post my friend! I love all these happy faces, but that tattoo on that bum is extreme. Ah, America!


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