Messi magic and mixed zone etiquette
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil -- The Brazilian men boarding passengers on the bus at Belo Horizonte's main airport started laughing.
"He's English," said one, who'd seen my passport. "From the team that never wins." His mates laughed with him and at me. They didn't think I could understand. I could.
I had to be careful. The bus was filling with Argentines ahead of their game with Iran and there would be trouble in the city on Friday night.
I stood there as four men insulted England and the English for not being able to speak other languages. I can't speak Portuguese but I can understand enough of it. It's the main language in my house.
"Is this the right bus?" I asked the ringleader in Spanish. He didn't understand. "English? Italian? German? French? Scouse?" I lied, as if I could speak them all. He shook his head. "Portuguese," he said. The jibes stopped. Every other Brazilian I've met has been friendly and curious. They weren't being unfriendly, but they were being cheeky.
Belo Horizonte filled with Argentines and a couple of thousand from Iran. In Tehran in March, I'd met Carlos Queiroz and almost all of Iran's players. One, Fulham's Ashkan Dejagah, gave me 100 pounds on my last day. Economic sanctions imposed by the west meant no ATMs worked, nor any credit cards.
I was in Iran without enough money to get out of the country. It was a bit embarrassing, but I needed money -- and that was before I'd worked out how I was going to pay for my hotel (some Iranian Man United fans helped me on that one).
Dejagah pulled out a roll of English bank notes and asked me how much I wanted. I said 100 pounds and that I'd put the money back in his account the following day. He told me to pay him back in Belo Horizonte, but I insisted that I paid him back the following day, so he gave me his email address. I left Iran and emailed him but he didn't reply. I stayed in touch with several Iran coaches and, on Saturday, was in Belo Horizonte as promised for their huge game vs. Argentina.
It was epic. The games in this World Cup have largely been superb, and while it stayed at 0-0, the chance of Iran holding one of the favourites to a draw grew as the game went on. I was supposed to be an objective journalist, but found myself willing Iran to survive.
The press box was right behind their fans, too. They came so close to doing it, before Lionel Messi, in the words of man-of-the-match goalkeeper Sergio Romero, "rubbed his magic lamp" and conjured an injury-time wonder goal.
The Argentines were so happy that 38,000 of them stayed in the stadium for half an hour singing a song: "Brazil, how does it feels to have daddy in your home?" "Daddy" is Argentina or Diego Maradona -- take your pick.
The Brazilians had responded with songs about winning the World Cup five times. They have another lovely melody which they sing in the stadiums. The lyrics don't translate well, but read: "I just want to be happy living in a country where I was born."
- Mitten: Argentina leave it late
The Iranians, meanwhile, were distraught. They'd played superbly and got nothing. I went down to the mixed zone and waited for them. Messi came through and I nearly lost my computer and a limb in the clamour.
The Iranians attracted less interest, but they remembered me and they stopped to speak. One, the American-born Steven Beitashour who plays for Vancouver Whitecaps, remembered the loan clearly.
"He will have forgotten," the defender laughed.
Dejagah had forgotten about the money and refused to take it and said I should give it to charity, which I'll do. I told a little of this story on Twitter and the former Ireland winger Kevin Kilbane suggested the Down Syndrome Association. Kevin, who lives in Manchester, has a daughter with Down syndrome.
As Iranians stopped and gave us quotes -- "That hurt" being the first -- I saw someone hovering in the background taking notes. From FIFA. A colleague from a British newspaper asked him what he was doing. "FIFA.com," the figure said. My colleague went mad. The players and Queiroz stopped because they knew me and I'd like to think they trust me, but FIFA wanted to hoover up all the juicy quotes and publish them online immediately. That would invalidate them for me, as I sometimes have to hold what I get overnight to be published in a newspaper.
"My boss told me," said the defensive FIFA man. "Ask him."
"Who is your boss?" I asked.
He refused to say. I asked him four times. His mouth stayed resolutely shut.
"If you want quotes, get them yourself," I said. "You're FIFA, you have access to whoever you want. Please don't stop me doing my job which I've travelled across the Atlantic to do."
Another FIFA official came along but we weren't for backing down. And then another, who agreed not to publish the quotes. It was a sour end to an engrossing day, but there was no time to dwell on it -- I had a flight to catch to Brazil's capital city, Brasilia, for the host nation's game vs. against Cameroon.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter @AndyMitten.