Cayman residents of every nationality are hoisting their flags in preparation for the start of the World Cup in Brazil on Thursday.
From the German tennis coach and the Brazilian banker to the Bosnian bartender and the Spanish hotel worker, almost every World Cup nation is represented at every level of Cayman society. Of the 32 countries on show in Brazil over the next month, only the Ivory Coast, Iran and Algeria won’t have a fan in Cayman rooting for them. Even far-flung nations like Cameroon, South Korea, Ghana and Japan have at least one national living on the island.
Qualification is an impossible dream for a tiny country like Cayman. But the island will be well represented in boardrooms and on terraces across Brazil with Jeff Webb, one of the top administrators in the game, playing an important role behind the scenes.
Scores of Caymanian football fans will also be heading to Brazil, many supporting the host nation and five-time champions who begin their quest for glory against Croatia today.
Across the island this week, offices were hastily installing televisions for their staff to watch games, while many bars are hiring extra staff in anticipation of huge crowds for the games.
Even the leader of the country, Premier Alden McLaughlin, was getting involved in the excitement – showing he belongs in the Premier league with a skilled cameo in a commercial for Cayman 27’s coverage of the event. The television channel will be broadcasting every game on channel 24, with a half-time show hosted by presenter Paul Kennedy.
The tournament involves 64 games taking place across the vast South American nation from the Amazon jungle to the Atlantic coast, culminating with the final on July 13 in the famous Maracana Stadium in Rio.
Nowhere will the tournament be more avidly followed by such a wealth of nations than in Cayman.
Jaz Muratagic, manager of Fidel Murphy’s bar, believes the pub will see a roaring trade over the next month.
“The games are on at perfect times. We are treating it as if it is a derby game, every game. We expect to fill the pub. Everybody knows Fidel’s as a football pub.
“Cayman is so unique because you have all these nationalities coming together in one place. It is the perfect society for the World Cup because you have people from every continent right here.”
He doesn’t have high expectations for his home nation however. Bosnia-Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav nation of 4 million people, is at its first World Cup and is one of the smallest nations ever to qualify.
“Just to be there is the bees’ knees. If we get out of the group, I will be happy,” said Mr. Muratagic.
Spaniard Carlos Espinosa, who manages Legends sports bar, is hoping his country can continue its extraordinary winning streak and become the first side since Brazil in 1962 to retain the famous trophy.
Either way, he expects the tournament to provide a significant boost to bars around the island.
“It’s going to be a huge month. We have hired a couple of part-time staff just for the tournament. We are expecting a full house, particularly when the big teams like England, Brazil and Germany are playing.”
One person who won’t have to watch from a bar stool is Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman tennis coach Thomas Neuert. The avid Germany fan arrives in Brazil on Saturday and plans to go to all his country’s games – starting with the showdown against Portugal on Monday.
He said, “There is no better place to go than Brazil to watch a World Cup. I was at the tournament in Germany in ‘06 and the atmosphere there was absolutely amazing, so I expect the same or even better atmosphere in Brazil, where they love their football. It will be a once in a lifetime experience, especially if Germany beats Brazil in the final.”
Also on the plane to Brazil is former tourism director Shomari Scott. He supports Brazil but is traveling with a group of Ghanaian friends.
“After the last tournament when Ghana was denied a semifinal place by Luis Suarez’s handball, we agreed that we would go to Brazil next time and see them reach the last four.
“I will be wearing a Ghana shirt to support my friends, but I will have my Brazil colors underneath,” said Mr. Scott, who will be attending Ghana’s games against the U.S. and Germany, as well as Brazil’s clash against Mexico in Fortaleza.
There on official business are Cayman’s football chiefs, including Jeff Webb and Bruce Blake, who are already in Sao Paola for a FIFA conference.
The conference and the tournament are taking place amid increasing controversy over allegations of corruption within the world governing body and social unrest in Brazil.
Though Brazil is widely revered as the home of football, not everyone is happy about the billions of dollars spent on stadiums amid widespread poverty.
A subway strike in Sao Paolo and clashes between protesters and police were the latest episodes reported on the eve of the tournament.
For Eduardo Silva, a Brazilian banker who has lived in Cayman for more than a decade, the hope is that football will take center stage over the next few weeks.
“Most of the Brazilian population wishes to show to the world a celebration of sports and friendship, leaving the political and social problems to be addressed after the games end, through the proper channels. I hope that this wish prevails over the short-term tactics of a noisy minority,” Mr. Silva said.