Friday, August 24, 2007

Brazil June 2007

1. The Copa Libertadores Final 2nd leg

When a big Argentinian team plays in Brazil it is normal to apply some precautions. So many of the Boca fans making their long bus journey from Buenos Aires to Porto Alegre were escorted by the state police from the Uruguyan border - some 600km.

When they finally arrived they would find the roads packed with local buses threading their way through the street markets. Walking amongst this throng were taller than normal Brazilian women in their platform boots - some in Gremio shirts. Above it all were the guys on stepladders overseeing the traders' stock.
In contrast to the heady atmosphere outside, the large indoor market offers somewhere quiet to have a pre-match meal , welcomed by your correspondent.

When the time came to depart for the game (the 2nd leg of the Copa Libertadores Final) the scenario is familiar.
Roads jammed with buses and cars packed with flag waving fans heading for the stadium.
As you near the Monumental stadium the heady mixture returns with a vengeance as the streets are filled with beer & food stalls & the air thick with smoke from fireworks.
This is a big night.

Inside , some hour & half before kick-off, the two-tier stadium is a mass of blue/white & black shirts (that is apart from about 2700 Boca fans)
The atmosphere builds to a crescendo until the Gremio players appear when you see the full fireworks display. But thats as good as it gets for the home team.

They needed an early goal to have any chance of pulling back the 0-3 deficit from the first leg.
Despite showing promise down the left & hitting the bar a couple of times Gremio couldn't get too close to a well organised Boca side.
Star player Riquelme was to deliver the blows that quietened the 'Vamos Gremio Vamos' , the first a superb right foot into the top corner , the 2nd after a combination with Palacio.
Many tears are shed.

Whilst the Argentinian supporters celebrated their triumph the adrenalin (and songs) would no doubt help them survive the long bus trip back to Buenos Aires.

2. Gre-Nal the Port Alegre clasico

Played four days after the Copa Libertadores final in much cooler conditions (12 degrees) in Internacional's Beira-Rio stadium around 34000 saw this derby.
Rather disappointingly there were a very limited number of away fans present(c. 2500) , because of security concerns.
Even so both sets of fans didn't hold back on the fireworks & Inter did have one eye-catching banner - 'gracias Riquelme' just to remind Gremio of their grief.

But Gremio did recover some pride as they secured a convincing win with two great goals, one in each half.

Although Porto Alegre would certainly not be high on the tourist's list of places to see in Brazil it did provide some memorable football moments (and the caipirinhas are excellent)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Finland & Estonia June 2007

Helsinki is a relatively quiet capital city. In early June on a bright summers' day walking towards the Olympic Stadium, amongst the Goths enjoying a rock concert in the central park, life is pleasant enough.

If so inclined the experience can be somewhat enhanced by a refreshing gin long drink or very enhanced by the dark Czech beer Velkopopovicky Kozel.

For an enthusiast the stroll to the stadium evokes memories of past Finnish sporting heroes & in particular their athletes. Near the entrance is an impressive statue to the most eminent (Nurmi)
Inside you can visualize that epic finish to the 1971 European Championships 10,000m when Vaatainen overcame Haase & Sharafetdinov as the crowd roared them on to a sub-54 secs last lap. Whilst in the nearby museum you can simulate running against Lasse Viren during his famous win in the Montreal Olympics 5000m.

Finland's footballers playing and losing 0-2 to Serbia somehow doesn't provide the same level of spine tingling memory. The biggest cheer being reserved for the entry of 36 year old substitute Jari Litmanen, who still looked the most competent Finnish player on show.

Close by the old Olympic stadium is the neat, modern Finnair stadium where , on another day, I saw a low key 2nd level game between HJK's 'reserves' (Klub '04) and KPV before around 250 spectators.

From central Helsinki its an easy stroll to the harbour & the ferry terminal for the trip over to Tallinn. The Nordic Jet ferry takes around 1hr 40 mins to cross the Baltic.
Once there the nicely preserved Old Town offers an attractive location in the June sunshine for both the cruise ship tour groups & the increasing numbers of England supporters getting in the mood for the European Championships qualifying game against Estonia.

That match gave some encouragement to your correspondent as England secured a comfortable 3-0 victory albeit against very limited opposition watched by 11,000 in the Le Coq Arena.

I returned to the same city & the same stadium a couple of days later to see Flora Tallinn beat Ajax some 11-0 before somewhat less people. Because of the convenient kick-off scheduling (presumably to increase the attendances ?!) it was possible to stroll across town & watch TVMK Tallinn play Vaprus later in the afternoon (just the 9-0 win this time).
Total crowd for the two games... 140 & that included other England supporters - but there were plenty of goals.