Friday, October 23, 2009

Brazil October/November 2009

Football is popular in Brazil.

Through Sao Paulo passport control and straightaway you see a TV showing football. It was Fulham v Roma.
And to continue the UK connection the Brazilian news even covered the postal strike.

In Sao Paulo the metro still needs to be 'joined-up' -they are opening over 30 new stations in the next few years. So going from east to west is somewhat tricky - I chose an airport bus and taxi to get to my hotel near the Morumbi shopping centre.

But replenished with a caipirinha you soon feel better.

Braganca Paulista.

Bragantino 4 Fortaleza 1 in Serie B.

The bus takes about an hour and a half to get to Braganca Paulista from Sao Paulo.

Its an average, safe place with a nice lake and not much else.
Not too many fans turned out on this Friday night - in fact 418 paid including a dozen from distant Fortaleza.
The latter are battling relegation and this result did their cause little good.

Bragantino scored through a free kick from a narrow angle. They then went on to pick Fortaleza off as they were forced to attack, it didnt help that the visitors had a man sent off in the second half.

Via bus to Sao Paulo and a flight to Rio.

Maracana - Rocket Man.

Vasco da Gama 2 Bahia 1

The Maracana was used for this game due to amount of interest in the game and the limited space at Vasco's regular home ground. Personally I would have preferred the original choice.

Vasco are on the verge of returning to the top division and this result virtually ensured their promotion.

Their many fans (50,000) produced terrific noise and atmosphere but inevitably large areas of the stadium were sparsely populated.

But the Maracana is still the Maracana - the sense of scale, the curve of the stands - the history.
It made this writer think of the 1950 World Cup final and what it would have been like to be among those 200,000.

Anyway on this day Vasco and Bahia probed for long periods without producing much action until a defensive error allowed Fagner to break through and shoot in.

It took until the second half before the much maligned and generally inactive, top scorer, Elton secured the win with a flick and a great left footed volley.
Bahia got one back soon after but they were well held and like Fortaleza remain near the bottom. Bahia brought a couple of hundred fans placed in the lower tier and they were very much drowned out by the Vasco songs.

This being Rio I chose a metro ride on the Sunday morning to the Copacabana area, joining many locals (and tourists) packing the beaches. Which were thronged with thongs.

I join the Botafogo ultras.

well briefly.

Botafogo 0 Flamengo 1

I chose the metro and minibus taxi to get close to the Engenhao stadium.

The feeling of a clasico is soon evident - the amount of police, threatening local fans checking for away fans going down the wrong roads. A helicoptor overhead.

Apparently a sellout it was nowhere near full (25,000) presumably becuase ticket sales were restricted due to security concerns.

The stadium, modern with large two tier covered sides and much smaller ends is divided 50:50.

Prior to the start two sets of Flamengo ultras, the rubra negro and the torcida joven have a brief skirmish - they don't get on - and a large gap is formed between them in the stands.

The game is settled by Adriano (ex-Inter), evading two defenders, getting space and using his left foot to do the rest. Otherwise, as seems typical for some Brazilian strikers, he does little but wait for a chance to score. Despite this he is joint top scorer in the Brasileiro.

Botafogo contributed to their own downfall after Lucio Flavio's shot from the penalty spot is easily saved.

Flamengo though challenging for the title (at the time they were 3 points behind Palmeiras at the top) didn't look like Championship winners.
Mainly because after getting in front they wasted time continually and tended to defend rather than go for more goals.

Anyway it worked this time.

I exited briskly and immediately got caught up with the Botafogo ultras - they trying to find some Flamengo fans to attack - me to find my bus. We both dodged the ramaging police horses incl. one that charged along the pavement.
I made the bus and metro back to central Rio without further incident.

To Bahia state and Salvador.

Where there is an impressive historic centre - full of decaying, imperial style churches and steep cobbled streets.

Its an awkward bus ride to get to the Barradao to watch Vitoria - but its definitely worth it for a big night game such as :-

Fireworks in Salvador.

Vitoria 0 Corinthians 1

Outside the small crowded, hilly, streets are numerous stalls with beer and, well, meat - all adding to a typical big match in South America.

As the teams come out - Fireworks - you're not kidding - all around the home stands - red flares everywhere.

Generating a tremendous atmosphere.

And Corinthians brought a large group of fans cramming most of the left hand end.
The stadium, in a dip in this hilly area is basically 3 sides and mostly open.

The opposite side contains the dressing rooms and, apart from some trees, not much else.

So 20,000 plus noisy fans made this a night to remember - all this and Ronaldo too.
Yes he hardly moved around but there was the odd touch - and he did manage to allow space for young talent de Federico to beat the offside trap and score the winner.

The taxi ride, back to Rio Vermelho, was much quicker than the outward journey.

Then a flight to Recife - further north and again a better than expected experience.

Sport going down.

Sport 1 Coritiba 1

Loads more red and black in evidence as Sport fans chanted their team on to avoid relegation.

We had only played 2/3 minutes when some of the floodlights failed, fortunately they did come back after a 20 minute delay.

After which Sport attacked relentlessly providing a very entertaining first half.
But after going behind Coritiba fought back to equalise.

This was another game with plenty of atmosphere and a stadium with an Argentinian feel - different sized stands/terrace and fans at both ends.
22,000 or so watched and produced plenty of noise (though with only a small group from Coritiba)
Somehow it was not to be for Sport and I felt for them in their frustration.

This time I could stroll back to my, elderly, central riverside hotel via fairly deserted streets - transformed from the earlier noise and bustle

And back in Sao Paulo.

From where I took a bus trip of some hour and half to a hot Campinas to see promotion contending Guarani.

Easy Portuguesa.

Guarnai 0 Portuguesa 3

Plenty of Guarani green around with fans parading through the city centre to get to the ground, many with 'champs' t shirts.
Their stadium is also greenish (coloured) with medium level open seats and a covered side with a large terrace/stand above.
Another decent crowd of over 10,000 were not encouraged as Portuguesa took over in the first half , slicing apart the home defence to score three times.

Guarani failed to get too close and ended well beaten - they'll almost certainly still go up but not as Champions.

Lastly in a suburb of Sao Paulo reached via an efficient bus system and taking around a hour and a half :-

Just like watching Brazil.

Santo Andre 2 Gremio 0

I'd chosen this game as an alternative to Palmeiras v Corinthians as this original choice had been moved to Presidente Prudente (hundreds of kms away at the other end of the state) for security and monetary reasons.

But I did see a very enjoyable free flowing game to end the trip.

Santo Andre, in Brazilian yellow, looked a lot better than a bottom four team against a largely inaffective Gremio.
The home side scored through striker Nunes and benefited from an headed own goal by Rafael Marques soon after the break. Gremio made it worse by having Roberson sent off.

The stadium is two-sided with one side largish, open, including a section for the couple of hundred away fans and the other, smaller, with a curving cover. Around 1,500 attended.

I returned by three buses and went on to enjoy a memorable meal in a Churrascaria.

As is usually the case South America did not disappoint.

more pics at

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ukraine v England October 2009

Flares back in fashion.

Ukraine 1 England 0 in the Dnepro Arena.

Defensive mistakes that didn't really matter as we had already qualified or an inherent weakness that will continue to be exposed.

Take your pick.

Goals being conceded must frustrate coach Capello.
And the seeming reliance on livewire Rooney looks fragile.

Ukraine were certainly up for it, they passed well and limited England to few chances.
Their fans were eager with the flares. At the start, and when Shevchenko contrived to miss the penalty that followed Robert Green being sent off.

In Dnepropetrovosk the weather was not too cold, the scenery conducive and the xenophobic youths generally controlled. Much might well have been different with an alternative result or, worst of all, an abandonment.

Culturally I visited the History Museum, Monastery Island and joined the locals strolling around Park Shevchenka as the leaves fell and winter felt closer.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

U-20 World Cup in Egypt

Borg al Arab.

The Under 20 FIFA World Cup began in the 'new' Borg al Arab (military) stadium outside of Alexandria.

The stadium was being used for the first time for a major game despite being built over 3 years ago (for a failed World Cup bid)

Very surprisingly around 80,000 turned out , post-Ramadan, to enjoy an entertaining opening ceremony and the first game featuring the hosts and Trinidad & Tobago.

Yes there were thousands of the pastel coloured military service personnel trucked-in for the occasion but nevertheless it was an impressive beginning. Inevitably with president Mubarak attending (alongside FIFA president Sepp Blatter) many were still outside as the stadium was 'locked down' some 3 hours before the 8pm kick-off.

Egypt U-20 4 Trinidad & Tobago U-20 1

The local youngsters were not overawed by the surroundings or size of the crowd as they passed the ball well and went in front through a Messi-like dribble from Afroto. Though the Caribbeans equalised after an Egyptian error the hosts dominated the second half scoring through Arafat (twice) and Talaat.

Time for a coloured coordinated Mexican wave finished by some turf-kissing and much local celebration to get the tournament off to a bright start.


Its Friday - a day to savour.

The roads are relatively benign and many are at prayers.

I choose the metro then short taxi ride to the Cairo International stadium for the first game of a triple-header :

Italy U-20 0 Paraguay U-20 0

Its Italy so a nil-nil draw is never far away regardless of the age group.

A sparse crowd watched as both sides erred on the side of caution , both probably feeling confident of being able to progress beyond the group stages. It got languid at times in the 30 degree heat.

After a quick taxi ride, some dodging and weaving, and some searching I get to :

Al Salam.

A new stadium some 40 minutes or so from the main Cairo stadium , featuring an impressive centrally positioned video screen and holding around 20,000 when full.

Nigeria U-20 0 Venezuela U-20 1

A reasonable number of Venezuela fans had made the trip for their first ever major FIFA event and they generated some atmosphere in the stands. Nigeria also had support, presumably from local workers. As always the pastels were trooped in.

The impressive Del Valle slid in the winner for the South Americans and perhaps typically the Nigerians had a man dismissed. Nigeria battled hard later on but failed to get a breakthrough.

Spain U-20 8 Tahiti U-20 0

The third game of the day, also in the Al Salam stadium.

Its not every day that you see a team from Tahiti play.
Though the South Sea islanders did have an early half-chance that was it. The closest they got to the Spaniards was to present them garlands prior to the start.

A shellshocked Tahiti goalie may as well as not been there as Spain destoyed their opponents, particularly down the right wing. They eased off in the second half and still scored eight.


A hot Suez and another new stadium , this time with a good sized 40,000 capacity, named after president Mubarak rather than the usual military nomenclature.

Germany U-20 3 USA U-20 0

A strong looking german side fairly easily overcame a partly college based US team - that often looked like, well, college players.
Look out for the German left back (Kopplin) - also a long throw exponent and their striker Sukuta-Pasu.

South Korea U-20 0 Cameroon U-20 2

The second game of the Suez double-header.

The sometimes comically wild shooting of the Cameroonians versus the all action Koreans.

Cameroon won following a Korean goalie error and a second later in the second half.

Name of the tournament - Banana Yaya , the Cameroon no.4.

Al Salam.

Monday for another fraught triple header beginning with :-

Nigeria U-20 0 Spain U-20 2

A lob over the goalie for the first when put through and a Panenka-like chipped penalty for the second. Arsenal's Fran Merida ran this game.

True to form Nigeria have another guy sent off (Salami)


Italy U-20 2 Trinidad & Tobago U-20 1

Back in Cairo International stadium after a typically hair raising taxi ride, on a busy Monday, involving dirt tracks, going the wrong way along the main road and dodging a car stuck in a deep hole in the road.

As the hosts were playing later a decent crowd built up - mainly supporting the underdogs.

Albertazzi headed in the first but after a defensive mistake Junior Clarence converted the equaliser. It looked like Trinidad would get an impressive draw but a misplaced pass allowed Raggio to drive home the winner.

Egypt U-20 1 Paraguay U-20 2

The third game of the day and the main event. It is watched by well over 50,000 fans generating a vibrant atmosphere for their young team.
After a bright start from Egypt the South Americans quietened the crowd with a goal from Santander.
Arafat missed some half chances for the home side before Huth gets caught out and is red carded for holding back an Egyptian forward.
Afroto chips in the free kick for 1-1.

Into the second, and with a substitute goalie, Paraguay hold their own.
With various players succumbing to cramp the game ends with a corner headed back for Paniagua to volley home the Paraguayan winner from close range.

The locals disperse quietly though probably convinced that they will go through to the next phase anyway. And so it was.


It is the second biggest FIFA event in the calendar, after the main World Cup.

Though many major European football countries choose not to give it much support - England being a prime example - in Egypt there were plenty of takers.

Characteristically the play is more erratic (think Cameroon) , sometimes naive, and sometimes the players struggle to last the pace. But often the games look similar to full Internationals, as do the tactics employed (think Italy)

Egypt itself and Cairo in particular went from the relative heaven of the holidays after Ramadan to the mayhem we expect with snarled up roads and pollution.

Though Sepp Blatter thought that Egypt could stage the next African (full) World Cup it is hard
to see the infrastructure being capable.

more pics at