This trip comprised seven Brazilian leagues games at various levels plus England’s visit to the Maracana and finished with three matches at the start of the Confederations Cup.
Moderate match in Madureira
June 1st Madureira 0 Guarani 0 Serie C 500 (70 away)
A low key start to this trip.
An hour and a half on a bus from the centre of Rio, its near kick-off time, you’re in a traffic jam and the bus driver thinks you want to go to the samba school.
But you see a sign for the Madureira club and jump off the bus.
Madureira is a suburb of Rio and their ground is of an ‘inner-city’ type being hemmed in by industrial units, the club facilities, a York Road-like (Maidenhead) car park facility and some hills with the inevitable favelas.
Guarani brought a decent number of fans - they have recently dropped down from Serie B.
The game itself was very moderate with just some freekicks, crosses and corners as the sum of the excitement.
But the pleasant weather made it a reasonable watch.
A long bus ride or, a return via bus and metro gets you back to the centre of Rio.
Where I drunk in some of the Rua do Lavradio atmosphere helped by a couple of caipirinhas and a Brazilian dish.
Still work to be done.
2nd June Brazil 2 England 2 66,015 (c. 900 away)
And so to the refurbished Maracana.
Where it was almost ready.
Dusty seats, partly unfinished areas and no doubt some teething problems with getting in were evident but once inside the atmosphere was noisy, especially when Brazil attacked.
Which they did on a regular basis, certainly in the first half.
England looked cautious, somewhat overawed and they rode their luck.
But things changed in the second period and although Brazil scored first we turned around the match with a nice Oxlade-Chamberlain strike and a Rooney right footer into the corner.
This seemed to stun the home side and for while, as the England fans sang ‘its just like watching Brazil’, we were on for a famous win.
But a cross and a Paulinho volley restored parity.
So a better than average friendly game played in the stadium that will host the 2014 World Cup final.
On this evidence neither team is likely to be playing in that final.
Back in the centre of Rio, via the metro, I settled for some more caipirinhas and a buffet meal.
Varginha monologue - Boa constricted.
4th June Boa 1 ASA 2 Serie B 773 (2 away fans)
Varginha, some 8 hours or so on the bus from Rio is famous for the alleged sighting of an alien by some children a while ago.
Not many aliens at this game though, apart from your correspondent.
Their ground, a fourty-five minute walk from the centre down some fairly dodgy looking streets, is plenty big enough with medium sized open seats curving around a partial background of some old terrace.
The match was entertaining with Boa having more possession but ASA had useful striker Lucio Maranhao who hit the post in the first half then set up the opener in the second.
He later rounded the keeper to score the winner.
Boa skipper Marcelinho managed to squeeze in a free kick as a consolation.
No buses or taxis around afterwards so I trekked back along the same streets, some very hilly. to the centre and relaxed with a large beer whilst watching some Brazilian music on TV.
Dagoberto’s epistle to the Corinthians.
5th June Cruzeiro 1 Corinthians 0 Serie A 15,082 (500 away)
My second visit to Sete Lagoas to see Cruzeiro.
The route took me the five hours from Varginha then another nearly two hours, not made easier by the Belo Horizonte traffic, north to 7L.
What the stadium loses in convenience it does somewhat make up for in providing a compact atmosphere.
A large number of Cruzeiro fans were joined by a section of Corinthians fans whose ultras (Camisa 12 etc) didn’t make it inside until half time.
As last time the big & small mascots entertained prior to the start.
Bizarrely it took all five officials to checkout the goal nets then do a group hug (like the players) before eventually the referee, theatrically, got the game going.
It was a fast and frenetic first half with both sides attacking.
Alexandre Pato of Corinthians looked a quality striker but his best efforts were well saved by Fabio.
Into the second period the game became more sterile with the visitors seemingly happy to take a point.
Until the arrival of the pacy Elber who quickly missed a difficult chance.
But he then sped past Fabio Santos who brought him down inside the area.
The full back got red and the blues celebrated as Dagoberto forced home the resultant penalty.
Cruzeiro fans could enjoy being top of Serie A and also the defeat of Atletico by Vasco.
My pre-arranged taxi failed to appear so I was forced into plan B - bus back into Sete Lagoas then negotiate another taxi ride back to Belo Horizonte.
This I did for a price and was back at my hotel by 1.45am.
8th June J Malucelli 1 Londrina 2 Serie D 314 (175 away)
JMA is a fairly new team (re)named after the insurance company.
They play towards the west of Curitiba near to the Parque Barigui Shopping Centre.
Their ground is considered a uniquely ‘green’ eco-stadium with plenty of wood in evidence and that not only in the trees.
Plants and wooden entrances continue the theme.
Londrina brought a good number of fans including ultras with flags and drums.
And the away side were generally superior with Germano scoring two headers, both from set pieces.
For most of the match Londrina made more chances than the home side.
Who did however equalise from a penalty.
The away goalie seemed lucky to only get a yellow for bringing down striker Bruno Batata.
But apart from that opportunity JMA produced little.
I went back to the centre on the tubo bus and had some refreshment in the old station shopping centre.
Nautico at sea.
9th June Coritiba 1 Nautico 0 Serie A 21,364 (c.12 away)
Staying in Curitiba and a revisit to the excellent Couto Pereira stadium.
And the game was a good watch on a coolish early evening with the home ultras working well.
Coritiba regained top spot in Serie A with a goal in the first minute, glanced in from a free-kick by Deivid.
Although the home fans got frustrated as Coxa mis-fired at times they were reasonably comfortable against a Nautico team that played mostly on the break.
Alex, the ex-Fenerbahce star, began most of the good moves for Coritiba, and he stood out with his superb left foot and first time passes.
It’s doubtful Coritiba will stay at the head of the Brazilian league but as is often the case its hard to call which side will eventually prevail.
Chapecoense get the car horns going.
11th June Chapecoense 3 Paysandu 2 Serie B 6,014 (c. 10 away)
A bit of a road less travelled for some, to Chapeco, well to the west of Santa Catarina state.
Where you can forgive the tourist office staff for not speaking English.
Because the local museum personnel guided this visitor through the development of the city and its exponential growth over the last 30 years or so.
Maybe the local team will mirror that development since they top Serie B.
The ground is nicely walkable from the centre and it is compact and ideally suited for the likely attendance with medium sized seating at either end in a green and white theme throughout.
Not surprisingly there were not too many present from Belem.
The home side started quickly forcing corners and crosses and then we had a pause (with the crowd complaining about the referee) before they went ahead just before half time with the first of Bruno Rangel’s headers.
Paysandu had more play early in the second half and equalised from a volley from just outside the area.
For while it looked like they would frustrate Chapeco but Bruno Rangel was there at the far post with time to control the cross and stab it in from close range.
And then we had the late drama.
On the stroke of full time a right wing cross was headed home by sub Iarley of Paysandu.
Gloom for the home fans but not for long as within the three added minutes another cross and Bruno Rangel was there again to glance in a header & send most home happy.
So Chapecoense stayed top.
I walked the short distance back to my hotel with the car horns blaring.
Kleber late show.
12th June Gremio 1 Sao Paulo 1 Serie A 18,422 (200 away)
9 hours on the bus from Chapeco and I‘m in Porto Alegre.
As long as you have a book or magazine or maybe some music its possible to adjust to these long bus rides.
After a very amenable meal of Escalope Milanese and two glasses of vinho tinto on a mild night I felt mellow enough to get a taxi to the Gremio Arena.
Where, in a city that feels European in many areas, its like being in a German stadium with the three tiers and a large section of terrace for the home ultras.
A decent crowd turned out but a shame that there was not another 20,000 (as there would have been in Germany) to really create an atmosphere.
Both sides had names from the past not least the ever-enduring goalkeepers Rogerio Ceni (40) and Dida (39)
The former got a lively reception, presumably because of past misdemeanors.
It was another ‘name’ Luis Fabiano who finished off a fine SP move late in the first half.
That didn’t help the mood of the fans who booed loudly at the break.
But Gremio pressed forward in the second and Elano hit the post before finally the pressure told and Kleber shot in the equaliser from close range following a corner.
So a fine stadium, a decent game and parity between two teams currently in mid-table.
It was a late finish, not helped by Gremio coming out late, the usual group-hugs and fiddling about (we didn’t begin until about 22.06)
No taxis around so I got the speedy bus back to somewhere near the centre and eventually my hotel.
15th June Brazil 3 Japan 0 Brasilia 67,432
And so to the start of the Confederations Cup in the capital of Brazil.
I’d travelled in on the bus from outside the city having been unable to reserve a reasonably priced central hotel in what is probably the most expensive location for visitors to Brazil.
On the bus I met some of the protesters, one of which was an English teacher.
He outlined their concerns, which focus on the misallocation of money and, of course, corruption.
In a country where there is evident growth but manifest poverty, superb stadiums but poor infrastructure you could understand their grievances.
Brasilia was warm and sunny, at least for most of the game until we left the ground under cloudy skies and in light rain.
Arriving early in the stadium area I had some lunch in the heaving nearby shopping centre.
I was one of the few not in a yellow shirt.
Impressive as you might expect the stadium was a riot of canaries.
One evident benefit of the Confederations Cup is that the home fans receive a large proportion of the tickets (for a price, of course)
Few Japanese fans were visible.
And their team was almost invisible for most of this match as well.
The stunning Neymar opener meant the Asian champions were under pressure from the start and they rarely tested Julio Cesar.
Neymar proved that he is not only renowned for his hairstyles as he went on to show off a range of tricks helping Brazil add goals by Paulinho and a late left foot finish by substitute Jo.
Just the beginning the home side wanted and the locals were pleased.
I adjourned to a lakeside restaurant with some friends and enjoyed more steak and red wine.
16th June Mexico 1 Italy 2 Maracana, Rio 73,123
The flight from Brasilia was late but still gave me plenty of time to settle into my hotel (again in the centro area of Rio) and take the, free, metro to the Maracana for the second match in the Confederations Cup.
Another large crowd, many I suspect of Italian origin, and it was certainly the Europeans who had the majority of the support.
And in order to ensure your picture on the TV screens dress as an Aztec (Mexico) or as a Roman centurion (Italy), this will guarantee to get your friends screaming at the television.
Italy fielded a familiar lineup including the experienced Buffon, Chiellini and Pirlo plus Balotelli up front.
And it was Mario who immediately caught the eye with a series of shots in the first half.
Though inconsistent for Manchester City he often seems to be able to produce the goods when playing for his country.
He went on to give defender Rodriguez a torrid time.
But it was the free-kick master Pirlo who gave the Italians a deserved lead after 27 minutes.
Mexico then benefited from a lapse from Barzagli who was caught in possession by Dos Santos (and rather fortunate only to receive a yellow card) leaving Hernandez to convert the resultant penalty.
In a much more competitive game than the first match Italy regained the initiative and eventually Balotelli muscled past Rodriguez to score the winner.
It was a somewhat unusually aggressive performance by the Italians and a generally muted one by the Mexicans who nevertheless have a lively group of dangerous forwards (when they did attack)
I negotiated a reasonably well organised route back using the metro.
Nigeria score 6 and miss 6.
11th June Tahiti 1 Nigeria 6 Mineirao Belo Horizonte 20,187
Going to the Mineirao stadium for a big FIFA tournament proved a tortuous process not helped by the higher numbers of protesters disrupting the central city area.
Being reliant on a multitude of buses meant it was relatively easy for the ‘manifestations’ to cause chaos.
Hence it took an hour to get to the stadium and two hours to get back to the centre after the match.
Even without the outside influences the large ‘cordon sanitaire’ (meaning a long uphill walk for many) and the lack of information would have meant delays anyway.
And that was on a Monday afternoon with a crowd of only 20,000.
Most who made it inside supported the underdogs and Tahiti received a great ovation both when they scored and at the end of the game.
Their spirit shone but so did their naivety, especially in defence.
Nigeria scored early albeit with a deflected effort by Echiejile and they went on to add a couple more by half-time.
Serie B striker Oduamadi would eventually get his hat-trick but it was the extravagant misses that often stuck in the mind.
Many times a NIgerian would be one on one with the Tahitian goalie and fail to convert.
Jonathan Tehau had the honour of scoring the Tahiti goal, headed in from a corner, probably the only one they will get at this tournament.
And amongst the Tahitian amateurs Steevy Chong-Hue stood out as a decent prospect.
But ultimately lightweight, naive and mostly out of their depth the Polynesians provided another argument for the Oceania Federation to be amalgamated with the Asians.
Going to Brazil for football in 2014 ?
Learn some Portuguese and be prepared for large, sprawling, sometimes chaotic cities.
Be ready for some long walks, often in hilly terrain and be patient with the transport facilities.
Expect hotel prices to be at European levels especially in the main host cities.
Expect to clock up plenty of air miles.
Take care in the larger cities (e.g. Rio, Sao Paulo and Salvador)
Tropical in many places it can be fairly cool in the south of the country during the Southern
If you’re a vegetarian - good luck with that.
In a country renowned for coffee it can be difficult to get a decent cappuccino.
Don’t necessarily expect European (or USA) quality of service.
But enjoy the weather, the lifestyle, the churrascaria and the caipirinhas.
Enjoy the cultural variety, more European in the south, more obviously Brazilian further north.
And of course the football experience.
more pictures at http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/1945271082