Monday, August 18, 2014

South America July/August 2014

Four more games in Brazil, including a couple of Serie A matches.followed by six in Paraguay ,three in Bolivia, finishing with the Copa Libertadores final back in Asuncion.

Fla as lanterne.

16th July   Flamengo 1 Atletico Paranaense 2   6,692 (c. 50 away)

And so to a Brazilian league match, different in many ways to the World Cup experience.
Illustrated by being able to a get a bus to right outside the stadium.

Also exemplified by standing next to a young Fla fan dressed in orange trainers, long, mostly orange shorts, Flamengo shirt and reversed cap (and wearing braces)
None of your face painters here.

This was Flamengo returning to action in Macae, a three hour bus ride north along the coast from Rio.

Apparently it was a familiar story - they lost and went bottom of the Brasileirao.

The stadium is three-sided with one end occupied by the 50 or so from Curitiba.
And the other two sides were filled with the Fla faithful - I joined them on the hard concrete.

Atletico moved in front following a Flamengo error, a first time pass to the speedy, dangerous Douglas Coutinho and he chipped in over the goalie.

An impressive header by defender Samir did restore home hopes but early in the second more space was exploited by the visitors and a cross to Cleberson was converted.

It seemed the home fans knew the story and they drifted away early although their team did hit the underside of the bar and have another effort brilliantly saved by the Atletico goalie.

This being a 10 pm kick-off it was fairly tricky to find a taxi back to my hotel but manageable in the end.

Easy as ABC (not really)

18th July  ABC 2 Joinville 1   Serie B  2,992 (c. 40 away)

From Rio to Natal for a visit to see the unimaginatively named ABC.

Where, again, you could at least get a flavour of a proper Brazilian league game with barbecues and street vendors outside the stadium - none of these could get close at the World Cup.

The ground is made up of slabs of concrete - open stands/seats with cover above the ‘main stand’.

A decent crowd turned away from the beach on a warm night to see the league leaders’ visit.

They took the lead when their centre forward headed home a cross and for a while it seemed the game would slip away from the home side - many in the crowd also sensed this.

But their luck changed as an own-goal deflection restored parity and Renato Silva then delivered a fine left-footer for the controversial winner.

Joinville were far from happy with the referee (ABC had also been unhappy with him in the first period) - and they eventually had two players dismissed for arguing.

That set the seal on a home win and meant Joinville dropped into second and ABC moved close to the top four.

Draw about right.

19th July Atletico Mineiro 1 Bahia 1   7,558 (about 40 away)

An early morning start from Natal to get the flight to Rio and then on to Confins, Belo Horizonte.

Back in 1950 England’s star players visited this stadium, the Independencia, to play USA in the World Cup.

As we know they lost, famously, 1-0.
Like your correspondent they might have seen the odd person sleeping on the street and, no doubt, the nearby poor areas.

They certainly didn’t stop at the Boulevard Shopping as I did.
And they probably didn’t have some barbecue and a coke in one of the street stalls outside the stadium, as I also did.

The Independencia has changed radically from those days having been recently updated.
(Incidentally beforehand I saw some old pictures of the Belo Horizonte grounds, plus other items,  in a small football exhibition in a theatre near the centre)

The upper tiers of the three-sided ground now boast (I assume) ‘rail’ type seating although this does make moving from row to row somewhat difficult.

The game itself was decent enough and the result was probably fair after Bahia led from a header in the first half. And they might have had a couple more from crosses.

Atletico stepped it up in the second period, equalising through popular sub. Luan.
But the visitors were a constant threat on the break and much to home fans frustration the game ended level.

I trekked down the hill, of which there are many in Belo, and got a taxi back to my hotel near Praca Tiradentes before enjoying a meal of chips, salad and wine.

Bossa Nova.

20th July  Villa Nova (MG) 1 Brasiliense 2  Serie D  c. 300  (25 away)

I stayed in Belo Horizonte to watch this Serie D game on the Sunday afternoon.

Villa Nova played in Nova Lima a fairly bumpy, undulating, fourty minute bus ride from BH.

Despite issues regarding where to pick up the relevant bus I manage to find the ground easily enough (central - near the rodoviaria) and indeed even managed to get off at the ‘correct’ stop on the return journey.

The stadium is three-sided and mostly open.

The small group of away ultras, in their yellow outfits, were behind the left hand goal.

They had more to cheer with their team going ahead from a nice passing move early in the first half.
Villa Nova did pull one back following a poor defensive clearance but the visitors scored what turned out to be the winner on the stroke of half-time when no.7 was put through to round the goalie and convert neatly.

Brasiliense consolidated in the second period and never let Villa Nova get too close.

It got slightly cooler and cloudier later but still dry as I eventually got the bus back to BH while the Brasiliense fans boarded their mini-bus for the 650 kilometre ride back to the capital.

And so ended my six weeks of football in  Brazil.


22nd July Nacional Asuncion 2 Defensor Sporting (Ur) 0  Copa Libertadores 22,117 (c.500 away)

From Belo Horizonte, via Sao Paulo to the Paraguayan capital for this Libertadores semi-final played at the Defensores del Chaco stadium.

It had been a fairly remarkable season in the 2014 Libertadores with the four remaining teams having never won the event and really only the Argentinians´ San Lorenzo being a continent-renowned name.

Nacional and Defensor were well down the list of historically top teams in their respective countries.

So this match gave an opportunity for one of them to reach the final and establish themselves in this historic and prestigious competition.

Nacional looked to have come close with a goal in each half, the first a nice left foot strike by Montenegro, the second a fine volley, from a headed clearance, by Orue.

Don, an Argentinian, in the home goal and his defenders held firm allowing the Uruguayans few chances although they did come close in a scramble near the end.

The pre-game atmosphere was enhanced by fireworks and a paper ´storm´ but it was often fairly quiet - understandable from the Defensor fans who had little to cheer.
And a lot of the home fans were not regulars (Nacional play in a smallish stadium, before limited crowds - see later)

But those leaving honked their horns and contemplated  a memorable, unique Libertadores campaign for La Academia.

Low key.

25th July Nacional 0 Dep. Capiata 3  c.300 (c. 30 away)

The Paraguayan league restarted with this Friday afternoon match, brought forward to help Nacional with their preparations for their crucial Copa Libertadores semifinal.

Not that it mattered too much as they fielded a reserve team anyway.

The game was played at the Arsenio Erico stadium (he was one of the River Plate team from the 30s) a small ground close to that of Cerro Porteno.
Its been updated somewhat with concrete seats kitted out in red-white and blue.

In a very low key atmosphere Capiata mostly bossed this one with striker Fabio Escobar netting twice.
Nacional might have scored from a header but they were generally second best.

4 Red and 3 pens.

26th July Sp. Trinidense 1 Sp. Iteno 2   c.100 (c. 30 away)

An early morning (10am) 2nd level encounter played in bright sunshine in the Trinidad area of Asuncion.

It was preceded by an even earlier reserve match, controlled by female officials.

In the main game there was no shortage of incident as we had 3 penalties and four red cards (two for handball in the area)

The referee did well coping with the at times tetchy game often rightly ignoring the screams from tackles.
The home side had most of the possession but they went behind to the first penalty and never capitalised when Iteno were a man down.

Trinidense then had two men dismissed themselves as they self-destructed.

The visitors concentrated on defence and scored the winner from a breakaway.

A third penalty, this time scored by no.15 meant we had a hectic last few minutes but no equaliser.


26th July  Sportivo Luqueno 0 Rubio Nu 0  c. 1,000 (no away)

Later in the afternoon I took the fairly short bus ride to Luque.

Arriving too early I wandered around, sampled a sandwich and a coke before watching this goalless match.

Despite the lack of goals there was a reasonable imitation of Argentinian support with the enthusiastic home ultras producing a large flag and plenty of songs.
There was also an echo of Boca in the yellow and blue home colours and quite a number of fans wore their shirts.

The ground is of a good size and would no doubt be quite noisy during a bigger game.

It did get quite cold later and we had no goals to warm us up either.

27th July  General Caballero 1 San Lorenzo 2   c. 200 (split about 50:50)

Another early start for this second level encounter between the home side and the team in second place.

Most of the action was within the first half hour with San Lorenzo quickly going two up before GC got one back.

The visitors then consolidated to maintain their challenge for the league title.

The ground, in a fairly poor area of the capital (you go past a stretch of slight wooden houses - composed less randomly than the Brazilian favelas) comprises just two sides.

The visitors brought about half the attendance.

27th July 12 de Octubre 1 Guarani 1  c. 1500 (about 50:50)

From Zaballos Cue to Itaugua, by taxi, returning to Asuncion by bus.

Some barbecue beforehand (plus cold potatoes) then to the four sided home of La Doce.

Guarani brought plenty of fans, mostly behind the left goal and along the side.

As usual we could watch the remaining minutes of the reserve match before the main event.

Which was goalless at half-time, a half in which Guarani were the better team.
The visitors applied a pressing game but as time wore on it seemed we might not get any goals.

But on 80 minutes ´12´went ahead from a corner only for Fernandez to turn and shoot in an equaliser soon after.
To complete the late action one of the Guarani defenders was given a red card near the end.

I exited and was straight onto a bus for the one hour plus ride back to the capital.

Never close.

30th July  Bolivar 1 San Lorenzo 0    27,950  (c. 1500 away)

And so to La Paz for this second leg Copa Libertadores semifinal

With Bolivar 5-0 down from the first match in Buenos Aires it was never going to be easy for them, even with the advantage of playing at the 3600m altitude.

The home fans put on a good show with paper storms and chants but this was a hard watch for them, and myself as a neutral.

Maybe if they had got an early goal, they did clip the bar in the first half, it might have been closer.

But from early on it looked like Bolivar were never really going to be good enough to upset the odds.

Some more agonising efforts in the second half, including a free header going over, gave them some hope.
San Lorenzo essentially did what they had to do, defending efficiently and wasting time as much as they could.
The altitude didn´t seem to play a part.

A very late consolation via a volley from close in gave the home side at least  the satisfaction of winning the tie.

But it was San Lorenzo who went through to their first ever Copa Libertadores final.

Dale 0-0.

31st July  Oriente Petrolero 0 Jorge Wilstermann 0 Bolivian League Cup  c. 12,000 (no visible away)

From La Paz to Santa Cruz de la Sierra is like going to another country with a drastic change in elevation and also in temperature.

Whereas La Paz is cool and breathless Santa Cruz is near sea level and hot.
One is hectic the other much less so.

Santa Cruz also has the reputation for having the most beautiful ladies in Bolivia & this was certainly true of those gathering, at my hotel, as prospective employees at an upcoming exposition.

Somehow I tore myself away from admiring those attractions for this nil-nil draw.

But this is what I do, of course, and the fans in the stadium would put on an impressive show with the ultras behind the right hand goal having a wide range of songs to encourage their team (Dale Ooo)

This was the first leg of the League Cup final with the second at Cochabamba a few days later.

Wilstermann were firm favourites and they looked the better team for most of this match, helped by the home side having a man dismissed.
They also came closest to scoring, hitting the post in the first period.

During the second half the game drifted but when the visitors also had a man given two yellows there was a chance of a home victory, but it never happened.

The stadium itself is centrally located, I could walk from my hotel, and of good size with, open curved ends and cover above the main stand.

Compared to La Paz it was a mild, though breezy, night to watch football.

Afterwards I strolled back to the atmospheric centre and had a quiet night.

3rd August  Jorge Wilstermann 0 Oriente Petrolero 0  19,401 (about 100 away)
Oriente won 5-3 on penalties.

So from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba.

Which is about half way between La Paz and Santa Cruz both geographically and also in the sense it is well above sea level but not as high as the capital.
Its main tourist attraction is the famous Cristo de la Concordia, a statue of Christ taller (and a lot easier to visit) than the one in Rio.

It is also favoured by an eternal spring-like climate unlike the heat of Santa Cruz or the cold nights of La Paz.

As to the football the second leg of the League Cup final again resulted in no goals though Wilstermann generally looked the better side.
They, at least, went forward with more conviction while Oriente, certainly in the second half, tended to play for penalties.

The home side came close with headers but despite the crowd support they couldn’t break through.

No extra time so it was straight to pens - Wilstermann missed their first one and that was it as the visitors converted all theirs.

Like the other stadiums I visited  in Bolivia the Felix Capriles is an older style bowl with limited cover.
It is also close to the centre of town, the walk being along a very pleasant boulevard.

So sadly my three games in Bolivia resulted in just one goal and that was very late in a already decided match.
However the crowds were good and the stadiums, if you like the older style, worth seeing.

As, of course, is the country itself.

I later took the tourist trail from Santa Cruz to Samaipata.
A bumpy three hour shared taxi ride to a tourist (and hippy) area followed by an even bumpier ride up the mountain to the La Fuerte archeological site.

Which is well laid out, with viewing platforms and English text.
And it is in an area that is a lot fresher, being considerably higher, than humid Santa Cruz.

Worth a visit if you are in Bolivia.

6th August 2014 Nacional 1 San Lorenzo 1   Copa Libertadores final  c. 28,000 (c. 3,000 away)

So a return to Asuncion for my final game - the first leg of the 2014 Copa Libertadores final.

San Lorenzo brought large numbers (apparently there were issues with forged tickets - causing grief for some) and they filled most of the right hand end of the Defensores del Chaco.
They would see history being made for their team.

As you would expect in such a final there was an impressive pre-match atmosphere with paper ‘storms’ and fireworks.

The (UEFA) Champions League might have the quality but the Libertadores definitely has the passion and atmosphere.

In the game San Lorenzo looked better in possession and they hit the post before eventually taking the lead when Matos converted at the near post.
Nacional were more direct but much less fluent.

For long periods it seemed the favoured Argentinians would get a second and ease into the second leg but Nacional preserved their unbeaten home record with a late strike from substitute Santa Cruz.

Quite a few of the fans had drifted away before then but that goal ensured the Paraguayans would still retain a chance of an unlikely Libertadores victory.

This time the taxis were not outside the stadium (road closures and security were enhanced for the final) but I managed to get one nearby and although the car overheated along the way, going up an Asuncion hill, we made it back to my hotel.

I joined some of the fairly confident Argentinian fans in the bar for a vino tinto.

That ended over two months in the Americas.
Adding up my travels in the US, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia I had journeyed a total of approximately 45,000 miles (72,400 km)

more pictures at

Friday, August 15, 2014

World Cup 2014 Brazil

20 games in this World Cup finals for me, including a ninth final match.
But it was my first in South America.

I arrived from New York, see previous blog entry, into Sao Paulo.
From where I travelled on to Cuiaba for the start of the finals.

No wizards of Oz.

Australia 1 Chile 3  in Cuiaba  40,275

The Chilean fans certainly made themselves heard as they packed the buses going to the Arena Pantanal.

Australia also had good representation although one fan I met, having travelled 52 hours from ‘down under’ fell asleep in his hotel room and only woke at the start of the second half.
He missed a spirited effort by the men in yellow.

But for a while it looked like Chile would overwhelm the Aussies who conceded two quick goals.

However they got it together and replied through a characteristic Tim Cahill header.

And for a while the match could have gone either way before Beausejour drove in a third near the end.

Afterwards I enjoyed a nice meal and a drink in a restaurant near my hotel.

Cuiaba centre had limited appeal, the main local attraction being the Pantanal area itself (which required more time to explore than I had available)
With various roadworks ongoing as well I was happy enough to make just one visit during this trip.

Without a paddle.

England 1 Italy 2  in Manaus.   39,800

Cuiaba, via Brasilia to hot and steamy Manaus.
Where I spent about 14 hours.

In the Arena Amazonia England coach Roy Hodgson (in my opinion) picked an over aggressive team which, if it had worked, would have been heralded.
But perhaps a more cautious approach was warranted, particularly as it was the first game and also after the earlier Uruguay defeat.

But we started quickly and looked dangerous then conceded, replied quickly, but then went behind.

Later the coach changed the configuration to a more balanced setup but that failed to create and so we lost (again) to a top team.

Not much time here (I had to make do with a view of the amazon from the plane) as I had booked an early morning flight, thus saving the cost of a hotel room, to Rio.

Messi the man.

Argentina 2 Bosnia & Herzegovina 1  in Rio   74,738

And so they came, jumping up and down on the metro and singing their songs.

The locals stressed their support for Bosnia and we had an interesting dynamic inside the Maracana stadium.

The Argentinians came to see Messi and he delivered the winner in typical fashion - a break into space and a shot into the corner.
His fans adored the outcome.

But Bosnia, playing in their first World Cup finals game, acquitted themselves well with various shots eventually benefitting when sub. Ibisevic squeezed in a goal in the second half.

A quick departure was needed to get, comfortably, to the metro and back to Cinelandia.

Dempsey and Brooks.

USA 2 Ghana 1  in Natal.  39,760

Clint Dempsey scored the fifth fastest W Cup goal ever and German-born Brooks headed in the winner from a corner late in the second period.

So Klinsmann’s team won what could be a crucial game in this group.

It was tough on Ghana who had much more possession but failed to take their chances or get much luck.
Just an Andre Ayew reply.

There were plenty of US fans in the ground and also staying around the popular Ponte Negra area.
Where I sampled the atmosphere and enjoyed some caipirinhas.

After four games on consecutive days I spent the next travelling back to Rio.

Its over.

Spain 0 Chile 2 in Rio   74,101

Very much the end of an era, not only the exit of the title holders but also the likely retirement of a number of their stars ( Puyol ?, Alonso ?, Xavi ?)
And maybe the end of tiki-taka ?

Chile certainly proved more dynamic and sharper.

Diego Costa, much jeered by the locals, failed to deliver and Torres didn’t have enough time or service to make an impact.

Chile scored twice in the first half, the second following a free-kick that was weakly dealt with by the hapless Casillas.

Roared on by a massive contingent the South Americans deserved their historic win and they went on to meet Holland to decide who topped the group.

The Brazilian media spent some time showing the contingent of Chile fans breaking into the press area, many would get deported.

And their actions also contributed to the increased police presence at future games.

Certainly there were masses of their fans outside - I paid a large amount for my ticket -and many obviously didn’t manage to get in.

Suarez the difference.

England 1 Uruguay 2  Sao Paulo  62,575

The overnight bus from Rio to SP arrived at about 5am, its a route I’d been on before though this time the persistent snoring of a few other passengers made it more uncomfortable than usual.

From SP I went to my hotel in Campinas - and then back to SP for the match.

Coach Roy Hodgson repeated the same team structure and the result was - the same.

Again small margins could have made a difference (Rooney hitting the bar and his free kick going narrowly wide)
And of course a certain Luis Suarez who headed in Cavani´s perfect chip and blasted the winner past Joe Hart.

Rooney finally got his World Cup finals goal - could be his only one ?

But he could not have done much more as the hard tackling Uruguayans benefited from having a special player in their side.

Travelling via the Sao Paulo metro wasn’t as chaotic (i.e. noisy) as Rio.

And it was much cooler especially in a stadium with semi-temporary stands.
I chose to stand up in the side to get out of the wind.  

Back to Campinas on the bus.

Swiss rolled over.

France 5 Switzerland 2   Salvador.   51,003

From Campinas to Salvador.

Difficult to predict this score in Bahia.

I dropped my bag at an airport hotel as there were no lockers in Salvador airport (only the old style luggage room)
And then took a shuttle bus from a shopping centre to the stadium - I system that (for Brazil) worked quite well.

The location of this stadium, more than most, highlighted the social divide in Brazil with a large group of favelas overlooking one side of the entrances.
From where the less fortunate could see the great and the good streaming into their privileged positions.

Amongst them were smallish groups of Swiss and French fans, spread around the stadium.

They saw a terrific performance by the French who cut through the Swiss defence at will.
Helped by some inept defending.

It was only when 5-0 up that they eased off and their opposition managed two late consolations.

Benzema made his bid for top scorer with a hat-trick.

I made a brisk exit and was back at the airport by around 6.30pm - in plenty of time for my flight to Fortaleza.

Ghana live on.

Germany 2 Ghana 2  in Fortaleza  59,621

Another top European side were in action.

This was another excellent watch, especially the pulsating second half, with Ghana going ahead when Asamoah Gyan broke through.
Before that the sides had exchanged goals from headers.

It took a record equalling prod at the far post from Miroslav Klose to get the draw for the Germans.

The result gave Ghana some hope of progressing.

And it maintained the high scoring and very attacking strategy evident in most early group matches.

Getting to and from the Castelao was nowhere near as easy as in Salvador.

It involved long walks in 30 degrees - perhaps, just the once, they should reverse the process and get the VIPs etc to use the buses and walk 3 km, and take the fans directly to the stadium.
Then ‘they’ might appreciate what its like.

But, of course, it ain’t never going to happen.

Next a day in the Fortaleza sunshine watching the three games on TV.

Mexican wave continues.

Mexico 3 Croatia 1 in Recife.  41,212

This match was played at the same time as the Brazil v Cameroon game.
It was not difficult to follow the score in Brasilia as the locals screamed goal to Brasil whenever the Selecao scored.

Easy enough to get tickets in Recife which was somewhat of a surprise considering historically Mexico can be one of the most expensive seats to be had.
Not at this World Cup though.

Despite that the Mexican, or US-based Mexican, fans packed the stadium.

A stadium that is isolated and a long way from the centre (a centre that ironically already includes the sizeable grounds of the 3 well supported Recife sides - Sport, Nautico and Santa Cruz)
But once inside and out of the rain it is a fine sight.

After Croatia had had more play Mexico eventually went ahead from a Marquez header followed by another quick goal and a Chacarita header from close range sealed the victory.

The Europeans got a consolation near the end but Mexico were into the Round of 16 to play Holland.

As we trekked back to bus and then metro the happy Brazilian fans had lit fires to celebrate their win and came out to greet the gringos.

Low key finish.

England 0 Costa Rica 0 in Belo Horizonte   57, 823

Our coach decided, rightly, to give the rest of the squad a game and he made Frank Lampard captain for probably his last appearance for his country.

In not the most exciting of matches.

Perhaps if Sturridge had scored when put through it would have been different.

But despite being on his favoured left foot he shot wide and the Ticos then generally did enough to draw and hence top the group.

The English misplaced passes and though Barkley showed promise at times it was not a fluent performance albeit defensively sound.

It was my first goalless draw in my tenth 2014 World Cup match.

As usual it was a long walk back to outside of the cordon sanitaire.

I took a taxi to my airport hotel and ordered a takeaway aiming for an early night.

Les Bleus top the group.

France 0 Ecuador 0 Rio   73,749

Another goalless game but much more lively than our game.

I managed to get a ticket for 500br outside the ground despite the cramped conditions outside the metro.

Inside the atmosphere didn’t have the same resonance as when Chile or Argentina were playing.

Ecuador were content to play on the counter attack and they had their moments but it was mostly France who went closest.

The South Americans were not helped by having a man dismissed for a bad tackle.

The result meant France went forward as group winners and Ecuador went home.

Ronaldo goes home.

Portugal 2 Ghana 1  in Brasilia.   67,540

A day trip from Rio and a return to the capital for me having visited it during last years Confederations Cup.

The stadium is one of the more convenient (and impressive) being reachable from the central area of a city that is normally far from ideal for pedestrians.

As it turned out this was the end for Cristiano Ronaldo and his team since they needed a lot more goals (and a German win) to go through.
One of those did happen but CR7 and co. couldn’t convert their chances as the Ghana goalie played his part.

Ghana did help with a John Boye own goal but Asamaoh Gyan replied with a header and it was left to Cristiano to get his valedictory goal, and the winner,near the end.

It was far too late.

So no progress for either as USA and Germany went through to the last 16 from that group.

I took the local bus (2br) rather than the so called Executive bus (8br) back to the airport.
Where I watched some of Algeria v Russia before flying back to Rio.

James the giant goalscorer.

Colombia 2 Uruguay 0  in Rio   73,804

I bit the bullet and bought a ticket some 5 hours before the start of this one, at high cost.

But it did enable me to watch the Brazil v Chile match near to the Maracana without the possible hassle likely of buying one nearer to kick-off (albeit at perhaps, a lower cost)

After the locals celebrated Brazil’s progress into the last eight inside the stadium we readied for this all-South America clash.

With the fans mixed together, particularly at the end I was situated, there was quite a few minor ‘skirmishes’ and differences of opinion.
None seemed too serious but not surprisingly the smaller representation of Uruguayans were not in the best of moods.

Their Luis Suarez masks had often been confiscated though I did see an impressive flag with a picture of the winning goal from 1950.

After a steady start new star James Rodriguez lit up the match with a spectacular volley.

He added a second later.

And Colombia dominated before consolidating later as Uruguay, despite some Cavani efforts, struggled without the inspirational Suarez.

And so for Brazil one of their nightmare scenarios was removed - Uruguay wouldn’t repeat their 1950 victory - ‘eliminado’ the fans chanted.

Back via the metro to Cinelandia and some chicken and red wine before bed.

Pogba strikes.

30th June  France 2 Nigeria 0  in Brasilia  67,882

A day trip from Rio involving an early start and a bus ride into capital federal.

A pre-match coffee in the shopping centre, a stroll towards the stadium, a purchase of a ticket (c. cost price) and I was inside some two hours before kick-off.

Where groups of French fans outnumbered the few Nigerians but the Africans did have the support of the locals.

After a cautious beginning the French gradually applied the pressure and Enyeama in the Nigerian goal succumbed, failing to deal with a cross and Pogba nodded in.

The Europeans would add a second later via a Yobo deflection and they progressed to a probable date with Germany in Rio.

Easy enough to get a local bus back to the airport to watch the 5pm game on TV before getting my flight back to Santos Dumont.

Di Maria delivers.

1st July  Argentina 1 Switzerland 0   Sao Paulo  63,255

Another day trip, another early start.

But with a 1pm start there is not too much waiting around, though getting there early, especially for an Argentina game and especially in Sao Paulo (long uphill walk) was always recommended.

The Argentinians thronged the place, many without tickets.
Inside the ground they, as ever, made themselves heard above the Brazilians and the much fewer Swiss.

But this was a fraught watch - the Swiss should have gone ahead when forward Drmic flunked a chip.
And though they had more possession the South Americans failed to create much.

The game was always on a knife edge with the Swiss playing heroically at times.

Deep into extra time the breakthrough came, a break by Messi, a perfect pass to Di Maria and the Real Madrid forward shot across the goalie for the winner.

Even in the last minutes we had some great drama, with the Swiss goalkeeper virtually playing as a forward, the Europeans hit the post and Di Maria missed a (long) shot at an open goal.

Argentina could breathe a sigh of relief.

As at Colombia v Uruguay there were some minor arguments between fans - the Argentinian fans not being too keen on the locals supporting the opposition.

I negotiated the (downhill) route to the metro and got the bus back to Guarulhos for the return flight to Rio and a reasonably early night.

Hummels header is enough.

4th July  France 0 Germany 1  in Rio   74,240

As we moved into the quarter finals my feeling was that there were many more ‘corporates’ and groups from various countries taking in the ‘big matches.
I met one such from Iraq and there were flags of many places in evidence in the stadium..

Selfies and pictures were never ending - and the locals, bored at times, started their Flamengo songs, drank more beer and enjoyed the Mexican wave.

This was my fifth visit during the competition so you might forgive the ‘another visit to the Maracana’ feeling.

As to the match, which I watched from high behind one goal (actually not a bad view),
it was decided by a Hummels header in the first half.

Though France had more efforts they failed to produce enough telling chances
to really trouble Neuer.
Bringing on Giroud and Remy still didn’t change the outcome.

Whereas sub. Scheurle might have sealed the game later in the 2nd half.

So the well supported Germans made it into another semi-final.

Back at the Ibis by 4pm I had some popcorn and waited for Brazil to be on TV.

More joy for the locals (at a cost) as Brazil made the semis and a date with another ex-champion.

Meanwhile the next day - a long day trip, again, to the nations capital.

Belgium blow it.

5th July  Argentina 1 Belgium 0  Brasilia   68,551

4am start ,around 10.30 pm finish.

As expected the Argentinian fans packed Brasilia and provided another enervating atmosphere as they competed with the Brazil fans who, as ever, supported their opponents.

In a match that was quite disjointed at times it took a single goal driven home early on by Higuain to decide the outcome.
Belgium disappointed being unable to create much spark and limited danger to the South Americans.
In the end they resorted to long balls into the centre - that resulted in some scrambles but no equaliser.

Star man Messi could have wrapped it up late on but Courtois made a good save.

It made no difference and Argentina would progress to their first semi-final since I saw them at Italia ‘90.

Bus back to the airport and a chat with some Brazilians who spoke English (!) while watching some of Holland v Costa Rica.

Bus from Rio to Belo.


8th July  Brazil 1 Germany 7   Belo Horizonte   58,141

One of the most incredible World Cup matches ever, let alone for a semi-final.

We’ll still be talking about this game in fifty years time said one (not me i guess, I won’t be around)
Beforehand we had the noise and strident rendering of the national anthem - who would have predicted what would follow ?

In thirty minutes Germany had destroyed any chances of Brazil claiming a sixth title in their homeland.
By then they were five goals ahead.

Starting with a Thomas Muller conversion at the far post, Klose followed that with a record World Cup finals goal.

And Toni Kroos quickly added a couple more and Khedira a single.

A stunned crowd could not believe what was happening.

Eventually they would cheer the Germans and jeer their own (especially the hapless Fred) in a final humiliation for the Selecao.

There were some minor scuffles in the stadium as the Brazilians tried to make sense of what was occurring but mostly it was a living nightmare.
Afterwards you had to feel for the downcast guy on the metro dressed up as Hulk (I guess it could have been worse, he could have chosen to be Fred !)

Various records tumbled.

My taxi driver was manic as he listened to the post match press conference.

Oscar Romero.

9th July  Argentina 0 Holland 0 (Argentina won 4-2 on penalties)  63,267

And so an overnight bus from BH to Sao Paulo for the 2nd semi-final.

Where it was back to normal with a much tighter encounter decided by pens after 120 minutes of closely fought action.
Of few chances - Robben and HIguain had them but that was about it.

Defences were in control and Argentinian star Messi was well held by the Dutch.

Whose fans, in fairly small groups, were well outnumbered by the South Americans.
However they did have the locals on their side - always hoping for an Argentina loss.

But goalie Romero proved the ultimate star as he saved two of the Holland penalties and the celeste could celebrate a third meeting with Germany in a World Cup final.

Uber alles.

13th July  Argentina 0 Germany 1   74,738   Rio

And so to the final.

For me I would have preferred an all-South American affair but at least one team from the host continent made it.

And credit Argentina for applying a game plan that came close to working.

That was conceding space and closing down (often led by Mascherano) near to their defensive third. Then counter-attacking.

Perhaps if Higuain or Palacio had converted decent chances and maybe if Messi had another moment of magic it could have been different.

But the Germans ultimately deserved their fourth title for their all-round class and of course, for the way they had demolished Brazil in the semi-final.

Sadly many more Argentinians would like to have cheered on their heroes inside the stadium as many sought tickets along Copacabana and nearer the Maracana.
The 5000 or so Germans probably found it easier to get tickets.

Inevitably there was a large contingent of ‘corporate’ and VIP onlookers.

The match was always an intriguing watch although as time went on a single goal looked likely to decide the outcome.
Because of the South Americans resolve it took until the final period of extra time for the impressive Scheurle to cross for Goetze to control and volley past Romero.

I passed on staying for the aftermath (I would stay if it was England lifting the trophy  !?) and was at the bus station while they were still celebrating.

Praise no doubt went to the many volunteers especially the one that spoke English, the one that spoke French and the couple who spoke Spanish.

And of course those few that gave correct directions.

So another World Cup finished, some got arrested, for ticket-related offences, some failed to get in under dubious circumstances and many saw memorable matches (and one unbelievable game)

Summary, best described in an interview.

Q (Central Scrutinizer)  So BIll how was the World Cup for you ?

A (Bill) : Fantastic, best ever.

Q: But Bill thats not what you told me earlier.

A: Many of the matches offered great entertainment and there were lots of goals.

Q: But it got a lot tighter in the latter stages - yes ?

A: Of course, I guess thats natural, with one obvious exception.

Q: And you were there.

A: That 7-1 game - as someone said there won’t be anything like it for for another 50 years.

Q: When you are long gone.

A: True, unless medical science moves very quickly.

Q: And you were at the final - your ninth.

A: I was hoping for an Argentinian win but Germany deserved it - they were the best team.

Q: So why did you want Argentina to win when you have German friends ?

A: As you know I’m a big fan of football in Argentina and their passion for the greatest game &  I wanted the Brazilians to suffer (some more)

Q: Now we’re getting somewhere.

A. Well here goes - bad education, poor service, lack of training, nobody speaking English (or Spanish), limited, often incorrect, information, delays to infrastructure projects, indifferent signage, little appreciation of what visitors want and inordinate long walks to the stadiums (OK - the last one is mostly down to FIFA)

Q: But apart from that.

So it wasn’t the greatest World Cup ?

A: It was mixed, not the best, or the worst.

And I was exaggerating for effect - but it was hard work at times in a very large country that is in many ways still in the ‘third world’.

Q; You think it could do a lot better.

A: For sure - even Dom Pedro II recognised it more than a century ago - more education is needed in Brazil.

Q: But on the whole wasn’t the organisation, the transport - buses and flights - generally good.

A: Yes I had a couple of delays but nothing serious (and getting through the controls was efficient) and its true the long distance and local buses were pretty good.
However there were virtually no ‘manifestations’ this time.

Getting into the stadiums, especially in Rio, could be cramped but not so bad if you allowed enough time.

The metro, when available, was also very good even when accompanied by bouncing Argentina fans and Chi-Chi-Chile chants.

Q: Although the Rio single ride tickets expire after a few days - that caught you out !

A: Thanks for reminding me. I bought some in advance to make things easier. (I guess nobody in Brazil expects people to think ahead)

Q: But once inside the stadiums it was a carnival atmosphere - what’s wrong with that ?:

A: Like it has been for a number of World Cups. Face painting, selfies, fancy dress and the Mexican Wave all now play their part. And as the tournament progressed more obviously the people attending were ‘corporate’ groups and middle class.

Q: Bill you’re a traditionalist, you want to see real fans at games ?

A: I do but I also realise it’s not going to change.

Q: What about your country - you must have been disappointed with the England performance - all over so quickly ?

A: And made a little worse by the win by Germany - surely we are not that much different ?
If they can do it why shouldn’t we.

Perhaps the next ‘golden generation’ will start the process in the next few years.

Q: Or maybe not.

Q: And back to Brazil itself - you enjoyed the food and the weather of course ?

A: The weather - yes - just a few days of rain.

The food - steak and chips every day.

Q: You had steak and chips every day ?

A: Well not quite - it just seemed like it, and a limited choice of other snacks, I got bored with those empanadas and moderate beer.

Q: You’re implying there needs to be more choice, like in Europe.

A: Yea, some Chinese (or Asian) food for example and perhaps the odd pain au raisin.

Q: But in Rio you had some Starbucks capuchinos didn’t you ?

A: A small oasis.

Q: What about the cities - like Rio de Janeiro - a great city ?

A: Iconic for sure but it really needs some updating - more choice of restaurants and less feeling of insecurity would help.

Q: You mean not having to walk in the middle of the street at night and checking who is behind you all the time ?

A: And hiding your valuables in your underpants.

Q: Lets not go there.

Q: I remember you mentioned happening to see an England fans’ mobile diary - it was not very complimentary ?

A: Along the lines of Brazil is full of robbers and the streets are dirty.

Q: But you have to balance out the limitations of South America and being at a fantastic event like the World Cup.

A: Thats true - I’ve been to Brazil a number of times (though you tend to forget the issues) and its important to retain that perspective and keep patient at all times.
Not everything is going to work and not every option will be available.

Q: You hear ´Noa tenho´a lot i guess ?

A: That is when they bother to respond - mostly service involves spending a lot of time on their mobile phone and chatting to their friends.

Q: A bit harsh, Bill.

Q: Back to football - you told me that the Brazilian team performance was a kind of metaphor for the World Cup experience overall in that it was mixed,  euphoric at times but ultimately mistake ridden.

A: Yea, and also the flag - looks nice but ´ordem & progresso´is a bit of a stretch.

Q: Not so much order and not a lot of progress going on you mean ?

A: Plus a lot of mistakes - you always needed to check your bill, for example.
And there was the time I noticed the details a hotel receptionist had filled out when I checked into one hotel.
Apparently I was Australian - I´m English and have never been there.

And that I was 114 years old (born in 1900) - I´m certainly old but not that old.

Q: You should have suggested they put up a special plaque commemorating a visit by the oldest living man.

A: The plaque might be ready in four years time.

Q: But Bill your’re a very lucky guy, not too many people have seen so many games at the World Cup - will you be going again in 2018  ?

A: I certainly hope so - despite what I said its still a memorable event.  

I’m sure the Blatter/Putin World Cup in the Russian Empire will be the same.

More pictures at