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

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