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.
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.
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.
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.
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 http://www.photobox.co.uk/album/2721165500