Sunday, February 27, 2011

PAEC – Piracicaba (19-02-2011)

Finally, after almost a week in Brazil, I would visit my first football game in Brazil, which would also mean my first game in Latin America. In fact, on this Saturday in Sao Paulo, I would get to see two games. The first one was a small game in the Campeonato Paulista – Serie A2, i.e. the second division in the state of Sao Paulo. While this sounds really marginal, one should not forget that the city of Sao Paulo is the largest city in the Southern hemisphere with 11 million people; the metropolitan area has 20 million people, while the whole state has 41.250.000 people.

It wasn’t easy to find the stadium, as the Estádio Nicolau Alayon is tucked away off a busy street in Sao Paulo, the Avenida Marquês de São Vicente, between factories and opposite to the training facilities of two of the biggest clubs in the city: Sao Paulo FC and Palmeiras FC. A. dropped me off at the entrance, about 20 minutes before kick-off (at 4 PM). It was a very hot day, roughly 35 C (93 F), with a scourging sun. I first sat down at the little café to have a drink, before going to the ticket office to buy a ticket for a mere R$10 (ca. €4.40), one of the cheapest things I encountered in Sao Paulo.

The Estádio Nicolau Alayon was built in 1938 and is owned by Nacional Atlético Clube, a team that plays in the Paulista Third Divison (A3). Pão de Açucar Esporte Clube (PAEC) shares the stadium, which has a capacity of 9.660, and is in a pretty decent state.

Upon entering, I was pat down by the riot police, which seemed a bit excessive because at that time only some 50, mostly older, people were in the stadium. As I was looking around, I heard people sing and drum. Slowly but steadily the chants became louder, and there were the away supporters, from Piracicaba.

I took a place on the (one) Main Stand with the roughly 250 home fans. The audience was quite mixed in terms of ethnicity, age and gender. Most fans seemed local and closely tied to the little club. While the atmosphere was relaxed, they were true fans, who would follow the game intensely.

As I was in the stadium, I thought Piracicaba was just another suburb of Sao Paulo, which explained why there were so many away fans. Turns out that these ca. 200 fans has traveled 160 km (100 miles), mostly in a large bus, though many also in cars. They were by far the loudest fans in the little stadium.

To my surprise, the game was preceded by the Brazilian national anthem. This is the third country where I experienced this (others being South Korea and, obviously, the US). Another surprise was the good state of the pitch, given that Sao Paulo had experienced tropical rain storms for days.

The visitors started the game well, forcing the home goalie to make three good safes in the first ten minutes (all against the same striker). The quality of play was quite high with regard to technique, but tactically both teams were poor, particularly in defense, leaving huge spaces. Despite the clear dominance of Piracicaba, it would be PAEC that scored the first goal, after a beautiful attack in the 15th minute: 1-0. Although only some 550 people were at the stadium, the atmosphere was great.

The game slowed down, which was not surprising given the heat, but the short passing remained really good. The visitors still had the best of the game, but it would again be the hosts who scored, after a great counter attack in the 38th minute: 2-0.

I guess the home coach gave a thunder speech during half time, because PAEC started the second half much better. Unfortunately, in the 62nd minute the central defender and captain of the hosts got his second yellow card and was sent off. The visitors took this as an opportunity to change the game and started to pressure again.

But the visitors wouldn’t give up and after a long, sustained attack a good ball was well controlled and finished: 2-1. With only three minutes to go in the first half, most home fans thought they were safe. But in the last minute of regular play the referee gave a soft penalty to the visitors, for holding on the edge of the box: 2-2, half time.

Although the game remained entertaining, and the atmosphere good, the pace was lower and the passing less accurate. Increasingly PAEC was with its back against the wall, but defended well. The visitors created a lot of pressure, but few real chances. And even when they were able to shoot at goal, the good PAEC goalie would save. Hence, 2-2 was also the final score.

I really enjoyed this game. Sure, the perfect sunny summer day helped, but that wasn’t all. It was a kind of intimate, relaxed as well as intense, football experience with entertaining and pretty decent football. Moreover, it was my first game in Latin America, which meant that I now have seen football games on all six continent (where professional football is played)!

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