Monday, February 28, 2011

SC Corinthians Paulista – Santos FC (20-02-2011)

No Ticket

On my last day in Sao Paulo I planned to see the big game in the Campeonato Paulista (Sao Paulo’s First Division), which started at 4.00 PM, which left me ample time to get back to my hotel to pick up my stuff and still make my flight at 11.25 PM. However, as A. had left for Rio, I was a bit doubting, but fortunately M., a grad student I had met at the conference, was also planning to go, so we teamed up. Tickets were sold at the stadium till noon, and at the club (and old stadium until 3 PM. M. had gotten tickets for R$70 (€30.50), as all cheaper tickets were sold out. I joined M. and two of his friends to drive to the stadium. After the usual haggling and paying for public street space, we walked to the stadium, where there was a fairly tense atmosphere.

Fortunately, we had more expensive tickets, which meant that we entered a fairly empty entrance, were patted down, and entered our great section at the half of the pitch. Unfortunately, they took my beautiful plastic pass, which had functioned as my ticket, and left me without a souvenir. While the audience in our section was ethnically mixed, it was much more white and female than the other (cheaper) sections.

The Estádio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho, better knows as Estádio do Pacaembu, is the home of the It is an odd structure, almost carved out of the hills of Sao Paulo, which three attached stands and one disconnected one. It has a modest capacity of only 37.952 people, despite the fact that Corinthians is the most popular club of Sao Paulo and the second most popular club of Brazil (after Rio’s Flamengo). In fact, the “Popular Republic of Corinthians” claims 30 million fans (referred to as ‘crazies’).

Corinthians-Santos is one of the classics in Brazil. Santos FC hails from the port town of Santos, 75 km (46 miles) south of Sao Paulo. It will forever be known as the club of Brazilian world star Pele, even if even today it has super stars like 19 year old striker Neymar. Several thousand fans had come to the game, shielded by riot police in their secluded section of the stadium.

Somewhat surprisingly, there were only 21.293 people in the stadium (revenue: R$577.548 or ca. €252.400). There were a couple of reasons for this, however. First of all, Corinthians had started the season badly; while they were leading the Campeonato Paulista, they were already out of the Copa Libertadores (Latin America’s Champions League). Second, two of its biggest stars had just left. The week before I arrived in Brazil, former long-term Brazil and Real Madrid left wing defender Roberto Carlos left for the lure of millions of Rubles to Russia, while on the day that I set foot in Brazil, my hero Ronaldo, whom I had admired when he was just a 17 year old boy at PSV, announced that he would end his career… directly. Sigh!

Despite the set-backs, I was in for a treat… no, an experience! I have gone to games with many more than 20.000 people, but I have hardly ever been at a game with more atmosphere than this one. This was everything I had hoped for! But first, of course, the national anthem.

It was a relatively cool summer day, ca. 31C (88F), very humid, with an ominous black sky. The game started unorganized, with both teams equally strong, but few true chances. In the 20th minute Corinthians had a good attack, which was finished with a weak shot. A minute later Santos put a free header over the goal. Everyone in the stadium followed the game intensely, getting crazy as soon as a chance at a chance developed. At the same time, various sections of fans were showing off their huge banners. The section next to us even had two that fully covered their whole section. Here are a few examples:

In sharp contrast to the atmosphere, the game was not very exhilarating. The pace was very low and most play was at the middle of the pitch. Not surprisingly, it would be a free kick that opened the score. In the 25th minute a beautiful free kick from the edge of the box was curled into the far right corner: 1-0. After a couple a soft chances for both teams, Santos would equalize in equally beautiful fashion. After a shot with his right foot from 16 meter was blocked, he tried it again with his left foot, and shot it in the top corner: 1-1. A bit later, a fight breaks out between home fans at the one separated stand. Half Time.

During the whole first half an ominous thunder could be heard, as the wind would swell up, and more and more lightening occurred around the stadium. Just as M and I had found shelter under the small cover, the rain started. And, when I say rain, I mean R-A-I-N, tropical thunder style. This notwithstanding, virtually all fans in the section next to us remained in their spot and kept drumming, singing and dancing. They would stay there throughout the game, even though the rain kept pounding.

I saw the second half behind two rows of people, moving from one spot to the other, so that I could see most of it. Because of the pouring rain, the game became much less precise and more problematic. Few chances were created.

After a couple of chances on both sides, Corinthians got a soft penalty. People around us got crazy; no one would even question the referee’s call, of course. Despite the rain, the hosts make no mistake and retake the lead: 2-1.

After the penalty, Corinthians plays purely on defending their lead. Increasingly, they limit their play to wasting time, while Santos is struggling with the wet pitch. It is only in the last 15 minutes or so of the game that the rain started to subside. By now, the true heroes were totally soaked.

Whenever a Corinthians striker gets the ball, he looks for a foul, goes down, and wastes time on taking the free kick. But while they defend with all players, in the 90th minute they break free in a counter attack, which is finished with a great little lob over the goalie: 3-1. Game over!

We waited a couple of minutes for the crowd to disperse and than walked back to the car, happily noticing that the rain had stopped. Both M. and I could still not believe that only a good 20.000 people had been at the game. Seldom have I experienced such an atmosphere. I hereby apply for citizenship of the Popular Republic of Corinthians.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

São Paulo FC – CA Bragantino (19-02-2011)

After A. picked me up at PAEC, we drove for almost an hour to the other part of Sao Paulo, the rich area of Morumbi. It took us quite some time to park the car; moreover, you have to pay street kids a parking fee, even though you park on public streets. When A. asked a policeman in the street whether parking there was safe, he said: “Safe not, but you can try.” With this endorsement, we decided to pay the fee (so that the car wouldn’t be vandalized) and walked to the stadium.

The Estádio Cícero Pompeu de Toledo, better know as the Estádio do Morumbi, was opened in 1960 and is Sao Paulo’s biggest stadium with a capacity of 67.428. It was supposed to be one of the stadiums for Brazil’s World Cup in 2016, but the FIFA just announced that it doesn’t meet its requirements.

We arrived at the stadium 15 minutes before kick-off (at 8PM). Unfortunately, it was all very unorganized. Roughly 5 minutes before kick-off we had bought our tickets at R$30 (ca. €13.20), but it would take almost 30 minutes more to get into the stadium. Insanely, the stadium had opened only twee entries for those with a cheap ticket, like us. As we got in, São Paulo Futebol Clube (SAFC) was already 1-0 up and was just awarded a penalty.

After the disappointing miss, we try to find a spot in the rather busy section of the huge stadium. While the people around us are quite mixed ethnically, at least from a European perspective, there are a remarkable number of young white kids at the stand. After all, SAFC is the team of the middle and upper classes of Sao Paulo. Most people around us wear one of the many different (and mostly beautiful) jerseys of SAFC.

Officially, there were a mere 13.830 people in the massive stadium. In Brazil, they also announce the revenue of each game: R$350.346,13 (ca. €150.000). I couldn’t find any fans of Clube Atlético Bragantino, a small club from a town 85 km (55 miles) north of Sao Paolo. It is not uncommon that games in the Campeonato Paulista, Sao Paulo’s First Division, as many fans save their money for the play-offs in the Campeonato Brasileiro (Brazilian First Division).

It was a pretty nice evening, roughly 24C (75F), although humid, but the atmosphere is lacking. The people around us are fully into the game, but hardly ever sing or clap. This seems to be left to the Torcida Independente, a section of a couple of thousand fans who are separated and sing and drum all game.

As expected, SAFC totally dominates the game. Sao Paulo has been one of the strongest teams in Brazil, and even Latin America, in the past five years. Still, it takes until the 40th minute for them to score again, through a counter attack no less, but with a very cool finish: 2-0. Half time!

The second half started as the first one had left off, with SAFC dominating, playing a great short passing game, creating various half chances, but few real chances. The visitors could muster only one soft header. In the 67th minute a classic attack over the left flank is ended with a low pass in and an easy finish: 3-0, terrible defense! Most of the excitement is generated when the SAFC goalkeeper takes a free kick (despite missing the penalty earlier).

In the 80th minute a long attack of the hosts leads to a shot from 16 meter that goes through the hands of the terrible Bragantino goalie: 4-0. Now people around us finally start to sing and clap, particularly when SAFC players do tricks (like back heels, irrespective of the outcome). The last 15 minutes are played without midfields on both sides, which leads to some chances. The best kick of the game comes surprisingly from the guests, in the 91st minute, when a free kick bounces off the cross. Final score: 4-0.

São Paulo Futebol Clube is one of the best teams in Brazil and Latin America, and sports some of the nicest jerseys in football, but is not a particularly exciting club to visit. The stadium is far too big and soulless, and the fans fairly uninspiring. Not the type of experience I had expected of a Brazilian football game.
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)!
Botofoga – Macae (13-02-2011)

I had to be in Sao Paulo, Brazil, for a conference, but decided to first go to Rio, to see my friend A, and a game in the Campeonato Carioca, the highest division in the state of Rio de Janeiro. We had selected a home game of one of the biggest clubs in Rio, Botafogo de Futebol e Regatas – like many other football clubs in Rio, Botafogo started as a regatta, a rowing club. A had already bought the tickets, but that was without thinking about Delta Airlines… after a delay of almost three hours at Atlanta, we finally took off… only to return after three hours because of “technical difficulties”. Adding insult to injury, the technical problems weren’t urgent, we could have made it to Brazil, but Delta doesn’t have accurate mechanics in Latin America, so we were made to return. After a night at an airport hotel in Atlanta, and a long flight, I finally arrived in Rio de Janeiro… at 3AM on Monday, with a 17 hour delay, and almost 12 hours after kick-off. Hence, no game in Rio. Thanks Delta!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

SC Cambuur – FC Dordrecht (14-01-2011)

I meet up with my brother T. halfway between Amsterdam and Leeuwarden. The weather is terrible; it has been raining for days, but according to the website the game is still on. More than an hour before kick-off we arrive at the Cambuurstadion (Cambuur Stadium) and park our car directly in front of it. While the stadium was built in 1936, it has been renovated several times; the capacity remained roughly the same, however, and is currently set at 13.500. Recently it has become almost integrated into a shopping center, which is a pretty bizarre view.

We kill the time by eating something in a fish restaurant at the square in front of the stadium. By the time we walked over to the stadium, the square was filling up with Cambuur fans. We went to the ticket office and bought tickets for the seating area behind the goal for 14 euro each.

Tonight’s game was the first game of the second round of the Jupiler League (Second Division), between SC Cambuur-Leeuwarden and FC Dordrecht, both in the center of the table. Officially 5.850 people had found their way to the cozy Cambuurstadion; a small, all covered stadium that was so typical until the 1980s, but can hardly be found in the Netherlands anymore. The weather was terrible.

From the outset Dordrecht was the better team, even if they created only a couple of half chances. In the 15th minute a deflected header of the visitors went wide, while a couple minutes later a great Dordrecht pass led to a free header that went wide. Although we truly enjoyed the atmosphere, the game didn't bring much and was, thus, 0-0 at half time.

After getting some snacks from the (very busy) snack car next to the stand, we got back to our seats for the second half. The pace was already much lower and the quality of play wasn’t particularly high either. In fact, it took until the 58th minute for the first really noteworthy situation: a shot by the visitors was cleared from the goal line. Three minutes later the first good shot at goal of the hosts was a goal: 1-0.

Dordrecht seemed dazed by the goal. Having dominated the game up till that point, the Cambuur goal was truly unexpected and the lead undeserved. Five minutes later the hosts scored again: 2-0, which again led to much song and dance.

[ Here should have been a video, but the shitty blogger page doesn't upload it ]

After Cambuur’s second goal the visitors no longer believed in an away win. The fans, who had been critical for most of the game, were now chattering happily. The game slowly but steadily rolled toward the end. At the end of the game Cambuur brought in Mark De Vries, a prolific striker who used to play at Hearts in Edinburgh (among various other teams). Within minutes he scored his goal: a smart through ball was professionally finished by De Vries. 3-0 was also the final score.

SC Cambuur is one of the last teams in the Netherlands were you can still experience football as it was in the 1970s: cozy… local… authentic. I am happy that the club is no longer under threat of bankruptcy, although saddened that they want to love to a new stadium in the future.
FC Wil – FC Sankt Gallen (12-01-2011)

No Ticket

As the students and my wife left for Prague, I took my rental to drive 800 km/500 miles south to Wil, Switzerland, to see a friendly afternoon game. I had chosen the game as it was close to where an old friend of mine lives now, so I picked him up at work on my way to Wil. We arrived about 15 minutes late, avoiding motorways so that I didn’t have to buy an expensive vignette for the Swiss motorways.

FC Wil 1900 was founded as FC Stella, by two English workers, in 1900. It plays in the Swiss Challenge League (Second Division). The club plays its home games at the Sportpark Bergholz, which has a capacity of a mere 4.800. Then again, the town of Wil only counts 17.000 inhabitants. When we arrived, the old and unimpressive stadium was being renovated.

To our surprise the game was not played on the main pitch, but at a practice pitch, in front of some 150, increasingly soaked, supporters. While this didn’t really give us the normal FC Wil experience, at least we didn’t have to pay to get in (as we didn’t have Swiss money on us).

By the time we join the few supporters on the side of the training pitch, the first half was already half played. It was cold and wet, which was probably the reason why both teams played at a pretty high pace. Still, most people were mainly trying to not get absolutely soaked. Among the few vocal fans were a small group of away fans (probably local youth, who supported the ‘big’ team from the area).

At the end of the first half FC Wil was pushing for a goal. In the 42nd minute an attack of the host team seems to have broken up, but then the player turns and shoots it in the upper corner of the goal: 1-0! A couple minutes later a Wil free kick is saved in last instance, so 1-0 is the half time score.

[ Video should have been here, but shitty Blogger doesn't upload it ]

The second half is even colder and wetter. Most of the 150 spectators stayed for the whole game, but only two groups of ca. 5 fans each made some noise. There also wasn’t too much to get excited about. The first fifteen minutes there was little to report.

In the 60th minute a Wil attack finished with a great sliding-shot: 2-0. The five Wil ‘ultras’ next to us went crazy, shouting insults to the away ‘ultras’ on the other side of the pitch. While both teams pushed for more, 2-0 was also the final score (obviously, there was no scoreboard). Although we didn’t have the real FC Wil experience, I doubt regular games present much more excitement than we experienced that day.