Friday, January 30, 2015

Unión Española – Universidad de Concepción (14-01-2015)


I was lucky that the semi-finals of the Copa Chile were held during my stay and one of the games was in Santiago. So, on a Wednesday evening my friend C. and I took a long metro ride (using two different lines), followed by a short taxi ride to the Estadio Santa Laura (full name: Estadio Santa Laura – Universidad SEK). To prevent another fiasco we had bought our tickets online in advance – we paid Ps 10,900 (ca. $17) for seats on the long side of the pitch (the second most expensive tickets).

Estadio Santa Laura is a big ugly concrete structure that was built in 1922 and holds 22,000 people. It is situated in a working-class residential area in Independencia, a commune in the north of Santiago. We were dropped off on the wrong side of the stadium and had to walk almost 10 minutes around the stadium before we got to the main entrance. To my surprise, the main entrance looks like a (cheap) Disney castle.

After a check of our ID, a pat-down by private security, and a wave through by policemen, we entered ‘the castle’ and made our way to the consignment stand. With a kick-off at 21.15 we had all the time in the world. We went for the obligatory meat sandwich – C. chose what Chilean call ‘Italiano’ (i.e. with tomato, mayonnaise, and avocado), whereas I preferred simply pico de gallo.

With about 10 minutes to spare we made our way to our seats. The stadium looked pretty empty. We would later hear that the official attendance was 1,873, of which some 30 were ‘away’ supporters. Given that Concepción is some 500 km south of Santiago, and about a 9-hour drive, I assume these fans lived in the capital.

Despite the fact that the stadium was pretty empty, there was a decent atmosphere with many people in jerseys and the fans behind the goal singing for most of the game. Around us were mostly working class families that often knew each other. Several seemed to be related to Union players, including some very involved player wives and mothers.

The hosts started out well. After some 5 minutes they had an attack over left, which led to a good cross that was headed in from ca. 7 meters: 1-0. Afterward the game was fairly equal, with each team creating some chances and half-chances. Union was the better team, but played quite slow and predictable with often poor passing.

In the 28th minute Concepcion has a great counter attack, which leads to a rebound that is thundered wide. In the 35th minute they take a beautiful free-kick that is saved gracefully by the Union goalie. In the last minute the visitors have another good counter, but shoot wide. Half Time score: 1-0.

After an uneventful half-time, with no special program, it is actually getting a bit chilly in the stadium (note: I am in shorts and t-shirt, as it has been 35 C during the day). Concepcion starts the second half with pressure, which leads to a good shot at goal, a great free-kick, and a surprise volley in the first five minutes. Five minutes later the Union goalie makes another good safe.

Union gets only a few counter chances, but in the 65th minute a long kick by the goalie is missed by a Concepcion defender and finished coldly: 2-0. At this time the game seems over, as Concepcion tries, but Union gets the better chances. But then, in the 80th minute, a Union midfielder looses the ball stupidly and puts a Concepcion striker alone in front of the goalie: 2-1. Five minutes later a Concepcion player is fouled in the box: penalty. To the delight of everyone, except the 30 away fans, the Union goalie stops the penalty with a great safe.

In the last minutes both Concepcion and Union have chances to score, but neither does, and so Union wins the game and goes to the Cup Final.

In the Cup Final Unión Española will face CD Palestino, which we saw the Sunday before. In terms of atmosphere, it is hard to believe that both are in the same division. Despite the empty stadium, the game of Unión Española had the atmosphere and setting of team in the highest division of a country, whereas CD Palestino felt more like a second (or third) division team.

Club Deportivo Palestino – Club de Deportes Cobresal (11-01-2015)

After the disappointing first try at seeing a game in Chile we took no chances for the second game. During the day we purchased tickets for Ps 5.000 (ca. $8) at a Ticketpro desk in a big department store in downtown Chile. Normally I hate to do this, as it means you get a standard ticket, but I did not want to take any risks with this game, as on the program was my most anticipated visit of the whole year: CD Palestino.

I had come across CD Palestino a couple of months earlier, when they got into trouble with the Chilean Football Association over the use of the map of Palestine as the number one on their jerseys. As there is little that I like more than the interplay between football and politics, I had to go and see a home game of CD Palestino. We took the metro from downtown to La Cisterna, a commune in the south of Santiago. From the metro station we still had to walk a good 15 minutes through the blistering heat.

After walking another 5 minutes around the grounds, we finally arrive at the entrance of the Estadio Municipal de La Cisterna, a peculiar looking site. We are greeted by a huge Palestinian flag. After the obligatory check of identity papers, and confusion about my foreign passport, we enter the ground and the clubhouse with the club logo and map of Palestine.

Excited we get to the small stand, which is old and at best half full. The eat is brutal so I buy a CD Palestino hat. Inside the clubhouse they also sell the now infamous CD Palestino jersey and although they don’t have XXL (virtually no store in Chile has XXL), I buy a too tight XL just as a souvenir (and an encouragement that one day I should fit in this shirt).

Despite the poor attendance and infrastructure CD Palestino plays in the highest division in Chile, the Primera División del Fútbol Profesional Chileno. Today they face CD Cobresal, which comes from the small copper mining town of Cobresal, located at an elevation of more than 2.400 meters in the Andes mountains, ca. 1,000 km (0r 600 miles) north of Santiago. Fun fact: although Cobresal has only 7.000 inhabitants, its football stadium can hold almost three times as many people. Guess it is never sold out.

I estimate that there are ca. 1,000 people in the stadium, of which some 200 are away fans (who probably live in Santiago). The people are mostly working class, but have no specific ethnic background. So, while the club itself is run by Chileans of Palestinian descent, the fans tend to be primarily ‘ordinary’ Chileans, who probably support the team because of the location. Many seem to know each other and come with the whole family – there are a lot of women in the stadium. 

Incidentally, the Palestinian community in Chile is the largest outside of the Middle East and is relatively old – the first Palestinian immigrants arrived in the 1850s (!) and well-off. Most of the original Palestinian immigrants were Christian, which makes the relationships with contemporary Palestine and the Arab-Israeli conflict complex. Moreover, despite the conflict with the Chilean Football Association, there were no indications of a political agenda in the stadium. No slogans, no flags, not even the routine Keffiyeh (or ‘Arafat scarf’).

The level of the game is not bad. The movement is slow, but it is extremely hot (at least 35 degrees and sunny). The visitors are the better team even though the hosts get the better half-chances in the first 30 minutes of the game.

In the 30th minute a Palestino corner leads to several almost shots. Five minutes later a great through pass puts a Palestino striker alone in front of the goalie, but he saves. Two minutes later there is a much needed drink break, after which Cobresal has a great through pass, but their strikers lobs the ball over the goalie… and over the goal.  Half time score: 0-0.


After enjoying some Arab music during half time, the only 'Palestinian' aspect of the game, we start the second half with more pressure from Palestino and less effort from Cobresal. This notwithstanding, the first chance is for the visitors, in the 60th minute, when a short from the edge of the penalty box is well placed and well saved. Five minutes later they head a corner just wide.

Around the 70th minute a Palestino counter attack almost leads to a Cobresal own goal. In the next two minutes the hosts have two more chances, but no goal. Palestino is by now dominating the game, without creating many real chances. The strikers are getting more desperate and a Schwalbe (dive) in the box is met with a free kick against them. Five minutes before the end the visitors get a rare break, after a defender badly misses the ball, and score from 12 meter: 0-1 (Cobresal’s second shot on goal in the second half). Despite another Schwalbe in the box, this time punished with a yellow card, the hosts loose the game. The fans seem unbothered by it.

In the end the most extraordinary thing about this game was that it was so ordinary. CD Palestino is just another small football club in the relatively poor Chilean First Division. While its colors, flag, and name have huge significance around the world, they seem devoid of any political meaning in Santiago itself. Still, definitely worth a visit, if you ever find yourself in Santiago!

Club Universidad de Chile – O’Higgins FC (10-01-2015)

Nothing more perfect than being able to combine a business trip with some groundhopping, particularly if it is in a new country. So, despite having landed at 10 AM, after a red-eye flight with little sleep, I was extremely excited to go with my friend C. to the Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Prádanos in Chile’s capital city Santiago to see my first game. C. does not really go to football games, so he had asked a colleague, a ‘football expert’ whether we needed to buy tickets in advance. He had said we didn’t, and that made sense as Chilean games are hardly ever sold out.

As we get closer to the stadium we see more and more people wearing the shirt of home team Universidad de Chile, one of Chile’s biggest teams. I see no people wearing the shirt of the visitors O’Higgins, even though they come from a town that is only 87 km south of Santiago (this is nothing for Chile, which is, North to South, 4.300 km long)! Now, I know what you are thinking: O’Higgins, really? Fair enough! O’Higgins is neither a team from the Republic of Ireland nor a Chilean team founded by Irish immigrants. In fact, it is named after Bernardo O’Higgins, who was one of the leaders who freed Chile from Spain in the Chilean War of Independence in the early 19th century.

Anyway, back to the game. As we arrive at the stadium, we are told that we cannot buy tickets at the ticket office. However, we can buy tickets but online and then pick them up at the ticket office! Consequently, outside of old tiny ticket office various people are frantically on their smartphone, ordering tickets which they then pick up a yard away at that office. As you need an (Chilean) ID number for each ticket, my friend C can buy only one ticket. I can possibly get one too, but I have to, first, make a profile online and then, second, try to convince the computer that my US driver’s license number also counts as an ID. Might have worked, but they close the online system exactly at kick-off time, and the ticket office a minute earlier, so we and some 10 other people are left outside.

We circle around the stadium a bit, get ripped off with fake tickets, and then learn that Chile is not really Latin America, as they follow the rules even tighter than Dutch or Germans. Conclusion: no game! :-(

That same evening we find out what the rules are: for games of the three biggest teams in Chile, home or away, you can only buy tickets online and you have to use an ID that you can show at the stadium. The big three are all from Santiago: Colo Colo, Universidad Católica, and Universidad de Chile. For all other games you still need an official ID at the stadium, but you normally can buy tickets at the ticket office – in any case, always check out the Ticketpro website, as they have the monopoly on the online tickets, and you can better be safe than sorry (downside: you won’t get a nice ticket).