What an amazing World Cup!
It’s been a fascinating TV spectacle for the past month, showcasing the world’s finest footballing talent (and England) and gripping audiences running into the hundreds of millions.
We’ve also been treated to the marvellous atmosphere of Brazilian stadia. The self-styled “Kings of football” have entertained us, thrilled us and stunned us with their passion, liveliness and unrivalled enthusiasm – it was just a shame their team didn’t quite live up to it!
As the World Cup ends though, I am taken back to my time watching football in Brazil eight years ago, when a visit to the Maracana did not have quite the same international profile, but undoubtedly had the same raw intensity.
The game was Flamengo vs Vasco da Gama – a Rio derby and leg 2 of the Brazilian Cup Final. Like, Arsenal playing Tottenham in the FA Cup Final. How a bunch of Gringo tourists from a Copacabana youth hostel got their hands on tickets I’m not quite sure. (A “Ray” of sunshine perhaps?)
It took us two hours to get there, weaving our way slowly through the packed streets of rush hour Rio. Our minibus was constantly accosted by pedlars, strolling down the middle of the road, selling a vast array of naff goods and tat.
When we finally arrived at the Maracana, it was mad. The police presence was solid but so was the wall of noise. We were only among the Flamengo fans (one of Brazil’s most well-supported clubs) but the atmosphere was building and the presence of police with guns, swords and tear gas was a little alarming.
It was around now that we started having to chaperone the girls we were with (who were older than us). Their naivety and lack of vigilance in such a crowd was crazy. It became a theme of the night!
Yet despite this, my excitement was rising as we approached the gate. The game had already kicked but we as reached our seats the Vasco striker was being sent off just sixteen minutes in. The Flamengo fans went wild and their joy turned to delirium when Juan tucked home after 27 minutes to put them 3-0 up on aggregate.
It was bedlam in the stands. Flares, chanting, scarf-waving, Vasco-baiting and the noise…? Well I’ve never heard anything like it, before or since. Not even stood on the terraces at Morecambe.
The Vasco fans began slipping out long before the end. For Brazilians, the standard of football was actually fairly poor (much like the class of 2014!), lack of possession, awful setpieces and no real cutting edge, despite this being the Brazilian Cup Final. It was the first ever between two local Rio sides. No wonder the atmosphere was intense.
Flamengo went on to win and our area of the stadium went absolutely crazy. The Maracana was only half full because it was being smartened up for the 2007 Pan American games but you could not tell from the atmosphere.
This is why every time I’ve seen the Brazilian national anthem, goosebumps have shot up my arm. They love their football alright.
A magical World Cup, for magical fans and one which willlive long in the memory.
As for my Flamengo replica shirt bought cheaply from one of the favelas in honour of the memory? Think it only lasted two washes!