A relatively short bus ride for Brazilian distances, and here we are. The city of some of the most famous and prestigious beaches known to man, the home of the world’s most famous carnival, beautiful landmarks, great street parties, and the iconic Maracana. Rio de Janeiro.
Given that no England games were scheduled for Rio and that the final was now a laughable dream of the past, I needed to watch two other teams for the opportunity to see the newly renovated Maracana. With France scoring 7 in their opening two games and Ecuador being on either side of 2-1 results, we were hopeful of a high scoring game. When this is the case, there’s only ever one outcome. Nil-nil. Not the worst one I’d ever seen but a shame all the same.
Either way, a world renowned stadium ticked off the list, let’s see what the Rio nightlife has to offer. As often with these kind of huge cities, it’s hard to know where to start. We struggled to find suitable bars so we ended up plumping for the Lapa street party. Famous amongst travellers for its Thursday night parties, notorious for the local street food and a vibrant atmosphere, and made all the more edgy by suspicious characters under the famous arches and the constant warning of pickpockets. As it was World Cup month, the weekly street party became daily and we soaked up the atmosphere until the sun came up. The most random moment of the evening was when we were stood drinking in a busy street watching the world go by and soaking up the Brazilian vibes when my friend turned to me.
‘He’s trying to rob me!’
‘What do you mean? Who?’
‘This guy here, he’s got his hand in my pocket!’
So there we were, three of us stood side by side, one mugger with his hand in my buddy’s pocket, and my friend’s hand holding his forearm. The mugger looking away nonchalantly as if to say ‘it was worth a pop’. Nothing was said, he just wandered off to no doubt look for the next drunken tourist. We just stood there and continued to drink – what else could we do to get over the lowest intensity attempted mugging of all time.
For the first time in the trip we had a day allocated for a bit of tourism. With the day’s football mainly being dead rubbers, we decided this was the perfect time. Unfortunately, we missed out on some hand gliding above the beaches due to the strong winds, but we did get an unplanned tour of a favela from a local lady our friend knew.
The ol’ favela trip
All we knew were the stories, the history, the film ‘City of God’, so despite being reassured that this was now a pacified favela, we still felt a little on edge. For the first few moments, every time a motorbike rode past I had visions running through my mind. As with most favelas this one was made up of small houses built on the hillside. After 20 minutes walking up to the ‘ponto de vista’, we could see most of Rio; a beautiful sight which was rather interrupted by our friend – who struggled with English – typing out on Google translate: ‘This is where they used to burn the dead people’. It suddenly made everything feel a bit more real. Walking past bars and looking around thinking anyone over the age of 30, and probably younger too, had lived a life where this was normal, and quite possibly been involved in the trouble. It certainly gave a unique feel to the place.
In the end, we saw another small pitch with local kids playing some kind of tournament. After watching the future Neymars and Ronaldinhos, we made our way down feeling somewhat humbled and also pleased to see that for at least this small part of Rio, things were a little better than previously. Our newfound friend then invited us back to her modest dwellings where her whole family squeezed in. There was probably adequate space for about 3 people including a bunkbed in the lounge, but they seemed to squeeze in many more. The 3 Englishmen awkwardly accepted the prime spot on the sofa while others sat around us on the floor, insisting on providing drinks for the duration of the day’s final game. We had a great evening despite the complete lack of anyone being able to speak both English and Portuguese. They were just happy to have us, and we were just happy to be there, a beautiful feeling and yet another example of the wonderful hospitality that we continually received from the average Brazilian.
The next day was the final Brazil group game. After a very enjoyable but subdued experience for the Mexico game, there was no way we were missing out for the Cameroon match.
‘So where’s the fan zone then lads?’
‘Nowhere special, just Copacabana.’
Not bad I thought, off to arguably the most famous stretch of beaches in the world, where 3.5 million people came to watch Rod Stewart in the world’s largest free concert ever 20 years earlier. So here we were, three of the pastiest English blokes you could ever wish to meet – people needed sunglasses just to deal with the reflection of the sun off our backs. Neymar again starred in a comfortable 4-1 win, which started to get the Brasileiros thinking and hoping that their dream could be on. The World Cup win on their home turf to banish the haunting memories of 1950 when a goalkeeping error saw Uruguay steal the crown in the Maracana.
As the fan zone began to close, we wandered out further onto the beach. Chatting to a couple of Brazilians who had a ball, I attempted to show them a trick or two. ‘Come on, take me on,’ he said. Now, in England I’m fairly skilful. One of my best moves is to try and scoop the ball over someone’s head and run onto it on the other side. Needless to say I’d never tried it on sand after a good few beers. It didn’t quite go to plan; the ball went astray, the local lad got a face full of sand, and wasn’t terribly impressed. I don’t suppose I did much to enhance his impression of English football.
For the end of the World Cup, I had the final 7 days booked in Rio to soak up the atmosphere of final week. I’d already paid my £70 a night for a bed in a 12 bed dorm, and it was then that I would focus a little more on the famous sights. Now for the final England game in Belo Horizonte.