Back in Sao Paulo for the semi-final, here I was due to catch up with Alec (beautifully pronounced in the Brazilian accent as Alekee), a friend of a friend who I’d only briefly met in a pub quiz in Manchester. As a fluent Portuguese speaker with prior experience of living in Brazil, he had just finished working as a fixer for the BBC’s representatives and was now free to enjoy the country. We reconvened back in the less than inspiring Corinthians Arena, in the same makeshift stand where I had the misfortune of witnessing England’s defeat to Uruguay. Netherlands vs Argentina brought me the chance of a lifetime, the opportunity to witness the greatest player of all time in the flesh. This was the time for Lionel Messi to show why the majority will give him this title, and show me some of the beautiful football I had come all this way to see. Sadly, he couldn’t be arsed and he looked nothing more than ordinary that night.
Prior to this game, I had the pleasure of watching 6 matches in a World Cup where there had been scores of 5-1, 5-2, 4-2, a few 4-0’s and 4-1’s – yet so far I had witnessed a phenomenal 8 goals in total, 4 of which were against my team. It simply wouldn’t make a good story if I went to the semi-final that ended 7-1, one of the most iconic World Cup games of all time. No, of course not, I was at the one that ended 0-0. Impressively, I managed to make it to 4 out of the seven 0-0 draws in the highest-scoring World Cup for 20 years.
Argentina went on to win the penalty shootout after a goalless extra time and proceed for a repeat of the 1990 World Cup final to face Germany. It was nice to hear Oasis as the song played on the loud speaker to celebrate their victory, and even more intriguingly we came across around 100 Argentina fans celebrating the win at the metro station on our way back to the city.
‘Brasiiiil, decime que se siente, teneeeer en a casa a tu papa……………………Maradona es mas grande que Pele’
‘What’s that tune they’re singing to Al?’
‘Not sure, but it’s defo familiar.’
‘It’s fuckin’ Creedence isn’t it?’
From that day on, I now associate one of my Dad’s favourite bands with crazy Argentinean fans jumping up and down and banging the roof of the metro station. Once again, a beautiful moment to witness, but when it’s not your team, it just isn’t the same.
Back at the irresistible Rua Augusta, we grabbed a quick bite to eat, realised we weren’t very drunk, and committed the cardinal sin of trying to play catch up. Now in the early hours of the morning, the clubs weren’t letting us in, but as mentioned previously, there was something for everybody in Rua Augusta.
‘The strip clubs will still be open.’
‘Do they sell beer?’
Of course they did, and when I’m still standing and there’s beer for sale, I’m not going home. So in we went. Shortly after, Alec lets me know that a strip club in Brazil is essentially a brothel. After a few initial approaches followed by rebuttals – ‘we just want a beer love, sorry’ – we were soon left to finish our drinks in the corner talking about God knows what. A beer or two later I was less able to stand and managed to puke on the street corner seconds after exiting the taxi. A rather undignified finish to my evening.
The following day came the other semi-final in the Estadio Minerao. Germany were the challengers, here to spoil the party. Brazil were crucially missing their injured superstar Neymar and suspended captain and leader Thiago Silva. Now, everyone knew these were the two most important players, but I don’t think anyone realised just how much they held this team together. Just 11 minutes after another emotional rendition of the inspiring anthem, Thomas Muller put the visitors ahead as Germany clearly looked like the team dealing with the occasion more comfortably. What followed was completely unexpected, unprecedented in a WC semi-final, and about to not only break 200 million hearts, but rip them out and stamp all over them. A well worked goal from Klose (23), a neatly worked double from Kroos (24,26) and the nation was in disbelief, social media as already going mad.
‘How can it be 4-0 already?’
‘You mean 5-0!!!’
TWENTY NINE MINUTES and it was 5-0. I’d come close myself when playing an ill-advised 3-5-2 against Whalley Range a few years previous, but this was a bloody World Cup semi-final.
For the remainder of the game, the objective of the cameraman changed from finding the prettiest girls in the crowd – which they had done expertly throughout the tournament – to suddenly searching for the most distraught Brazilians around the stadium. The second half was a little less intense but Andre Schurrle managed to squeeze in another two goals before an Oscar consolation in the last minute.
I watched this game in the comfort of a friend’s home with a generally non-fanatical middle class audience. Several among them were in some ways pleased at the nature of the defeat. Their thinking, that the social and economic issues of Brazil had been brushed under the carpet by the government to promote and host this World Cup, and overall a Brazilian victory would have justified their decisions. However, this humiliating defeat allowed the priorities to change back to resolving the issues blighting their country.
P.s. sorry to leave you on tenterhooks. The game against Whalley Range also ended 7-1, I scored the consolation.
Now to decide whether to go back to the main heartbeat of the final week in Rio – full of tourists and locals who are probably sick of tourists – or off to Belo Horizonte to stay with an old school friend, and experience a week of true Brazilian culture.
Easy decision, Belo Horizonte it is!