Despite having been on countless aeroplanes over the last few years Sao Paulo is without doubt my favourite city to fly into, if you ever go, insist on a window seat. Looking around, you will see an incredible amount of concrete structures and high-rise buildings as far as the eye can see and in every direction, a beautiful thing. Flying over the city truly brings home how huge this place is.
As it was game day there wasn’t too much time to spare. A quick bag drop at the hostel and meet up with Gabriela, before jumping on the super-efficient Metro for the princely sum of R$3.60 (£0.75). 20 minutes later we were jumping out at Morumbi station. Time for a lovely can of Weissbier, 57, before strolling down to the home stadium of Sao Paulo, the 6-time champions of the Campeanato Brasileiro and 3-time Copa Libertadores winners. Above all, the home of the remarkable Goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni, a man whose 23 year career at the club yielded a total of 65 goals. What price on the index for this man?
Today’s match pitted Copa guests Japan against the current champions Chile. Japan had their youthful squad aimed at gaining experience, the 18-year-old Takefusa Kubo who had just signed for Real Madrid was the man to watch. Meanwhile Chile had their tried and tested stars such as Arturo Vidal (£0.27) and Alexis Sanchez (£1.33) hoping to regain some credibility after missing out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The Morumbi stadium which once held 146,082 supporters for a game back in 1970 was again a victim of the underwhelming support at this tournament as 47,260 turned up to cheer on the two sides. Progress but still not ideal. However, the Chile fans were in fine voice as we sat amongst them, and for the second game running it was just a case of sit where you want.
As half time approached I was imagining writing about yet another 0-0 draw but thankfully the Chile number 13, Erick Pulgar (£0.86) powered a header into the bottom corner to send his side into the break with a 1-0 lead with his first goal for ‘La Roja’. This was a further sign of his growing prowess after being a key player in leading Atalanta to Champions League football for the first time in their history with a 3rd place finish in Serie A. These performances made him a player who has managed to find his way into my portfolio to the tune of 600 shares.
The second half saw Eduardo Vargas add two goals to make him his country’s second all-time top scorer behind the main man Alexis Sanchez. The very same man who finally ended his goal drought going back to the FA Cup game vs Arsenal back in January. Hopefully this was a sign we would see the real Sanchez after a horribly frustrating campaign for Manchester United.
Despite the 4-0 score line, Japan could take solace in the fact they created some great chances which were unfortunately spurned by the inexperienced strike force. Chile, on the other hand, laid down the gauntlet for their rivals and announced themselves as genuine contenders to retain their title for the third consecutive time.
The next day I met up with my Dutch friend Arthur, having travelled with him during Euro 2016 as fans, he was now working as a journalist for this tournament just as he did at the world cup. Along with his colleague Jesper we watched a rather dull encounter as Venezuela frustrated Brazil and managed to hold out for a goalless draw. VAR once again their saviour as they were spared twice just as they had been against Peru. Following this drab affair, it was on to reacquaint myself with Rua Augusta, the scene of one of my greatest nights out in history.
Feeling slightly worse for wear I reluctantly set off on my tourism day. Sao Paulo isn’t particularly known for its attractions so my options were limited. Batman Alley provided some beautiful street art and an enjoyable atmosphere but my main aim was to get to the Museo de Futebol at the Pacaembu stadium, the municipal stadium used as back up for the main clubs of the region should they need it.
A worthwhile experience for any football fan, for the price of R$10 (£2), one can take a look inside the historic stadium, relive some of the country’s greatest goals with narrative and experience the atmospheres in Brazilian stadiums in an impressive exhibition.
The main temporary exhibition was promoting the Women’s World Cup and trying to inspire the next generation of females that they too can achieve these heights. There were a couple of familiar names but I must admit I was amused to see Michael Jackson amongst the attacking options in the squad. A really enjoyable day all in all, the one downside was that there were no English descriptions, my basic Portuguese and Spanish was enough to get the jist of most displays but it would be frustrating for others without and knowledge of the language.
Another day, another game and it was a repeat journey to the Morumbi Stadium, this time to watch new boys Qatar – looking to build on their draw against Paraguay – take on Colombia, already looking like one of the favourites to take the title.
From the start Colombia dictated possession and Index favourite James Rodriguez (£1.84) was pulling the strings showing why he is held in such esteem for his suitability to the In-Play Dividends. We got a brief glimpse into how much James is loved when he missed a fairly straightforward chance. The initial growns were then met with a standing ovation when his face appeared on the big screen, a rare reaction to a missed chance.
Qatar held on admirably and dealt with the 13 corners and constant ball retention of Colombia up until the 86th minute when Duvan Zapata (£1.05) – another strong performer in Atalanta’s successful season – rose highest at the back post and cushioned a looping header back over the Qatar keeper to send the majority Colombian crowd wild. Job done! Colombia secured their place in the Quarter Finals and left Qatar needing something special against Argentina to progress after ‘La Albiceleste’ had laboured to a draw with Paraguay.
Not much time goes by in Brazil without a National Holiday so to mark the holiday of Corpus Cristi they closed Avenida Paulista to cars as they do every Sunday. Being Gay Pride month as well the locals were out in force relaxing, drinking and playing music in the streets, a lovely evening with the outdoor, social feel, that is so typically Brazilian.
As Gabriela lived in Sao Paulo, her family kindly invited myself and the Dutch journalists over to their apartment for some food and to watch the football before heading off to Rio. Being the good guests we are and trying our best to make a good impression we stocked up on way too much Heineken and a bottle of nice red wine for the lady of the house. On arrival at their lovely home the greetings began, as they did I popped the bag down and to my horror a clink, clank and crash was followed by an ever-increasing flow of red wine across the floor leaving it looking like a murder scene. Before I’d even introduced myself, I was shouting for help to clear up the mess. Well that’s one way to break the ice, smooth operator. Apparently, it was a bloody nice wine as well.
We enjoyed some beautiful views of Sao Paulo from the apartment before we eventually settled down with some pizza and beers to watch the football. Uruguay were held to a 2-2 draw in a thoroughly entertaining encounter with Japan, an end to end match which had arguably been the most enjoyable so far. This was enough to give Japan some hope going into their final game against Ecuador. Given the fact that 8 of the 12 teams in the group would proceed, the draw for Uruguay was pretty much enough.
As the groups started to take shape and teams began to qualify it was time to head to Rio on the night bus for the final group games and my return to The Maracana to watch Chile x Uruguay.