Yet another night bus from Rio dropped us off at 7am on a Sunday morning in the rather derelict Ouro Preto, no wifi, no buses, so local Taxi it was. As local taxis do, the prices were 5 times that of an Uber but as it was only a 5-minute journey we could live with R$20 (£4). On arrival at number 287, expecting a rather smart hotel with picturesque views I was pretty confused to find a shoddily built house in the middle of the street. Thankfully an old man popped out of the house next door and we gratefully received the news that there was another number 287 down at the bottom of the street. In the words of my great buddy Casey, “You do you Brazil”.
The irritation of our sleep deprived arrival was quickly forgotten as we were granted an early check in and a chance to catch up on sleep, to top it off we were greeted by possibly the finest views and surroundings I had ever experienced in hotels on my travels. A perfect spot to sit and relax while writing up the stories from Rio, exactly what the Doctor ordered.
Once the writing was done it was time to check out the centre of the famous colonial city of Ouro Preto. Black Gold as it literally translates is a world Heritage site and possibly more importantly, the favourite city of my good friend Alec. When google maps told us it was 1km to the centre we didn’t realise that half of that was on a steep downward slope and the other half right back up, a strenuous walk was made much easier with the stunning views around the quaint little town.
Time to sample the fine cuisine that the state of Minas Gerais is particularly famous for. We managed to find a beautiful all you can eat buffet giving us the chance to sample a whole variety of local foods, the quality verified by the presence of the former Brazilian international Walter Casagrande.
Lovely as Ouro Preto was it was merely a detour on the way to the game I had been dreaming of since I started my football travel – Watching a tournament host nation play. Above all Brazil was the one I wanted the most, particularly for the way the anthem is sung. And who better to watch them against than their arch rivals Argentina in ‘El Superclasico’ so it was back to Belo Horizonte for the first time since my incredible experience there five years earlier.
The semi-final day nicely timed in with England facing USA in the same stage of the Women’s World Cup. We luckily stumbled across a smart bar shortly before giving up the search, we were again joined by Arthur and had the added entertainment of some Argentinians getting ready for the big game by enjoying their pre match drinking games. Sadly for England, USA came out on top to progress to the final so off we went to get ready for the big one.
Driving in Brazilian rush hour is a nightmare at the best of times but on a match day like this the 15-minute Uber journey slowly and painfully turned into an hour but still with plenty of time to spare. On the long walk up the atmosphere was building and the songs began, by this time with Gabriela’s help I pretty much had them all nailed, although she may disagree.
The ground was already buzzing a good 50 minutes before kick-off when we arrived. I left Gabz to save our seats and went in search of a beer. 30 stressful minutes later I’d queued to buy the 6 vouchers before joining the separate queue to collect my 4 beers, wisely saving 2 for later. It felt fairly disorganised and manic but this was just a taster.
Now starting to relax back in my seat, the atmosphere was bubbling and finally the moment I had dreamed of for 6 years, ever since watching Brazil sing their anthem in the Confederations Cup. FIFA impose a certain time limit on each anthem and therefore play a predefined amount of music, the real beauty of the Brazil anthem is the increasing tempo and therefore passion that builds verse by verse. At the point predefined by FIFA the music stops, but the singing doesn’t. The sound of 50,000 Brazilians singing with all their hearts and fists pumping the air is a spectacle to behold and was every bit as beautiful as I imagined as the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
By contrast the Argentinean anthem could have been anything as all I could hear was the fierce whistling coming most intensely from a few guys behind me. Sat just a few seats along from 5 Argentina fans I suspected this could get a bit lively. Vamos!
From the second Sergio Aguero (£1.49) laid the ball back to start the game, the whistles were deafening, the fans were ready, now time to see what the players could bring to the party. The play started with the same intensity on the pitch, both teams trying to do their countries proud but it was Brazil who struck first. Gabriel Jesus (£2.05) who had looked lively from the start neatly turned in a cross after some good work from Roberto Firmino (£1.42) down the right-hand side. Advantage to the home team, now to see what response Argentina had, could they turn it around to beat Brazil for the first time in a competitive fixture since 2005? Aguero came closest before half time when heading against the post from Lionel Messi’s (£4.84) free kick but that was the best they could muster in the first half.
44 mins in and 1-0 to Brazil, feeling smug and being ahead of the game it was time to collect my remaining two beers. As we all know in European football, there is always a queue at Half Time, but at least there’s a bloody queue. This was more of a scrum to the bar, trying to hold position was like being stood two rows from the front of an Oasis concert, as one guy would come out it was a free for all to take his spot. Having had a couple of beers and a bit of a joke with a local – hard not to when you are so close – I rather began to enjoy the chaos and could only chuckle at the lack of order. As you neared the front it was a case of who shouted loudest and who had the longest arms to push their voucher into the face of the hapless barmaids. Before long I too found myself leaning over the bar shouting “Duas Cervejas”. Eventually I was got to the front but my concerns of how the bloody hell I was going to get my beers out of this mess was quickly resolved by something loosely translated as “Wrong bar love, your vouchers are for over there”. Not a happy bunny, I returned to my seat beerless 5 mins into the second half to try and calm down and enjoy the game.
By the time I’d finally calmed down, the opposite was happening behind the goal where the densest Argentina contingent were stood. It was quite remarkable how two of the most passionate countries in world football were trusted to sit side by side in such an important game with so little security. In fairness the armed police were in there speedily enough and when you see the look of those guys it’s easy to see why things settled down fairly quickly.
At 1-0 there were a couple of penalty shouts that in hindsight should have at least been referred to VAR and much to the frustration of the Argies it was from one of these that Brazil broke away, just as it looked as Jesus was about to pull the trigger he neatly turned inside and returned the favour to Firmino and provided him with the simplest of tap ins to send the home fans wild and the Argies slightly less so.
Throughout the game the enthusiasts behind had become more and more aggressive in their support for Brazil and more prominently in their hatred for Argentina. The vitriol after the second goal was such that one elderly man was driven to leave the area and we were glad that the other targeted fans showed great restraint, had it been others there could have been a lot of trouble without a security steward in sight. In fairness, these guys were frowned upon and criticised by the surrounding Brazilians and thankfully the crowds seemed to manage themselves in the most part with good spirited support.
Barring a Messi strike against the post Brazil never looked like losing their lead and the game was comfortably closed out at 2-0 to the joyous chanting of ‘E-LIMI-NADOOO’ from the home fans. All in all the game was fairly even with Brazil being more ruthless in front of goal and of course the two penalty decisions which Messi pointed towards in the post-match interviews. Yet another failure at international level for the great man. This continually hangs over him in any Messi-Ronaldo or ‘Greatest of all time’ debate but he will hope to put that straight next year as Argentina co-host the next Copa which will now be in sync with the European calendar. So Brazil had conquered their demons of 2014 and won a major Semi-Final in the Estadio Minerao and would now await either Chile or Peru in the final.
Post-game there were no ideal routes back to the centre so we joined the masses in waiting over an hour for an Uber and returned home at 1:30, sadly we didn’t find any parties to continue the night and indeed celebrations were fairly subdued after the game, I’m starting to think these guys only celebrate when they actually win a tournament.
The following day we returned to the only bar we knew and enjoyed a narrow Netherlands victory to join USA in the Women’s World Cup Final. Then to see who would meet Brazil in the final, surely Chile?? Well no, Peru had other ideas and from the very start were creating opportunities, inspired by their passionate travelling fans they ended up with a deserved 3-0 victory which ended Chiles run of titles and put Peru in the final for the first time since their victory in 1975.
Now off to the final leg of the journey back to Rio in search of beach footy and final tickets. The weather forecast and the price of tickets could make both of targets a challenge. Let’s see what happens.