Sunday, June 29, 2014

Belo Horizonte Revisited

Last leg (!) of the journey, and a game for which I no longer have a ticket for. But would you believe I have had an offer of a wheelchair ticket.

Wheelchair ticket


The sole of my foot feels like those pieces of plastic with bubbles that everyone likes to pop. Except I am trying not to pop the blisters.

Today, Friday, there is no football, so once again it is like a holiday. I travelled overnight from Curitiba and arrived back in Belo Horizonte about 11a.m.

Modern Art Museum Belo Horizonte


Decided to go up to the Lake at Pampulpa. Had a hobble round to the Art Museum (you'll have guessed, designed by Oscar) was going to see his church, but decided to save it for my next visit.

In the evening Lou was singing so I went to see her, before returning to Espitinho Mangabeiras, where this all began. On the Saturday, my final day, I was up early as I had received an email when I got in last night about 1am giving me an address to go to meet my wheelchair companion. Pampulpha is near the stadium and I was worried that they would shut the roads off. I didn't want to walk.

Lou singing in BH, Brazil


We met and my friend was pleased with my acting, with me like this we were confident we would get in, all that was missing was the wheelchair.

We went in as early as we could in case of any problems, but there were none. The wheelchair next to us didn't turn up so we had two excellent seats almost on the half way line.

Of course, you now know that the match went to extra time and penalties. I knew that was going to happen when I booked my flight last year.

Brazil v Chile, Belo Horizonte


They changed the departure time a few times. It's now 5p.m. now and I am on the bus to the airport and the plane doesn't leave till 8p.m.

(Sorry Lou I'd love to come to the party).

Belo Horizonte Revisited


Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

Friday, June 27, 2014

Curitiba

Today's background music. Kasabian, Klub Foot. Every time you hear Ahahaha, that's me taking another step.

Curitiba


So, first thing I did upon arrival in Curitiba was to check the distance from the stadium back to the bus station I am told it was 4km and takes one hour. I have 45 minutes, to get back. Mmmmmm.

Anyway, today I will take it easy, found there is a free tourist bus that travels round the city so decided to use that.

First stop, The Eye.

The Eye, Curitiba, Brazil


By now you may have grasped the concept the Brazilian cities I have visited are huge. Today in Curitiba, at the Oscar Niemeyer museum (where else!) The Eye there is a section on architecture and the development of Brazil.

In the first half of the 20th century Brazil was inspired by Paris, however the desire for new plans lead to the cities looking more American (or to me Japanese) as the cities extend for mile after mile, after mile.

Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil


Two problems I can see - the Brazilian road system appears unlike anywhere else with a habit of having to drive in a loop to get going in the direction you want, and a vast amount of underpasses, making it very confusing to get around.

The second - the lack of useful public transport. This is something that they were starting to address in the World Cup however the only new finished project I can recall is the metro in Brasilia. Elsewhere there is evidence of work starting....but none completed.

At the museum they acknowledge "It will take a lot of innovation to intervene and overcome the problems of infrastructure, mobility, and public space of cities." They are not wrong. Monorail appears an appropriate solution, and there is evidence they are thinking about this.....but will they ever finish?

I spent the morning at the museum and rejoined the tourist bus on its 40km journey round the city.

Disembarked in the city centre and walked (sort of) to the ground so that I knew the terrain after the game. Kick off 5p.m. Bus leaves 19.45.

There were obvious signs that the builders had cut short their work on the stadium, as one annex was closed off. Elsewhere the signs had been nails on the ground at both Belo Horizonte and Natal and temporary staircasing at São Paulo.

The two teams on show were as bad as Greece, even more fitting the worst one qualified from the group.

Curitiba, Brazil


Bearing in mind my condition I decided to leave early, I had seen a sign for taxis and changed my mind at the last minute and headed for that. It was pitch black and it was difficult to follow the signs but I believed it was straight on. I expected to find a row of taxis waiting.

I hobbled to the edge of the 2km exclusion zone, a common feature around the grounds. Then asked a policeman where the taxis were he just pointed out into the street to the queuing traffic. (Note to self. Stick to original plan).

So I kept going and found a taxi arriving 20 minutes before departure.

After that I think I need to put my foot up for 14 and three quarter hours, as I travel back to Belo Horizonte where this all began.

Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Porto Alegre

I had felt something on the sole of my right foot over the last few days, at first it felt like a heat spot, itchy. Now on the bus I decided to have a closer look ... it looks like I have a couple of blisters forming. (You may have noticed I don't do photos of myself so I'll spare you from the evidence at this stage!)

Footsie

Took Adidas trainer off at night and found in the morning that my foot had swollen up.

Thinking ahead, in Curitiba (now two days away) I have 45 minutes to get from the stadium to the bus station to catch an overnight bus ... distance around 4km, easy to do with a quick exit and jog back with my bag which now weighs much less and so is no trouble.

Juliana in Rio, expressed surprise when she realised that I had been out from early morning until around 8p.m. I thought about it, it's just what I do. Constantly on the go, in a country new to me with so many things to see, there is always something to go and see. Brazilian maps don't help, they do not believe in showing the scale of the map, and things are always further away than you think.

Arriving in Porto Alegre I loosened my shoelace and shoehorned my foot back into my Adidas (looking for sponsors) trainers.

Camila, (I met in Zagreb last December I carried her bag to the bus station and she invited me to Porto Alegre) was waiting patiently as the bus arrived one hour late mainly due to a police security check when they boarded the bus and collected everyone's passports.

She gave me a quick guided tour of the city centre and confessed that there was nothing here.

Porto Alegre is another huge city home to 4 million. It sits on the shores of Lake Guaíba which is polluted. Government programmes have been put in place to start to clean the lake but in Brazil they like to start new projects not finish old ones.

We took the bus to her family house in the south of the city. A one hour ride in, at times, heavily congested traffic, part of the reason for this is the mass of Argentinians arriving in town (so far estimated at 100,000). We passed a short stretch of monorail (another unfinished project) and she showed me a favela that the foreigners were not meant to see. In all the cities the police cleared the favelas that were near the stadiums so there would be no unfavourable comments.

Camila's family house (with security by Ken Bates ...live, yes an electric fence) is beautiful. I had her brother's bedroom and bathroom. Found there were four bathrooms inside and one outside.

Pizza ice cream


We went for Pizza Brazilian style, where for a set price you could eat as much as you wanted. The waiters come round and offer you a slice, from a variety of different flavours - all very nice. Then when you are ready for dessert they swop your plate and do the same but this time the choice of pizza toppings were chocolate with either ice cream, strawberries or bananas. Not sure it will catch on back home, but I enjoyed it and Camila's company as she told me more about life in Brazil.

I found that Brazil had banned alcohol in stadiums some time ago in a measure to combat hooliganism, but for the World Cup it was on sale. FIFA insisted. This was a sensible government initiative, overturned for FIFA's commercial gain.

Also learnt that the government had cancelled all armed forces and police leave enabling a high visibility of security (Fortaleza?) during the World Cup. Also that the government had asked the drug dealers to be calm during the World Cup. Once the World Cup is over there will be a high number of security personnel on holiday and the drug dealers will be back on the streets.

Camila told me that she had joined in the protests last year when they called for health and social reforms. She explained that within a week the chanting turned to overthrowing the government and reinstating the military dictatorship. Camila did not protest again.

The government has started projects to encourage students to go abroad to study, so they are trying and there have been years of neglect.

Back home I met Camila's Mum, Dad, brother (sporting an Arsenal shirt) I know the majority of the household support Gremio (4-1 only mum supports Internacional).

Porto Alegre Central Market, Brazil


Her brother tried to improve his English by drinking Caipirinha, no matter how much he drank it didn't seem to work.

They then took an interest in my foot which was by now even more swollen. They asked if I was in pain! I acknowledged "A little". Those of you who know me will understand that means I would not be available for football this particular Thursday night. Mum (in one of her three jobs) is a nurse and had a look. She thinks it is a bite. She asked if I had been on the beach... I had but not with my shoes off. She then thought there must be something in my shoe, so she got my Adidas trainer and bravely put her in hand.... out dropped a piece of fluff. Nothing else.

We agreed to review the situation in the morning. I went to bed with three pillows at the bottom of the bed to help keep my foot elevated, and woke to find the swelling had thankfully gone down.

Breakfast was great. Warm milk with honey, and a range of different spreads laid out, amongst them dulce de leche... no need for pills or medication if I have this.

A morning resting, and tasting Camila's home made Brigadeirio (delicious sweet and sticky chocolate) before heading for the stadium where my first task was to get a Brahma cup with Argentina v Nigeria on it. (The things I do!!!).

Once I completed this task I headed for first aid. I explained, and they had a look. They did some tests and recorded the details, they could not say what has happened but said I could watch the match and gave me a prescription... didn't see dulce de leche or Bramha on it though.

Nigeria v Argentina, Porto Alegre


Back in 2005 I attended the U20 World Cup final played between (you guessed) Nigeria and Argentina.

Argentina won 2-1 thanks to two penalties thanks to a man we now know as Argentina's No10. But the most memorable thing about the day was the winning celebrations. Argentina were booed as they went round the pitch as the crowd felt that Argentina had been outplayed and that Nigeria were the better team.

Looking through the line ups for that game you would recognise Argentinians (Messi, Aguero, Zabaletta and Gago) the only Nigerian recognisable was John Obi Mickel.

So a chance for revenge for Nigeria!

The 3rd place game played before featured Brazil, not one of the players that played that day made it into their 2014 World Cup squad, when they managed to turn around an 88th minute deficit into a 2-1 win against Morocco.

You could, if you wanted, count the number of Nigerians. On percentage of capacity this was the largest following. Strict policing on the way in meant I did not find out about the black market for this one.

The game itself had similarities to the one nine years ago. Argentina won by one goal, Messi scored twice. The Brazilians in the crowd jeered the Argentinian win.

Next stop Curitiba.

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sao Paulo

Arriving in São Paulo it actually looked like winter in Brazil for the first time. The sky was grey and on the bus (as always) it felt cold due to the air conditioning.

Decision time again. I had thought about going to the Football Museum first thing, partly because I thought there might be the opportunity of meeting someone who just happened to have a spare ticket. But it is closed on Mondays. Other options were also closed.

Looking for tickets in Sao Paulo


So instead I headed straight to the stadium, on an express Metro train arriving at 10a.m. three hours before kick off. During the journey as I talked to people it was clear there were a lot of Chileans without tickets, and they were willing to pay big money.

There were lots of people at the station and I figured my best chance was to catch someone as they exited the station. I wasn't the only one who thought that, as there were at least 20 people milling about looking for tickets. I decided to target the Dutch as they would understand English. I had three separate offers of US $ 1000 which I politely declined.

Free hugs in Sao Paulo


Took solace in the local's free offer.

Then appropriately, after 90 minutes a family exiting the Metro said apologetically they had only one ticket. "How much,"I asked. "Face value."

The sun has just come out.

Holland v Chile


The metro is right next to the stadium but it took another 30 minutes to enter the stadium, which looks to be the pick of the ones I have seen - today was number 7.

After the game, Brazil were on next but I opted to go to Ibirequera for a bit of peace and quiet...and to see some more of Oscar's work.

Sao Paulo architecture


Would you believe the rest if my day was ruined by football. There was a heavy military presence on Paulista Avenue, and they had blocked some roads meaning I couldn't find what I was looking for.

All the shops and restaurants were closed, many of them with the workers inside glued to the TV, I watched in a bar for a while, but preferred walking round and listening to what was happening. Each Brazil goal was greeted with a loud cheer and people running out of the building. At the end of the match firecrackers went off all over the place and car alarms sounded.

Watching Brazil in Sao Paulo


The restaurants failed to open after so I had to do with a snack, no need for McDonalds.

Now off to catch the bus to Porto Alegre, just a 15 hour trip. Where I trust Camila awaits to show me round the city.

Sao Paulo Cathedral (Se)


© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

Monday, June 23, 2014

Arrival in Rio de Janeiro

Arrived safely at 8.a.m. Had to make a decision about what sights to see. Looking at the weather I saw it was cloudy...so I ruled out a visit to Christ the Redeemer.

Oscar Niemeyer Museum, Niteroi, Rio


I knew, with the crowds it could take all day, and the weather comes with no guarantees. So, from the airport I caught a bus straight to Niteroi, a town across the bay from Rio.

I was delighted to find, no hustle and bustle, there was a simple layout to the place, and it was designed by Oscar Niemeyer! So I took a tour, it actually felt like I was on holiday! At every turn on the coast, you could see a small pristine beach reminding of those I had seen near Cape Town.

Oscar Niemeyer Museum, Niteroi


The houses with a view, back over to Rio, made me think of those on the Amalfi coast in Positano, and Oscar's work in the MOMA in New York (of course now every time I see that I will think of Oscar.) Plus the beaches have goalposts set up on them.
Sugerloaf Mountain

To get back to Rio I decided to catch the ferry (It cost £2, o. k. a bit more than the 50 cents for the Staten Island ferry) but just as good as the clouds lifted and I saw Cristo Redontor for the first time.

I walked from the port to Central metro station and was amazed that it felt so calm. After all this time travelling you may have thought I would feel tired, well I haven't. I can only guess it is my Lust for Life (Iggy Pop) that keeps me going.

Teatro Popular, Niteroi


Found Juliana The Girl from Urca at my hostel. She gave me a few ideas of what I could do with my limited time. So the evening I headed for the beach, Praia Vermelha, in the shadows of Sugarloaf mountain. The restaurant there had music, good food and outside once again the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. (An excellent recommendation).

The next morning (the third time I have slept in a bed) I didn't feel so good. I don't know what I had eaten that had caused this. So I took my time as I got up, instead of rushing straight out. My schedule means that I am on the road non stop for the next two days. (Nothing unusual, except not feeling so good). Might need to visit McDonalds. For those of you that don't understand wherever you are in the world McDonalds have clean toilets, so any problems that is where to go!

Copacabana from Sugarloaf


Set off an hour late to go up Sugar Mountain (think Where Eagles Dare). Cristo Redentor was still in the clouds but the view was clear from where I overlooked the sprawling city below. Still not 100% so decided to take my time enjoying the view. Whilst up there spotted some creatures (which I later found out were micos) playing in the trees at the top of Sugarloaf.

Micos


It was like an extreme version of sumo wrestling where they try and push each other out the tree and then have to desperately cling on to a branch to prevent a messy end.

Leaving Sugarloaf I saw the bus coming, but let it go as I didn't feel like running for it... as I normally would.

Pedro from Fortaleza has been in touch. The thieves struck again the next day. I have sent him an email asking if the police are doing anything or if he thinks they are involved. I await his reply with interest.

Maracana


My next game is the first I do not (now) have a ticket for. So I have been paying attention to the black market. You know me by now, working all the angles... as well as the curves. Today Brazilians are trying to sell their tickets (the lowest category) for 10 times face value. I may have to accept that I won't see the game in the stadium.

Walking up the tunnel to see the inside of the Maracana, it felt as though I would be walking out on to the pitch to play. Of course now that I have realised this dream my thoughts turn to Manuel's offer to come and see his team America in the Azteca. (Give me three years to sort that one out!)

Here in Rio (with a bit of help from Juliana) I think I have found my Brazilian home. The city is calm, well policed, there are some wonderful areas, much preferred Ipanema to the touristy Copacabana and the weather has not been too hot.

Off shortly to get the 1.30a.m bus to São Paulo.

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Recife

Caught the packed (sardines) metro from the bus station into the centre of town.

Heard a guitar strumming and singing in Portugese, followed the sound and found myself in The Nossa Senhora Do Rosário Dos Pretos Church.  The acoustics were great and it sounded nothing like religious music so I sat in the church and enjoyed that for 30 minutes. The time now 7a.m.

The Nossa Senhora Do Rosario Dos Pretos Church


Walked around and found the site of the first bridge in Latin America first built in 1643. As I was crossing I saw a net being thrown into the river on the next bridge. I was amazed to see one minute later the net hauled out with a large fish.

The Nossa Senhora Do Rosario Dos Pretos Church


Later walking down the street I saw a man drop his car keys, I picked them up and followed him, saying disculpe (excuse me) I got no reaction as he did not recognise his own keys. I demonstrated what had happened and he then realised they were his. I was rewarded with a coffee.

Brazilian Post Box


I didn't mention it but in Brasilia I had a spare ticket for the game. I looked for someone suitable to give it to and saw 4 Brazilians under a tree, a father and three sons. I asked if they spoke English. They shook their heads. I asked if they wanted a ticket they said "Yes".

I told them they could have it but I was not going to be responsible for the battle over who would have the ticket, they understood every word. The eldest son came with me.

Architecture in Recife


I mentioned a problem a mutual friend had yesterday, well someone was arrested... correctly. They confessed that before they were caught they had also left a restaurant without paying, and so they accepted that they were being punished for this.

Thinking about how to get dulce de leche. I remember after my visit to Uruguay finding it in Sainsbury's. Then I thought.... just now Uruguay is closer!

Sugar cane


Still wandering around I saw sugar Kane (not distilled) and as is customary had a drink. The vendor had no change for the small note I gave her, so I had a fresh fruit concoction sprinkled with cream, raisins and something else, for the note.

Recife has some wonderful (restored) colonial architecture, recently repainted, with the clear blue early morning sky there were plenty of good photos to be had for anyone with a decent camera.

Recife architecture


For the first time there were people at the metro to help visitors and there was security present... unlike Fortaleza, where I put forward my proposals to make the places safe for others in the future i.e. the police should be visible, to ward off criminals and not hiding in their office. Unfortunately the tourist police did not understand English.

Manuel arrived at the game in customary fashion (i.e. late) and I didn't expect to be saying that Costa Rica are one of the best teams I have seen in my five games so far.

Italy v Costa Rica


Managed to send the previous day's blog thanks to Claudia63 sitting two seats away who was unaware I had hacked her wifi, using the Brazilian formula explained earlier. Found another way to access wifi through a local network Oi, they are linked to BT and as I have an account with them, using my BT password & username it works......when the network is strong enough.

After the match, made the long trek back to the city centre, walk, bus and packed metro.

I had time to kill, it was just getting dark so I decided to head to the stop imaginatively titled 'Shopping'. Brasilia had the same and there was a modern shopping centre next to the metro there. On the way I met two Norwegian, Chile fans.

This time I got out the metro and realised this was not the same scenario. There was no sign of anything around a local woman assured us that Shopping was just round the corner. Then we saw a bus with the destination Shopping Recife, so we jumped on.

By now, I think you understand that Brazil is huge and so too are the cities. The bus travelled for about twenty minutes before we reached the shopping centre! We then decided to head to the beach area Boa Viagem. We sat and talked as we listened to the waves crashing in the background. A very pleasant evening, we tried to swop tales of our adventures in Brazil. I went first and they immediately said that there trip had been uneventful. I said I would be grateful for the day that my travels were.

I realised they were trying to give me more material, as I left them about 10p.m. and headed to the airport for my 2.20a.m flight that would take me to São Paulo, where I would change planes before landing in Rio.

They helpfully suggested that I could catch the bus to the Airport from a nearby street, instead of the 10 minute walk back to the Shopping Centre. I pointed out that the stop they referred to was going in the wrong direction!

I did however, check and sure enough I headed back to the shopping centre to catch the bus to the airport.

Whilst completing computerised check-in I completed their questions, but am wondering what will happen next as they insisted on having a telephone number for next of kin (provided they were not also on the flight).

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

Friday, June 20, 2014

Natal

Natal, Brazil
Caught the overnight bus from Fortaleza....just seven hours this time and arrived at 6 a.m.

Arriving in Natal as dawn broke it was clear they had heavy rain in the night. As it began to get light there were still grey clouds overhead.

Now I needed to sort out how I was getting to Recife for the game at 1.00 p.m. tomorrow, the original plan was that I was travelling with Manuel by car, you'll realize after yesterday's episode that something went wrong with those plans.

Lots of Mexicans here and they are doing the same thing, so it was no surprise when I heard the buses to Recife were full. Of course being one who doesn't give up I persisted and managed to book a bus out at 23.45 tonight, for the five hour journey.

So what to do in Brazil by the sea as the rain pours down?

Head to the mall for some shopping (to replace things) and where the FIFA ticketing centre was located. There was no sign of any local buses, so I had no option but to take a taxi.

During the journey my driver talked (as taxi drivers all over the world do) non stop. Despite neither of us speaking each other's language I think we understood each other. This was borne out by the fact that he accompanied me to the ticketing centre and explained my case and remained with me for the next two hours.

I understood that Natal was safe but that Recife was dangerous and had a reputation for crime like Fortaleza.

I was now told that FIFA had said yesterday that under no circumstances would they reissue tickets. Keeping quiet about the fact that I had done that yesterday I said I accepted that, but would like to see if it was possible to buy tickets.

Again I was told this was not possible. Yet outside a large queue had formed obviously looking for tickets for tonight's game Japan v Greece.

Japan v Greece, Natal


My FIFA helper took pity and asked about the games I needed. He tried but no luck, he suggested trying the Internet. He saw my iPod and asked if I had wifi, I explained that even when I get it it rarely works (as I was advised by Camila before I set off. Thank you.)

He proceeded to try the different networks that came up and (as I had already worked out) entered the same name for the password. I told him that was typical Brazilian and he acknowledged it was. Nothing worked so he suggested a large nearby supermarket which had Internet.

Japan fans in Natal, Brazil


I asked a few questions and found that initially he didn't know if the shopping mall would open today as on match days the cities had declared holidays. He later found it would open at 3p.m.

He also informed me that there was a bus strike today.

So off to the supermarket where I got to kick my first ball in the aisles, with some kids before we got told off! I took one of the chocolate world cups off the shelf and gave it to one of them who then paraded it round the store, before putting it back.

The connection to the Internet was slow and when it did come up it failed, after my third computer I looked at the assistants and said "Brazil" they immediately fell about laughing. I had read that Brazilians say this when things don't work out, and felt that after the week here that I have had, I was entitled to use it.

So it would appear my only hope for the two missing tickets will be Pedro's sign.

I guess by now you'll realize at the moment I feel a bit like the Uruguayans without their dulce du leche (which is as good as sugar Kane!).

Looked for some help to get to the stadium later in the day and found two people from England, who having been based on the Northern coast, were able to give me useful tips for my next destination.

Met another old friend, by chance, inside the stadium, Sebastian can be found usually near beautiful women. I spotted him having his photo taken and ruined the shot!

For the first time I managed to watch a game on TV. It left me singing "Soy, celeste" as I later watched Japan v Greece from the best seats I have had this tournament.

By now you will have seen that the stadiums have all been magnificent (as usual) but I heard that for the last game it took some time to get back into town.

So I planned my escape from the stadium beforehand by foot to the bus station.

On the way out I bumped into another friend, and went with them for the bus.

One of his companions had been arrested earlier in the evening, (for nothing, honest) and kept in custody whilst the game took place and he was due to appear in court at 8.20 a.m. tomorrow morning. But the bus to Recife departed tonight....with him on board.

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Robbed in Fortaleza

The bus set off 45 minutes late on it 1679 km journey to Fortaleza on the Brazilian coast. It was scheduled to arrive at 09.51 little did I know that it was Tuesday and not Monday it was due to arrive.

Arena Castellao, Fortaleza


So plenty of time to admire the Brazilian countryside as the bus took in all the towns on the way, and my fellow passengers were always eager to get off and try the local delicacies.

So my extended trip acquainted me with all the gastronomic delights served at their bus stations. I can assure you that I tried everything at least once and still don't know exactly what I had.

At 7a.m. on Tuesday I checked with my fellow passengers and they confirmed there was 3 hours to go. At noon I checked and there was still 3 hours to go!!

Kick off was at 4p.m.

No panic. Taxi!

Once again I took my bags to the stadium, and had to walk the last 2km as no cars were allowed near the stadium.

Upon arrival at the security check, this time, they spotted my razor and informed that I could not go in with it.

Let's just recap here. I have just spent 45 hours on a bus. Had six hours in bed since I got to Brazil. Just walked 2km with my bags in the hottest temperatures I had encountered so far, now that I was on the North East coast. Oh and I hadn't had a shave since I got here. It can't get worse can it?

Anyway I got in and I have now shaved.

Enjoyed the game. Mexico's performance was no surprise to me as I have seen the fixture three times and Mexico won them all.

Had an early night ..11ish, and up at 7 to meet my Mexican friend Manuel at the bus station to travel to Natal.

We were in the process of buying the bus tickets, I handed Manuel my passport from my small bag, I looked around some seconds later and immediately realised my bag had gone.

Want to know what was in it, with the most important things first. Match tickets, camera, hat, money, jacket, poncho.

So I looked and looked for the police, eventually finding them exuding the same patience I had seen with their queues (even when the metro came in at Brasilia there was not the usual urgency I am used to, to get aboard).

The police did not seem to take an interest as I searched all the bins and the toilets. A Uruguayan girl said she had seen someone suspicous and we asked to check the CCTV, the nearest one wasn't working. But then Pedro the manager of Guanabara bus company came along. He checked his CCTV and we saw what had happened, two of them and two seconds.

We then went to the police and they then checked the video of the station exits. We saw the culprits but the police were not about to do anything.

Pedro, however was determined to help he offered his services and drove Manuel and I across town to the Police Station to get a crime report. (Beach football today was postponed).

Found out from Pedro that Fortaleza is the 7th most violent city in the world and that a few years he had been visited at his home by armed robbers and tied up. I had only lost a bag.

Pedro realised that the match tickets were the most important thing and offered to take us to the FIFA ticketing centre.

With Pedro and Manuel's help and patience I managed to get tickets to 5 of the 7 matches I had lost. One of Pedro's last acts if kindness was to make me a sign saying "I need a ticket for this match."

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

The reign of Spain ends in pain

The 18th of June 2014 will go down in Spanish history, that is for sure.

King Juan Carlos signed the papers to step down as monarch after 39 years on the throne and the national team were clinically excised from the World Cup, marking the definitive end of a golden age which began when Luis Aragones’ team won Euro 2008 espousing a glorious new creed called tiki-taka.

Even El Pais newspaper was unsure which end of empire deserved higher billing on its front page, but there is no doubt which abdication will be the talk of the town tomorrow. 

The streets here in North-West Spain are eerily quiet. At 11pm sharp someone turned off the usual volume. The rows of outdoor cafes either emptied or were suddenly drained of their normal chatter and vivacity which make this country a home of real nightlife.

The reason was La Roja's sudden death in Brazil, hit by a left-right Dutch-Chilean combination. Two strikes and they’re out, the champs are going home.

It's an early night for a nation which normally stays up too late and the post-mortem has begun in earnest. Two hours after the final whistle signalled the death-knell of Spanish hopes, one all-male TV talk show was still hollering away into the night about what went wrong.  

There are the usual suspects of course but all the culprits are too numerous to mention. Vicente Del Bosque keeping faith with old friends, Iker Casillas' and Sergio Ramos' loss of form and Diego Costa's incompatibility are nevertheless the immediate targets.

But you could easily add the injury to Thiago Alcantara, leaving Santi Cazorla, Cesc Fabregas, Juan Mata and David Villa languishing on the bench, the Brazilian grass, the heat and humidity, victory fatigue, FIFA's screwed-up rankings which dropped the unseeded Dutch into their group and the fact Madrid's players had landed jaded from the Champions League final.

Spain were lethargic and were unable to up the tempo when required or match the explosiveness of the Chilean or Dutch attacks. Even when forcing the other Roja's custodian Claudio Bravo into action in the second half, they never looked like pulling back the half-time deficit.

The 5-1 mauling by the Netherlands should have been proof enough that Spain were old news, but in reality the writing was on the wall last summer when Del Bosque's team were out-run by Brazil in the Confederations Cup final.

Of course no empire can last forever and beyond the eternal and necessary optimism of any football supporter, there was a feeling here in Spain before the finals that this was a cup too far. 

I told you so may be a glib reaction to defeat, but I at least thought something looked amiss in the curiously half-hearted displays of red and yellow flags around this town. I also felt a faint desperation at the back of my mind watching old faces in new adverts from the myriad sponsors on television and in the press. Yes we can they grinned, no you can't I thought.

How proud really is Cruzcampo to be the beer of a dreadful team? The official sorrow-drowner more like. And how many despondent fans will cut themselves tomorrow morning with Gillette, Spain's official razor?

What is really sad though is that tiki-taka, that delightfully innovative style of play, had already left the building before the World Cup began. And its great wizard Xavi did not even take the field tonight while Andres Iniesta failed to conjure up his magic of old.

Yet at 0-2 down, just when Spain needed a return to La Furia Roja of yesteryear, nothing happened as the tank was empty. Chile were faster, fitter and fresher and the crown was falling fast off the world champions' head.

Costa has never looked the part for Spain and leaves his native country Brazil with his held held low. La Roja's blunt forward line was of no help to the cause. Seven corners to Chile's one, 16 shots to eight and 63% of the ball mean nothing when you never looked like scoring.

And so the fire of a world-beating national team goes out, a light which paradoxically began to burn brightly at the same time the Spanish nation fell into a dark fiscal and social crisis with a flat-lining economy and large-scale emigration.

Now the great team is dead, while the country struggles on in hope of better days.

Spain has lost a king and a dynasty tonight.


(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Brasilia

Well, I went for the bus, waiting where I thought it was going from at the main bus station on the platform as stated on my ticket. With only ten minutes before departure I checked where fellow passengers were going - none were going to Brasilia!

Brazil World Cup 2014


Found someone who worked at the bus station and they confirmed the bus was due to depart from another bus station, they wrote the address down and sent me towards the taxi rank with a bit of paper. (Looks like I might break all the rules on this trip!)

The taxi driver understood I was in a hurry and made his way hastily across town, some 15 minutes later we arrived and my bus had gone. I explained at the ticket office, and they put me on the next bus which departed 20 minutes after mine. They then took me to the bus station I had come from. I was told I should wait here, I was soon joined by 6 others who had also missed the bus!!!

Included in this motley crew were 2 South Koreans who kept our spirits up by sharing their Korean octopus sausage and a Brazilian doctor travelling with his son. He said that if he didn't know where to catch the bus then no wonder the foreigners had problems.

Brasilia Cathedral, Brazil


A bus came in about 20 minutes and the other 6 got on. I was to wait.... and wait.

Whilst waiting I considered my options I could go back to my bar. (It was samba tonight and I knew my friends would be there) that wouldn't be so bad. Two hours after my scheduled departure time and I was finally on my way. 11 hours later and I was in Brasilia.

I had done my homework as I didn't have much time here...so here you are.

Brasilia is the only city in the world constructed in the 20th century to have been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. The city was built in 41 months, and is considered a masterpiece of modernist architecture.

Museu Nacional, Brasilia, Brazil


Juscelino Kubitschek was president of Brazil from 1956 to 1961, this time was unusual as there was a period of political calm. He was responsible for the plan of National Development, which carried the motto "50 years of progress in 5.” (Shame they didn't bring that one back!)

He transferred the capital of Brazil away from Rio de Janeiro to Brasilia. The idea of moving the capital to somewhere central had been around since 1891 (possibly after Italian saint Don Bosco had a prophetic dream in 1883 in which he described a futuristic city that roughly fitted Brasilia's location) but he made it happen. The new modern capital would show the world that Brazil had broken from its colonial past, whilst at the same time boosting industry and initiating major construction projects.

Palace of Congress, Brasilia, Brazil


A design competition was arranged for the building of the new city and this was won by Lucio Costa, who enlisted the help of Oscar Niemeyer (whom he had been working with on a new Ministry of Education and Health in Rio de Janiero collaborating with Le Corbusier).

Kubitschek attracted foreign capital by exempting taxes and had a generous credit policy. Of course he was accused of corruption, mainly around the awarding of construction contracts, but nothing was ever proven. He left office in 1961 with foreign debt having grown from 87 million dollars to 297 million dollars and inflation running at 43%.

When the military seized power in 1964 his political rights were suspended and he went into a self imposed exile. he returned to Brazil in 1967 and was killed in a car crash in 1976. In 2000 Leonel Brizola, the former governor of Rio de Janeiro alleged he was assassinated, this was proven in 2013, but corrected in 2014 to say it was a genuine accident!

So, arriving in Brasilia an hour later than planned at 8a.m. I checked my bag in the left luggage without a problem and collected my bus ticket to Fortaleza which was due to depart at 17.15.

I had read that I needed to get a bus to travel the 7 miles to the centre, but I found a Metro system in operation. You could tell it was new as they had only done the outlines for the graffiti on the front of the building.

Arriving in the centre I headed for Tres Poddres square, where Niemeyer's National Congress Building was the main show piece.

Niemeyer was certainly ahead of his time in architectural terms, but here in Brasilia it was to be the foundation of a city.

What I found was Milton Keynes with American highways and underpasses instead of roundabouts.

Niemeyer is quoted as saying "It is strange how the power of beauty makes us forget so much injustice,"

Protester in Brasilia, Brazil


I now recognised a familiar police presence outside each Government building. Today I met this lot near the Niemeyer museum. They explained there had been a small and peaceful protest because they were fed up with the Government.

Wish I had asked this lot what they thought of that.

Arrived back at the bus station. in plenty of time, but was getting worried as there was no sign of a bus at the due departure time. We eventually set off 45 minutes late. (Life's not fair).

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

Monday, June 16, 2014

Belo Horizonte

Upon arrival at the airport picked up my remaining match tickets by simply placing the credit card used to purchase the tickets into a vending machine, due to planning ahead these tickets were in my name, so I didn't have any problem.

Belo Horizonte, Brazil


The bus into town took about an hour and delivered us to the central bus station. The bus station is served by a metro station which I thought would be the best way to get around, however the locals say that the metro takes you from nothing to nowhere. Sure enough, nowhere near my accommodation.

Belo Horizonte means beautiful horizon, and the city is surrounded by hills, think of a bigger Sheffield. I also noted that the city is partnered with Grimsby! The only link I could find was another local saying, that there is no sea, but there are bars. The saying rhymes well in Portugese. Trust me.

Anyway found my digs on the other side of town high upon one of the hills. Just further up (O.K. almost at the top is a small park in the shape if an inverted teardrop, it was built for the visit if the Pope in 1984 and from here you can see why the city got the name).

Belo Horizonte architecture, Brazil


The place I was staying was mainly full of Colombians, cheering on the Mexicans cabrones on T.V. As new people arrived they asked where they were from and invited them to join them drinking vodka. When they caught up with me they suddenly changed the drink to whisky!

From now at random they would shout out a country. Canada, Australia, Bolivia, Chile, and invite the person to drink. If you remember what they were drinking I was asked every second time!

I heard there had been some life in an area called Savassi last night and so headed down there in the afternoon. The hills were like the ones you see in San Francisco. (No amount of training on the steepest part of the Forest was going to help me get back up).

Whilst out I came across my first piece of Oscar Niemeyer architecture. The Niemeyer building.

Sure enough Savassi was lively, I saw two Greeks (the only two Greeks I saw) being interviewed on T.V. and their prediction of 2-0 to Greece had the place in uproar. (Thank goodness they didn't drink all the whisky).

Decided to head back up the hill and get something to eat near home.

I found a quiet place on the main road five minutes away. The owner spoke English and we had a long chat. He had just taken over two weeks ago and was going to have some local musicians playing. He asked me if that was O.K. I said it was perfect, we can watch the football and listen to the music.

The musicians were good, but the game was about to end, I didn't sleep on the plane so after 42 hours without sleep I said I would pay the bill and go home.

Just as I was about to leave he asked if I would join some of his friends as they had been asking him about me.

How could I say no.

We went through the food menu and I tried a bit of everything, and they insisted I tried cachaça. Well I know it's made from sugar cane. (And in the words of Thurston Moore "I love you sugar Kane") After discovering it in Egypt, it is my favourite soft drink. I am already alert and looking for the cane sticks in the juice bars, and stop every time I see it.

So I had cachaça, it didn't taste the same.

Suddenly the musicians started playing the Stevie Wonder riff from Superstition ( I didn't ask if it was because it was Friday 13th) this was completely out of sync as everything else they had played sounded traditional Brazilian. Lou, who I had been talking to got up and started singing. Wow! I had found my own Astrud Gilberto.

She carried on as they returned to Brazilian songs. Once she returned I found out she is a professional singer.

My new-found friends didn't want me to leave Belo Horizonte, but I explained that I would be back for my last night in two weeks time. Lou then insisted that I also come out the next night as it is her birthday! (Amanda if I don't make it back to work on time you know why.)

I eventually went to bed about 2a.m.

Up at 8 and headed back to the bus station to put my bag in left luggage. Except it was full!

Walking towards the stadium I saw a two year old being driven in a small remote controlled car by her father.

Ended up taking my bag to the game, all 8.7kg of it. Got it through security no problem.

Belo Horizonte Stadium


After the match there was a large police presence and the main road in town was closed. I went round the block and could hear protesters chanting anti FIFA slogans to the beat of a samba drum.

I found a slogan placed on the Sete Square saying "Reform Politics".

Off to catch the bus now to Brasilia!!!!!

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Departure for Brazil

My flight to Brazil was due to depart at 22.15, and the first game of the tournament kicked off at 21.00, just as I arrived at the departure gate. There was a mixture of nationalities present with the majority being from England and Japan.

When Croatia scored, people quickly realised the implications. Unhappy people in Brasil means a greater chance of strikes, and just now that would lead to chaos. As is customary I normally let others board the plane first. I wasn't about to change that this evening. We had already had a final boarding call, but still people were watching the game. An announcement was made saying this was the last final call, and people reluctantly moved. When Neymar equalised the cheer from the handful left watching led to the boarding queue, returning to the screen. Fed up with this staff rounded everyone up and left the police to watch the game in peace.

On the plane I was sat between Tomahiko, from Ibaraki, Japan and C.J. (you'll guess his second name) Bond from Harrow, England. My initial greeting of hajimemashite, shocked my new Japanese friend, he didn't expect that and he was even more surprised when I explained that I had been to his home town, not only for the World Cup but to see his team Kashima Antlers coached by Zico win the league some years ago.

Tomahiko is studying in Dublin for his football coaching badge, and would one day like to coach in Europe.

He would be going to Japan's first game in Recife and watching two other games in the completion.

On my other side C.J. wasted no time in telling me he was supporting England as he has since 1990. It transpired that he has been busy over the last 4 years promoting worldcupbuster.com.

Buster


A campaign to raise money for Cancer research, due to this I was prepared to listen (and now to help promote).

The central character Buster is an English pitbull terrier, who stars in a You Tube video with lots of well known celebrities, (C.J. can be seen with Ian Wright towards the end.) England haven't had a mascot for some time, and C.J.'s dream is to have people recognise Buster and do the dance, (I take it by now you've seen the video!) which is to the tune of Tom Hark.

C.J. has used his connections and his ability to talk for England to make all this happen. With his dogged determination I am sure he will help raise a lot of money for a worthwhile charity.

As we went through customs, we were picked out.... as brothers! C. J hair slicked back, former dancer and me.

What I forgot to tell you was that C.J.'s luggage consisted of a forty foot flag packed in a dog's head!

Anyway we managed to get the dog's head through customs so no doubt you will see Buster in Brazil.

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Introduction to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Well four years since the last World Cup, so it is time to do it all again. Holding down a job so I can pay for all of this, means that I can make the first two weeks (or so) of the competition. (Who knows in 4 years time?). Obviously I would love to be able to go travelling for two months (like some I know…Mick…John), but I have to return to work and pay for the next trip.

Introduction to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil


I put out my intended itinerary some time ago and invited others to join me, but (would you believe) I am on my own again, it appears I am the only one taking on this particular schedule.

14th Belo Horizonte Colombia v Greece
15th Brasilia Switzerland v Ecuador
17th Fortaleza Brazil v Mexico
19th Natal Japan v Greece
20th Recife Italy v Costa Rica
22nd Rio de Janeiro Belgium v Russia
23rd Sao Paulo Netherlands v Chile
25th Porto Alegre Nigeria v Argentina
26th Curitiba Algeria v Russia
28th Belo Horizonte Winner A v Runner Up B

Once again with the help of good (and trusting) friends I have managed to secure tickets for all 10 games that I planned to go to, despite all the obstacles FIFA try to put in the way.

I would say that I can't understand how they are allowed to (a) charge so much (b) allowed not to put tickets on sale for 10 games for a long period of time, but I think by now we all understand that while they exist they are a law unto themselves.

Having been shocked at Euro 2012 at the price of accommodation (especially in Ukraine), and the fact that everywhere I booked 6 months prior to the event cancelled on me and put up there prices, I was wary of booking anywhere.

However, despite an increase in prices, the places I have booked have not cancelled or raised prices further.

The logistics of travelling from A to B in Brazil meant a straight choice between getting a flight or catching the bus. I have opted (with one exception) for taking the bus. The benefits of this are that there is an established bus network in Brazil, the coaches are more comfortable than here in the UK, no waiting at airports.

Travelling mainly overnight, means there is no need to book as many nights in hotels. Also the flights I have booked the one to Brazil and the internal flight have already been altered a number of times, thankfully the new times still fit into my schedule.

Planning the trip to Brazil, meant reading Futebol: The Brazilian Way Of Life by Alex Bellos and spending time trying to work my way round Brazilian websites, with my very limited Portuguese. From the websites it is already clear that my years of studying the English language at school will be of little or no use over in Brasil.

From previous trips to South America, I do not expect things to go to plan. I can still remember the strike in Peru which grounded planes and the bus I was travelling in being pelted by stones, because there was a national transport strike.

In Venezuala, we had the tickets that didn't materialise, and in Argentina they used the volcano in Iceland as a reason for postponing one of their flights which led to a quick change in schedule, so who knows what awaits in Brazil.

During my travels I will be looking out for Oscar, no not Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnior who plays for Chelsea but Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer Soares Filho Known as Oscar Niemeyer.

One of the reasons for this is that a friend recently looked at some pictures I had taken at the Europa League Final

(https://www.flickr.com/photos/footballtraveslwithross/sets/72157644277288189/) and they complained that I obviously liked all the straight line architecture.

Well with Oscar's help, I will try and show a different side as he said "I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein."

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Fifa World Rankings June 2014

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for June 2014 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

Euro 2012 and World Cup 2010 winners Spain are still on top of the FIFA rankings for yet another month in the last rankings before the start of the World Cup in Brazil.

Trailing Spain are Germany, World Cup hosts and 2013 Confederations Cup winners Brazil, Portugal, and Argentina. Next come Switzerland, Colombia, Uruguay, Italy, and England. So Group D has 3 of the world's top 10 ranked teams, making it the real "Group of Death" in Brazil.

Algeria are the top African team in 22nd place.

Japan are in 46th place.


The USA are in 13th place, up one spot from last month. Scotland are in 27th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 70th place, Wales are in 41st, Northern Ireland are 90th.

Ranking Team
1 Spain
2 Germany
3 Brazil
4 Portugal
5 Argentina
6 Switzerland
7 Uruguay
8 Colombia
9 Italy
10 England
11 Belgium
12 Greece
13 USA
14 Chile
15 The Netherlands
16 Ukraine
17 France
18 Croatia
19 Russia
20 Mexico

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