65. Benfica to Brazil the Book: UPDATE!

Over a year has passed since the glory days of Brazil 2014, and with FIFA falling apart around our ears, (although not quite enough yet); Benfica falling apart around the League, (although not in the Champions League); and José Mourinho and Chelsea falling apart in pretty much everything, I have been keeping busy turning my experiences in Brazil, and across the world and through the years, into a book.

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This week, I finished the first draft of ‘Benfica to Brazil,’ and for the next few weeks I will be editing, polishing, cutting and extending it to make it the best book you have ever read about football, travel, sports, Benfica, and life.

Check out the update here, and if you haven’t signed up for a copy in advance, there will be copies available when it is published, in physical and e-book form, in a few months: just drop me an email to reserve yours!

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61. The Europa Cup Final, pt.III: the game…

Doron is a world-travelling sports-lover who adopted Benfica as his team when he moved to Portugal a year ago.

You can order and read the book of his travels and his sporting adventures here.

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When last we saw our intrepid hero, he had travelled across four countries to arrive in Torino, Italy, with a second-hand ticket to see the Europa Cup Final between his beloved Benfica and his new second-favourite Spanish team, Sevilla.

My newfound Spanish friends said their goodbyes and good lucks at the stadium, and I went to take my place inside, around two hours before kickoff. The line to get in was long and seemed nervous, and I soon found out why: they were checking everybody’s passports before they would let people in.

Since I had a ticket in somebody else’s name, this could prove to be a small problem.

It was almost an even bigger problem, as when I had bought the ticket I had been given the choice of two which were available: one in the name of Giovanni, and one for Natalia.

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Having gotten into World Cup matches with second hand tickets of every imaginable name, nationality and gender, I had very nearly taken the Natalia ticket just for fun.

With staff checking tickets to make sure each one belonged to the person who was holding it, that would have been the end of my journey.

As it was, I still had a chance, so I prepared my best ‘Who, me, guvnor?’ innocent looking face, as angry looking fans occasionally pushed past in the wrong direction, and eventually came to the front of the line where a guard asked to see my ticket and passport.

Luckily, having spent six months living in Firenze in 2001, I spoke a little Italian, and calmly explained to him that I had just travelled 1,800kms to be at the game, and that my passport was locked in the car of the friends I had come with, sure that he wouldn’t be taking his job too seriously.

“Well then,” he replied seriously in Italian, “you’re not coming in.”

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I stared at him in shock, as several other people were let in with valid ID and tickets, and tried to explain it to him again.

Again he told me: too bad.

This was not in the script.

In my best bad Italian, and with the saddest look imaginable on my face, I asked him to call over a supervisor, which he did. I explained my problem again, sure that this senior guard had better things to do than deny me access to the stadium.

Get out,” he basically told me.

My dream was at an end before it had even begun.

I stood there,shaking slightly with disappointment, as the original guard continued checking tickets and his supervisor walked away to deal with another crisis nearby.

Which is when I decided to just walk past the guard as quickly as possible, without looking back.

And somehow, nobody stopped me, and with trembling hands I presented my ticket to the ticket scanners, and was inside the stadium.

This is how my life works.

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I spent the next hour terrified that I was being hunted after being spotted by security cameras, but eventually realised that nobody cared about me, and could enjoy the fact that I was actually

inside

the

stadium!

There were all sorts of festivities as I walked down to the front row to take in the atmosphere on the pitch, and of the Benfica fans around me. A friendly photographer offered me his official team sheet to add to my collection when I asked, which was nice.

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Not too far away, German international legend Michael Ballack was being interviewed, and I spent a while watching that. When it was done, the interviewer was presented with a Benfica jersey by an assistant, who motioned to the crowd in my direction whilst pointing at the shirt.

The interviewer looked up, and caught my eye, and I raised my eyebrows. He nodded, and strolled over to introduce me live on German TV. He seemed vaguely surprised that I was English, not Portuguese, but I couldn’t have been more excited to be presented with a signed Benfica jersey half an hour before kickoff.

Things were going rather well, in fact.

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Too well, maybe.

I don’t believe in good or bad luck, in karma. Sometimes good things happen,  sometimes bad. Often great things, many times terrible. I definitely don’t believe in a limited supply of luck, or in using it up.

And yet…

It seems I had used up all of Benfica’s luck for the evening. Ninety minutes after kickoff, the score was somehow 0-0, despite Benfica having had a number of great chances, and a few obvious penalty calls denied.

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After another 30 minutes of extra time, it was still scoreless, and we were headed to penalties, the worst thing in sports.

Against a team who were even luckier than I was.

I may have been lucky to be in the stadium, with someone else’s ticket and a free signed jersey, but all of that didn’t compare to Sevilla FC’s luck in getting there. They were only even in the competition (after finishing NINTH in the Spanish league) because Malaga, who finished sixth, were banned from European competitions due to overdue payments; and the team which was meant to replace them, Rayo Vallecano, who finished eighth, were ALSO thrown out for unpaid debts.

And, after playing eighteen matches to get to the final, having started in the third qualifying round, Sevilla were only on the pitch in Turin thanks to a 94th minute injury-time goal in their semi-final sent them through on away goals.

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So, yeah, they had some luck on their side. And it saw them win the penalty shoot-out, 4-2, largely thanks to their goalkeeper Beto (Portuguese, ironically) ignoring the rule which bans ‘keepers from leaving their line before the kick is taken, and being halfway to the ball to be able to save it for two of Benfica’s penalties.

Before you accuse me of sour grapes, I’ll just say that my hosts on the drive home delighted in sharing with me Twitter photos like this one from their fellow Spaniards, acknowledging how far off his line Beto was:

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Oh well, these things happen, and at least there aren’t two professionals whose sole job it is to stand either side of the goal and stop things like this happening.

Oh, wait…

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I saw grown men cry that night. The only thing that comforted me to a small degree as I trudged away from the stadium was knowing that the lovely guys I had spent two days travelling with and getting to know would be happy…and they were, whilst respecting my grief.

We drove through the night, arriving back in Sevilla around 24-hours later, just in time to walk over to the crumbling concrete cuteness of their Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, where the players were celebrating into the night on the pitch, with speeches, songs, and a fairly hilarious impromptu recreation of that injury-time goal which had gotten them to the final…with an imaginary ball.

I was put up for the night in one of my car-mate’s apartments, (the least they could do, considering what their team had done to me…), and was whisked back to Lisbon the next day by blablacar, to a city which had once again suffered the Guttmann Curse…but that’s a story for the next blog!

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Check out ‘Benfica to Brazil – THE BOOK’ at Doron’s KICKSTARTER PAGE here!

 

28. World Cup Day 2….Holland vs Spain

Wow.

This was probably the most eagerly awaited game of the first round of the World Cup: a rematch of the last final in Johannesburg in 2010, the holders against the beaten finalists. I had predicted a 1-1 draw.

I was half right.

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This match felt like the end of an era. Spain, in case you didn’t know, are both reigning European and World champions, but seem to have Continue reading

26. The ‘beautiful’ game…

Last night, the World Cup began.

At last.

I joined 10,000 other fans at Salvador’s FanFest, (serviced by a whopping five toilets: for anyone visiting, I recommend not spending too much time at the top of the beach nearest the FanFest…), and people drank, danced, and got soaked as we spent three hours waiting for the game to start.

Three hours during which apparently they decided not to show us the Opening Ceremony on the giant screen.

Oh well, I got about a third of the way through my regular World Cup Challenge of taking a photo with a fan from every country in their national jersey, (and a few in team jerseys from around the world, too), and the party spirit was, finally, high.

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Bumped into an Argentinian who supports my team – Racing!

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Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie!…

And then that decision happened, and the World Cup was already a little bit ruined for me.

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6.0, 6.0, 5.9, 6.0, 5.8…

I was wearing the Brazil jersey I’d bought in 2006 in the joy of going to my first ever World Cup match, the same fixture in Berlin. After seeing the replay, I took it off in disgust and refused to wear it again for the rest of the evening.

It felt dirty, (in every sense).

The crowd reacted awkwardly, the locals, (about 50% of the crowd), cheered the penalty a little shamefacedly, thre rest of us soon turned our support to Croatia, hoping for them to score a deserved equaliser.

People, from the Croatian players and manager to the press are blaming the referee.

It may have been a terrible decision, (made not only by a referee, by the way, but by a linesman and an ‘additional assistant referee,’ the man whose job it is to stand on the goal line and…well, I’m not sure. (S)he no longer has responsibility for goal-line decisions, since FIFA finally allowed technology to take care of that. But from two metres away he failed to spot the worst dive I’ve seen for years in a football match.

But if referees are making decisions like that every five minutes in matches, as players spend more time rolling around on the floor and waving imaginary cards at officials as they did last night, (wasn’t that made a yellow card offence in itself?), what chance do they have of getting every decision right?

We should stop blaming the referees, and start blaming the people who are obviously to blame: the diving, cheating, scumbag players.

Fred...

Fred…

Anyway.

It was great to be at the World Cup again, meeting people, taking photos, discussing memories from past events.

The evening ended with a gig by local percussion band Timbalada, followed by a DJ set from local favourite Fatboy Slim, (or Fachi Boi Slimi, as he is brilliantly pronounced here!).

For now, I am off to watch Mexico vs Cameroon, switching between my Cameroon and my UNAM Pumas jerseys, and then heading to my first live match of the 2014 World Cup: a category 1, halfway line ticket to see a rematch of the last final, Spain vs Holland!

(Dressed in my Barça shirt: Forza España!!!)

Photo on 13-06-2014 at 12.16 #2

 

25. Selfies…

Today (possibly around a week ago now, since it took a while for me to get around to blogging this entry!), saw the release of the latest of a rash of World Cup team selfies, this time of the Belgian team on the plane.

What finally prompted me to blog was, after featuring a David Luis photo in an earlier blog, I love the fact that Marouane Fellaini’s hair barely fits in the plane…

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Marouane’s hair (top left) may have had to buy its own seat…

It also coincides with some English lads trying their luck and Continue reading

24. World Cup News: Kick-Off Day!!…

It’s finally here.

I’m finally here, in an apartment on the beachfront.

The sun is still here, although it’s having a little disagreement with its main sponsor, showers, this week.

Some Dutch and Spanish tourists are here in Salvador, although not as many as you would have thought.

Fatboy Slim is probably here somewhere, getting ready for his World Cup-opening show here in Salvador later this afternoon/evening, giving me a dilemma about where to watch the opening match, since the FanFest is literally next to the place I’m staying, and where most of the friends I have made this past two weeks has been.

So, here’s the last news update before we can officially say: The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil has started!…

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Security seems to be all in place and highly organised. As long as Continue reading

23. Match tracker…

So, after four years of waiting, it’s all about to kick off, quite literally.

Are you ready?

You can be, with this gorgeous, simple, interactive online website.

Every World Cup some sponsor or affiliated company comes up with a beautiful way of following all of the games by venue, date and team – this time it fell to UOL, a Brazilian internet provider, to bring us this site.

The chart in all its glory is HERE!

Enjoy!!

Colonel Mustard, in the Amazon, with the backheel...

Colonel Mustard, in the Amazon, with the backheel…