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…

UUQIBYH

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!

 

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52. And then there were two…

Brazil has almost certainly never had a worse 24-hours of football.

After yesterday’s German spanking, their arch-rivals Argentina won the right to challenge for the title Brazil thought would be theirs, in the theatre of Brazilian dreams, the Maracanã, in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

Suddenly, there are a lot of Brazilian Germany fans.

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Not everyone at the Fanfest was cheering for the Dutch…

After the excitement and sheer jaw-dropping nature of the first semi-final many feared the second may not live up to expectations, and boy were they right. This was ninety-minutes of extraordinarily dull, often average football, with three minutes of play by Holland in injury time, some thrills in extra time, and two fantastic saves from albiceleste keeper Sergio Romero to create a Euro-American Final which could be a fascinating encounter.

Highlights of the game included a couple of accidental injuries to Argentina players, (Pablo Zabaleta appeared to lose a tooth in a head collision and staggered around like a Brazilian playing against Germany before soldiering on, his face stuffed full of cotton wool); Arjen Robben barely diving all match and having a last minute shot blocked heroically by Javier Mascherano; and half of the stadium thinking Gonzalo Higuain had scored when he poked a beautiful cross into the side netting.

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Two Spaniards and a Brit, believe it or not from the jerseys…

Lio Messi, whilst still being industrious and tough to tackle, disappeared for large swathes of the game. In fact, he failed to touch the ball in the Dutch penalty area for the complete two hours of the game. On the other side, The Netherlands didn’t manage a shot on target until shortly before the 100 minute mark!

The over-all standard of play was pretty poor all round, (prompting some at the Fanfest to wish they had just shown a re-run of the other semi-final…although not Brazilians), leading to the first ever 0-0 in a World Cup semi-final.

Germany must have been rubbing their hands with Teutonic glee.

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Germany and Argentina have samba’d into the final…well, limped in, in the latter’s case…

Which probably means they’ll lose, which would be the ultimate humiliation for Brazil: their enemies not only winning the title, on their turf, but doing so against a team which had trousered the hosts so thoroughly in the previous match.

Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that Dutch coach Van Gaal’s mind games in the previous round against Costa Rica may have cost his side in the shoot-out? Not having a spare substitution to make at the end of the 120 minutes, his regular goalie was forced to stop the penalties after having been essentially told last time out that he wasn’t good enough.

And he wasn’t, (despite the fairly despicable practice he shares with Tim Krul of trash wasting time and trash talking penalty takers before each spot kick). At least this proves that Van Gaal was probably right first time round, as Argentina won the lottery of penalties™ 4-2.

Brazilians were praying for the Dutch to win...to no avail...

Brazilians were praying for the Dutch to win the shoot-out…to no avail…

So, with my last evening at the (half empty) Fanfest spent explaining to random Argentines that I wasn’t actually from Argentina, just a fan of Buenos Aires club Racing and hence wearing their jersey, my World Cup time in Salvador has come to an end: tomorrow begins the final leg, a flight to Rio, and 72-hours to fight as many Argentines as I need to in order to get hold of a ticket to Sunday’s final.

Stay tuned for updates from the South!

And don’t forget to sign up for news of the Benfica to Brazil book!

49. World Cup Live Match Report, pt.VI: Holland vs Costa Rica…

A sad day for me: my final live match here in my home for the past five weeks, Salvador de Bahía.
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It wasn’t the blockbuster match-up I had hoped for, (Brazil could have been here had they finished second in their group), and I was hoping to see one of the most fun teams in the tournament, Mexico, but had to settle for Holland vs the surprise of the cup, Costa Rica, who not only survived one of the Groups of Death, they were the killers, knocking out both England and Italy.
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I forgave the plucky Ticos for knocking out England…and rocked my new Peru jersey!

I joined up with my Spanish buddies, Andreas and José, and we caused trouble all the way to the stadium: meeting fans from around the world, (from Spurs fans loving my Lilywhites jersey, to hundreds of ‘Ticos‘ which I think we all learned is the slang for a Costa Rican), enjoying a few drinks (and the match-day cups that we would be collecting for possibly the last time), and generally enjoying the bubbling atmosphere.

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43. World Cup Day 18: Luck and Skill…

Finally, a South American team in yellow playing exciting, passionate football with a killer instinct.

It just wasn’t Brazil.

Colombia sent home the 2014 Pantomime Villains, Uruguay, with a stunning display and yet another contender for goal of the tournament from current top scorer, James Rodriguez, taking a ball on the chest outside the area after a bout of headed ping-pong, controlling it onto his left foot and volleying stunningly off the keeper’s hand and down off the underside of the bar into the net.

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James…more or less…

Anyone who read yesterday’s blog can’t say they weren’t warned, and since Continue reading