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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54. They think it’s all over…

The adventure is (kind of) over; the signs have been ripped down by fans eager for souvenirs; the fake Brazil shirts are on sale ridiculously cheap in the streets of Salvador; and the 2014 World Cup is, officially, done.

As seems to happen so often, it was a game of twenty-two men, ninety minutes (and thirty more this time), and then Germany won.

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If this guy wasn’t actually German, it would have made it all the more amazing…

And Argentina lost.

And Messi didn’t Continue reading

53. Greetings from Rio!…

Yesterday was the first day since I began the blog when I haven`t written to you,  so suffering mild withdrawal symptoms, I have sought out a cyber-cafe on Copacabana beach just to say: hi.

I jumped on a 2-hour flight from Salvador to Rio on Thursday, and had two hours at the airport to wait for my buddy Andreas to arrive on a later flight. I took the opportunity to stand at the arrivals gate with a hand-made sign, asking for a ticket to the Final in four languages.

Surprisingly, four different people came to me telling me they had them: two were asking silly money, two took my number and said they would get back in touch.

They haven`t.

Yet.

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All aboard the Doron-mobile…

The past48-hours must have happened because it`s now Saturday afternoon, and I am about to head to the enormous Fanfest on the famous beach here to watch Holland vs Brazil in the pointless 3rd/4th place play off. But all I really remember about it is the lovely, fun, crazy people I´ve met and hung around with, the rain which has been torrential, and lots and lots of beer and caipirinha.

If anyone needs a place to stay in Rio, I know the name of a good 24-hour bar in the city centre.

So, no new photos today as they are all still in my phone, and I don´t know when next I will get to a computer, so amuse yourselves with past blogs, and wish me luck as I spend the next 24-hours online, on forums, on people´s shoulders on the street, and on tenderhooks searching for that elusive ticket…

And don´t forget to sign up for details of the forthcoming Benfica to Brazil book!

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45. World Cup Live Match Report V: USA vs Belgium…

A gorgeous, sunny day; an old friend visiting from NYC who happened to show up for a USA match; another old friend racing back to see her country play; and yet another old friend back from his travels, all to be reunited in the gorgeous, gleaming Salvador stadium.

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Back where I belong…

Another friend didn’t have a ticket, but details like this didn’t seem to matter on this magical day: walking to the stadium three hours early to soak up the atmosphere, (and the Continue reading

17. World Cup News, Sunday 8th June…

Some quick updates from the world of the cup today, before I head to the gorgeous FIFA ticket collection centre here in Salvador to collect the remaining tickets I have managed to get hold of.

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-I watched England struggle to a 0-0 draw with the mighty Honduras over a giant pizza last night, (me and some friends, not England). Honduras is one of Continue reading

13. I’ve got a (half dozen) golden ticket(s)…

Sometimes, I have to sit down, take a deep breath, and realise how ridiculous my life is.

I arrived in Salvador, Brazil, alone and without a friend, exactly seven days ago. I had a place to stay for ten days, a rough grasp of the Portuguese language, and zero tickets for the forthcoming FIFA 2014 Football World Cup.

I just got home from a night out drinking with new friends, (one of whom, a half-Scot, half-Spaniard with a love of football to rival mine, and a passion for footie jerseys likewise that makes him almost certainly a friend for life), and jumped online before getting a good night’s dribbling.

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Real life World Cup tickets in my real life hand…

And FIFA chose just that moment to release Continue reading

10. Last minute shopping…

At 00:01 today, Wednesday June 4th, 2014, FIFA released an extra 180,000 tickets for all 64 matches across the country.

These were returned tickets, tickets freed up by FIFA finally figuring out how many seats there were available in each stadium, (or something equally ridiculous), and selling tickets previously allocated for reduced mobility fans. I was online at midnight.

Unfortunately, apparently Continue reading