Monday, November 23, 2009

Maracanã 5.0 and how I failed the USA

Last night was one of the most magical football environments I've ever experienced. 92,000 people packed into Maracanã to see the surging Flamengo take on Goiás in the third to last match of the 2009 Campeanato Brasileiro. Marcel, Gabor and I headed out on the subway mighty early to try and score some tickets from a tout as the match had long been sold out. Marcel and Gabor are both German, and if you're not familiar, Germans do not like to deal with touts. When I had an extra ticket to the Germany-Italy semi-final of the 2006 World Cup, I thought I'd be able to sell it a premium and secure a booty of bier tokens. Not. To. Be. Nobody would pay me more than face value (150 euros). When someone offered me 150 euros plus a ticket to the France-Portugal match, I gobbled it up faster than you can say Fahrvergnügen.

Anyway, as soon as we got off the subway, the swarms of Mengão fans around us went batty as Botafogo, one of Flamengo's inter-city rivals, took a lead against São Paulo. Going into the day, São Paulo led Flamengo by 2 points so a São Paulo loss coupled with a Flamengo win would see Flamengo go top with just 2 matches left. This was actually my first time arriving at Maracanã station as all other times I've been, the subway station has been closed for renovations. The view when you arrive is stunning:

From Drop Box

The immediate jubilation was short-lived as São Paulo quickly leveled. We found the touts easily enough and quickly parted with R$75 each to secure seats in the Arquibancada - the upper band of the stadium where the Torcedores (hard core supporters) are. We arrived about 1.5 hours early and with little refreshment and protection from the shade, our sweat glands were being put to the test. We quickly went Mike Mick on the situation and shed our shirts.

From Drop Box
(notice Barack Obama was there as well)

Getting there early turned out to be a great idea as the score reports coming in from the Botafogo-São Paulo match kept everyone entertained. São Paulo took the lead and then Botafogo duly levelled before Jóbson sent both the Engenhão and the Maracanã into complete pandemonium by knocking in a winner for Botafogo.

A number of the Torcidas (fan groups) of Flamengo organized the following tifo-mosaic display before the match. In a word, incredible:

The match itself was extremely frustrating as Flamengo were without key attacking midfielder, Claudio Maldonado, a Chilean international injured in a friendly with Slovakia last week. This left Flamengo to pursue a tired and predictable attack by driving down the wings and then forcing a cross to the double-teamed Adriano. Despite this, Fla managed a few quality chances and easily could have scored twice, but alas, frustration.

We had to make our best impression of lemmings as we made for the exits with the other 91,997 fans in attendance. An odd tradition is that members of the Raça, one of the torcidas, pretend that they in Pamplona and charge through the crowd like a pack of bulls to get to the exit quicker. Looks pretty hazardous on its face, but people get out of the way and seem to even have a laugh about it. I may join next time.

After the match, we met up with Sebastian and headed over to Baixo Tijuca for a massive chopp. This is where I embarrassed the USA. After several warm-up rounds, some Germans got to talking about how they are the best drinkers. Well, the Brazilians amongst us and of course the Americans took issue (there were two chicks who are studying abroad - one from the U and one from New Mexico). We went simple and kept it at a chugging race. In the first contest, I finished first or second to Pedro, one of the Brazilians. It was too close to call. In the second contest, another too close to call race between me and a Brazilian, this time Ben. In the final, the round of champions if you will, I was decidedly beaten by Ben. The Germans were nowhere to be found. Apologies USA, please let me back in. I will do better. I promise.

Here are some more photos:

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