It was still dark as we woke to the frozen town of Rio Gallegos. We disembarked into the scruffy, but warm bus station. Our legs wobbling slightly, as they became used to being used as legs again. The bus had long disappeared when I realized I had left a camera bag on-board. After a slow and fairly painful interaction with a bus employee, I was given directions to the re-fuelling depot. I ran frantically down the dark, icy street, my breath swirling into mist above me. A bus appeared out of the gloom. I barrelled into the road, waving my…
Our option was a simple one. A flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, at the far bottom of Argentina, would take four hours. A bus trip would take forty-eight hours. One promised a swift and uneventful passage. The other held possible boredom, sore backsides and potential insanity – but also a great adventure. What better way to see something so vast, so epic as Patagonia.
The line that greeted us on Copacabana beach stretched so far that we didn’t even bother finding the end. Instead we nestled ourselves in front of the second screen. The crowd was still thin – but overwhelmingly Argentinian. A lone German stood proudly behind us in his speedos, a German flag fluttering gently beside him.
On the penultimate day of the World Cup we traveled to Brasilia for the third/fourth place play-off, between Brazil and Holland. Twelve hours in Brazil’s capital, of which I had high hopes. Brasilia is unfortunately an unrelentingly boring city. Unless you have a particular interest in tarmac and fly-overs – or you get a real kick out of grid like systems, I cannot in sound mind, possibly recommend it.
Goal after goal. After goal. After goal. The Germans bellowed until their throats cracked. The Brazilians carried an empty vacant look. A look of complete astonishment – and also near complete pain. The rain hammered down around us. Brazil’s dreams had been obliterated in one astonishing half of football.
The crowd held its breath. The chants of ‘Julio Cesar’ had died down. The Chilean, Gonzalo Jara, placed the ball on the penalty spot – stamping down on the turf before walking a few yards back – turning, and exhaling. He had to score. Thousands of Brazilians packed into Rua Alzira Brandão held their breath.
This is a story of two halves. One half includes wonderful moments, exquisite skills and the odd hero or two. The other half includes none of these. This is the story of England and France.
We heard it before we could see it. The piercing horns, the banging drums – a steady rumble – the sounds of Brazilians doing what Brazilian seem to do best – partying – and frenzied support of their national football team. We turned the corner and were greeted by an arch across the road. Through it we could see the crowd, already enormous. A torrent of yellow, blue and green. This is where Brazilians come to watch their football. Welcome to Rua Alzira Brandão.
At a certain unspecified point I stopped hating German football, and – whisper it – started to quite like it. As an Englishman, albeit an Anglo-Franco one, we are bred with niggling feelings towards our noisy cousins across the sea.
Eleven games – and the goals are pouring in. Holders Spain fell spectacularly to the thunderous Dutch. The Fan Fest exploding in orange admiration. Plucky Costa Rice took down lazy Uruguay, the French survived what can only be described as murderous football from the Hondurans and a little man named Messi finally arrived. I can’t remember a much more entertaining start to a World Cup. None of the first eleven games have ended in a draw – the first time since 1950.