FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013

This summer, the countdown to the 2014 World Cup begins in earnest, with the Confederations Cup taking place in Brazil. The tournament’s become known as an event to test the readiness of the facilities, venues, and staff in preparation for the headline act a year later. Wikipedia best describes it…contested by the holders of each of the six FIFA confederation championships (UEFA, CONMEBOL, CONCACAF, CAF, AFC, OFC), along with the FIFA World Cup holder and the host nation.

This year, teams include Spain, Italy, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, Mexico and Tahiti, and I’ve travelled down to South America to cover it for Offside.

The first few days were spent getting to know Rio de Janeiro, a daunting prospect when confronted with the idea of negotiating your way around a city of almost 7 million people, most of whom don’t speak a word of English. Fortunately, a friend of mine, Joe, was on hand to show us where and where not to go.

A year before the World Cup, documenting the culture of the country is just as important as photographing the footballing superstars on show…

 

People go paddle boarding off Barra beach in Rio de Janeiro
People go paddle boarding off Barra beach in Rio de Janeiro

 

A young man takes an early morning break on the beach in Barra, Rio de Janeiro
A young man takes an early morning break on the beach in Barra, Rio de Janeiro

 

A few days after arriving, we ventured into a favela on the western side of the city, accompanied by our ever-helpful (and ever-streetwise) friend, Joe. He showed us to a number of spots that he felt would suit our requirements, the best of which was a futsal court surrounded by colourful shanty houses. We found a group of kids having a kick-about together, and they welcomed us in…

 

Young boys play football on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro
Young boys play football on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro

 

Young men play football on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro
Young men play football on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro

 

Young men play football on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro
Young men play football on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro

 

Colourful houses overlook a goalpost on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro
Colourful houses overlook a goalpost on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro

 

Young men play football on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro
Young men play football on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro

 

Young boys play football on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro
Young boys play football on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro

 

Young boys play football on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro
Young boys play football on the Cuadra Futsal court in Favela Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro

 

The next morning we caught an early flight to the capital, Brasilia, for the opening match the following day between the hosts, Brazil, and Japan. There had been talk of protests for the last few days, but this was the first time we’d seen anything with our own eyes. Protesters gathered outside the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha to air their opinions on the Government’s fare increases and the lack of spending on public transportation and services…

 

A protester makes his point outside the stadium in Brasilia as military police stand by
A protester makes his point outside the stadium in Brasilia as military police stand by

 

Protesters make their point loud and clear before the opening match
Protesters make their point loud and clear before the opening match

 

A protester outside the stadium in Brasilia before the opening match
A protester outside the stadium in Brasilia before the opening match

 

After a passionate opening ceremony, the game started well for me, with an early strike from golden boy Neymar followed by a hearty celebration right in front of me putting me in a good mood to begin with…

 

A banner is displayed on the pitch during the Opening Ceremony
A banner is displayed on the pitch during the Opening Ceremony

 

Workers remove the cover from the pitch after the Opening Ceremony
Workers remove the cover from the pitch after the Opening Ceremony

 

Neymar of Brazil celebrates after scoring their 1st goal
Neymar of Brazil celebrates after scoring their 1st goal

 

Makoto Hasebe of Japan gets away from Daniel Alves of Brazil
Makoto Hasebe of Japan gets away from Daniel Alves of Brazil

 

Atsuto Uchida of Japan tackles Neymar of Brazil
Atsuto Uchida of Japan tackles Neymar of Brazil

 

 

The game ended with a spectacular sunset bursting through the beams in the stadium and lighting up the evening sky above us. I spent the last 15 minutes of the game walking around with a wide-angle lens trying to illustrate as best I could what I was seeing myself…it was almost impossible to do it justice but I did what I could…

 

An incredible sunset forms over the stadium during the 2nd half in Brasilia
An incredible sunset forms over the stadium during the 2nd half in Brasilia

 

The next morning, we made our way to Recife, on the north-eastern coast of the country. Our hotel left a lot to be desired…water dripping from the ceiling panels in our room got us moved to a large suite, where water was dripping (albeit, at a lesser rate) from a block of moss on the bathroom ceiling instead. Still, the view was a good one, arguably better than the match we shot that evening between Spain and Uruguay. With all the potential of a feisty Latin clash, there was a lot of expectancy. However, it limped along for 90 minutes, with Spain emerging victorious.

We shot some city views during the day before heading to the stadium in the afternoon…

 

Sergio Busquets of Spain battles with Cristian Rodriguez of Uruguay
Sergio Busquets of Spain battles with Cristian Rodriguez of Uruguay

 

Pedro Rodriguez of Spain celebrates after scoring their 1st goal
Pedro Rodriguez of Spain celebrates after scoring their 1st goal

 

Luiz Suarez of Uruguay looks dejected
Luiz Suarez of Uruguay looks dejected

 

The next day was spent in and around Recife itself. A day without a game is not a day off…having travelled this far, it’s important to make the most of our time in Brazil. After some lengthy conversations with hotel staff, using Google translate to help decipher each other’s language, we managed to explain our desire to ‘document Brazilian culture’, and that of their love for football in particular. We were able to arrange a small tour of the city, courtesy of the porter, who took us back to his house after his shift finished at 2pm, before guiding us to a local football pitch…

 

A young boy wearing a Sport Club do Recife shirt poses by the side of a local football pitch
A young boy wearing a Sport Club do Recife shirt poses by the side of a local football pitch

 

A local man leans on his bicycle as he watches a local football match in Recife
A local man leans on his bicycle as he watches a local football match in Recife

 

A boy rinses his shirt in some water as he waits on the sidelines during a local football match in Recife
A boy rinses his shirt in some water as he waits on the sidelines during a local football match in Recife

 

The Artesanato De Pernambuco Unidad Recife
The Artesanato De Pernambuco Unidad Recife

 

He then offered to drive us into the city for a few shots of the centre of town, before then taking us down to the main beach, where we’d spotted a line of football pitches on Google Maps the day before. We’d hoped to see some locals playing football on the beach, and with the sun setting and the hotels and office blocks along the coast coming to life, we needed this to happen. Fortunately, he didn’t disappoint…

 

Kids play football in front of a skyline of tower blocks on a beach in Recife
Kids play football in front of a skyline of tower blocks on a beach in Recife

 

The next morning we hopped on an early flight to Fortaleza, more or less the northern-most city in the country. We won’t be shooting a match here during the tournament, so it was important to get to the stadium for some shots before returning home. It turned out to be a long and fuss-filled day; the volunteers at the stadium didn’t have a clue about where we could and couldn’t go, how we should get from A-B etc. We managed to get our stadium views done (from the outside) but had to wait an unexpected 4 hours before we could go into the stadium to get the interior shots done…

 

A general view of the Estadio Castleao in Fortaleza
A general view of the Estadio Castleao in Fortaleza

 

A general view of the Estadio Castleao in Fortaleza
A general view of the Estadio Castleao in Fortaleza

 

That evening, we headed out to dinner at Balcony Bistro, a restaurant owned by Wladimir Ponte, a chef who used to work at the Offside bar in London. We enjoyed some great food and faultless hospitality, and it was great to hear all about Vlad’s movements since returning to his place of birth after spending 3 years in our capital.

The next morning, Vlad treated us to a lift to the aiport as well…not only was this a kind gesture, on a public holiday no less, but it also proved to be extremely useful too, when what have been quite a costly detour was required after thousands of protesters blocked the roads leading to the airport. Nevertheless, we made it in good time and jumped on the plane back to Recife to cover Italy’s match with Japan.

We arrived in good time, keen to get some interior and exterior general views of the stadium. With the light disappearing at 6pm, these had to be done and dusted as early as possible, especially considering how tight security had been so far…we couldn’t afford to be told we couldn’t go anywhere.

With these early pics in the bag, we got on with the game. I chose to cover Italy’s attack in the first half before deciding to switch ends at half time to cover them for the entire match…a decision based on the fact that I’d already shot Japan in their away kit, and certainly didn’t need more of that. Fortunately, this proved a wise decision…

 

A  general view as fans make their way to the Arena Pernambuco stadium in Recife
A general view as fans make their way to the Arena Pernambuco stadium in Recife

 

A tactics board displayed using Japanese symbols shows the Japan starting line-up
A tactics board displayed using Japanese symbols shows the Japan starting line-up

 

Makoto Hasebe of Japan battles with Mario Balotelli of Italy
Makoto Hasebe of Japan battles with Mario Balotelli of Italy

 

Shinji Okazaki of Japan gets away from Riccardo Montolivo of Italy (C) and Mario Balotelli of Italy (L)
Shinji Okazaki of Japan gets away from Riccardo Montolivo of Italy (C) and Mario Balotelli of Italy (L)

 

Sebastian Giovinco of Italy (L) celebrates with teammates Claudio Marchisio of Italy (C) and Mario Balotelli of Italy after scoring their 4th goal
Sebastian Giovinco of Italy (L) celebrates with teammates Claudio Marchisio of Italy (C) and Mario Balotelli of Italy after scoring their 4th goal

 

With a 02.45 flight out of Recife that evening, we hopped on the Media Shuttle bus outside the stadium which took us back to one of the two media hotels, and it was from here that we jumped in a taxi to head to the airport.

With some additional editing done, we were on the plane and asleep before take-off, for a 2-hour flight back to Rio. We went straight to the hotel, hoping to get into our room 5 hours before the recommended noon check-in…they were having none of it, and it was only the spread of bags on the lobby floor and the sleeping foreigners on their reception sofas that convinced them to let us in, at about 9am. We caught what felt like 5 minutes’ sleep before heading back out, this time to the mecca of South American football, the Estadio Jornalista Mario Filho, or ‘Maracana’, for Spain’s match against part-timers, Tahiti.

I was excited to arrive at the stadium, it was one of those I’d been hoping to visit at some point in my career. Having read stories when I was younger of attendances close to 200,000, I was expecting something incredible, despite knowing that modern day safety regulations would’ve reduced the capacity by a considerable amount. When we got there, I must admit I was slightly underwhelmed, at least from within the stadium. It was big, but not the sort of big I was hoping for. Nevertheless, once the pre-match formalities were out of the way, the game begun…there was only ever going to be one outcome, so the question was not ‘will Spain win’, but ‘by how many?’

Tahiti were way out of the depth, and everyone in the ground (including their own players) knew it. They did all they could do, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a 10-0 drubbing. Spain’s players remained disciplined throughout and showed the opposition a lot of respect, and it was nice to see this reciprocated at full-time with a rarely-witnessed rugby-esque guard of honour as the winners left the pitch…

 

Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta
Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta

 

Fernando Torres of Spain consoles Tahiti goalkeeper Mickael Roche
Fernando Torres of Spain consoles Tahiti goalkeeper Mickael Roche

 

David Villa of Spain consoles the dejected Tahiti goalkeeper Mickael Roche
David Villa of Spain consoles the dejected Tahiti goalkeeper Mickael Roche

 

The scoreboard shows the final 10-0 scoreline
The scoreboard shows the final 10-0 scoreline

 

That evening, we returned to our hotel in the Copacabana district before jumping on another flight the next morning up to Salvador, the venue for our last group game, between Italy and Brazil. On another day, the 9am flight out of Rio’s international airport may have provided us with some stunning early-morning views across the city…of course, on this occasion, the haze and cloud cover was so severe that within seconds of leaving the runway, we could see nothing but grey, albeit illuminated by the bright sunlight above.

We landed in Salvador a couple of hours or so later and took our most expensive taxi so far to the hotel on the beach on the western side of the city. The rest of the day was spent catching up on sleep, emails, messages etc. before heading out to dinner with colleagues from agencies including Action Images, Getty Images and EPA…a night which, in itself, was a comedy of errors thanks to the staff at the restaurant we decided to go to.

The next morning, we decided to get the first Media Shuttle bus of the day to the stadium. Coverage of the nationwide unrest continued to grow, with Brazil matches becoming the focus of the protesters’ attention. To avoid any hassle or delays en route to the Arena Fonte Nova (in our FIFA-branded bus!!) we decided to get there as early as we could.

Outside, fans were already arriving themselves in small groups. By lunchtime, the area surrounding the stadium was heaving with supporters of all nationalities. One or two bars close by were full to bursting, with everyone soaking up the heat and pre-match excitement. I went for a wander to see what pictures I could find nearby. A few locals in particular caught my eye…

 

A large man selling souvenir Brazil flags and hats from his car boot
A large man selling souvenir Brazil flags and hats from his car boot

 

An elderly woman looks out of her window
An elderly woman looks out of her window

 

A general view as fans walk to the Arena Fonte Nova stadium in Salvador
A general view as fans walk to the Arena Fonte Nova stadium in Salvador

 

The match itself was a good one, arguably one of the best yet. Once again, it was dominated by the Brazilian flair of Neymar, this time accompanied by a host of teammates. They looked the better team from the start, and emerged 4-2 winners. I must’ve had at least 5 empty seats either side of me; a rarity at tournaments like this. Usually, we’re shoulder to shoulder and struggle to see incidents that occur too much to our side. This was a luxury, and allowed me to work in comfort for a change – 400mm on a monopod, 70-200mm around my neck, 24-70mm down in front of me, laptop by my side, cabled internet, bottled water on demand…what more could you want?

 

Daniel Alves of Brazil tackles Alessandro Diamanti of Italy
Daniel Alves of Brazil tackles Alessandro Diamanti of Italy

 

Hulk of Brazil
Hulk of Brazil

 

Neymar of Brazil
Neymar of Brazil

 

Brazil fans cheer on their team
Brazil fans cheer on their team

 

That evening, after returning to the hotel, a group of us headed out for dinner at Fogo de Chao, one of a chain of traditional Brazilian restaurants offering a selection of meat on an ‘all you can eat’ basis…you help yourself to salad, potatoes etc. and the staff deliver a range of meats to you throughout the course of your meal, until you turn your card over from the green side to the red side, indicating you’ve had enough. Similar, in principle, to the more bluntly-named ‘Carnivore’, another smaller chain of restaurants in Africa, one of which we visited during the last World Cup in 2010.

The next day was spent taking pictures in and around Salvador. We walked about 5 miles down the coast, looking for scenic shots as well as local football imagery. We found groups of boys along the way who were having a kickabout on the beach, some of which made for nice pictures…

 

Kids play football on the beach in Salvador
Kids play football on the beach in Salvador

 

Kids play football on the beach in Salvador
Kids play football on the beach in Salvador

 

Goalposts on a dusty pitch by the beach in Salvador
Goalposts on a dusty pitch by the beach in Salvador

 

The next day, we made our way back to the airport for a flight to Belo Horizonte, the venue for one of the two semi-final matches. We discovered later that day the teams that would be competing would be Brazil and Uruguay…a feisty all-South American encounter to get the blood boiling.

We arrived at the Royal Center Hotel in Belo Horizonte around dinner time, and were immediately delighted to see something resembling more of a hotel than anything we’d seen before on this trip. It probably amounted to a decent airport or city centre hotel back home, but felt like a palace in comparison to some of the places we’d been subjected to. A colleague from Action Images, Carl, came over to meet us from his hotel across town, and we headed out for a bite to eat, choosing a local mall on the recommendation of the hotel reception which turned out to offer everything we could possibly have needed.

The next morning was a slow one…we enjoyed a lie-in for the first time on the trip which went down a treat. Carl popped over once again not long after midday, and as a group we decided to go out on the search for some local football pitches, one of which he’d spotted on his daylight cab ride from the airport the previous morning. Some confused conversation later and we were off in a taxi, heading to a number of locations we’d pointed out on a map, along with the handy line I’d translated into Portuguese, ‘Estamos a procura de campos de futebol, locals para a fotografia, para documentar a cultura local de futebol no Brasil’ – something we could perhaps rely on should we wind up at a dead end in a favela with the driver shrugging his shoulders.

Fortunately, it wasn’t needed, and he drove to a number of areas perfect for the pictures we were looking for – the only problem was that no one was playing football. Not at the first one, or the second one. We gave the third one a miss before finally heading to the one Carl had mentioned initially. Result! There were people having a kickabout, or at least there appeared to be, as we looked down from the dual carriageway as we sped past. The driver took the next exit and wound his way through the streets looking for the pitch. Knowing we weren’t in the safest neighbourhood we could’ve chosen, we all kept our wits about us. Stopping to ask a couple of youngsters if they knew where it was, we noticed a young man about 50 yards to our right slowly stand up and amble towards us. Calm as you like, the driver performed a turn in the road and proceeded to pull away…as he did so, he gestured with his fingers to suggest the guys across the street were carrying guns, and for us to hide our gear down low. To be honest, it didn’t do us any harm to have him say that…we hadn’t become complacent over the last couple of weeks, but it just served as a reminder of where we were and what we were doing.

As we turned the corner, we found the pitch just a few hundred yards away, and the kids playing football on it were completely welcoming; they just let us get on and take some pictures. It had to be done with a degree of subtlety to begin with…three Europeans wielding 70-200mm lenses around would always stand out, it was just a case of figuring out the area and making sure it was safe to do so…

 

An old football rests in the net on a dusty, sandy pitch
An old football rests in the net on a dusty, sandy pitch

 

Young men play football on a dusty pitch in Belo Horizonte
Young men play football on a dusty pitch in Belo Horizonte

 

A deflated football rests on a dusty pitch in Belo Horizonte
A deflated football rests on a dusty pitch in Belo Horizonte

 

An old football rests in the net on a dusty, sandy pitch
An old football rests in the net on a dusty, sandy pitch

 

Returning to the hotel, a couple of drinks and a pizza were all that were needed to finish us off for the day. We tried to get a fairly early night, knowing we had to bag an early taxi the next morning over to the Media Hotels to catch the first bus once again to the stadium.

When we arrived at the Estadio Mineirao, we were greeted by the sight of a long, snaking line of photographers’ bags, acting as a queue for the ticketing desk. At large FIFA events such as this, photographers’ positions in the stadium are determined by seat numbers, with each number either relating to one of the pitchside seats set out around the perimeter of the playing field, or to a specially reserved seat in the Media Tribune, an area located at the front of the top tier of the main stand alongside the written journalists and TV staff, where a number of seats are reserved to cater for the media.

The way these positions are decided on seems to change from one tournament to the next, but you only really find out once you arrive for the first game of the tournament. Rather confusingly, as the Confederations Cup is used as a test event for next year’s World Cup, different venues seemed to be employing different methods of media ticketing, so it was hard to know in advance of our arrival at each different stadium how our positions would be allocated from one game to the next

Sometimes it’s done purely on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, where the earlier you are, the more likely you are of being to sit where you want. This is fair to a degree, as it rewards those who are willing to get everywhere early. However, it unknowingly punishes those who perhaps CAN’T arrive early, due to flights that day, for example.

Other times, it’s done using a priority group system; you will be listed automatically as P1 if you work for a company from either competing team’s country, or for the host country, then P2 for the others. This allows photographers from, say, Italy, to be amongst the first to choose their seats for a game involving Italy, but then bumps them down the list for games Italy aren’t competing in. Again though, the downside here is when photographers from other countries have requests / orders rom clients abroad, and they need to be in a certain corner, or shoot from a certain side of the pitch to fulfil those requests…if you’re way down the list due to your agency’s nationality, then you may lose out.

The way FIFA decided to issue tickets for the Brazil vs. Italy match appeared to be a good balance. They stacked piles of tickets in groups relating to each area of the pitch…pointing to the large map of the pitch on the desk, you simply said whether you’d like to be in that corner, or that corner, on the side there, or on the side over there, and so on, and they then offered a stack from your desired area to you upside down, in a ‘pick a card’ fashion – you could then choose the area you wanted to sit in, but not the exact seat. Not only did this seem a good balance, but it also sped up the process as people didn’t spend ages at the desk deliberating over this seat or that seat. Luckily, there were a small number of seats left in the corner I wanted to sit in, so I managed to squeeze in near enough where I’d originally planned to go.

The game was all we’d hoped it would be – the atmosphere was full of hostility towards the Uruguayans with every touch of the ball they took. The noise we’d been waiting a fortnight to hear finally arrived…it sounded like the South American grudge match we’d been expecting. I was shooting Brazil’s attack in the first half, disappointed to see Uruguay being awarded a penalty at the other end, but then delighted and relieved to see Julio Cesar dive down to his left to save Diego Forlan’s effort. Towards the end of that first half, Brazil went on the attack and a a shot that rebounded off the Uruguayan goalkeeper was pounced on by Fred to give the hosts a 1-0 lead.

Cue pandemonium. He jumped over the boards behind the goal and ran along celebrating with the fans. With only two camera bodies to hand, I dropped my 400mm lens, snapped off my 70-200mm and opened my bag to grab the first wide lens I could lay my hands on; in this case, my 14mm. I stuck it on, stood up, turned nd ran towards the growing melee of photographers, footballers, and TV cameramen. Admittedly, there wasn’t much of a picture to be had at that moment- you would’ve had to be there waiting for them to arrive to get anything out of it.

The second half started as well as the first half finished for us, as Uruguay equalised through Edinson Cavani. Some nice celebration pictures later and I was happy with what I had. The fact that the late, decisive goal was scored at the other end and I saw nothing of it didn’t bother me too much…with Cavani in the UK news with regards to a possible transfer, and a Brazilian celebration to get involved with, I felt what I had would suffice…

 

Brazil fans enjoy the game
Brazil fans enjoy the game

 

Oscar of Brazil gets past Cristian Rodriguez of Uruguay
Oscar of Brazil gets past Cristian Rodriguez of Uruguay

 

Edinson Cavani of Uruguay celebrates after scoring their 1st goal
Edinson Cavani of Uruguay celebrates after scoring their 1st goal

 

Edinson Cavani of Uruguay gets a kiss on the head from teammate Luis Suarez as he celebrates after scoring their 1st goal
Edinson Cavani of Uruguay gets a kiss on the head from teammate Luis Suarez as he celebrates after scoring their 1st goal

 

The iconic hair of David Luiz of Brazil
The iconic hair of David Luiz of Brazil

 

Luis Suarez of Uruguay laughs and smiles in disbelief
Luis Suarez of Uruguay laughs and smiles in disbelief

 

David Luiz of Brazil braces himself for impact as he celebrates victory with teammate Dante of Brazil
David Luiz of Brazil braces himself for impact as he celebrates victory with teammate Dante of Brazil

 

We had an evening flight back to Rio the next day, for our last stop before heading home. We almost didn’t make the flight, thanks to the Departures board at the airport. When we read what appeared to be a 90-minute delay attached to our 7pm flight, we sat back and relaxed, waiting for 8.30pm to come round. At about 6.40pm, something in my head suggested I check the board again…just in case.

Of course, any sign of a delay had disappeared and been replaced by ‘Final Call’ notices. We packed our laptops away and ran, weaving our way through the crowds of dawdling locals who seemed to have all the time in the world…as people generally do, when you’ve got 2 minutes to make a flight of your own!

Anyhow, crisis averted as we made it to the gate, even managing to watch Spain’s penalty shootout with Italy on someone’s iPhone in the queue.

We stayed back at Joe’s place in Barra that evening, before heading to the Windsor Leme hotel, overlooking the Copacabana, at midday. My wingman, Matt, was feeling progressively worse as the day went on, and come Friday night, had no interest in joining Joe and I for a few drinks in town. We went out ourselves that night, for a few welcome gins and a proper catch-up for the first time in pretty much a decade, and the first since my arrival too.

The following day I dragged myself out of bed mid-morning, despite my head telling me to stay put. The weather forecast for the remainder of our trip wasn’t looking great, so with Saturday appearing to be the only day of guaranteed sunshine, I needed to make my way to Corcovado, the towering rock protruding out of the Tijuca National Park around which the city of Rio de Janeiro has been formed, to experience the highlight of my visit to the country: the statue of Christ The Redeemer.

It was everything I’d hoped it would be – awesome, colossal, inspiring…I’m not sure which word to use really, it just has to be experienced in person to be able to understand. I spent quite a while up there, soaking up the views across the city, from the Maracana and international airport to the north, all the way round past Botafogo beach and Sugar Loaf mountain in the east to Ipanema in the south. I felt extremely privileged to be up there…it was one of few ‘to-dos’ I could honestly now tick off the list…

 

Sun shines on the statue of Christ The Redeemer
Sun shines on the statue of Christ The Redeemer

 

A general view (GV) of the city of Rio de Janeiro, including Sugar Loaf mountain and Botafogo beach
A general view (GV) of the city of Rio de Janeiro, including Sugar Loaf mountain and Botafogo beach

 

The rest of the day held little for me in terms of productivity…I got back to the hotel and decided to call it a day. The combination of gin, tonic, and lack of sleep had caught up with me, and my head hit the pillow not long after 10pm. This wasn’t a bad thing though, as the next morning we were up and out of the hotel at 8am, to catch the first media shuttle bus to the Maracana Stadium for the Confederations Cup Final, between two of the world’s current football powerhouses, Brazil and Spain.

We opted for the early start as, once again, rumours of large protests and / or riots had put the police and military on high alert. This meant road closures and increased security measures in and around the Maracana would make the process of entering the stadium longer and more laborious than it already was. For the sake of a few hours’ lie-in, it was worth it. We were inside by 10am, and had chosen our pitchside seats not long after. I’d managed to secure a position in the corner that I’d hoped for, so that helped to put my mind at ease.

I booked myself a locker soon after we arrived – various items and bags etc. had been stolen in the last few days, so I couldn’t afford to leave anything to luck. Just amongst the photographers we knew, 2 had had full bags stolen, leaving them paralysed for the remaining games. Matches involving South American sides (and Brazil in particular) have traditionally lead to thefts inside the stadium – the fact that the queue for Canon’s loan service was usually longer than the queue for match tickets says it all.

With everything locked up, I headed back out for a look around the inside of the stadium, as well as a peak at the goings-on around the roads outside the ground…

 

A banner hanging from a balcony on a block of flats opposite the Maracana Stadium reads 'Fuck The Cup'
A banner hanging from a balcony on a block of flats opposite the Maracana Stadium reads ‘Fuck The Cup’

 

Brazil fans in party mood before the match
Brazil fans in party mood before the match

 

Performers during the Closing Ceremony
Performers during the Closing Ceremony

 

The match itself was just as intense as we’d hoped it would be. The local fans were out in force and the atmosphere was electric. Every touch of the ball by a Brazilian was welcomed with a cheer, whilst every interception by the Spainish was booed continuously until possession returned to the home side.

Brazil took an early lead through Fred, and he peeled away towards my corner to celebrate, with Neymar not far behind him. This was a great start to the match…

 

Hulk of Brazil battles with Sergio Ramos of Spain
Hulk of Brazil battles with Sergio Ramos of Spain

 

Fred of Brazil celebrates after scoring their 1st goal
Fred of Brazil celebrates after scoring their 1st goal

 

Fred of Brazil (L) celebrates with teammate Neymar of Brazil after scoring their 1st goal
Fred of Brazil (L) celebrates with teammate Neymar of Brazil after scoring their 1st goal

 

There was plenty of action throughout that 1st half, and the noise only increased when man-of-the-moment Neymar scored his 4th goal of the tournament to give the hosts a 2-0 lead going into half time. Once again, the celebrations came our way in what completed a bumper 1st half for those of us in that corner of the ground…

 

Neymar of Brazil scores their 2nd goal
Neymar of Brazil scores their 2nd goal

 

Neymar of Brazil celebrates after scoring their 2nd goal
Neymar of Brazil celebrates after scoring their 2nd goal

 

Andres Iniesta of Spain is surrounded by Thiago Silva of Brazil (L), Luiz Gustavo of Brazil (C) and Paulinho of Brazil (R)
Andres Iniesta of Spain is surrounded by Thiago Silva of Brazil (L), Luiz Gustavo of Brazil (C) and Paulinho of Brazil (R)

 

Luiz Gustavo of Brazil tackles David Villa of Spain
Luiz Gustavo of Brazil tackles David Villa of Spain

 

Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar celebrates
Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar celebrates

 

As the 2nd half got under way, my thoughts were already turning to full time, and the potential chaos that could ensue should Brazil win and should the Brazilian players come round behind the boards to celebrate with the fans. With security topping my list of concerns, I prepared my bags for the worst of eventualities. I move most of my gear in a ThinkTank Airport International roller bag. The bag stores nearly all of the equipment I need to shoot a football match – Canon 1DX (x2), 400mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, plus CF cards, adaptors etc. The bag had a security cable built into it, as well as a zip lock to keep the contents secure, both of which I planned to use. With Brazil now leading 3-0 and with only 5 minutes left to play, I tied the cable around the foot of one of the advertising boards in front of me and then, having chosen the lenses I’d require after the match, secured the zips in their lock, and then pushed the entire bag under my seat so as not to offer anyone an easy target. I put my rucksack on my back containing my laptop, remote equipment etc. so I could keep all that with me.

The final whistle went and the celebrations were under way. As photographers, we made our way to the corner flag before being escorted once again down to the bench area, this time to set up for the presentations. I gambled with my gear, choosing to take with me the 70-200mm for the trophy lift and on-pitch celebrations, and the 14mm f/2.8 on the other body with a flash for the run-round shenanigans afterwards. This proved to be a wise choice…the lift worked well on the zoom lens (although it would’ve been nice shot tight on the 400mm too) and the 14mm did just what I wanted it to, as the post-match celebrations allowed us to get up close and personal with the Brazilian players and their fans…

 

 

Brazil players celebrate as they lift the trophy
Brazil players celebrate as they lift the trophy

 

Neymar of Brazil celebrates around his teammates
Neymar of Brazil celebrates around his teammates

 

Neymar of Brazil celebrates with some adoring fans
Neymar of Brazil celebrates with some adoring fans

 

Fans mob Neymar of Brazil as he celebrates with them after the match
Fans mob Neymar of Brazil as he celebrates with them after the match

 

Fans mob Neymar of Brazil as he celebrates with them after the match
Fans mob Neymar of Brazil as he celebrates with them after the match

 

When I returned to the Media Centre, every photographer’s nightmare hit me, as I discovered not one, but two of my CF cards had seemingly corrupted on me whilst I was transferring the images to my laptop. I could still view the images in-camera, so I knew that they were there somewhere, it was just a case of figuring out where the problem was and how to fix it. I did what I could with the images I could see, before jumping on the Media Shuttle bus for the final time, knowing that the next day wouldn’t be the day off I was hoping it would’ve been.

When we got back to the hotel, all we wanted was a bite to eat…not much to ask, especially with 24hr room service available. One hour, one incorrect order and one heated conversation later, we decided to pop down the road to a nearby restaurant, in the hope that they’d still be serving. Result! 2:30am and still going strong. A large pizza later and I was ready for bed.

Monday was just what I expected it would be…and everything I expected Rio not to be before we arrived. It was a mild, overcast day and I was sitting in my hotel room fishing patiently through a handful of CF cards trying to establish how things went so frustratingly wrong the night before. I knew which pictures I was missing, so luckily I didn’t have to scan each and every image on each and every card with my own eyes to be sure I’d recovered everything I needed. Fortunately, they were all there. I may have ingested one or two cards at least twice, but at least everything had survived. There were one or two corrupt images in amongst them which may have caused the ingest process to fail back at the Maracana.

I got to work on the remaining pictures, captioning, cropping, editing and saving them, before uploading them all on the surprisingly capable hotel Wi-Fi. This took me through to lunch, after which I finally wandered down to the beach across the road for the first time, nodding off in the sun moments later.

The evening soon came round, finishing with a much-needed Skype chat with loved ones, and a room service meal that ticked all the boxes.

The weather the next day showed no signs of improving. After a slow morning catching up on admin-related duties (editing / receipts etc.) we made our way towards the Maracana to try and pick off a few of the shots we’d been meaning to get since our arrival. Matt had read about a long mural dedicated to Botafogo Football Club, situated opposite their training ground in Rio. I wanted to go looking for some gifts before our departure, so we took what money we had left on our Metro cards and travelled north from the Copacabana, arriving first at Flamengo station, where a flyer I’d been hander said a new Havaianas flip-flop store had just opened.

Unfortunately, it was a small store with not a lot of choice. Despite spending a good 20 minutes perusing, I decided against it, confident in the fact I’d be able to find a better range of flip-flops in one of their other stores in the city. We got back on the metro and made our way over to the Maracana, the scene of such triumph and jubilation just 2 days earlier was now back to it’s building-site best. A statue of Brazil’s 1958 World Cup-winning captain Bellini stands proudly outside the front entrance to the stadium, and a plaque bearing the names of all the World Cup-winning squad members is fixed to the base. Name such as Pele, Ronaldo, Carlos Alberto etc. have their place in history, and this was part of the stadium that needed to be recorded.

We did a full lap of the stadium, taking pictures of the metro station and favela beyond it, before hopping back on the train to head over to Botafogo, where’s Matt’s murals were. It was fairly impressive…a wall of murals stretching a good 50 yards or so, depicting the club’s famous players, sayings and influences, all painted over an uneven stone wall on the side of a main road. Dodging the ever-present waves of traffic, we covered it from all angles, before heading back to the hotel in time for dinner.

 

A large favela overlooks the Maracana metro station
A large favela overlooks the Maracana metro station

 

The name of Pele on a plaque fixed to a statue outside the Maracana stadium
The name of Pele on a plaque fixed to a statue outside the Maracana stadium

 

A mural of a monkey celebrating Botofogo Football Club painted on a wall opposite their training ground
A mural of a monkey celebrating Botofogo Football Club painted on a wall opposite their training ground

 

Graffiti featuring FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 mascot Fuleco on the walls outside the Maracana metro station
Graffiti featuring FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014 mascot Fuleco on the walls outside the Maracana metro station

 

Later that evening, at 22.50, the 24hr check-in window opened, giving us our first hint of the journey home. I got on the case straight away, booking my seat in minutes. That was it…the end was in sight now.

The next morning, I was very quickly packed and ready to go. The hotel had agreed to let us have the room until 4pm, four hours longer than we expected. This was handy, as we weren’t scheduled to fly until 22.50 that night. We arranged to meet up with Joe later on for dinner before heading off.

In the meantime, I made my way back out into Rio, this time to a different Havaianas store, in Copacabana, to see if I could find what I was looking for. I had a lot more luck this time…I was practically spoilt for choice. I’m not sure Matt was happy he’d come with me…we must’ve been in the store for a good 40 minutes, pacing back and forth deciding what to buy and who to buy it for. I was pleased though with what I’d come away with…it was now just a case of finding a space in the bag for everything, and then remembering to take it home!

We checked out of the hotel at about 4pm, just as Joe arrived outside to go for dinner with us. We parked his yellow Honda motorbike up on the pavement next to the hotel and we wondered down the road to a restaurant we’d been to a couple of times before.

Once we’d had a catch-up, summarised the past three weeks and talked about plans for next year, we said our farewells and were on our way back to Galeão Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport for our flight home. Little did we know, however, of the nightmare 24hrs to come.

After boarding the plane on time, we sat in our seats for one hour, then two hours, then three hours…all the time being informed of a delay due to a technical fault. I slept on and off through the entire duration of the wait, so I perhaps had a little bit more patience than the majority of passengers, and in particular the Brazilians, who had almost no idea why we hadn’t left, thanks to the airline’s inability to hire Portuguese-speaking crew members.

At close to 4am, after five hours had passed, tensions had risen to a new high, and a handful of passengers had decided they’d had enough of waiting. We’d been given one round of drinks, but that was it…no food, and no option of getting off the plane. They began shouting and pulling open the luggage stows, demanding to be let off. One man came charging down the aisle from behind us before laying into a couple of crew members with foul language and threatening behaviour. This wasn’t nice to see, and his description of how the damaged plane was going down in the Atlantic was enough to disturb a number of nearby children as well as the slightly less confident flyers in the cabin…

 

 

WARNING: Bad language throughout…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmIOWpg345E

 

 

Before long, the pilot announced that the flight now had to be cancelled due to the passenger disruption, and that we were to all disembark. Cue the groans of discontent.

We were all put up in arguably the best hotel in Rio…the 37-floor Windsor Atlantica overlooking the Copacabana, before returning to the airport later that afternoon when we finally took off in a spare slot at 7pm, almost a day later than scheduled.

Looking back on it, the trip was certainly a worthwhile experience. Knowing what to do, where to go (and where not to go!) and how to get there will prove to be invaluable knowledge come next year’s World Cup. As far as the pictures go, I’m pleased on the whole with what I came away with. Of course, I wanted more, you always do, but it quickly became apparent that a lot of planning and a lot of time is required to do a fraction of what you could do in most countries. The infrastructure, the transport network, the services and the general attitudes of the Brazilian people don’t allow you to get things done quickly, it’s just not possible. Most of us shot about 22 matches during the World Cup in South Africa in 2010…we’ll do well to shoot half of that in Brazil. It will be a tough slog, but that’s what the World Cup is and that’s what you expect it to be. I’ve got 11 months and plenty of miles and matches to think about it.

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