Sao Paulo: The Opening Game

Our first experience of Brazil’s night buses took us from Rio to Sao Paulo as we journeyed away from the sunny shores of Zona Sul and into the concrete jungle of South America’s largest city for the opening game of the tournament.

We caught the 00:05, a comfortable service with well-cushioned, reclining seats and air conditioning which got us into the financial capital a few minutes before 6am, bang on time. Unaware of what to expect in terms of traffic, we decided to hop in a taxi and head straight to the stadium, the Arena Corinthians, located to the north east of the city. However, when we arrived to a stadium devoid of any other media, we realised we needn’t have rushed.

Unlike the stadium workers however, who, it appeared, still very much needed to rush. Paving was broken, huge patches of grass lay unfinished, building materials were scattered all over the place…it looked disgraceful. With no signs to point us in the right direction, we were left to roam the stadium grounds in search of the Media Centre. Eventually, after a lap of the stadium, we found our way in and were welcomed by a vast underground hub, lined with workstations to accommodate more than a thousand journalists and photographers expected to attend the match.

 

A panoramic view of the Media Centre inside the Arena Corinthians stadium in Sao Paulo, prior to the opening game
A panoramic view of the Media Centre inside the Arena Corinthians stadium in Sao Paulo, prior to the opening game

 

With every minute that passed, more and more people flooded in, and within a couple of hours, the room was heaving with journalists, photographers and pundits from all over the world. The novelty of bumping into a familiar face in surroundings such as this, thousands of miles from home, never wears off. We were soon joined by colleagues more associated with trips to Stoke City, or Manchester United or Bolton Wanderers, rather than the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

I needed to catch up on some admin, so my morning was spent booking bus journeys, organising hotels, emailing, and so on. On trips like this, you get surprisingly little time to do these things. Usually a lack of internet is the main drawback, coupled with the desire to go out and take pictures rather than sit inside with your head in a laptop. I managed a bit of this once I’d finished up with the boring bits…

 

Fans arrive at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo for the Opening Game
Fans arrive at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo for the Opening Game

 

A couple enjoy a romantic moment as fans arrive all around them for the Opening Games
A couple enjoy a romantic moment as fans arrive all around them for the Opening Games

 

A Croatian fan with a painted face
A Croatian fan with a painted face

 

At about 2pm, I collected my match ticket. Different tournaments rely on different processes to determine where photographers sit for the match. Back in about March, a couple of months after receiving confirmation of our tournament accreditation, we were invited to apply for passes to the games we wanted to cover. The booking process offers you the chance to apply for a Pitchside pass, or a position in the Tribune, just in front of the reporters and commentators. For this particular match, I’d applied for a Tribune pass, my main thinking being that I could cover the Opening Ceremony from a better angle here too, in addition to the game itself. I made my way to the Ticketing Desk in the Media Centre, where a man produced an envelope with Offside’s company name on it and inside was an actual matchday ticket with a pre-allocated seat for me. No choosing my position, it had been done for me. As I headed up to the stands, the view could’ve been worse…

 

The Opening Ceremony takes place inside the Arena Corinthians
The Opening Ceremony takes place inside the Arena Corinthians

 

Fans sitting high up in the stands
Fans sitting high up in the stands

 

After the surprisingly uninspiring Opening Ceremony, a lot of us were left wondering how such an event in such a country could have gone so horribly wrong? It was almost embarrassing. Perhaps the organising committee had spent all their cash on J-Lo, and not left enough for any creative thinking? Some locals we spoke to said a Belgian choreographer had been in charge of it all…in a country known for it’s colourful carnivals and extravagant celebrations, this just didn’t seem to make sense.

 

J-Lo (L), Pitbull (C) and Claudia Leitte perform during the Opening Ceremony
J-Lo (L), Pitbull (C) and Claudia Leitte perform during the Opening Ceremony

 

Moment before the teams walked out onto the pitch before the start of the match, photographers gathered in the corners of pitch, waiting to be escorted down the sideline to the dugout area. From there, we often shoot the players, managers, fans etc. – whatever needs doing. These can be headshots, team groups, close up details, and so on. This is an uncomfortable experience all-round. It’s a humiliating feeling being guided down the sideline in that way, you feel like cattle being herded, giving onlookers the impression that we *need* to be restrained, that we’re those sorts of people. It was nice not to have to be part of it this time…

 

Photographers are contained at the corner flag before the match
Photographers are contained at the corner flag before the match

 

It’s a busy time once you arrive at the bench, as you try to jostle between other photographers, getting the shots you need in the short space of time you’re given to get them…

 

Photographers gather around the Brazilian bench before the match
Photographers gather around the Brazilian bench before the match

 

The Brazil team pose for photographers before the match
The Brazil team pose for photographers before the match

 

Fortunately, once it all kicked off, the game itself had a bit more to it. Croatia’s fans were right behind their team, but were never going to be a match for the intense passion the home fans were showing. However, things didn’t quite go according to plan early on, when a cross from the Croatian left wing bounced off Marcello’s leg and dribbled past his own goalkeeper Julio Cesar into the Brazil goal to give the underdogs an early lead…

 

Brazil's Marcello scores an own goal to give Croatia an early lead
Brazil’s Marcello scores an own goal to give Croatia an early lead

 

Fortunately for the home crowd, their poster boy Neymar popped up with an equaliser later on to make it 1-1 going into the break…

 

Neymar scores Brazil's equaliser
Neymar scores Brazil’s equaliser

 

Neymar celebrates after scoring the equaliser for Brazil
Neymar celebrates after scoring the equaliser for Brazil

 

Brazilian fans wearing no. 10 replica shirts
Brazilian fans wearing no. 10 replica shirts

 

In the second half, the most controversial moment of the match came when Brazilian forward Fred fell in the box, under pressure from Dejan Lovren, and Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura awarded a penalty…

 

Fred falls under pressure from Dejan Lovren to earn Brazil a penalty
Fred falls under pressure from Dejan Lovren to earn Brazil a penalty

 

Referee Yuichi Nishimura runs away from protesting Croatian players after awarding a soft penalty
Referee Yuichi Nishimura runs away from protesting Croatian players after awarding a soft penalty

 

Neymar converted to make it 2-1, much to the anger of the Croatian fans. The game was getting even livelier, and with my laptop down by my side, I was doing my best to get the pictures edited and sent whilst keeping one eye on the game…

 

Hulk of Brazil battles with Darijo Srna of Croatia
Hulk of Brazil battles with Darijo Srna of Croatia

 

Ivan Perisic of Croatia leaves Bernard of Brazil on the ground
Ivan Perisic of Croatia leaves Bernard of Brazil on the ground

 

Oscar scored a 3rd goal to complete proceedings, and Brazil’s first win of the tournament was secured…

 

Oscar scores Brazil's 3rd goal to wrap up the game
Oscar scores Brazil’s 3rd goal to wrap up the game

 

With an 11pm flight to Manaus booked, myself, Chris and Matt packed up straight after the match and met each other back in the Media Centre before heading out of the stadium to make our way to the airport. Just a short hop down the road to Guarulhos International Airport, how difficult could that be? Almost 2 hours later and we were still yet to find a way of getting there. We’d walked 3km+, up and down hills, the subway was rammed and an exclusion zone at the stadium meant there was no way of finding a taxi either. Walking beyond the exclusion zone was an absolute no-no. We encountered three different people who all made it clear that wasn’t an option, one of them, a driver for a local party, patting his chest to indicate he was wearing a bullet-proof vest as a sign of his own concerns. Hopes of making the flight were fading by the minute.

We eventually found a volunteer who knew what he was doing and led us down to the subway, but underneath it, to a taxi rank that, instead, housed a few buses destined solely for the airport. Never have I been so happy to see a bus in my life. We checked in at the TAM Airlines desk shortly after 10pm…crisis averted, Manaus was our next stop.

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