The Return To Rio

We landed back in Rio at around 11am, this time at the domestic Santos Dumont Airport. The approach into SDU is incredible. Whichever route the pilot takes, and whichever side of the plane you’re sat on, the views are incredible. The airport is located much closer to the city, so Corcovado, Sugar Loaf Mountain, the city, the beaches and the favelas are all visible even 30 seconds from landing.

After collecting the one bag we’d taken between the three of us, we jumped on a bus to the nearest metro station, Cinelandia, from which we made our way to the Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho…otherwise known as the Maracana.

Located in a less than exotic part of the city, the Maracana is the largest stadium in the country, and one of the most famous football arenas in the world. More than 200,000 people once crammed into the stadium, although the chances of that ever happening again have been crushed after renovation work to bring it up to standard with modern stadia reduced it’s capacity to a mere 75,000. In exactly a month’s time, it will host the FIFA World Cup Final, but today, it sees Brazil take on Bosnia & Herzegovina.

We secured our places in the queue for match tickets and then went about catching up with the remainder of the previous night’s pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. More bus bookings, more emails and more blogging were part of the agenda too, and before we knew it, it was time to choose our pitch positions. I opted to cover Argentina’s attack in the first half, on the assumption that, basically, they would run the show. The number of photographers in attendance meant it would be hard to swap ends at half time, but I took that risk nonetheless, hoping to get enough material in the first half to make the second 45 minutes a bonus rather than a necessity.

Once my position was confirmed, I headed outside with a single camera and lens to photograph the hoards of fans enjoying the build-up to the game in the nearby bars and kiosks…

 

Bosnia fans in high spirits before the game
Bosnia fans in high spirits before the game

 

A group of France fans were getting animated as they watched their side take on Honduras on TV in the earlier game…

 

France fans celebrate a goal on the TV
France fans celebrate a goal on the TV

 

After returning to the Media Centre and unlocking my case from it’s shackles, I made my way down the corridor from the Media Centre and out to the pitch. We were hearing reports, almost daily by now, of equipment being stolen, something Brazil is known for. Lenses, cameras, entire bags were going missing, and not a lot was being done to curb the issue. Lockers were a longer-term option, but a nuisance if you just wanted to go for a drink or have a bite to eat. I prefer to use the built-in cable attached to my ThinkTank bag and tie it to the desk or a chair. This cable, couple with the zip lock mechanism create a fairly reliable deterrent to anyone looking to grab something on the sly.

I gathered my gear together, attaching cameras to lenses, checking batteries, loading cards, preparing captions etc. It turned out that, by pure coincidence, myself, Matt and Chris had all chosen seats next to each other for the first half. As if we weren’t seeing enough of each other already! The usual pre-match shenanigans were under way. Looking down the tunnel, I could see the players ankles twitching nervously as they waited to emerge. Fans were buzzing, the atmosphere was electric. The Argentina supporters, in particular, were really making their presence known…

 

Players ankles are visible as they wait in the tunnel to enter the arena
Players ankles are visible as they wait in the tunnel to enter the arena

 

A busty blonde Argentina fan tries her best to keep a low profile!
A busty blonde Argentina fan tries her best to keep a low profile!

 

Argentina fans cheer on their side
Argentina fans cheer on their side

 

The game started off with Argentina straight away looking to attack. Lionel Messi and his teammates were determined to make an immediate impact, and they did just that when a free kick from Messi on the left side bounced off a Bosnian defender and into the net to give the South Americans an early lead.

 

Argentina celebrate their opening goal, an own goal
Argentina celebrate their opening goal, an own goal

 

The rest of the half saw a number of chances go begging, and they went into the break just the single goal ahead. Chris and I made a beeline for the far end the moment the whistle went, and to our amazement, managed to find an unclaimed pair of seats almost exactly where we would ideally have sat…the last two, as it happened.

The second half was a far more one-sided affair, with Bosnia & Herzegovina appearing to adopt a policy of damage limitation, as the relentless attacking force of Messi, Aguero and Higuain persisted with their attempts to increase the margin.

 

Lionel Messi of Argentina gets between a pair of Bosnian defenders
Lionel Messi of Argentina gets between a pair of Bosnian defenders

 

Hands try to push away Lionel Messi of Argentina
Hands try to push away Lionel Messi of Argentina

 

Eventually, it was Messi who did just that, doubling the score with a sublime individual effort. One of those goals you wouldn’t want to be blocked for. Like I was. One of those celebrations you hate to see go the wrong way. Like this one did. Oh well, you can’t have it your way all the time, that’s the risk you run in sports photography. There are few cliches I hate more than, “well, that’s football”…but “well, that’s sport” regularly applies in this job. If sport was 100% predictable then it wouldn’t be what we all love and this job wouldn’t give sports photographers the buzz we get when it all goes to plan.

With the match done and dusted, I joined the queue of photographers, cameramen, staff and volunteers as I headed back into the Media Centre, where I was greeted with scenes of anger and intense frustration as yet another photographer had lost his belongings to a thief. His noisy reaction was, we assumed, a mixture of disappointment and a plea for help…this was happening far too often now, in Media Centres right across the country, and seemingly nothing is yet being done to stop it. People are getting away with these crimes on a daily basis, often leaving victims more than £10,000 down and without equipment to work with. Canon and Nikon are at every venue too, cleaning and servicing equipment for photographers, as well loaning equipment for specific purposes…but even some of their own loan gear has been taken, despite measures taken to minimise the risk, so the situation is critical.

Keeping a close eye on our own bags, we worked through the remainder of our pictures before heading back to Barra in a taxi a couple of hours later. Some beers in a local bar went down a treat, and before long, the eyes were going and I called it a night shortly before 1am.

The next day provided us with a much-needed break. A lengthy start to the tournament had taken it out of all of us, so the opportunity for a lie-in couldn’t have come at a better time. Despite my best intentions to capture a sense of the local scene on this first of two days without a match to shoot, I was powerless to do anything, and decided to save myself for an adventurous Tuesday instead.

And an adventurous one it was too. From the tranquil surroundings of our apartment in Barra, we journeyed over to the less salubrious area of Gardenia Azul, slightly to the north west of our base. I wanted to shoot pictures of families and friends coming together to watch Brazil’s match with Mexico on their televisions. I had visions of huge groups gathered round tiny 15″ CRT screens in favela houses. People enthralled by the football, and nation united in their love for the beautiful game, unable to take their eyes off the action. Alas, it wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for. There were families, there were friends, there were groups, but it just didn’t have the raw vibe is was envisaging. The fact it had taken us more than an hour and a half to go the 10km to get there meant there was now no alternative. We did what we could, and managed to come up with a few pics in the end…

 

A Brazilian fan with a toy horn
A Brazilian fan with a toy horn

 

Brazilian kids enjoy the attention during the match
Brazilian kids enjoy the attention during the match

 

Brazil fans watch the match against Mexico on a television in a bar
Brazil fans watch the match against Mexico on a television in a bar

 

Brazil fans watch the match against Mexico on a television in a bar
Brazil fans watch the match against Mexico on a television in a bar

 

Brazil fans watch the match against Mexico on a television in a bar
Brazil fans watch the match against Mexico on a television in a bar

 

A young Brazil fan impersonates his hero, Hulk
A young Brazil fan impersonates his hero, Hulk

 

A Brazilian man watches his side's match against Mexico on TV
A Brazilian man watches his side’s match against Mexico on TV

 

Foot on ball as kids play football in a community
Foot on ball as kids play football in a community

 

Kids play football in a local community
Kids play football in a local community

 

What felt like a long, long day climaxed with a meal at a shopping centre near to Joe’s house, before heading back to his to pack for our upcoming week on the road. The next morning, we headed off to the Maracana once again, to see Spain take on Chile in a match that could potentially see Spain go out of the tournament. Ben had re-joined us following his exploits in Salvador, so our taxi to Estacao General Osorio metro was a full one. There were colourful fans of all shapes and sizes on the train, including one man wearing a full costume of a horse. Being the consummate professional that I am, I didn’t have a camera on my shoulder…I’m still cautious of those around me, and carrying a camera is one thing, but opening a bag full of camera equipment on a packed subway train is something else. I’ve no doubt a queue the length of the carriage would have formed within seconds, each and every person eager to dispossess me of my gear.

It’s a real shame that it has to be like this. I should’ve had a camera around my neck, no two ways about it, but the fact I didn’t meant I had no option but to see a cracking photo opportunity pass me by. Pre-match preparations shot by…I’d visited Canon’s desk and arranged to borrow a 500mm f/4 lens…knowing our pitch positions were set back a little bit more in Rio, I opted for some increased reach beyond my usual 400mm, albeit having to forfeit some low-light capabilities in the process. With it being a 4pm KO though, I didn’t think this would be much of an issue. Before long I was packing my bag up and preparing to head out to the pitch.

That’s when the most bizarre incident I could possibly imagine unfolded inside the Media Centre. Some screaming and shouting coming from the direction of the entrance got louder and louder, shortly before we were greeted by a stampede of Chilean fans storming into the Media Centre, rampaging through the room like a heard of angry cattle. I must admit, my initial feeling was one of concern…we didn’t know who they were, what they were doing, what their agenda was, whether they were armed or not, and so on. They darted between desks, knocking over computers, televisions and furniture before forcing down a temporary partition wall in a bid to gain access to the stadium. They charged down a corridor between us and the stands, before coming to a dead end as a wall of stewards and police halted their progress some 100ft further down. They tried their best to wriggle free, bringing down a partition wall in the process, taking with it a block of lockers, a row of desks and a television. This spelt the end of their efforts, and security officials stepped in to calm the situation…

 

Desks and lockers are knocked over as Chilean fans invade the Maracana Media Centre
Desks and lockers are knocked over as Chilean fans invade the Maracana Media Centre

 

Chilean fans sit down after being apprehended following their invasion of the Maracana Media Centre
Chilean fans sit down after being apprehended following their invasion of the Maracana Media Centre

 

Once the drama and chaos inside the Media Centre had subsided, I made my way out to the pitch. With only 20 minutes to go until kick-off, I raced to edit and send the pictures I’d taken of the incident, as well as compress and send the video I’d shot, uploading it to YouTube at the same time. A fairly straightforward process (even if done in a rush) but it was made more tricky by the sluggish internet connection afforded to us all. Next up was the players, the managers, the build-up, and then the match. I sat pitchside for this one, a rarity for me this tournament. I had Spain’s attack coming towards me in the first half, surely a dead cert…they couldn’t be as bad as they were against the Netherlands, could they? They answered that one for me, conceding an opening goal to Chile inside 20 minutes, before letting a second one in just before half time. Not good.

 

Marcelo Diaz of Chile battles with Andres Iniesta of Spain
Marcelo Diaz of Chile battles with Andres Iniesta of Spain

 

Marcelo Diaz of Chile battles with Andres Iniesta of Spain
Marcelo Diaz of Chile battles with Andres Iniesta of Spain

 

Diego Costa of Spain looks dejected
Diego Costa of Spain looks dejected

 

Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas looks dejected as Spain crash out
Spain goalkeeper Iker Casillas looks dejected as Spain crash out

 

The game was slipping away from Spain, and there was little they could do about it. Chile’s dominance was close to embarrassing for the favourites, who were yet to show any real threat in the game. That’s how it finished…2-0, and the reigning champions were already out of the tournament. A lacklustre performance from an incredibly talented squad who were simply outclassed in their opening two games.

Of course, the Chileans celebrated, with the sort of ferocious passion we were fast beginning to realise only the South Americans could display…

 

Gary Medel of Chile celebrates victory
Gary Medel of Chile celebrates victory

 

Chile fans celebrate victory
Chile fans celebrate victory

 

We returned to a hastily-repaired Media Centre, where dents in the lockers and cracks in the televisions remained following the earlier drama. As the rain began to fall, we continued to edit, with a midnight bus to Sao Paulo waiting just 10 minutes away at the Rodoviaria. We made it in good time, enjoying some fresh acai juice along the way. The food in the Media Centres is horrendous, that is truly the only way to describe it. You’re charged way over the odds for something I wouldn’t feed to my dog (albeit, she is quite picky). Everything’s a stodgy, carb-heavy mess, and security stops you from brining in any of your own snacks, other than those that match the tournament sponsors. Excellent…if you can surive purely on Coca Cola or water. The fresh fruit is about the only thing worth considering inside, but you can’t live off apples all day. We’re convinced a juice bar of some sort would rake it in, and rightly so. We dispatched a couple each in the bus station before bording the 00:05 to Sao Paulo.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Another fantastic post Simon, really really interesting to see your insight. I must admit it sounds quite scary. Do you feel more at risk than when covering the Confederations Cup last year? Stay safe dude!

    1. Andrew, thanks mate, appreciate it. To be honest, it doesn’t feel any scarier than the Confeds, and we’re actually doing less flying than we did last year, so the logistical side of things is easier, what with getting gear from A-B always being an issue. The way the match schedule fell for the World Cup, it’s made sense to spend a lot of time going between Rio, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte, whereas last year we took in Fortaleza, Recife and Salvador too because the games in those cities warranted coverage and we needed plenty of material for previews for the WC too. You have to keep your wits about you, but a lot of it’s about common sense.

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