Belo Horizonte

Moans and groans echoed around the inside of the bus as the driver switched the internal lights on at 8am, shortly before pulling into the main rodoviaria bus station in Belo Horizonte some eight hours after our departure from Sao Paulo. We had a hotel booked for the night, and were keen to freshen up after some time on the road. Our cab dropped us off in the centre of town and fortunately, the female receptionist was extremely friendly and accommodating too, showing no hesitation in letting us check in hours before we were supposed to. This was a Godsend. All three of us were tired and starting to smell…quite badly. There’s only so much washing you can do when restricted to the facilities offered by a Media Centre.

After a hot shower and change of clothes, I headed out into the city to see if I could find some pictures I’d been asked for…specifically, of Neymar. Neymar endorsing any product…the more diverse, the better. Advertisements featuring the Brazilian poster boy are rife throughout Rio de Janeiro, so I felt confident it would be the same here. How wrong I was. No billboards, no signs on buses, bridges, buildings etc. The best I could muster was his face on a bottle of shampoo, an ice cream stand, a row of magazines, and in the shop window of an underwear store…

 

A row of magazines with Neymar's face on the cover
A row of magazines with Neymar’s face on the cover

 

Some shampoo products with the face of Neymar on the bottle
Some shampoo products with the face of Neymar on the bottle

 

Ice cream endorsed by Brazilian star player Neymar
Ice cream endorsed by Brazilian star player Neymar

 

A life-size sticker of Neymar in the shop window of an underwear store
A life-size sticker of Neymar in the shop window of an underwear store

 

After exhausting every possibility in town and taking in an entire shopping centre too looking for these pictures, I picked up a late breakfast courtesy of Yogaberry, giving me a burst of the much-needed combination of fresh fruit and yoghurt that my body was craving. I returned to the hotel to send my Neymar pictures and to check in with the boss on Skype. It wasn’t long before the lack of sleep began to catch up with me. I was struggling to keep my eyes open…nothing that a couple of hours’ kip couldn’t sort.

The three of us headed out in the evening to sample the delights of Belo Horizonte. We’d discovered a local saying used to describe the city…’nao tem mares, tem bares’ – ‘there are no seas, thus there are bars’. Located almost 300 miles from the nearest coastline, it’s hardly a seaside town. Nevertheless, the nightlife is as lively as any Brazilian city you could think of. The people are friendly and approachable in a place named the most desirable city to live in, in the entire country. For the first time, we felt completely at ease, not a threat in sight.

It’s hard to come to a place as colourful and cultural as Brazil and have to watch your back all the time. You feel like you’re constantly being watched, like people are constantly looking for a way to empty your pockets, grab your bags, make off with whatever they can. It takes the edge off visiting such an amazing country. It’s hard as a photographer because you’re constantly wanting to take pictures…everything is so photogenic, in so many different ways. The caution with which you need to work sometimes prevents you from taking the sorts of shots you want to take.

We enjoyed a huge dinner out before moving on to a couple of bars afterwards. The place was buzzing, and yet we still didn’t feel like we were in a city centre. We probably weren’t, but it didn’t matter. Everyone we saw was enjoying themselves, there was a vibe about the place like no other we’d witnessed so far on our trip.

The next morning was an early one, or at least, certainly felt early after our 3am return. We’d had a few beers and a much-needed switch-off, but now it was back to the grind, with Argentina vs. Iran our next port of call.

The atmosphere outside the Estadio Mineirao was electric…the sun was beaming down and the supporters were out in force. The Iranian fans were a sight to behold…

 

Iran fans get into the World Cup spirit
Iran fans get into the World Cup spirit

 

Iran fans react to the lack of Argentinian singing before the game
Iran fans react to the lack of Argentinian singing before the game

 

Iran fans cheer before the match
Iran fans cheer before the match

 

Iran fans in party mood before their game against Argentina
Iran fans in party mood before their game against Argentina

 

Fans flooded into the stadium, each and everyone of them genuinely delighted to be there. Basically, the polar opposite to what you see outside the DW Stadium in Wigan on a cold, wet Monday night in January…

 

Fans flood into the Estadio Mineirao for the match between Argentina and Iran
Fans flood into the Estadio Mineirao for the match between Argentina and Iran

 

The tribune in the stadium was a lot lower than the others I’d worked in, so the angle was different to what I’d been used to. This created some problems with the backgrounds…the lower you are, the more likely you are to have players’ legs creeping into the top of your frame, or even the ad boards on the other side of the pitch cutting across through the backs of your subjects. You have to wait for your pictures, and nail them when they fall into place.

Despite these issues, I enjoyed the lower perspective. You could see more of the players’ faces, and felt a little bit closer to the action…

 

Argentina's Lionel Messi is surrounded by a trio of Iran players
Argentina’s Lionel Messi is surrounded by a trio of Iran players

 

Ashkan Dejagah of Iran battles with Javier Mascherano of Argentina
Ashkan Dejagah of Iran battles with Javier Mascherano of Argentina

 

The Argentina fans came into their own inside the stadium. They took it over, the noise was incredible. Every near-chance, even a sniff of the penalty box and they erupted with excitement. Everything you hear on TV is how it is here…usually, that sort of sound is amplified, but having witnessed it from both sides of the screen, I can assure you nothing has been turned up for the audience at home…

 

Argentina fans enjoy their day in the sunshine
Argentina fans enjoy their day in the sunshine

 

Having covered Argentina’s first game, with Bosnia & Herzegovina, from the pitch, I felt I could experiment a little from the tribune this time around. I tried some panning on their little wizard, Lionel Messi, and managed to come up with one clean image of him on the move…

 

Lionel Messi in action, shot at 500mm - ISO 50 - 1/50th sec. @ f/18
Lionel Messi in action, shot at 500mm – ISO 50 – 1/50th sec. @ f/18

 

Iran spawned a number of great chances to score, and were even denied what looked like a healthy claim for a penalty. Despite every opportunity to score, they just couldn’t. There only every looked to be one outcome, as Argentina piled on the pressure towards the end of the game. Up popped Lionel Messi with more than 3 minutes’ added time on the clock to score the winning goal…

 

Lionel Messi scores a late goal to seal victory for Argentina
Lionel Messi scores a late goal to seal victory for Argentina

 

Cue delerium amongst the blue half of the stadium. The fans went mad. I tried to convey their joy from my elevated position, using a mixture of slow shutter and movement, looking down with the 500mm f/4 lens…

 

Argentina fans celebrate their late winner
Argentina fans celebrate their late winner

 

It was Argentina’s second win of the tournament, but equally, their second unconvincing win. Stumbling to victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina, and then Iran too is hardly the form of favourites. They weren’t pushovers – in fact, far from it – but nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if they can overcome some serious opposition as the competition progresses.

We made the most of the 13:30 kick-off and booked an earlier bus back to Rio. It was due to leave at 19:30, so a little editing before dinner back at a Media Hotel was just the ticket. We caught a cab from the hotel over to the bus station, and were back at Joe’s place in Rio by 2am, allowing us half a decent night’s sleep before our appointment at the Maracana the following day.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. jkirkby8712 says:

    I agree completely with your comments about crowd noise and reactions – watching from here in Australia,, I have been enthralled by the continuous and ongoing noise from the crowds in the various stadiums – it didn’t seem to matter which teams were playing, the support for one side or the other, struck me as being an experience and environment worth being a part of. Thankyou for an interesting read. Unfortunately, the Aussies are on their way home, but I shall continue to enjoy the rest of the tournament!

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