On The Road Again

With Belgium’s star line-up on show, this game was a gimme. Being played in our base city, in a great stadium to work in, everything made sense. Our morning started with a struggle to find a taxi near Joe’s. It was a Sunday…Brazilians don’t like to over-exert themselves at the best of times, so it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to find taxis hard to come by on a Sunday morning. The sun was out, a pleasant warmth filled the air, and the familiar hum of traffic was nowhere to be heard.

Except, we could’ve done with it on this occasion. It took a good half an hour, but eventually we managed to bag one. All talk was of the security cordon…Matt was paranoid about the prospect of being denied access to the area around the stadium thanks to the usual pre-match cordon. Chris and I insisted that we should get a taxi all the way to ground, rather than bother with the metro. Ultimately, if the taxi couldn’t get close, we could just divert to the nearest metro stop and head in from there. Matt refused to accept this was a possibility. Outright refusal. From the moment the cab dropped us outside the ground, ‘cordon’ had quickly become the word of the day. Nothing could be done without consideration for the cordon.

Security was tight around the Maracana. Whether this was due to the Chilean fans’ exploits at the last game, or simply because the Russians were in town, we don’t know, but the queue for the Media Centre was long and progress was slow.

This more or less echoed the game itself. It was a chance to stock up on the players who grace the Premier League week in, week out. Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellaini and so on, all of them in action out in the sunshine in Rio…

 

A female Russia fan
A female Russia fan

 

A Russian fan gets in the spirit
A Belgium fan gets in the spirit

 

Eden Hazard of Belgium battles with Dmitriy Kombarov of Russia
Eden Hazard of Belgium battles with Dmitriy Kombarov of Russia

 

Oleg Shatov of Russia gets away from Marouane Fellaini of Belgium
Oleg Shatov of Russia gets away from Marouane Fellaini of Belgium

 

Despite the weather and beautiful backlit shooting conditions, the match was a decidedly uneventful affair. There was little to get excited about and little to report on. Russia coach Fabio Capello displayed the sort of enthusiasm he did when he was in charge of England back in South Africa in 2010

 

Russia coach Fabio Capello
Russia coach Fabio Capello

 

Belgium finally broke the deadlock late in the game, scoring from open play through Divock Origi…

 

Divock Origi of Belgium scores their 1st goal
Divock Origi of Belgium scores their 1st goal

 

It was a relief for the group favourites, who had struggled to create many chances during the game. An uninspiring game produced an uninspiring set of pictures. The Belgians celebrated, but not many photographers joined them…

 

Belgium fans celebrate
Belgium fans celebrate

 

After the game, we decided o catch a Media Shuttle bus to a hotel where we could get a bite to eat. A 6 hour night bus to Sao Paulo (once again!) awaited us, but after the early kick-off in Rio, we were in no rush to get to the rodoviario. A complimentary shuttle bus could lead us to a decent meal, and from there we could head to the bus station. We spent our time at the dinner table dodging between food, TV and laptops, in a bid to try and nail down some rough plans for the knockout stages, whilst taking in the second half of Portugal’s match with the USA. A last-minute equaliser from Ronaldo’s men denied the underdogs a famous victory and instant qualification from the group. The goal was met with sighs of dejection from the American guests dining and drinking in the hotel restaurant. Their fate will go down to the wire.

Having exhausted the hotel’s complimentary WiFi, we packed up and headed off, catching another midnight bus to Sao Paulo.

We thought we had Sao Paulo sussed. After the nightmare of our opening game experience, we thought we had it down to a tee. However, this morning proved the city still had room for a surprise or two. After an unnecessary amount of fuss collecting the next day’s bus tickets, we hopped in a cab, expecting to go straight to the door. It hadn’t been a problem before now…our early stadium arrivals had allowed us to bypass any issues a security cordon might produce. But as we were finding out on an almost-daily basis in this country, today’s rules were different. Today, there *was* a cordon. Today, the taxi would be going nowhere near. No matter how many times we showed our accreditation badges, no matter how loudly we reiterated that we were accredited media and simply required access to the Media Centre, the police and armed security guards were having none of it. The only option was the metro…the dreaded Sao Paulo metro.

We’d done everything we could to avoid using the metro in this city, but on this occasion, we were left with no alternative. The taxi dropped us at the nearest station he could, just a single stop from the stadium. After pulling up in a bus stop outside the main entrance, the driver took forever to process a receipt for me…an irate bus driver behind made his feelings know, beeping his horn and edging closer and closer to the back of the yellow Toyota whilst I leant into the cab appearing to be unaware. He wasn’t happy, but neither were we. I wasn’t in the mood to allow this bus driver to dictate terms, not this morning.

Dragging thousands of pounds worth of equipment through a Sao Paulo metro station was not how I intended to start my day. Eyes wondered, heads turned…it wasn’t the most comfortable of feelings. Thankfully, tickets were easy to buy, and within moments, we were en route. Of course, when we arrived at the correct stop, the direct footbridge to the stadium was blocked by police. It couldn’t be that simple. We were guided in the opposite direction, right around and underneath the highway and back up the slope towards the stadium. The Media Centre couldn’t have been much further away, and we couldn’t have been given a much longer route to get there either. It was killing us, but there was nothing we could do. Lack of sleep meant lack of patience and lack of energy. It took us 20 minutes before stepping foot inside the air conditioned bunker underneath the Arena Corinthians.

More travel chat was followed by some freshening up in the Media Centre restrooms. Time on the road is all well and good, both in avoiding the complications of air travel with our gear, and also the need for hotel rooms and so on, but when you need to wash, there’s a minimal amount you can do. And to be honest, in those surroundings, there’s not a lot you’d want to do.

I’d initially applied for a spot in the tribune for this game, but that was back in March / April. Since then, Manchester United had sacked David Moyes and announced that Dutch coach Louis van Gaal would be replacing him after the World Cup. I decided I needed to be pitchside for this one, but would only be able to put my name on the waiting list for pitchside positions and would have to wait until all the approved pitchside photographers had chosen their positions before I could then choose where to sit from what remained. As it happened, when my time came around, there were a few seats left in positions I would’ve chosen in the first place, so that made me smile. Knowing which way the sun was going to be moving around the pitch, I’d decided to shoot the Dutch attack for the first half. It was a gamble…Chile were in form and would surely start with a bags of energy. And then Holland would be the favourites, but when, if at all, would they make their move?

Regardless, I was happy with my decision. The tricky lighting around the ground meant there really was only one corner to sit in, and that’s where I was. Having spent two games at this stadium in the tribune, it was a relief to be able to experience it from ground level. The shooting positions were brilliant, just like you’d get at many European grounds…close to the pitch, not too wide from the goal. Things felt familiar, for the first time in the tournament…

 

The Netherlands and Chile teams line up inside Arena Corinthians
The Netherlands and Chile teams line up inside Arena Corinthians

 

Chile fans show their support
Chile fans show their support

 

Chile fans in the stands, as far as the eye can see!
Chile fans in the stands, as far as the eye can see!

 

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal (C) stands alongside assistants Danny Blind (L) and Patrick Kluivert (R)
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal (C) stands alongside assistants Danny Blind (L) and Patrick Kluivert (R)

 

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal

 

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal's accreditation badge
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal’s accreditation badge

 

The first half produced little of anything. Action pictures were especially hard to come by…the Dutch refused to attack with any serious intent, and the Chileans adopting a cautious approach. Stefan de Vrij came closest for the Netherlands in the first half, heading just wide after connecting with a fast, curling cross…

 

de Vrij of Netherlands misses with a header from close range
de Vrij of Netherlands misses with a header from close range

 

The second half produced far more pictures, although sadly, for me, nothing newsworthy. Holland won the game 2-0. Both goals were scored at the far end of the pitch. I was left to make the most of the situation. The number of big name players in orange made useful pictures fairly easy to come by…

 

Nigel de Jong of Netherlands battles with Gary Medel of Chile
Nigel de Jong of Netherlands battles with Gary Medel of Chile

 

Arjen Robben of Netherlands gestures to the Chile fans, reminding them of the score
Arjen Robben of Netherlands gestures to the Chile fans, reminding them of the score

 

Dirk Kuyt & Nigel de Jong of Netherlands look bewildered by the behaviour of Gary Medel of Chile
Dirk Kuyt & Nigel de Jong of Netherlands look bewildered by the behaviour of Gary Medel of Chile

 

Mauricio Pinilla of Chile and Daley Blind of Netherlands go head-to-head
Mauricio Pinilla of Chile and Daley Blind of Netherlands go head-to-head

 

Arjen Robben of Netherlands looks through the hexagonal goal netting
Arjen Robben of Netherlands looks through the hexagonal goal netting

 

Dutch fans celebrate their side's opening goal
Dutch fans celebrate their side’s opening goal

 

Ron Vlaar kisses the badge on his Netherlands shirt
Ron Vlaar kisses the badge on his Netherlands shirt

 

Dirk Kuyt gives the thumbs up following the Netherlands' victory
Dirk Kuyt gives the thumbs up following the Netherlands’ victory

 

Despite the result, I was happy with my set of pictures. This isn’t always the case…quite often, you can do a game and feel like you’ve come away with nothing, even more so when the goals go in at the wrong end of the ground. This was different though…the players on the pitch, the big occasion, everything made sense. I shot pictures I wanted to shoot, rather than bowing to the demands of tabloid picture desks back home. It was magazine time, it was about quality more than anything else.

I was tempted to stay outside after the game. It was 3pm, the sun was beating down and the warmth around the side of the pitch was perfect. Volunteers would bring us chilled bottles of water throughout the game on request, so I had enough to keep me going for as long as I needed it. However, it wasn’t down to me. Our work pattern, as had been the case now for the best part of 2 weeks, was governed by the demands of the Cometa bus timetable. We’d booked the 21:40 to get us to Belo Horizonte for the next day’s England game.

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