France vs. Ecuador

We were bound to come unstuck at some point on our travels. Everything had gone remarkably smoothly so far, but we knew that, with every journey we booked, and every game that needed covering, the chances of something going wrong were only increasing. That moment came on our way back from Belo Horizonte.

The road from Belo to Rio is terrible. A shoddy surface littered with cracks and potholes, I’ve found it nigh on impossible to get any sleep during the 6hr journey. On this occasion, matters were made worse when our 20:00 bus broke down just ten minutes into the journey. We’d purposefully booked an early bus in a bid to get back to Rio in good time, allowing us a decent night’s sleep back at Joe’s before heading to the evening game at the Maracana. We were initially due in at 02:00, which would’ve meant an 02:30 bedtime with a good eight hours’ kip. As it happened, a replacement bus turned up after an hour (the same model, yet complete with rattling overhead lockers, a stinking toilet and squeaking seats) which got us back just before 05:00. Lie-in out the window, we got what we could before heading out, dreary-eyed, for a fresh fruit salad breakfast prior to leaving for the stadium.

Today’s game saw France take on Ecuador. I’d originally requested a tribune ticket, but decided to change this to a pitch ticket when I thought about what I wanted out of the game. It wasn’t a game that required an overview, nor a game that particularly warranted coverage from a news angle. The amount of English-based French players meant it was a chance to stock up on them…Lloris, Giroud, Koscielny, Evra, Sakho, the list goes on. Luis Antonio Valencia, the Manchester United winger, was the star attraction for the Ecuadorians. There was plenty for me to concentrate on, and I had a far better chance of getting some strong pictures, on this occasion, from ground level as opposed to an elevated viewpoint.

I ventured outside onto the roads around the stadium beforehand, suspecting a strong French presence. I wasn’t disappointed. Hundreds, if not thousands, gathered in bars opposite the northern side of the ground, most of them drinking and singing in the afternoon sun. This gave me a chance to use my beloved 14mm f/2.8 lens, often something of a novelty, but great in situations like this where the strength of the image lies in it’s ability to make the viewer feel part of the event. There were flags, banners, painted faces…the usual really, but the French were managing to incorporate a degree of animosity into proceedings, making the display a colourful and aggressive one…

 

A France fan with a painted face cheers on his side
A France fan with a painted face cheers on his side

 

French fans gather in huge numbers outside a bar close to the stadium
French fans gather in huge numbers outside a bar close to the stadium

 

France fans and their conductor gather together before the match
France fans and their conductor gather together before the match

 

France fans gather together before the match
France fans gather together before the match

 

France fans in good spirits before the match
France fans in good spirits before the match

 

Inside the stadium, the fans once again offered plenty of picture opportunities…

 

A jacket worn by a well-travelled France fan
A jacket worn by a well-travelled France fan

 

A French girl hides behind her feathers
A French girl hides behind her feathers

 

A female France fan cheers on her side
A female France fan cheers on her side

 

A French fan wearing a colourful headdress
A French fan wearing a colourful headdress

 

An attractive female Ecuador fan
An attractive female Ecuador fan

 

I continued to exploit the super-wide 14mm around the dugouts before kick-off, along with the 70-200mm f/2.8. It’s nice to see things from a different angle sometimes, and equally, to have the freedom at a match to be able to experiment with such pictures. Both the line-up of staff in the dugout, and the France team group made for interesting pictures on the wide lens…

 

France coach Didier Deschamps (R) stands with his assistants at the dugout
France coach Didier Deschamps (R) stands with his assistants at the dugout

 

France coach Didier Deschamps
France coach Didier Deschamps

 

France pose for a team group for a bank of photographers
France pose for a team group for a bank of photographers

 

I’d been afforded the third 1DX camera body for the tournament, so I saw no reason why I shouldn’t leave the 14mm on it for the duration of the match. If a goal celebration piled up right in front of me, I’d be quids in. Likewise, if a dramatic sky loomed overhead then I wouldn’t need to spend time faffing about changing lenses on bodies…something that’s remarkably hard to do, due to the limited room we have in which to work.

Covering Ecuador’s attack in the first half, a couple of early action pictures got me off the mark fairly quickly…

 

Mamadou Sakho of France battles with Enner Valencia of Ecuador
Mamadou Sakho of France battles with Enner Valencia of Ecuador

 

Paul Pogba of France battles with Cristian Noboa of Ecuado
Paul Pogba of France battles with Cristian Noboa of Ecuado

 

The ambient lade faded to alomost dark, leaving just enough colour in the sky to balance it nicely with the stadium floodlights. Out came the 14mm as the action continued on down at the other end of the pitch…

 

A general view of the Maracana as a blue night sky emerges during sunset
A general view of the Maracana as a blue night sky emerges during sunset

 

As the game progressed, both teams struggled to break through one another’s defence. Ecuador’s captain and talisman, Luis Antonio Valencia, let fly from distance, only to see his shot blocked by France’s Morgan Schneiderlin…

 

Morgan Schneiderlin of France blocks a shot from Luis Antonio Valencia of Ecuador
Morgan Schneiderlin of France blocks a shot from Luis Antonio Valencia of Ecuador

 

I tried to capture as many stock pictures of the French as I could. Players such as Paul Pogba, Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema all sprinting towards me at one stage or another, and yet none of them able to find the net. At one point, Pogba shot so wide of the other side of the goal from where I was sat that I could tell where it had gone without following the ball. I retrained my lens on him to capture his reaction, only to have my 400mm slapped by the photographer to my right as if to suggest he needed to see the goalmouth. Everyone in the stadium knew it had gone wide, and yet the one-lens man next to me (one borrowed lens, I might add) felt the need to see it off the pitch, rather than capture the despair of another French player unable to break the deadlock…

 

A grid of stock pictures from France's game with Ecuador
A grid of stock pictures from France’s game with Ecuador

 

Paul Pogba of France gets away from Oswaldo Minda of Ecuador
Paul Pogba of France gets away from Oswaldo Minda of Ecuador

 

Paul Pogba looks dejected after missing a chance to score for France late on
Paul Pogba looks dejected after missing a chance to score for France late on

 

As the game stumbled to a 0-0 draw, I couldn’t help but feel a huge sense of disappointment…purely on a personal level, rather than for either team. The French bombarded the Ecuadorian defence in the second half, squandering chance after chance right in front of me. My desperate desire for a decent pitchside goal and celebration picture is worsening by the day. I’ve spent a lot of the tournament in the tribune, where news pictures make, but the range of pictures you can get is limited. Pitchside, you expect more…you expect reaction, dejection, elation…goals, celebrations, incidents. I’m yet to really see any of this. With the knockout rounds to come, I’ve no doubt these pictures will start appearing for me. Our next stop is Belo Horizonte – again – where the hosts, Brazil take on the tournament’s surprise package, and many people’s adopted team, Chile, in the first of the Last 16 games. If there aren’t pictures to be had from that one, there’s no hope for anyone.

A steady edit after the match was followed by the rarest of rarities – dinner out after a match! Matt remained at the stadium, editing away beaverishly before his bus journey to Sao Paulo. South Korea vs. Belgium was his next port of call. Along with Action Images’ Carl Recine and Matt Childs, as well as PA’s finest, Nick Potts, Chris and I journeyed to a restaurant in Ipanema called Porcao. A classic Brazilian restaurant with a classic Brazilian approach – fixed price, help-yourself buffet, plus a range of meat brought round to your table every couple of minutes until you decide enough’s enough. I find it so hard to turn away a rare chunk of steak or some sausages, especially when it would be so easy to say ‘yes’, but I had to go with my head rather than my (struggling) heart. Pottsy stayed strong, refusing to even acknowledge the buffet as he ploughed through the selection of meat on offer. I’m glad I wasn’t sharing a room with him that evening.

Chris and I caught a cab back to Joe’s in Barra at around midnight. With a couple of matchless days coming up, the to-do list was entirely admin-related. They wouldn’t be days off, but they’d feel like it after our last fortnight.

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