The Semi-Finals

The day after Germany put France to the sword, I enjoyed some down time away from the touchline. Logistically, I was unable to reach a second Quarter Final, so was left to enjoy proceedings from the far more relaxed environment of Barra de Tijuca.

The day started on a positive note when I was informed I’d got the front page of the prestigious L’Equipe newspaper in France with a picture of the dejected France players after their elimination the day before…

 

My image on the front page of L'Equipe for day after France's exit
My image on the front page of L’Equipe for day after France’s exit

 

One of the largest front pages you can get, this really did put a smile on my face. They had a number of staff photographers as well as contracted agencies and other contributors in attendance at the game, so to get ahead of the lot of them for the lead picture was a real result.

Later that morning, Marc and I headed out for something to eat, timing it to coincide with the screening of the day’s first match, between Argentina and Belgium….

 

My 560g Yogoberry spectacular
My 560g Yogoberry spectacular

 

After a refreshing visit to Barra’s Yogoberry, we returned to a bar we’d enjoyed some beers at earlier in the week and set out our stall for a couple of hours. There was a mix of fans in he bar, although the most vocal of the lot was a middle-aged Argentinian sat on the table next to us. Despite having his family by his side, he spent the full ninety minutes cheering and jeering as his side crept to a 1-0 win, keeping alive their hopes of a showdown against Brazil in Rio on July 13th.

We collected the bill and headed down to the beach in search of some pictures. Photographers never have a true day off. OK, so this could barely be classed as work, but we’re always on the lookout for a picture. Marc wanted to see if he could find newspaper stands on the way full of front pages documenting Brazilian player Neymar’s injury. The home nation’s lead man had suffered an injury in their Quarter Final match against Colombia and it had emerged late the previous night that it would end his World Cup. In a country that relies so heavily on one man, this would be a huge blow to both their team and to the tournament as a whole. He was the face of the World Cup, the face of a fresh, young Brazil team aiming for victory on their own turf. Local people were in a state of shock, the country in a state of mourning as television screens in every shop, bar and restaurant relayed constant updates on his progress. Footage of him leaving in a helicopter, thumbs up, were the latest to be beamed back to the public.

We got down to the beach and went in search of the obligatory keepy-uppys. After a walk along the shoreline, it wasn’t long before a small group of locals invited us to join in their circle. Being the consummate professionals that we are, Marc and I took turns with the camera and the keepy-uppys…of course, only to humour the lads who’d asked us to join them.

 

Enjoying a kick-about with some Brazilians on Praia da Barra
Enjoying a kick-about with some Brazilians on Praia da Barra

 

After a kick-about with a few locals
After a kick-about with a few locals

 

After a drink along the beach front, we returned to the apartment to watch the second match, between the Netherlands and Costa Rica. What a match that one turned out to be! An exciting 0-0 that remained that way after 120 minutes, the game ended up being decided on penalties. Holland replaced their goalkeeper in the last few seconds, giving Newcastle United’s Tim Krul the chance to be a hero in the shootout. His gamesmanship throughout the process wound me up, as he insisted on talking to each opposition striker before they stepped up to take their spot kick. Two saves during the shootout helped the Dutch the reach the Semi Finals once again though, and sadly one of the tournament’s ‘neutral’s favourites’ Costa Rica were on their way home.

The next day, Marc and I made our way to Rocinha, the favela on the outskirts of Rio that I first visited during the Confederations Cup in 2013, to meet up with a guide who I’d made contact with over the previous few days. We’d arranged to be taken around the favela, the largest in South America, by a man who is friends with Zezinho, a well-known character within the favela who runs a popular tourism company focussed solely on Rocinha who I’d initially been in touch with.

We met Austin at the ground entrance to Rocinha just before 11am, from where we ventured into the community. A maze of streets, alleyways and staircases, Rocinha is like no other place you can imagine. It measures roughly a square mile, and yet is home to an estimated 150,000 people. It’s received plenty of bad press in recent years, primarily due to the crime that accompanies the governance of such a place, but on this occasion, we felt as safe as we could’ve hoped to. Being a Sunday, it was market day, and the small square at the foot of the hill was overflowing with traders, customers and passers-by. The smell of fresh meat and, in particular, fresh fish, was, at times, overwhelming. Fruit and vegetable stalls were everywhere, as well as traders selling nuts, grain, tools, toys and souvenirs. It was a steamy, smelly, colourful sight to behold, and a great start to the tour.

As we found our way from one alleyway to another, stepping over piles of discarded bin bags and past any number of residents sitting on their doorstep just watching the world go by, Austin continued to relay the occasional piece of information to us, usually about the way the favela is run, or what each street stood for, and so on. Zezinho, the main man, had spent most of his life growing up in Rocinha, whereas Austin, the Canadian youngster guiding us around, had been here a mere few months, and was therefore still learning a lot about the place himself. However, what he did know proved invaluable…when you’re spending just a day in a place where one wrong turn could you take you down a very wrong route, or one lapse in concentration could leave you lost without a clue as to where you are, any degree of local knowledge is essential in allowing you to make the most of your time.

We bumped into all sorts of characters as we walked around the streets, many of whom were excited to have their picture taken…

 

Thumbs up for this kid on a small football court in Favela Rocinha
Thumbs up for this kid on a small football court in Favela Rocinha

 

Happy times for this woman in Favela Rocinha
Happy times for this woman in Favela Rocinha

 

A young boy poses for a portrait in Favela Rocinha
A young boy poses for a portrait in Favela Rocinha

 

A young boy rests his foot on a football in Favela Rocinha
A young boy rests his foot on a football in Favela Rocinha

 

Young boys enjoy a game of football on a recreational court in Rocinha
Young boys enjoy a game of football on a recreational court in Rocinha

 

As we ascended the slopes high up into the heart of Rocinha, we looked for a vantage point to see down over the community towards Leblon. Austin suggested the Rocinha Guest House would be a good place to try, as it’s a well-known spot for this sort of view…

 

A view of Rocinha from the roof of the Rocinha Guest House
A view of Rocinha from the roof of the Rocinha Guest House

 

A view of Rocinha from the roof of the Rocinha Guest House
A view of Rocinha from the roof of the Rocinha Guest House

 

From this point on, we made our way to the highest point we could (realistically) reach, to a viewpoint overlooking the city of Rio. The statue of Christ the Redeemer visible up to the left, and Ipanema beach to the right, it was the first spot we’d come to that offered a true panorama…

 

A view looking down over the region of Ipanema, with the beach bustling on a sunny Sunday
A view looking down over the region of Ipanema, with the beach bustling on a sunny Sunday

 

A view of the Lagoa, with Mount Corcovado to the left, with the statue of Christ The Redeemer on top
A view of the Lagoa, with Mount Corcovado to the left, with the statue of Christ The Redeemer on top

 

After negotiating our way onto a nearby rooftop for an unobstructed view (less the couple of branches that ruined it initially), we came back down and hopped on a trio of motortaxis to head back to the foot of the favela. The taxis are a range of motorbikes and motocross bikes, all speeding around the favela streets ferrying residents and tourists from A to B in the quickest way possible. We recorded some of the action on our GoPro cameras. One day I’ll figure out how to embed that footage into the blog!

Stepping off the bikes, we wound our way back up through a number of nearby alleyways before reaching a flight of uneven concrete steps that led up to the football pitch we’d seen from way yonder earlier on. At 15:30, this was to be the venue for the Copa do Mundo Rocinha Final – the final of the Rocinha World Cup, a tournament played between competing teams from right across the favela.

We’d noticed some signs advertising the game when we first arrived in the morning. We’d already decided that this would be where we’d end up at the end of our day in Rocinha. Before the game, I asked a family living in a nearby house if we could join them on their rooftop to take some pictures. As with so many people we’d encountered, they were more than happy to oblige, and invited us up. Their young son guided as down, then up, then down and then up again, finally reaching the door to their house tucked away behind a maze of dark corridors. They welcomed us with handshakes and smiles as we walked out onto the roof of their house to the most incredible view of the favela…

 

A panoramic view of Rocinha, from a family's rooftop
A panoramic view of Rocinha, from a family’s rooftop

 

The condensed houses stacked up on top of each other in Rocinha
The condensed houses stacked up on top of each other in Rocinha

 

The view of the houses all stacked up next to each other, on top of each other, underneath and overhanging really was something to behold…visually, it’s hard to find a way of conveying this special sight through any medium.

We spent the best part of 20 minutes or so on their roof, exchanging jokes, pleasantries, and Facebook details. After enjoying some fruit salad offered to us by our hosts, we said our thanks and made our way back downstairs just in time for the start of the Rocinha Final on the pitch nextdoor. It was busy…people from all over had come to see who would be crowned champions of their sprawling neighbourhood.

 

Action from the Final of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha
Action from the Final of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha

 

Action from the Final of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha
Action from the Final of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha

 

Young boys watch the action during the Final of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha
Young boys watch the action during the Final of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha

 

Young boys watch the action during the Final of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha
Young boys watch the action during the Final of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha

 

Not everything appeared to be as enthralled as each other. This man stood stone-faced with his arms folded for the duration of the match…perhaps soaking up the spectacle in front of him, or perhaps in a daydream…who knows…

 

An older man watches the action during the Final of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha
An older man watches the action during the Final of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha

 

At half time, a couple of players looked particularly dejected as their team trailed heavily…

 

A couple of players look dejected as they go into half time losing heavily during the Final of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha
A couple of players look dejected as they go into half time losing heavily during the Final of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha

 

At the end of the game, things hadn’t changed. The referee blew the whistle and the victorious players enjoyed their moment of glory with friends, family and teammates…

 

A young boy jumps into his father's arms as they celebrate victory in the Copa do Mundo Rocinha Final
A young boy jumps into his father’s arms as they celebrate victory in the Copa do Mundo Rocinha Final

 

Young kids hug each other as they celebrate their side's victory in the Copa do Mundo Rocinha Final
Young kids hug each other as they celebrate their side’s victory in the Copa do Mundo Rocinha Final

 

The Man of the Match collected his trophy in front of a gathering of players and supporters, just as the light began to drop to a level that balanced nicely with the floodlights on the pitch…

 

The Man of the Match collects his trophy
The Man of the Match collects his trophy

 

And then it was the turn of the captain to lift the trophy, strangely *behind* a wall of pyrotechnics, the likes of which would bring any Health & Safety office in Europe shuddering to a standstill…

 

Fireworks go off during celebrations for the winners of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha
Fireworks go off during celebrations for the winners of the Copa do Mundo Rocinha

 

It turns out a BBC camera crew were there too…their report can be seen here, with a cameo from your’s truly at the end…

CLICK HERE

 

The day ended on a really positive note. It was great to be part of favela life for the day, and to experience the buzz of a big football tournament alongside those who make it what it is. The commercialisation of FIFA’s ‘product’ seemed a million miles away…this was raw football with raw emotion…it was an honour and a privilege to be part of it.

Afterwards, we said our farewells to Austin and made our way back to Barra, a place that seemed a world apart from where we’d been all day, a place just 10 minutes down the road.

Marc and I enjoyed a meal at a local restaurant run by an American-Brazilian woman who couldn’t do enough to help us, before heading home for an early night in anticipation of the long days we had ahead of us.

Chris and Matt arrived back at the apartment in the early hours, not long before we were all up to head back to the rodoviario in Rio for the final bus journey of our trip, to Belo Horizonte. We had Leito seats once again for this trip, although it would be the first and only time we’d take a daytime journey. Until now, we’d been completely unaware of the scenery on the route between Rio and Belo…every journey had been taken at night, when all we wanted to do was sleep, when anything beyond the insides of our eyelids was, frankly, completely unimportant. The journey was bumpy – it always was – but it was littered with incredible landscapes and spectacular views, often across deep forest-covered valleys or up towards huge, rocky mountains.

It was 5pm when we arrived in Belo – over an hour late, right in the middle of rush hour. Fortunately, we made it to our hotel with little delay. I was happy to find they’d reserved a floor especially for me at the Othon palace…

 

A floor all to myself?
A floor all to myself?

 

A couple of hours later, headed out to dinner in the Savassi area of the city, close to where we visited last time we stayed there. Marc decided to give it a miss, so Chris and Matt (staying elsewhere) swung by my hotel to pick me up. We went to a restaurant we’d enjoyed on our last visit, but again, it was rammed and showed no signs of easing up. The woman on the reception estimated a one hour wait, so we headed elsewhere in search of something decent to eat, settling on a place just down the road instead. It turned out to be a shocker though. We waited over an hour for our meals, the manager apologised saying they were ‘very busy’…and then when the food finally did arrive, the wrong dishes turned up, but were offered to us ‘if we wanted them’ as our’s were still to be cooked. The story goes on, but the less said about it, the better. Suffice to say, we scrubbed the service charge they had the cheek to include on the bill.

The next morning, Marc and I enjoyed some welcome fresh fruit and pastries at breakfast before making our way to the Media Shuttle bus just down the road. It was the first bus of the day, but we knew there would be big numbers at this game – Brazil were playing Germany in the World Cup Semi-Final, so we assumed there might be a little bit of interest.

Stepping off the bus, the queue for the x-ray machines at security was surprisingly short. My guess was that this meant all the locals were already inside, having parked up long before the first Media bus had arrived. The novelty of my equipment’s x-ray image still hadn’t worn off…this time, the security personnel kindly allowed me to take a picture of it on my mobile phone…

 

An X-Ray image of my ThinkTank bag
An X-Ray image of my ThinkTank bag

 

Once inside, my suspicions were confirmed. Close to 50 names were already down in the Brazilian priority group, and 60 (!) names were down on Canon’s service desk queue. I’d be more than happy for Brazil to go out of the tournament if it meant the interest from local weekend warriors subsided. I managed to secure queue position #20, in Priority Group 2. Not a bad result, but still surprisingly low down the order considering what we felt was an early arrival. The end I wanted – Germany’s attack in the first half – was already full by the time I got to choose my position. However, there were still a few seats left at the other end, on the end of the pitch, so I opted for those, aware of the fact I’d be at the opposite end from a strong German attacking force for the opening 45 minutes. Chris and Matt weren’t so lucky…arriving less than an hour later, they found themselves a long way from where they wanted to be, up the touchline and away from the penalty box. It really can be a matter of minutes that can define the success of an entire day’s shoot, and often there’s so much luck involved that you just want to give yourself the best chance possible.

 

A Brazil fan in fancy dress
A Brazil fan in fancy dress

 

A Brazil fan looks for inspiration from above
A Brazil fan looks for inspiration from above

 

A mask of injured Brazilian star Neymar is helf aloft
A mask of injured Brazilian star Neymar is helf aloft

 

Nothing could’ve prepared me for the opening half an hour though. Nothing could’ve prepared anyone for that. Germany were immense. They smashed in one, then two, then three, four and five goals inside the first 29 minutes to condemn the hosts to a humiliating defeat before they could even get going themselves. I couldn’t have felt more useless if I’d tried…all five were scored at the other end to where I was sitting, right in front of where I would’ve sat had I made it ahead of the lovely local lads. Alas, I could do little more than sit and watch as the Germans ripped through the Brazilian defence, destroying any hopes the hosts had of making it to the Final on home soil.

 

Marcelo of Brazil and teammate Bernard look dejected
Marcelo of Brazil and teammate Bernard look dejected

 

Fred of Brazil takes a tumble
Fred of Brazil takes a tumble

 

A young Brazil fan urges her team on
A young Brazil fan urges her team on

 

I feared the second half would bring a reversal in fortunes, however, fortunately, I was wrong. Brazil certainly had more of the ball and spent more time in the opposition half, but they never looked like getting anything out of the game. It was long gone.

 

Luiz Gustavo of Brazil tackles Thomas Muller of Germany
Luiz Gustavo of Brazil tackles Thomas Muller of Germany

 

Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany battles with Hulk of Brazil
Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany battles with Hulk of Brazil

 

David Luiz of Brazil barks orders
David Luiz of Brazil barks orders

 

Germany continued to press when opportunities arose…it was only a matter of time before they bagged another one. When they did, I was happy to be in the right place, at the right time…

 

Andre Schurrle of Germany scores their 6th goal
Andre Schurrle of Germany scores their 6th goal

 

Andre Schurrle of Germany celebrates after scoring their 6th goal
Andre Schurrle of Germany celebrates after scoring their 6th goal

 

They dominated to the very end, and only Andre Schurrle’s second – Germany’s seventh – could make it worse…

 

Andre Schurrle of Germany scores their 7th goal
Andre Schurrle of Germany scores their 7th goal

 

Andre Schurrle of Germany celebrates after scoring their 7th goal
Andre Schurrle of Germany celebrates after scoring their 7th goal

 

The final whistle couldn’t come soon enough for the home side. They’d been humiliated…well and truly battered in their own country, in front of their own ever-optimistic fans. The carnival was over…

 

David Luiz of Brazil looks dejected as they head out of the tournament
David Luiz of Brazil looks dejected as they head out of the tournament

 

The scoreboard shows the final 1-7 scoreline
The scoreboard shows the final 1-7 scoreline

 

Luiz Gustavo collapses on his back as Brazil crash to defeat
Luiz Gustavo collapses on his back as Brazil crash to defeat

 

Ramires of Brazil shows his disappointment
Ramires of Brazil shows his disappointment

 

A Brazil fan displays her disappointment as her team head out
A Brazil fan displays her disappointment as her team head out

 

A Brazil fan sheds a tear as he clutches his replica of the trophy
A Brazil fan sheds a tear as he clutches his replica of the trophy

 

The mood in the country when their star player, Neymar, had been injured was horrific. The feeling following elimination from the tournament many of them thought they could win was, frankly, catastrophic. The sense of emptiness that swept 80% of the stadium was overwhelming. The players hung around for slightly less time than the media, before we returned to the SMC to send our remaining work. I couldn’t find a seat when I got back, but I did  find an empty beanbag to work from in the relaxation area…

 

Beanbags in the relaxation area of the SMC
Beanbags in the relaxation area of the SMC

 

After checking we had all angles covered, Marc and I made tracks and headed for the taxi rank outside the stadium. We drove to Belo Horizonte’s much smaller domestic airport located just a few miles from the stadium, from where we’d be catching our flight to Sao Paulo at 6:30am the next morning. A night sleeping on the floor (literally, on the floor) of Belo Horizonte’s Pampulha airport (and occasionally on some ‘fashionable’ seats made out of stacked up reclaimed wooden pallets) was followed by an early departure to Sao Paulo for the second semi-final, this time between the Netherlands and Argentina.

We landed just before 8:30am and opted for a taxi on the assumption that we could get fairly close to the stadium. If the cordon was being enforced, the worst case scenario would be one or two stops down the line…nothing serious. There was a bus service running too, but it wouldn’t get going until 10am and we’d have to change terminals too in order to find it. The less faffing about, the better. This proved to be a wise option…after all the hassle we’d experienced already in Sao Paulo over the past few weeks, on this occasion, our cab was able to drop us off outside the door, literally yards from the security scanners. Perfect!

Inside, the queue for tickets was, again, already fairly substantial. Marc and I decided to swap duties for this game, meaning I’d shoot it from the tribune with Marc down on the pitch. As the tournaments progresses and the number of simultaneous matches slims down, preference in over-subscribed games is given to photographers with a better history of attendance throughout the competition. Marc’s late arrival into Brazil meant that his chances of obtaining a decent position within our Priority 3 Group were fairly slim, but his chances of obtaining a pre-assigned Tribune pass were still strong. We decided to apply for these passes for this game too, and then simply swap them over between each other when we’d got the spots we wanted.

I popped over to Canon’s desk once again to see if I could get my hands on a 200-400mm f/4 lens to use from the stands. It’s not like they’re short of gear…

 

A selection of cameras and lenses available in Canon's service desk
A selection of cameras and lenses available in Canon’s service desk

 

After a few hours’ wait, we’d secured the positions we both wanted, and before long headed outside into the arena. I’d been given a seat on the end of the row, meaning I had room for my bags and bits and pieces to one side – a luxury at this stage of the competition! Just before 7pm, I fired up Skype after agreeing to have a quick live chat with the guys from the Old Red Lion Theatre in London, where a number of Offside’s World Cup archive images are being exhibited throughout the tournament, and where a copy of this very blog is being displayed for all in sundry to peruse!

After the teams’ emergence from the tunnel, a swarm of photographers engulfed the technical areas of both teams as the national anthems roared out around the stadium. One of them, a Tunisian, made a late arrival, clearly taking his job extremely seriously…

 

Tunisian photographer Hosni Manoubi wearing a sombrero and trousers adorned with pins and badges
Tunisian photographer Hosni Manoubi wearing a sombrero and trousers adorned with pins and badges

 

…whilst the others vied for the best vantage point in the small amount of space allocated…

 

Photographers gather prior to the start of the match
Photographers gather prior to the start of the match

 

The players stood around the centre circle to observe a moment’s silence for Alfredo di Stefano, the former Argentine player who died just two days before the match…

 

Argentina players observe a moment's silence in memory of Alfredo di Stefano, who died a couple of days earlier
Argentina players observe a moment’s silence in memory of Alfredo di Stefano, who died a couple of days earlier

 

And then the game got under way. My viewpoint from high up in the tribune offered an alternative view to proceedings, but yet, one that offered little variety. A bouncing ball was continually welcomed by a volley of shutters as photographers along the front of the top tier tried to make something of an incident-free opening…

 

Martin Demichelis (L) and Ezequiel Garay of Argentina challenge Arjen Robben of Netherlands
Martin Demichelis (L) and Ezequiel Garay of Argentina challenge Arjen Robben of Netherlands

 

Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina battles with Stefan de Vrij of Netherlands
Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina battles with Stefan de Vrij of Netherlands

 

Marcos Rojo of Argentina battles with Dirk Kuyt of Netherlands
Marcos Rojo of Argentina battles with Dirk Kuyt of Netherlands

 

Martin Demichelis of Argentina battles with Arjen Robben of Netherlands
Martin Demichelis of Argentina battles with Arjen Robben of Netherlands

 

Even the little master Lionel Messi found himself surrounded by challenges from opposition players…

 

Lionel Messi of Argentina battles with Wesley Sneijder (L) and Dirk Kuyt (R) of Netherlands
Lionel Messi of Argentina battles with Wesley Sneijder (L) and Dirk Kuyt (R) of Netherlands

 

Lionel Messi of Argentina under pressure from a trio of Dutch defenders
Lionel Messi of Argentina under pressure from a trio of Dutch defenders

 

The match ebbed and flowed, with both teams looking like they could score. In the dying minutes, Javier Mascherano slid in to tackle Holland’s Arjen Robben and potentially deny what looked like a certain winner…

 

Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of Netherlands as he shoots at goal
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of Netherlands as he shoots at goal

 

That tackle meant the score remained 0-0 after 90 minutes, and we were looking at another bout of extra time and, possibly, penalties too. It had been quite an entertaining game, but it would take at least another half hour before a winner could be decided…

 

Ezequiel Garay of Argentina battles with Robin van Persie of Netherlands
Ezequiel Garay of Argentina battles with Robin van Persie of Netherlands

 

Pablo Zabaleta of Argentina battles with Dirk Kuyt of Netherlands
Pablo Zabaleta of Argentina battles with Dirk Kuyt of Netherlands

 

Sergio Aguero of Argentina battles with Stefan de Vrij of Netherlands
Sergio Aguero of Argentina battles with Stefan de Vrij of Netherlands

 

As hard as they tried, neither team could break the deadlock, and so the game went to a penalty shootout…

 

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal speaks to his players before the shootout
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal speaks to his players before the shootout

 

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal looks dejected as Netherlands goalkeeper Tim Krul remains unchosen for the shootout
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal looks dejected as Netherlands goalkeeper Tim Krul remains unchosen for the shootout

 

The coin toss determined which end the penalties would be taken at. I was positioned slightly to the left of the halfway line, so had they been taken at the left hand end, I would’ve been able to see the faces of the players lined up together on the halfway line, as they watched their teammates battle it out in front of the left hand goal – however, just as I could’ve predicted, they were taken at the other end, meaning I could see very little. I leant out over the railing in front of me to see if there were any spare seats at the other end of the row that I might be able to squeeze into, but alas, everything was occupied. I stayed out, and observed the shootout from what you could call ‘the wrong end’.

First up for the Netherlands was Aston Villa’s Ron Vlarr, who saw his spot kick saved by the Argentine goalkeeper…

 

Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero saves a penalty from Ron Vlaar of Netherlands in the shootout
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero saves a penalty from Ron Vlaar of Netherlands in the shootout

 

As Romero celebrated his save, the ball bounced up and rolled slowly backwards, resting on the goal line…

 

Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero celebrates his penalty save from Ron Vlaar of Netherlands in the shootout, as the ball appears to roll over the goalline in the background
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero celebrates his penalty save from Ron Vlaar of Netherlands in the shootout, as the ball appears to roll over the goalline in the background

 

Later on in the shootout, Romero saved his second penalty of the day, diving high to his right to palm away Wesley Sneijder’s effort…

 

Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero saves a penalty from Wesley Sneijder of Netherlands during the shootout
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero saves a penalty from Wesley Sneijder of Netherlands during the shootout

 

Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero celebrates after saving a penalty from Wesley Sneijder during the shootout
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero celebrates after saving a penalty from Wesley Sneijder during the shootout

 

As the score stood at 3-2, it was left to Maxi Rodriguez to slot home his penalty, giving Argentina victory and sending them through to their first World Cup Final in 24 years.

As the final kick approaches, you have to make a decision on what you’re going to shoot. My view (or lack of view) of the halfway line players meant that it would be hard to make a strong picture of the contrast between victory and defeat at that moment. However, the reaction of anyone else would be a lesser picture, so I opted for the halfway line as my priority. It worked, to a degree…

 

Argentina players celebrate victory
Argentina players celebrate victory

 

After following the sprinting Argentinians, I retrained my lens on the centre circle to find a couple of players embracing each other, surrounded by a sporadic group of dejected Dutch players, a shot that seemed to work well from above…

 

Argentina players hug each other amongst a sea of dejected Dutch players following victory in the shootout
Argentina players hug each other amongst a sea of dejected Dutch players following victory in the shootout

 

Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal cuts a dejected figure following his side's elimination
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal cuts a dejected figure following his side’s elimination

 

The dream is still on. Argentina march on. Lionel Messi, arguably the world’s finest player, now has the best chance of all to lift the biggest prize in world football. Photographers around the stadium looked relieved as the opportunity to shoot an iconic player with the trophy remained alive.

Next up: Germany, in the World Cup Final. It would be an encounter of epic proportions, between two of the world’s footballing superpowers. A date in the Maracana between two giants of the game.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Reblogged this on The Offside blog and commented:
    Offside’s Simon Stacpoole recounts his experiences in Brazil during the semi-finals.

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