2014 FIFA World Cup Final

Sunday 13th July 2014 – the day of the World Cup Final. A day that, for me, started at 4am – the time at which we caught a cab to the Estadio do Maracana for the last time this year. The teams involved in the match meant that us Brits would be placed in Priority Group 3 – positioned beneath roughly 100 photographers on the list. An early start would give us the best chance possible of securing a decent position in the queue, and therefore a decent position in the Priority Group 3 queue, and therefore a decent chance of obtaining a preferable position pitchside for the game.

It was easy finding a taxi, possibly easier than usual. It was 4am on a Saturday night – one sniff of a nightclub and there’d be an abundance of them. We weren’t wrong. Within half an hour, we were negotiating with awkward security personnel and police who were hesitant to let us near the stadium. Our accreditation seemed meaningless, even at this hour. It was dark, quiet, the streets were deserted, and despite this, they still found time to make things difficult. We made it through to the queue, lining up in the first handful of photographers there. Not the first though, that prize went to a Japanese photographer who was only on the Waiting List!

The doors to the SMC opened at 08:30, and luckily the security scanners behaved themselves, so we made it to the Ticketing Desk in the same order we’d been queuing in. Next it was the wait for the Ticketing Desk to start distributing queue place stickers. This would be followed by the distribution of the match tickets themselves, handed out at later times in the order of the queue places. A conservative estimate would suggest I’d spent approximately 13,692 hours queuing for things during the tournament. Half of this would be done on the day of the Final.

Once my tribune ticket was in my hands, I could – to a degree – relax. Marc and I had agreed that he would shoot the match from the pitchside, and I would cover it from the tribune. The only concern I had was if Argentina were to win, I’d be missing out on the run-round celebrations and any pictures of Lionel Messi with the trophy…something I was desperate to see. From a selfish point of view, this was the last thing on Earth I wanted to see from 100yds away up in the stands!

The queue for ticketing was followed by a wait at Canon to borrow another lens. I decided to borrow both a 200-400mm f/4 and 500mm f/4 lens – one for the match, and one for the distant celebrations afterwards. I headed upstairs as soon as we were allowed, in order to gauge how far away I’d be positioned, and which lens would be needed for each situation. Once I’d scoped the place out, I decided to head outside the stadium to see what the fans were up to…

 

An Argentina fan dressed as the Pope, Francis
An Argentina fan dressed as the Pope, Francis

 

A young boy wearing a replica Lionel Messi Argentina shirt
A young boy wearing a replica Lionel Messi Argentina shirt

 

Germany fans outside the stadium before the game
Germany fans outside the stadium before the game

 

A Germany fan in a morph outfit outside the ground
A Germany fan in a morph outfit outside the ground

 

Argentina fans in fancy dress
Argentina fans in fancy dress

 

The weather was perfect; there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The mood around the stadium was one of excitement. It was clear to see there were plenty of Brazilian fans rooting for Germany in this game – many that had tickets would rather support Argentina’s opposition rather than see their old enemy cruise to victory in the Maracana.

After half an hour or so, I headed back inside and made my final preparations before walking up to the tribune to shoot the game. Marc and I wished each other good luck – there’s not a lot more you can do at a time like this. You can prepare as much as possible, and you can give yourself the best chance of getting the sorts of pictures you want by putting yourself in a position to get those shots…however, ultimately, sport is sport, and anything can happen anywhere, you just have to be ready to capture that moment when the time comes.

I retrieved my extra lenses from a locker, untied my main ThinkTank bag from the desk I’d secured it to, and made my way to the lift that transports a handful of accredited personnel at a time to the 5th floor, where the Media tribune is located. I’d chosen to be on the end of a row, just to the left of the halfway line. This way, I was slightly closer to the other end of the pitch from where Marc was sitting, and I would also be able to come and go from my seat fairly easily, bypassing the need to clamber over an entire row of photographers and their equipment on the way. It also meant I could take as much gear up with me as I wanted, as there would be space at the foot of the stairs to store it…something else that comes at a premium up there.

Looking down from this special vantage point, I noticed a number of famous faces socialising in the executive boxes directly below me. David Beckham was the first to catch my eye, sitting with his three sons. Then the Brazilian player Kaka arrived to join him, before the two of them shook hands with former Brazilian great, Zico, also sitting in the Emirates-sponsored hospitality suite. Not a bad trio of footballing names to be sitting alongside each other. A stellar line-up was completed when they were joined by the great Pele, who was sitting in the adjoining box and came over to say hello to them all. Guests soon gathered together as everyone clambered to get a picture of the four of them. After posing for each other’s camera phones, Pele looked up towards the line of professional photographers lining the tribune, and gestured to the others to look upwards for a picture too. Bingo…

 

David Beckham with his sons, Brooklyn (L), Cruz (C) and Romeo
David Beckham with his sons, Brooklyn (L), Cruz (C) and Romeo

 

Kaka (L) greets David Beckham before the match
Kaka (L) greets David Beckham before the match

 

Former Brazilian great Zico (L) greets Kaka and his son before the match
Former Brazilian great Zico (L) greets Kaka and his son before the match

 

Former Brazilian player Zico (L) greets David Beckham before the match
Former Brazilian player Zico (L) greets David Beckham before the match

 

Legends line up: L-R - Zico, Kaka, Pele and David Beckham
Legends line up: L-R – Zico, Kaka, Pele and David Beckham

 

The Closing Ceremony soon got under way, with Shakira and Carlos Santana headlining the bill. It had to be better than the Opening Ceremony held five weeks earlier, a production that received a global slating for it’s lack of imagination. This seemed to be an improvement, helped massively by the colourful, lively performances from the main acts…

 

A performer in a Germany outfit during the Closing Ceremony
A performer in a Germany outfit during the Closing Ceremony

 

A performer in an Argentina outfit during the Closing Ceremony
A performer in an Argentina outfit during the Closing Ceremony

 

Shakira performs during the Closing Ceremony
Shakira performs during the Closing Ceremony

 

Shakira performs during the Closing Ceremony
Shakira performs during the Closing Ceremony

 

Musicians Carlos Santana (L), Alexandre Pires (C) and Wyclef Jean (R) perform on stage during the closing ceremony
Musicians Carlos Santana (L), Alexandre Pires (C) and Wyclef Jean (R) perform on stage during the closing ceremony

 

Carlinhos Brown performs on stage during the closing ceremony
Carlinhos Brown performs on stage during the closing ceremony

 

Shakira (C) poses with her son, Milan, alongside Musicians Carlos Santana (2L), Wyclef Jean, Alexandre Pires (3R), Carlinhos Brown (2R) and Ivete Sangalo (R) after performing during the closing ceremony
Shakira (C) poses with her son, Milan, alongside Musicians Carlos Santana (2L), Wyclef Jean, Alexandre Pires (3R), Carlinhos Brown (2R) and Ivete Sangalo (R) after performing during the closing ceremony

 

I photographed the various artists as they waved to the crowd, acknowledging their applause, before turning to my laptop to see if the situation regarding the internet had changed. It hadn’t. The entire stadium’s communications were still down, and it wasn’t long at all before one of the most internet-heavy events in history was due to take place. I still couldn’t wire my pictures of the footballing celebrities, and nor could I send anything from the closing ceremony. All I could do was gather my equipment together, ensuring I was fully prepared for the match ahead.

Carlos Puyol of Spain and model Gisele Bundchen presented the trophy to the crowd before the match, and shortly afterwards, the teams made their way out onto the pitch, lining up for the national anthems in front of the world’s media…

 

The two teams line up as photographers and fans clamber for a picture
The two teams line up as photographers and fans clamber for a picture

 

Formalities over, and the game was under way. The quality of the football was outstanding, and the speed and intensity of the action was, at times, unbelievable. This really was a Final between two of the world’s finest teams. Argentina had struggled at times en route to this stage, whereas Germany had dominated more or less every team they’d come up against. On this occasion though, there was little between them, as the ultimate prize lay at stake…

 

Enzo Perez of Argentina battles with Toni Kroos of Germany
Enzo Perez of Argentina battles with Toni Kroos of Germany

 

Thomas Muller of Germany battles with Javier Mascherano of Argentina (2L) and Ezequiel Garay of Argentina (R)
Thomas Muller of Germany battles with Javier Mascherano of Argentina (2L) and Ezequiel Garay of Argentina (R)

 

Miroslav Klose of Germany battles with Ezequiel Garay of Argentina
Miroslav Klose of Germany battles with Ezequiel Garay of Argentina

 

The game wasn’t all that old when Gonzalo Higuain, the Argentinian forward, got between the German defenders and latched onto a cross arriving from teammate Ezequiel Lavezzi on the right wing before slotting the ball across Manuel Neuer into the corner of the net…

 

Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina scores past Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer but the goal is disallowed
Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina scores past Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer but the goal is disallowed

 

Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina celebrates before realising his goal had been disallowed
Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina celebrates before realising his goal had been disallowed

 

He celebrated with the enthusiasm and excitement you’d expect of a man who’d scored in the World Cup Final. Neglecting to check the linesman’s flag turned out to be a mistake – up it went, as he peeled away into a bubble of euphoria, seemingly oblivious to what everyone else in the stadium knew. The score remained.

Then it was the Germans’ turn to rattle a few nerves. The second of two good corners resulted in a header from the unmarked Benedikt Howedes slamming against the post, from no more than six yards out…

 

Benedikt Howedes of Germany fires a header against the post
Benedikt Howedes of Germany fires a header against the post

 

Benedikt Howedes of Germany fires a header against the post
Benedikt Howedes of Germany fires a header against the post

 

The first half finished as it had started…level at 0-0. The second half kicked off with much more of a bite. Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer was the first to quash any thoughts of an easy ride for the Argentinians, as he clattered into Gonzalo Higuain to punch the ball clear from his penalty area…

 

Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer collides with Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina
Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer collides with Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina

 

Tempers flared…victory and defeat were just as far away from each team as each other. One mistake could cost the game, the tournament. Equally, one piece of magic, or just the slightest slice of luck could gift one side victory. Neither side wanted to let their chance slip. It didn’t matter what had to be done…

 

Javier Mascherano of Argentina points an accusing finger at Thomas Muller of Germany
Javier Mascherano of Argentina points an accusing finger at Thomas Muller of Germany

 

Medics treat the cut face of Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany
Medics treat the cut face of Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany

 

Both sides had their chances to score, and if anything, it looked like the South Americans would be the ones to break the deadlock. Sprinting on from the corner of the ground, a pitch invader did his best to distract the watching billions…

 

A pitch invader runs on with a message reading 'Natural Born Prankster'
A pitch invader runs on with a message reading ‘Natural Born Prankster’

 

Stewards remove a pitch invader from the playing surface
Stewards remove a pitch invader from the playing surface

 

With the end of extra time just moments away, and the game seemingly heading for a penalty shootout, photographers and reporters prepared themselves for spot kicks. Alternative lenses were placed on standby, new batteries went in and fresh memory cards were inserted. But then it happened. The goal that would win the World Cup. A late, late strike from the young German, Mario Gotze delivered a killer blow to Argentina hearts, all but securing the Europeans’ fourth title in the process, their first since 1990.

The ball was brought forward by the advancing Andre Schurrle, who drew a host of defenders before chipping it forward towards Gotze. The 22-year-old controlled it on his chest, taking the forward momentum of the ball with him as he turned his body towards goal, before unleashing a first-time strike that flew past goalkeeper Romero before he could react, and into the far corner…

 

Mario Gotze of Germany scores the winning goal
Mario Gotze of Germany scores the winning goal

 

The crowd erupted. The Beckhams weren’t so happy to see the ball hit the net. All three boys, sitting with their Dad just down in front of me, were wearing Argentina tops supporting their hero, Lionel Messi. Even David himself had spent the game looking on in disbelief at the skills and movement of the little maestro. But this wasn’t Messi’s time. This moment belonged to the Germans. My pulse was racing.

Gotze peeled away in the opposite direction, with his back to me, but fortunately straight into the path of my trusty colleague, Marc. I knew he’d have it covered, he doesn’t miss much.

I pulled my eyes away from the viewfinder to check the LCD screen on the back of my camera. Chances are this was the World Cup-winning goal; all I could hope for was that it was well-composed and sharp. Tick. Time to send it. Being on the end of the row finally paid off. I used the space as best I could…laptop perched to my side, the card went in, the pictures ingested, the captions were applied, the image was edited and then it was sent. I knew Marc would have the pick of the shots fromhis position, but he might not have the space to send them out, so I needed to be fast. The next few minutes seemed to drag, as the game slipped away from the Argentines. Messi and co threw all they could at the Germans, but the leaders stood firm and repelled every effort. The whistle went, and Germany were champions…

 

German players celebrate victory at the final whistle
German players celebrate victory at the final whistle

 

Lukas Podolski hugs Germany teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger at full-time
Lukas Podolski hugs Germany teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger at full-time

 

Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany cries tears of happiness at full-time
Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany cries tears of happiness at full-time

 

Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany sheds tears of joy as teammate Julian Draxler of Germany comes to his side
Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany sheds tears of joy as teammate Julian Draxler of Germany comes to his side

 

After some brief handshakes and words of congratulations to the winners, Argentina’s players came together on the pitch to console each other, allowing themselves individual moments of relfection to look back on what went wrong, and what could’ve been…

 

Lionel Messi and his Argentina teammates and management look dejected at full-time
Lionel Messi and his Argentina teammates and management look dejected at full-time

 

After collecting their runners-up medals and returning to the pitch, it was the turn of the Germans. My view was blocked for more or less the entire duration of proceedings, as they climbed the stairs to the podium and, one by one, shook the hands of VIPs, politicians and dignitaries, before taking their place on the platform at the front of the stand. Mobile phone cameras, iPads, point-and-shoots…everything was out, and we were unable to move an inch to see over and beyond them. I was aware that captain Philipp Lahm was the last to arrive, but only because the loudening of the crowd’s cheers suggested the trophy lift was imminent. A gap appeared at the last moment, and in a split second, up it went…

 

Photographers train their lenses on the presentation proceedings
Photographers train their lenses on the presentation proceedings

 

Germany players lift the World Cup trophy amidst a cloud of ticker tape
Germany players lift the World Cup trophy amidst a cloud of ticker tape

 

Thankfully, the celebrations continued on the pitch. We couldn’t have had a much worse view of things up to that point, so it was a relief to see a degree of excitement and patience roll over onto the pitch before they left us to be with the fans…

 

Germany players celebrate victory with the trophy
Germany players celebrate victory with the trophy

 

From this point on, the shots available to us from the tribune were limited. The run-round was the place to be; in amongst it, on a 14mm lens, elbows sharpened and scores quietly settled. I chose the bigger picture whilst Marc got stuck in down below. My shift was as good as over…

 

German players celebrate on the pitch in front of their fans
German players celebrate on the pitch in front of their fans

 

All in all, I believe the Final went as well as it could’ve done, at least from a company point of view, if not my own. Yes, I would’ve liked to have swapped places with Marc, but one of us had to be down there and the other upstairs, and prior agreements meant that’s how things stayed. Marc delivered the goods from pitchside, I’m only jealous it wasn’t me, but not disappointed! As coverage goes, I don’t believe there’s much more we could’ve offered. The early start that morning enabled us to choose the positions we both wanted, but you still have to hope the important moments happen for you. To be in the right spot, and get the right shot at the right time, it all dropped into place perfectly.

In four years’ time it will be Russia’s turn to play host, in a tournament few people are looking forward to right now. Despite the reservations many of us had prior to the World Cup in Brazil (myself included), it has turned out to be a noisy, passionate, exciting and colourful affair. I couldn’t wait to get home, but looking back on the six weeks, there are plenty of fond memories to be had. When 2018 comes round, I really wonder how many photographers will decide to go, and how many will decide enough’s enough, and to end on the high of Brazil 2014.

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