World Cup Winners? Certainly Possible

Paul takes in the Belgians and their final match in the Group stage against South Korea.

Paul Traill 28/06/2014 7comments  |  Jump to last

After a great stay in Belo Horizonte we boarded a flight at some ungodly hour for a whistle-stop tour of South Americas biggest city - Sao Paulo. The metropolis is home to some 11.15 million people and as you looked over the vast urban jungle as the plane descends, you can certainly see how the city homes so many. Words can not describe the size.

It meant for a very long day. Arriving at the airport at 7:50 am and then grabbing a bus to the hotel area and then having to find the hotel... we were exhausted already when we finally got to our hotel room at about 11 am... Katja grabbing her opportunity to catch a few precious zzzzs as I grabbed us some lunch. There wasn't much time to rest, however. We were tipped off by an England fan in Belo Horizonte that getting into the Arena Sao Paulo was time-consuming and with Germany vs USA kicking off at 1am, we thought it best to head to the stadium early and catch this match before the other one began.

Luckily our hotel was near the express train station to the stadium so getting to the ground (home to Corinthians) was easy enough. Once there, we went through a few ticket checks and before we went any further, I asked 'Information' if it was possible to see the match anywhere in or around the stadium on one of the big screens. "No" was the response with an awkward headshake. I asked if it could be seen anywhere at all and they pointed me back to the shopping mall (from where we had just came) and back we went.

At 'Information' in the mall, I asked where the place was only to be politely told that FIFA had requested all restaurants and bars in the mall not to display the early match. I was dumbfounded and in something of a rage went to seek out someone at FIFA for an explanation I wasn't exactly keen on sitting in the ground for four hours before kick-off with nothing to do. I found yet another 'Information' point and gave the gentleman there an earful. I later had to apologise to him as he was ever so helpful. I just couldn't understand why FIFA were doing this. I mean, what is the problem with watching a match in a restaurant in a mall?

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I explained to the gentleman how we have spent a fortune just to come here and that we couldn't understand why FIFA would forbid us to watch a match. Quite incredible really. Thankfully the helpful man was able to recommend a village a tube stop away where we could watch the match in a bar. On the platform, a couple of fellas from Michigan who were in the same situation as us tagged along and we did indeed find a bar, Nomas Bar, to watch the match in a great atmosphere with other Brazilians, Americans, Germans, Belgians and Koreans... all mingling... all enjoying the match with a beer... all having fun. Now what is the problem with that, FIFA? "FIFA are an abomination" lambasted one of the Michigan fellas. He's certainly not wrong there.

I can't emphasise enough how nice and helpful the Brazilians are. There was a chap sat near us happily translating the menu to some Belgian supporters and liaising between them and the waitress. He was minding a few chairs for some yet-to-arrive friends and when they turned up you knew why he was doing it. One of his friends was blind and seeing how they all looked after him was truely heartwarming. That's not to say other nations are incapable of such kindness of course they are but it does epitomise the Brazilian spirit, always trying to help; always looking out for one another.

Germany beat USA 1-0 and pretty much everyone was happy with that... Germany and USA both qualifying and Belgium almost certain to avoid Germany in the next round. As we left, we got chatting to an Everton fan sporting the blue and yellow Everton away shirt from last season with '20 Barkley' adorned on the back. "That's the wrong shirt" teased Katja. "It should be Mirallas on your back". "Well I can't exactly change it!" hammered back the fella. He's on some trip. He went to the England warm-up matches in Miami and has followed a few matches this tour, is attending Columbia vs Uruguay and is also flying to Bangkok for Everton vs Leicester City next month. I wish I had the holiday allocation... and the money for that matter.

We then had quite a walk on to the stadium, finally getting into the ground over an hour before kick-off. We sat very high up behind the goal...almost as high as the away end at St James' Park. It was nice to see so many Premier League players and, more to the point, Everton connections involved in the warm-up... Kevin Mirallas of course and ex-Blues Marouane Fellaini and Romalu Lukaku, the latter rested for the match.

Belgium attacked the end opposite to us in the first half and they should have drawn first blood when Mertens scooped over with a good opportunity. South Korea seemed to show neat and tidy play with a great work rate albeit without really penetrating the Belgians. Having said that, they did create two good chances not long before the break but were twice thwarted by Courtois.

With the match ticking along and both teams seemingly quite happy going into the break all square, the timing of Defour's moment of madness did seem obscure. Whilst being way too far away to identify what had happened at the time, I've seen it since and it didn't look pretty from the enigmatic Beglian who was rightly red carded. What a chance now for South Korea and at the break I was intrigued to see how they would go about trying to win the game against 10 men.

Well, it wasn't for lack of trying from South Korea but they just couldn't get behind the ultra-professional Belgians. Belgium showed discipline and heart. A draw would have done them. They even could have lost the game and still won the group but they weren't having that and instead, even with the 10 men, pressed for the winner and got it when Vertongen finished when Sounggyu could only parry Oligi's drive. The Red Devils now in party mode. South Korea deflated and going home.

We escaped a few minutes early to catch the train before it got a bit too busy. We headed on to the Vela Madalena area (a popular area for bars and restaurants) and tried to make a night of it but following such a long day we had to call it a night early. We were just exhausted and grabbed a taxi home not long after 10pm... I'm not 21 anymore.

So... can Belgium win it? Well they are certainly showing the characteristics of a World Cup winning team. They've won all their group games, one of them by winning ugly (Algeria), one with flair (Russia), and one with players rested and with 10 men for half the match (South Korea). They certainly possess class players and have great desire and belief. I'll be interested to see how they do should they come up against South American opposition as you could argue they are yet to be seriously tested but they've certainly given themselves a chance.

As for us, we're heading home in a few days. We tried desperately to get tickets for Brazil vs Chile but alas, we had to accept defeat with that one... a shame. What a shoot-out that was.

The winners? Argentina for me. They've won all their games without playing well which is always the sign of a good team as they'll only improve. Messi is on top form and they are well-backed support-wise... though not by the Brazilians.

Back to watching it in front of the box for me... I'm sure going to miss this place.

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Reader Comments (7)

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Derek Knox
1 Posted 29/06/2014 at 00:57:14
Thanks once again Paul, for a very detailed account and interesting read!

It is one of these things that happens, every four years, but in my observation this has to be the best World Cup thus far!

To actually be there, as you are, will certainly go down as a memorable experience, and from your perspective will never be forgotten.

You have no doubt sacrificed much, in order to be able to make this 'once in a lifetime visit ' to the universally acknowledged theatre of true football!

I have to interject here, and add that I feel the 'host nation' have not emulated what we have come to expect from Brazilian teams before.

I sincerely hope you enjoy the rest of your sojourn, and keep us, who are not as fortunate as yourself, up to date, with your welcomed reports!

Ajay Gopal
2 Posted 29/06/2014 at 05:52:04
Wow, I really envy you, Paul. What a great vacation you seem to be having.

For me, Argentina, Colombia, Germany, Belgium & Netherlands all seem to be capable of winning this one. Our Roberto had picked Colombia to be the dark horses for this World Cup, and the genius that he is, he could very well be right.

Personally, I think a South American team will win this one, and my head says Argentina, but in my heart, would love Colombia to win it. What a great achievement it would be for them!

Matt Traynor
3 Posted 29/06/2014 at 07:49:35
I agree it's a South American team, and won't be Brazil. Neymar aside, they're bordering on being quite poor. I can see a couple of dodgy refereeing decisions getting them to the semis though.
Colin Glassar
4 Posted 29/06/2014 at 09:43:13
France, Holland or Germany will win this one.
Dennis Ng
5 Posted 30/06/2014 at 02:44:51
It sucks to see that Germany and France will meet if they win their next games. Favorites seems like Brazil or Argentina for now given how the games are going but I favor the Dutch or the Colombians (however small their chance is).
Mike Gaynes
6 Posted 30/06/2014 at 03:05:12
You're a pretty damn good travel writer, Paul. With your name and your skills you should start a column in one of the papers. "The Footy Traill".... "Traill's Travels"... ah, forget it. But thanks again for your letters from the road.

And I agree with you. Argentina for just the reasons you mentioned, particularly the transcendent Messi.

Jim Potter
7 Posted 30/06/2014 at 06:11:16
Enjoyable read Paul.

From my experience Brazil is a friendly place. Just be careful of getting your drink "Micky Finned" though. My mate and I were in the Copacabana Beach area some years ago in the early hours and were joined by some very friendly people. Half an hour later my mate was collapsed with revolving cartoon eyes and a very large gentleman with a machete appeared from nowhere requesting all our money. I did what any sensible bloke would do and handed him my mate's wallet.

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