Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Joga Bonito

South Korea 2 - 1 Togo
France 0 - 0 Switzerland
Brazil 1 - 0 Croatia

Well, they might not have played beautifully last night but they certainly watched it beautifully.

The day started chez-Pooch where Joe and I surged ahead of the competition by consolidating our 100% games-watched record. Unfortunately it was the worst game of the tournament, a shame the Togans couldn't beat the Koreans as they are dull - they play a bit like Japan on Valium.

As the game was ending the heavens opened, it was like a tropical thunderstorm (a portent for the Brazil game?), so we ordered a cab for the journey to Guanabara in Covent Garden (remarkably cheap at £10)

We got there at 4.30pm and that was a good time to make it, it wasn't too busy (the bar wasn't open yet) but there was a steady flow of yellow and green shirts. By 4.50pm the steady stream had turned into a surge to match the earlier rain and we had good positions in a sizeable queue to get a table in the bar. When the floodgates were opened we secured a table but only one with wet varnish on the benches and a poor view of the single giant screen. So, following the cool crowd, we sat on the floor. When La Marseillaise was played from the (very-)loudspeakers there was a massive chorus of boos from the Brazilians, I'd forgotten about France's robbery of their crown in the '98 final, they had clearly not.

That said, there was a sizeable French contingent:

As the game wore on and Switzerland pressured the French goal there was some shouting between the French and the more vocal Brazilians but it all passed peacefully and when the ref blew for full time the French left with an air of dejection.

On with the Samba beats, by now the place was rammed and our friends were giving up trying to get in with queues round the block. Joe and I gave up our limited floor-space to attempt to find a more comfortable standing vantage point. The crowd were being whipped up into a frenzy by a troupe of Brazilian dancers, a professional ball-juggler and a live Samba band:

The samba party was getting pretty frantic and Joe and I were worried that we weren't going to be able to see the screen (see lower picture). Things reached a crescendo during the Brazilian national anthem and then, as the players were about to kick-off the strangest thing happened: everyone just sat down on the floor. It was amazing to see and meant that most people could get a good view of the screen.

The game itself didn't live up to the expectations of the local crowd and the world. Ronaldinho had some occasional flashes of brilliance in the first half and there was Kaka's magnificent match-winner but not much else. The crowd at Guanabara went into a nervous quiet after about fifteen minutes and when the final whistle went there was a palpable sense of relief.

Joe and I squeezed our way out pretty quickly back into the seemingly unreal, damp English night. We had an interesting conversation on our way back:

1) I compared the Brazilian crowd to the English: they ram as many people as possible into a venue, play rousing tunes before the kick-off but I think that's where the similarity stops. Sure, we get nervous but when the chips are down during the game we generally get behind the team vocally. There didn't seem to be much of that from the Brazilians

2) I remain convinced we will win the FIFA world cup (anyone listening to Baddiel and Skinner's podcasts?). I know we didn't play well against Paraguay but I've not seen anyone I think we can't beat. The best team I've seen so far has been Argentina and we've proved we can beat them, we'd face tough tests against Brazil, Holland, Czech Republic and Brazil but none of these big teams has been tested in defence yet. With the big-man back, Owen a little sharper and the midfield more lively we can test anyone.

One more picture from Guanabara (best venue so far, we'll be back there often), I'm hoping Joe will put some photos of the gorgeous Brazilian women up later...


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