WCR: Day 12 – Socceroos’ Curitiba farewell

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After a whirlwind three days in Rio, it was time to head to Curitiba for Australia’s final group game against the world champions Spain. I only had the day in the city so was eager to explore my surroundings before heading to the Arena de Baixada in the afternoon.

People told me that Curitiba is Brazil’s most efficient city and after walking around there in that morning, I can definitely see why. In-between the meticulous planned streets; there are bus stops enclosed in glass with a cylindrical form. This is not a city that leaves things to chance and if the weather turns sour, those waiting for public transport are suitably protected from the elements.

Most Brazilian cities aren’t like this. A few years ago, the local Curitiban government decided to close off many roads and turn them into pedestrian-friendly shopping malls. Here, a car isn’t a necessity as one can freely navigate these streets by foot or public transport.

You can well and truly see the European influences entrenched in this city. Out of all the places I’ve visited, this one reminded me of Melbourne the most. It is truly unbelievable.

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Onto the football and it was time to head to the Arena de Baixada, a venue that by late April FIFA were preparing to revoke hosting rights to due to the lack of progress on the stadium.

While on the face of it, it’s a beautiful theatre of sport protecting the near 40,000 crowd from all the elements, one has to only delve a little deeper to see that this venue is far from ready. The bathrooms are missing some of their fittings and some of the concrete that lines the walls isn’t smoothed over properly.

Nonetheless, this was one of my favourite venues to visit in Brazil. The steep incline on the top level give those sitting there a fantastic view of the whole pitch. Much like AAMI Park in Melbourne, there simply isn’t a bad seat in the house.

While Australia was unlucky against Chile and the Netherlands respectively, they were comprehensively outplayed against Spain, despite starting the first 15-20 minutes well. Goals to David Villa, who will be sensationally plying his trade for Melbourne City in the A-League in the first half as well as Torres and Mata made this a comfortable 3-0 win for the fallen champions.

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So that ended the Socceroos’ campaign. These three games were an invaluable learning experience and the fact that Australia outplayed Chile for a half and Holland for most of the contest is testament to the bright future of the national side and the strides made in just eight months under new management. Many lessons would have been learnt and none more so than the importance of a strong back four. Most of the nine goals Australia conceded could have been prevented with a more sound and experienced defence and that just adds to the questions that will remain long after this campaign is over.

With the likes of Good, Sainsbury, Williams, Kruse and Rogic all returning from injury in the coming months, the side can only get stronger as the Asian Cup looms, a tournament many are expecting Australia to win. With six friendlies planned in the three FIFA international windows prior to kickoff in January, there’s plenty of time to get things right.

Tomorrow I head to Belo Horizonte to see Costa Rica against England. Should be fun.

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WCR: Day 11 – I go to Rio

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Rio was everything I expected to be and more. After taking in the breathtaking sites of Cristor Redendor, Sugarloaf Mountain and Copacabana, it will finally time to head to the Maracana, one of the most famous football stadiums in the world.

I already had a brief glimpse of this impressive structure from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain but this recently renovated masterpiece needs to be seen to be believed.

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As you walk from the aptly named ‘Maracana’ station, you can feel the buzz in the air. The ghosts of the 1950 World Cup final, where the hosts inexplicably lost to their arch-rivals Uruguay remain, but this is a place that will determine new World Cup winners in a few weeks time. If Brazil is to win this World Cup at the Maracana, it’ll go some way to making up for the disaster just over 60 years ago.

While at the 1950 World Cup this Rio coliseum could host as many as 190,000, today Belgium and Russia played in front of a tick under the 74,000 capacity. While a largely disappointing game, the Red Devils manage to cruelly snatch the three points away from Russia with a late winner to confirm their spot in the Round of 16.

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Marc Wilmots’ side has been anything but impressive so far in this World Cup but somehow the much-fancied Belgium holds six golden points. You get the sense that they’ll gain momentum in Brazil but if they don’t step up, I can’t see them getting past the next round.

Rio is quite something else as a city and simply must been seen to be believed. The almost perfect weather coupled with the majestic mountains and pristine beaches makes this a place that everyone should try and visit one day. For all the talk about this being the most dangerous city in Brazil, I found the locals on Copacabana to be nothing but friendly and welcoming to the thousands of football fans from all around the world.

As I had long expected, the safety concerns were largely isolated and generally blown out of propitiation and if one keeps their wits about them while exploring these quaint streets, you’ll encounter zero problems.

After my three days in Rio, it’s time to head to Curitiba for the day as Australia plays their final game against Spain.

WCR: Day 8 – Colombian delight in Brazil’s capital

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After an amazing couple of days in Porto Alegre it was time to head to Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. Much like Australia with Sydney and Melbourne, Brazil couldn’t decide whether Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro was going to be capital so instead they created a brand new city where the big decision that would shape Brazil’s future would be made.

As I touched down and headed towards the centre, you could tell how well this city had been planned. Wide open roads lead to meticulous clusters of hotels and houses. Each sector, as it’s called, has its own name and set part of the city.

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Along with the sectors, Brasilia has a few monuments that represent how new this city really is. The city cathedral and parliament are both represent the era in which they were created and take on an art-deco flavor.

Considering I was only in Brasilia for the day it was time to head straight to the Estadio Nacional for the big match between Colombia and Ivory Coast. Along with Brazil, Colombian fans have brought with them a heaving atmosphere at their games so I was looking forward to checking it out for myself first-hand.

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After a relatively benign opening, the game came to life and so did the crowd when James Rodriguez opened the scoring after 64 minutes. Colombia doubled their lead just six minutes later but Ivory Coast didn’t make it easy for them as Gervinho scored a stunner with 17 minutes to play.

Colombia eventually won the crunch match 2-1 and by the looks of it, will quality out of this group in first position. The atmosphere in Brasilia was nothing short of extraordinary with most of the 60,000-odd crowd wearing the bright yellow kit of Colombia.

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After my short stop in Brasilia it’s off to Rio for three days which includes a trip to the Maracana for Belgium’s crucial second game against Russia.

WCR: Day 7 – Porto Alegre is green and gold

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Well, what an afternoon in Porto Alegre. It was finally game day in this magnificent city and after witnessing France v Honduras at the splendid Estadio Beira-Rio, it was time to head there again for Australia’s huge match against 2010 finalists, Holland.

Australia was forced into two changes, with McKay and McGowan coming in for Milligan and Franjic respectively, both who has succumbed to injury in the previous match against Chile in Cuiaba.

It was a stunning day in one of Brazil’s most southern cities and as one enters the stadium, you could have been in Sydney or Melbourne such was the amount of green and gold that adorned the red seats. To get to Brazil Australians needed to cross two continents and despite that, they vastly outnumbered their Dutch counterparts in the stands.

If it was possible, the bar had been raised for Cuiaba was as many as 14,000 Aussies were in attendance amongst the 40,000 or so inside the ground.

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While Australia lost 3-2 to the might of the Dutch, it was another encouraging performance from Postecoglou’s ever-improving side. Arjen Robben opened the scoring in the 20th minute but it was Tim Cahill’s volley just a few seconds after that will be one of the moments of this World Cup. Many pundits are calling it the goal of the tournament and for good reason.

If Chile was the one that got away, Holland was the heartbreak. There was so much to be proud of over the 90 minutes, Australia deserved a point and even could have come away with the win.

Golden chances fell to Bresciano and Leckie and such would fate have it, after the latter spurned an opportunity at one end, PSV young gun Memphis Depay went down the other end and found the eventual winner, a strike that Maty Ryan would have wanted to better with. At this high level you can be made to pay in a instant and that’s exactly what the Netherlands did.

So with Spain losing to Chile, that officially ends Australia’s hopes in Brazil. Those were two quite unbelievable performances that on another day would have been rewarded with some points. The Socceroos are in action in their final game against Spain in Curitiba where they will look to bid farewell to Brazil on a positive note.

DSC06002And with that, I’m off to Brasilia tomorrow to attend Colombia vs Ivory Coast. The Colombian fans have been one of the highlights of this World Cup so I’m definitely looking forward to checking out the atmosphere first-hand. This game could decide the group as well with both teams winning in the first round of matches.

Porto Alegre is a stunning place and should be on the list for any Aussies wanting to come to Brazil in the future. The mixture of quaint streets, a litany of greenery and vast open spaces make this place easy and a pleasure to navigate. Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the central markets and this city square would not be out of place in more well-known cities around the world. Along with a smattering of Brazilian, Dutch and Australian fans, it made for an unforgettable experience.

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WCR: Day 4 – Allez

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After a short stay in Cuiaba it was time to make the trek to Porto Alegre. The first thing I immediately noted as I touched down in the city is that Porto Alegre is far more of a footballing city that Cuiaba ever was.
A quick chat to someone next to me highlighted the great local rivalry between Gremeiro (blue) and Internacional (red) with the latter playing in the stadium that is to host World Cup games. Circumstances beyond my control meant a mad dash from the airport to the Estadio-Beira Rio it time for the city’s first match between France and Hondruas.

For as many Le Bleus kits in the crowd they were matched by an Internacional one. The people in Porto Alegre are proud of their footballing history and obviously are proud of their chosen local clubs.

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This was also the first time I’ve had a glimpse at the stunning Beira-Rio. The oval design of the ground ensures an almost cauldron-like atmosphere inside the stadium and provided for a great atmosphere as they crowd rode every challenge with the players out on the field.

In terms of the on-field spectacle, it was all one-way traffic with France dominating from start to finish. Honduras fans were left frustrated as their side failed to create anything of note within the 90 minutes.

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I can’t imagine how good the Beira-Rio is going to be in the next few days as Australia’s converge on this city. There’s just so much to do here and will make for a perfect setting.

Tomorrow, it’s time to explore the city and watch some more football.

 

 

WCR: Day 2 – Aussies in Cuiaba

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After the euphoria of last night in São Paulo it was time to shift attention to central Brazilian City of Cuiaba and Australia’s massive match with South American powerhouse Chile. To get from São Paulo to Cuiaba required a connection in the small town of Campo Grande and it seems like the entire flight was occupied by either Aussies or Chileans who have made the short trek to Brazil. With the temperature forecast to be well over 30 degrees today, it makes for a different type of challenge.

Cuiaba as a city is an interesting one to say the absolute least. You get the sense that the place isn’t built for tourists but the charm of the people is something to behold. As I walked to the Arena Pantanal you can tell just how happy everyone was to see the Chileans and Australians converged on their small town.

As for the football, it was nothing short of incredible. The atmosphere inside the stadium was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before and the vast number of Australians gave as good as they got from the hoards of Chileans inside the ground.

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Within the first 14 minutes Australia was down 2-0 and thinks we’re going from bad to worse. The back four seemed disjointed and the likes of Sanchez and Vargas were having a field today.

Australia got back into the contest through a Cahill header and if not for the stunning saves from Chile keeper Claudio Bravo, the Socceroos could have had much more on the night.

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In the days other games, a poor Cameroon lost 1-0 to Mexico while there was a shock in Salvador as Spain succumbed to a 5-1 loss to Holland.

Tomorrow it’s a full day in Cuiaba watching football before heading to Porto Alegre for the first of two matches I’ll be attending.

WCR: Day 1 – Brazil’s moment

imageWell what can I say, São Paulo is buzzing for opening day of this World Cup. I arrived here last night and just looking around you could see the vast number of nationalities that make this event unlike any other in world sport.

The morning began with a quite stroll down to Avenue Paulista, Sao Paulo’s answer to Paris’ Champs Élysées. The litany of Brazil kits that adorn these fanatical football fans is quite unbelievable but it’s apparent that here all 32 national are celebrated as well. Each country who is lucky enough to be completing in Brazil has their flag atop the many buildings that makes this road the financial hub of Brazil.

After a quiet morning, it was time to head to Arena Corinthians for the opening of this World Cup. If the experience travelling to and from São Paulo’s showpiece stadium taught me one thing is that despite the fanfare, Brazil was ready. Public transport ran like clockwork and left Melbourne’s beleaguered system for dead.

Once the spectacular opening ceremony was complete it was time for the main show. The 62,103 were stunned when Croatia sensationally opened the scoring through a Brazil own goal but it wasn’t long before Neymar had his side level courtesy of a sublime if not a little fortunate finish.

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Selecao eventually ran out 3-1 winners on opening night and Croatia would have felt they were a little hard by. The atmosphere on the night was sublime and validated all my pre-existing thoughts on this countries passion for football.

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Tomorrow it’s off to Cuiaba for Australia’s first game against Chile. Here’s hoping they find an unlikely result but win, lose or draw, you can could on a 15,000 strong away support for the green and gold.