The boys do Ipanema before it’s Belo, goodbye to Brazil

Downcast and drunken after England’s early elimination from World Cup 2014, our correspondent Simon Hagens and his Canadian chums cheered themselves up with a side trip to Rio de Janeiro before Tuesday’s dead rubber with Group D winners Costa Rica (WTF?) in Belo Horizonte. Here’s the latest from the lads as their wonderful tour of Brazil wraps up all too soon.

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Rio was pretty much as advertised. Clearly the headquarters for the World Cup, it was filled with fans who came here to settle in and watch, rather than follow their teams across the country.  Ipanema Beach, where we stayed, was a sea of Australian, American and English dudes stumbling around.  It made for great enthusiasm during the matches, but that many stumbling dudes gets old fast.

The highlight of Rio was game of pick-up beach soccer with a bunch of locals. Very tiring, and we left it a little bruised up (these guys play to win), but wonderful fun. We also enjoyed (and thankfully survived) a great innovation in taxi technology – dashboard televisions.

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Here in Belo Horizonte, things are more tame. Nice restaurants, pretty streets … and very few English speakers. We’d been spoiled so far on that front, so for our last few days it was hard to muster more than hand gestures.

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Match day was actually a pleasant surprise. A bit disappointing that England’s trip home was guaranteed either way, but it created a great vibe for the game.  All the anxiety (and later irritation) of the Italy and Uruguay matches was replaced with carefree merriment.  A substantially different lineup, with more youth and veteran Frank Lampard, made for some more interest (if not quality football) on the pitch.

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Why do you go to Brazil? For the Foxes, of course. Congrats to these newly-promoted Leicester City fans on a fantastic World Cup experience.

Always a lover of the natural kingdom, Simon poses with a pair of traditional Brazilian foxes in Sao Paulo.

Always a lover of the natural kingdom and its varied inhabitants, our winsome correspondent poses with a pair of traditional Brazilian foxes in Sao Paulo.

Costa Rica was not as fun to watch as in their previous games either, but it sure would be nice to see them do well going forward. This match did feature the best fan cheering and singing of the tournament, with a personal highlight being a sincerely delivered version of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Also good was the fond farewell given to the England fans section by the team at the final whistle.

So long, Engerland. Best of luck in Euro 2016 qualifying.

So long, Engerland. Best of luck in Euro 2016 qualifying.

We’re off for the long journey home now too.  You’re welcome Brazil.

Simon Hagens

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On the road: Sadness in Sao Paulo

The Three Lions may be all but done at World Cup 2014, but our correspondent is far from finished. In the latest of his (only slightly drunken) diaries Simon Hagens checks back in from Brazil with a report on England’s defeat at the hands of Luis Suarez and Uruguay. 

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Well, to get it out if the way, that match was rubbish.  Rubbish, at least, from the perspective of an England supporter who is now looking at a meaningless match against Costa Rica in a few days.  If you like superb finishes by Luis Suarez and the colour baby blue, then you’re likely more pleased. But enough said about all that.

The logistics of the whole match day experience here in Brazil continue to be better than advertised.  For all the worries of the World Cup throwing things into chaos, it was probably a bit naive to think that 50,000 football fans would rattle a city of 25 million.  The train whisked us from Luz station through a mix of neighbourhoods to the relatively poor area where the new stadium stands.  It rises from a sea of ramshackle buildings.  Very beautiful and impressive … and nearly finished.  Arena Corinthians, which is now home to the popular Corinthians club, sits on a huge piece of land and is attached to an upscale mall.  Massive amounts of white marble make it gleam on the inside, increasing the contrast to the surroundings.  At least it will see some good use going forward, which may not be the case for the site of our first match in Manaus.

Eric shows how he and fellow England fans washed away their sorrows on the heels of defeat to Uruguay.

Eric shows the selection of liquids he and fellow England fans used to wash away their sorrows on the heels of a 2-1 defeat to Uruguay and an early exit from further World Cup contention.

Despite the England loss, there was a generally good atmosphere and camaraderie with Uruguay fans, I got myself some new shoes, and the residents of this city proved they still love a good party.  So when in Rome, you might as well put your sorrows behind you.

São Paulo has been a fantastic part of this trip.  Art, food, architecture, bustling markets, nightlife and friendly, worldly people who love to talk politics, culture, or whatever.  I could spend a lot more time in São Paulo.  Off to Rio now for a few days before Belo Horizonte on Tuesday and our final match.

Simon Hagens

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Accept All Substitutes

FellainiDay Six was not the most scintillating day of football that we’ve seen in this World Cup, although after only a week, the bar has been set pretty high.  Today featured two games that likely would not have been close, had the managers of the favourites put out more dominant sides.

Mertens hearts something...

Mertens hearts something…

Algeria decided they would put 10 men behind the ball against Belgium, only making a serious break about 20 minutes in.  Jan Vertonghen took out Sofiane Feghouli, the referee gave the penalty and Feghouli put it away.   Then the Desert Foxes really started playing defensive.  After the break, Marc Wilmots put on Dries Mertens  — who probably should have started in the first place.  Romelu Lukaku’s performance was a shadow of his Premier League form… so off he came in the 58th.  Then Marouane Fellaini came on for Moussa Dembélé.  Five minutes later, Wilmots’ substitutions paid off.  Fellaini scored one of his trademark headers (where has that been all year?) and then Martens scored off Eden Hazard’s pass off the counter. It was a game that was exciting for 15 minutes… and that was enough for Belgium’s nervy World Cup return.  Belgium 2-1 Algeria

Uh-oh...

Uh-oh…

Meanwhile, the Russia-South Korea clash was less than satisfying… exactly as expected.  The South Koreans were quick, but the Russians played Fabio Capello’s cautious defensive tactics.    The South Koreans scored because of a clanger by Igor Akinfeev, probably the goalkeeper gaffe of the tournament.   It’s also interesting that Igor Denisov, Alan Dzagoev, and Aleksandr Kerzhakov — three of the better players on a dour Russian side — started on the bench, and that the goal came after their substitution.   Either side will fancy their chances of progressing.  Russia 1-1 South Korea

Brent P. Lanthier

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Street party in Sao Paulo

Intrepid World Cup traveller Simon Hagens and his band of merry men have moved on from Manaus to Sao Paulo, where they await England’s pivotal clash with Uruguay on Thursday. In between cultural outreach sessions at various bars and eateries, the lads took time out on Tuesday to watch the host nation fight to a goalless standoff with Mexico.


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Game day yesterday was insane.  Anyone who was working, which was almost no one, knocked off at 1:00 p.m. (a tidy three hours before kickoff) and streamed toward the bars to watch the game.  We set up in a window seat at a bar in the Vila Madalena neighbourhood.  The bar filled up, and soon the street behind the window filled up as well.  Soccer and a huge party appear to be the same thing.

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I want YOU to come drinking in Brazil. Stephen of @the_handbags models the latest in Cursor & Threat neckwear.

I want YOU to come drinking in Brazil. Stephen of @the_handbags models the latest in Cursor & Thread neckwear.

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The crowd was disappointed by the draw with Mexico, but it did nothing to dampen the mood.  The street next to our bar was filled with revelry.  Fifty metres up the hill , the crowd was a full on writhing mass,  fuelled by guys with monster car speakers and street beer vendors.  A good night.  We’re beginning to wonder if we should just come to Brazil for every World Cup from now on.

Simon Hagens

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More Iberian Misery, and the USA is A-OK

Pepe-MullerThe highly-anticipated Germany-Portugal match turned out to be a rout, even before Pepe’s flash of anger got him sent off.  The Germans were all over the team in claret, dragging them this way and that.  Portugal’s first bad decision came when João Pereira pulled down Mario Götze in the box.  Up steps Thomas Müller… and in goes the ball.  Twenty minutes later, Mats Hummels got a running start off a corner to head the ball in… 2-nil.

Hummels rising like Eine sprichwörtliche Lachs

Hummels rising like whatever the German word is for salmon.

Then came Müller’s obvious theatrics, which raised Pepe’s ire… but why he let the blood rush to his head, we’ll never know… probably because that’s what Pepe does.  Portugal are down to 10-men and Müller goes on to score two more goals, rubbing salt in Portugal’s wounds.  After the match, coach Paulo Bento claimed the referee was biased against Portugal, but that’s pretty rich considering their record for flopping around (and taking pride in it).  Germany 4-0 Portugal.

The other match in this group featured two teams trying to capitalize on Portugal’s slip.  The U-S-A came out as expected, playing organized and physical football.  Clint Dempsey gave the Stars and Stripes a dream start with the fifth-quickest goal in World Cup history.  After that, things calmed down a bit.  A couple of USA injuries (Jozy Altidore’s tournament appears to be over after a hamstring injury, Matt Besler came off at the half) meant that Jürgen Klinsmann had to make subs earlier than he would have liked.   Ghana got a kick start in the second half when Kevin-Prince Boateng came on (it was surprising that Akwasi Appiah started neither Boateng nor Michael Essien in midfield).   The Black Stars’ shots started flying in, albeit most of them from way outside the box.

Brooks in disbelief

Brooks in disbelief

After being down for 80 minutes, Asamoah Gyan gave a lovely little backheel pass to Andrew Ayew who flicked the ball past Tim Howard with the outside of his left foot.  Pandemonium amongst the Ghanaian support.  However, just four minutes later, the American substitute John Anthony Brooks — a man born and raised in Germany — scored a header off a corner… and earned himself his own Wheaties box.  USA 2-1 Ghana

Brent P. Lanthier

 

 

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When a Win Feels Like a Draw, and a Draw Feels Like a Loss

The first game in this group was set to feature a set of superstars versus a young upstart squad.  The second game was supposed to have a continental champion overwhelm an also-ran; fail on this one as well.

What a disappointing performance from Argentina.  Expecting a fearsome foursome at the top, Alejandro Sabella decided to drop Gonzalo Higuaín and Ángel Di María, plus he fielded essentially six defenders.  So it’s no shocker that they only led at the half because of an early own-goal from Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Higuain's introduction was critical

Higuain’s introduction was critical

Sabella changed it up at the half and brought on Higuaín and Fernando Gago.  More option meant more men for the Bosnians to defend against and that allowed Lionel Messi to score.  Check out the goal here… Messi makes his run, passes it to Higuaín, who gives it right back to Messi, who hadn’t stopped running until he’s ready to take his shot, and then it’s in.  Bosnia would get one back late but that was it.  Argentina 2-1 Bosnia & Hezegovina

As for today’s match, let’s just say Nigeria blew their best chance at three points in this group.  Iran was content to batter down the hatches, but as the game went on, so did the Persians’ sense of adventure.   Stephen Keshi’s frustration showed early when he subbed on Shola Ameobi for Victor Moses in the 52nd minute… and then Peter Odemwingie for Ramon Azeez in the 69th.  Neither Ameobi nor Odemwingie exactly lit up the Premier League this season… and their work rate was no better today.  Nigeria dominated possession… but as we so often see, possession means nothing.  This  World Cup gets its first draw after five days of play.  Iran 0-0 Nigeria

Brent P. Lanthier

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Those Who Can’t… Kick

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Goals are coming fast and furious in this World Cup, which is a refreshing change from the cautious approach of the last couple of tournaments.  However, some teams can’t defend so they resort to grimier tactics.

Seferovic scores in WC debut

Seferovic scores in WC debut

Switzerland‘s reputation as a tournament dark horse was tested right away, as Ecuador pushed them high up and got the first goal (off a free kick, mind you).   However, the Swiss substitutions made the difference.  Admir Mehmedi came on for Valentin Stocker after the break, and three minutes later, he headed in the first Swiss goal off a Ricardo Rodríguez corner.  Rodríguez had a super game, especially during the free-for-all at the end when he sent the cross across the net for substitute Haris Seferovic to send the ball into the net, breaking the deadlock in extra-time and sending Swiss supporters into delirium.  Switzerland 2-1 Ecuador

Benzema was involved with all three goals

Benzema was involved with all three goals

Honduras didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory yesterday.  Besides sitting back while France came at them, they forgot to aim for the ball.  Consequently many of their kicks finished on the shins and hamstrings of French players.   The height of stupidity was achieved by Stoke City’s Wilson Palacios, who drove Paul Pogba in the back while the French player went for the ball.  A second yellow for the Honduran meant his team was down to 10 men for the entire second half.   Karim Benzema easily put home the penalty and France were on the board.   Benzema actually had a hand in all three goals: the second was a shot off the post that the goalkeeper bobbled into the net (requiring the use of goal-line technology), and the third was a cracker.   France 3-0 Honduras

Brent P. Lanthier

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Road report: Match day in Manaus

Our multimedia-savvy correspondent Simon Hagens, who played the part of TV reporter in previewing the England-Italy match for CTV News on Saturday morning, turns scribe again with a summary of Saturday’s match day in Manaus and Italy’s 2-1 victory over England.

Dr. Livingston, we presume?

Dr. Livingstone (we presume) meets a member of Simon’s travelling party.

Game days generally start by properly nursing the hangover from the night before. On Saturday, this meant a long, slow breakfast with lots of tropical fruit.  It would have been wise to call it an early night on Friday, perhaps, but the street parties were just too appealing.  The bars just serve as a place to grab some drinks, while the squares and street corners are the place to be – anyone is welcome and the mood is amazing.

Our hostel that morning had a nervous buzz.  We, as partially-committed Canadians, clearly had less national pride and tense history on the line. We wrapped up breakfast and, along with many other groups of fans, began bumbling toward the stadium, making our way using a general sense of direction and whatever mix of transit seemed to be headed our way.  The locals were fantastic, very helpful in directing people all over the city during our stay, and this was no exception.  As we got closer to our destination, the crowds get thicker and more joyous.

Are you sure this is the right bus?

Are you sure this is the right bus stop?

England fans were the most vocal and visible.  Their distinguishing characteristics were flags, costumes, chants and copious amounts of beer.  Paul passed us in full crusader gear, with not a complaint in the world about the heat.  Neil, a British Airways pilot in full Dr. Livingstone garb, sweating under his pith helmet and with an elaborate fake moustache melting off his face, was similarly unconcerned.  Mad dogs and Englishmen as they say.  We settled into a nice barbecue restaurant next to the stadium to watch the Uruguay vs Costa Rica game, and continue the steady game day diet of beer and meat.  England fans flooded the place, buying beer to drink on the street outside.  The equalizer from Costa Rica brought cheers and a small group storming into the restaurant.  The go-ahead goal brought  another rush of ecstatic fans, screaming songs and bouncing a beach ball, overwhelming the nicely-outfitted wait staff.  Uruguay’s defeat would be a real help for England, but maybe Costa Rica did look a little too good.

Entry to the stadium was efficient and staff were highly accommodating, lending Eric a megaphone to perform his signature karaoke piece: Quando, Quando, Quando.  Once inside, the English were again the most noticeable, with local club flags lining the rails. Italian fans were relatively sparse, while Brazilians made up the lion’s share of the crowd, thrilled to be watching international football in their hometown.  By game time at 6:00 pm, the sun had gone down and the temperature and humidity were both quite pleasant – no excuses to be had there.

Shortly after kick off, as chants of “C’mon England,” and renditions of “Ten German bombers” were drowned out by rest of the crowd cheering back, we started to sense the leaning of the Brazilian fans.  This was confirmed when the stadium erupted for the first Italian goal.  “Fookin’ ‘ell” came the mutters from all around our England section (perhaps the “memories of conquests past” outfits aren’t loved by all?).  Shortly after, the English equalizer sent beer pouring down from our upper deck supporter’s section onto the Brazilians and Italians below.  With the exception of one particularly damp and enraged Italian couple, it was all in good fun. And the helpful line of burly gentlemen surrounding the England sections to service our needs provided a gentle reminder of the acceptable limits. (As would the actual army of forces outside, well equipped with many on horseback in robocop armour).

The scene inside the stadium in Manaus.

The scene inside the stadium in Manaus.

The second, and as it would turn out, winning Italian goal brought a sense of gloom, and perhaps a little inevitability.  Not even the incredible number of ant species they had encountered would cheer up this crowd. Nothing, that is, until we all got back to the street party, where for most it didn’t seen all that bad.  Seems there’s nothing another layer of beer, meat and revelry can’t cure.

We’re flew to São Paulo today for England’s second match on Thursday. Climbing out of Manaus brought an incredible view of dense urban mass surrounded by a sea of jungle and rivers.  Looking forward to plumbing with more than one temperature of water, not being sticky all the time, and a few less ants.  Thanks, Amazon.  It’s been a blast.

Next opponent: Uruguay.  May they be  as porous as they were against Costa Rica.

Simon Hagens

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Pirlo does an Italian Job on England, Costa Rica’s rich rewards

Italy winsAs is the way with these things, I made my way to the pub hours before the England kick-off, because I wanted to be sure of a seat and a clear line of sight.  However just as I walked in and turned towards the screen, Joel Campbell chested the ball and then tied the game up for Costa Rica against Uruguay.  I had just enough time to order my drink when they did it again, this time it was Óscar Duarte (who was starting in place of Johnny Acosta).  2-1 Costa Rica… are you kidding me?

Costa Rica means "Rich Coast".  Just sayin'...

Costa Rica means “Rich Coast”. Just sayin’…

Uruguay badly missed Luis Suárez, who sat to rest from meniscus surgery.  Lucky us.  Uruguay looked ordinary and their defenders are terrible.  Throw in a bone-headed tackle from Maxi Pereira to earn him the red, and Uruguay look like they are in trouble.  Costa Rica 3-1 Uruguay

So a couple of bevvies to warm up…  and then it was England vs. Italy.   It wasn’t at all embarrassing when Ginger Kev and I were so excited by Sterling’s blast into the side netting that he jumped into my arms.  But hey, the BBC put up the score at 1-0 so we weren’t the only ones.   Then came the Claudio Marchisio goal.  Andrea Pirlo’s dummy made me think of when you see a gorgeous girl, and then you find out she has a boyfriend.  A boyfriend who is better looking, richer and drives a better car.  That kind of vision and nonchalance is evidence of an incredible talent…  and so it was 1-nil Italy.

Stevie G in a midfield battle with Serpico

Stevie G in a midfield battle with Serpico

Wayne Rooney was once again a defensive liability, not providing the cover he needed down the left-hand side.  Leighton Baines and Glen Johnson were playing up so high, they were effectively wingers… but Matteo Darmian and Giorgio Chiellini (as a make-shift fullback) were giving them headaches.  Rooney doesn’t play well with others, but all was almost forgiven on the Daniel Sturridge goal.   Raheem Sterling (who had a fantastic game) picked out Wazza’s run, who in turn put a perfect cross through the box for the Liverpool striker to finish off.  However, Italy would counter with what was basically a mirror image of the goal (Darmian’s cross in front of the box for Mario Balotelli on the far post)… and that was that.  Italy 2-1 England

Brent P. Lanthier

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Colombia, Ivory Coast take Group C pole positions

Group C’s matches were spaced out on Saturday, with the two Group D games between them. Presumably, this was to air the Ivory Coast-Japan game during prime time for Brazil’s significant Japanese population.   Every team in this group played to form, and the results were expected, if not predictable.

GROUP C
Radamel who? Colombia‘s performance was punctuated by an international coming-out party for James Rodriguez.  The Monaco man ran his little heart out and scored a lovely left-footed poke at the end of the match.  This game was also an example of what can go wrong with the current trend of having high-playing fullbacks/wingbacks.  Greece‘s José Holebas was exposed on the left as he failed to track back, allowing Colombia to score early.   Juan Cuadrado was brought in to flood the right and he did just that, setting up the first and third goals.  Greece also missed some great chances, including a sitter by Theo Gekas who headed the ball off the crossbar.  Colombia 3-0 Greece

First of two goals in as many mintues

First of two goals in as many minutes

The Ivory Coast went down early after Keisuke Honda’s cracker in the 13th minute.  I watched this one in the pub, and the entire room gasped when he scored.    But then Japan sat back and let the Elephants come at them.   The key moment, though, was the entrance of Didier Drogba.  The Ivory Coast captain sat while Wilfried Bony got the start.  Playing Bony made sense, considering the two players’ respective league seasons.  But Drogba’s introduction came at the expense of the holding midfielder, and now there were two strikers.  Bony scored two minutes after Drogba came on; Gervinho scored two minutes after that.   Ivory Coast 2-1 Japan

Brent P. Lanthier

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