In a journey that started with us leaving Nottingham over seven months ago, it’s been the topic that’s closest to everyone’s lips.
We began in Argentina last November with the banter already rife. They think they have a real chance this time round – if they can defend they might be right – but in the bars of
Buenos Aires we didn’t tell them that!
We went to watch a game in Argentina and they are so fanatical that away supporters aren’t allowed in the grounds. It’s bedlam even without them!
Strange then that the country has only recently fallen in love with its star asset, Lionel Messi. Talk to any Argentinean and they will deny this, but in 2012 (the year he won the FIFA Ballon d‘Or for the third time in a row) he came only third in their sports personality of the year competition behind a taekwondo fighter!
The nation loves Tevez, but he’s not on the plane. If it starts badly for them you’ll, no doubt, hear calls for him. We happened to be in Uruguay when the group draw was made. The local gauchos at the estancia where we were staying had a right chuckle over their chorizo when England were drawn in the group described as ‘grupo de la muerte’ (group of death).
As a lad from Arnold, I wondered how a nation of just three million could have won the World Cup twice and have such a great team now. I don’t wonder anymore.
On every corner of every street from Montevideo to Punta del Diablo is a gang of kids kicking a ball around. The Uruguayan’s we met have a likeable, quiet confidence in their nation.
Their team having a real possibility of being drawn against Brazil in the latter stages, a rematch of the last World Cup final at the Maracanã in 1950 – which the underdogs won and the hosts have never lived down. Will history be repeated?
As we travelled through Chile they qualified for the finals as the third best team in South America. Swashbuckling and truly attacking, here we have a nation with real pride in the way their side are currently playing. “We beat England 2 zero at Wamberlie…” a local youth said to me in Santiago continuing “and we are going to beat Holland and Spain in our group too!”
Mmm… I’m not penciling that in on my World Cup predictions but they are playing with a real flare and feature one of Nottingham’s only links to the World Cup; recently departed Forest player Gonzalo Jara.
As we arrived in Peru and Bolivia we hit two countries that are to be starved of competition football as the tournament rattles away at their borders. To the Peruvians – particularly – it’s the same as a World Cup being held in England but Scotland not qualifying (oh yeah – that happen once upon a time too).
Despite their absence, from La Paz to Lima they have been madly gearing up with every restaurant and bar seemingly installing new flat screen TVs and World Cup trimmings, even a cardboard Maradonna at one!
And so to answer the question on everyone’s lips. Are we going to Brazil? …Yes we are!
In fact, we arrived in Brazil a few days ago to an onslaught of marketing and hostels brimming with fans making their way around the sights before the tournament starts, lots of Australians, Americans and loads of travelling fans from the other South American representatives – Colombia.
Strangely though the Brazilians we’ve met seem a little laid back about it all – exactly the impression we have of them back home. I’m sure they’ll get more excitable as kick off approaches though. Our first game is in Cuiaba – deep in the Brazilian Pantanal.
It’s going to be 35 degrees, ridiculously humid and full of bonkers Chileans and boozed up Aussies. The stadium is apparently now finished, which is good news!
But due to the lack of accommodation in the city we are camping in someone’s back garden – apparently there’s a swimming pool though. Oh the joys of the World Cup!
This story was published in Nottingham Evening Post – see full article here