Tourism is not complete without sampling a local football game, so being in São Paulo for a few days I decided to head to the Pacaembu to take in São Paulo vs Santos. The stadium is usually used for national team games or as a neutral location, but given that Aerosmith were playing at São Paulo’s Morumbi arena, the game was switched to a venue which also houses an interesting football museum. This is not an uncommon occurrence in Brazil, and teams tend to play in various stadiums, even renting from other teams, due to their home being used, or in order for people in other cities to watch their team. For example, Palmeiras played their game of the same round of fixtures in the outskirts of the city rather than in their own Allianz Park.
Regarding the teams, what springs to mind when thinking of São Paulo is how they were dominating Brazilian football when I first arrived in the country, winning three consecutive championships between 2006 and 2008. Santos, on the other hand, are famed for two of their most famous sons, the legendary Pelé and in Neymar, one of the best in the world currently.
I’d purchased a São Paulo shirt in the street on the same afternoon, shamelessly extending my collection of different club’s strips in Brazil to four, the others being Flamengo, Vasco and Corinthians, a venomous cocktail, I know! The Pacaembu is easy to get to, as are most spots in greater São Paulo, due to an excellent metro system. I alighted at Paulista station and followed the hordes of Triciolor fans in what was approximately a fifteen-minute walk to the stadium. I’d already purchased my 40 Reais ticket a few days earlier for the ‘orange’ seating section, which was unfortunately uncovered and not about to shield me from the rain that was teeming down.
However, given the game was only for São Paulo fans and away supporters were banned from attending, the policeman doing the body checks at the gates were a little over-zealous. Due to the rain I had my hood up and my hoodie was covering my shirt. Normally it’s a put-your-hands-up-while-I -check-you -and-advance kind of operation, so I wasn’t really paying attention to him as he gestured towards my hoodie. I thought he wanted me to take it off, so I backed away in order to do so, but all he wanted was for me to take down the hood and show that I wasn’t wearing Santos colours underneath. ‘Are you nervous?’ he asked. Maybe I should take it as a compliment that a military police officer would consider me a football hooligan.
To the game, and the stand I ended up in was one of the calmer ones, and although some form of atmosphere was generated, the standing-only areas behind the goals were much more lively. Despite Santos fighting for a spot in the top four and São Paulo loitering in the lower reaches of the table and facing a remote threat of relegation, the home crowd of just short of 28,000 got behind their team from the off.
In watching the warm up I spotted a left-footed player with an excellent touch who spent most of the routine deftly controlling the ball and doing fancy flicks, and figured I’d keep an eye on him during the match. He was the Santos number 10, Lucas Lima, who I’d later find out was a recent addition to the Brazilian national squad. As well as this, I noticed the centre back, Maicon, formerly of FC Porto, and he was still a bald-headed clogger.
To be fair, São Paulo hogged the ball for the majority of the first half, getting into good wide positions, but that was all they got in to, as they dillied and dallied and delayed in crossing the ball, much to the frustration of the crowd, and there were moments where right-footed players were in excellent positions from which to cross the ball early but instead opted to cut on to their weaker left and float a ball into a box full of recovering defenders. Add to that a plethora of misplaced five-yard passes, the principal culprits being São Paulo’s Hudson and Wesley, who were repeatedly derided by the fans. A flurry of corners made no difference to the home team, despite their delivery being decent.
On to the second half and Santos came out looking a lot more competent on the ball and took advantage of a dominant spell of about twenty minutes to open the scoring. The aforementioned Lucas Lima wiggled into space on the and found Copete on the edge of the left hand side of the box, who made no mistake and slammed the ball past the keeper at the near post. On the topic of Lima, he remained the best player technically on the pitch, with something of the gait of Lionel Messi, but didn’t do himself any favours by spending a large part of the second half throwing himself to the floor and rolling around in feigned agony.
This was to be a pattern for the remainder of the game as Santos sat on their lead and counted down the clock, much to the ire of the baying São Paulo fans. The home side enjoyed lots of possession but only turned into one real chance, when Chávez, the Argentine on loan from Boca Juniors, spurned a chance when he found himself all alone at the back post from a looping across. As the ball rolled wide of the goal, it was a cue for São Paulo fans to start leaving the game and served as the last of any real action in the game. When the final whistle blew the home fans were moderately annoyed, but still clapped off their players despite a turgid performance. A far cry from the vicious reactions I’d seen from other Brazilian crowds in the face of such a display. Perhaps the São Paulo fans are amongst the most patient, and I’d later be told that the team was for the ‘soft’ people in the city, as opposed to the ‘hard men’ who back Corinthians.
I was able to make a quick exit as the door at the back of the stand gives out onto the street and I made it back to the metro in good time.
Once again, the quality of football on display in the Brazilian League had somewhat flattered to deceive, and I’m yet to see a game of real quality, or for that matter, intensity in all the games attended, though it must be said that the majority of those matches involved Vasco da Gama mark 2008, who were eventually relegated that season for the first, but not last, time in their history.
The fans of São Paulo may well be nicer than other supporters, and credit to them for coming out in numbers on a wet Thursday night during World Cup qualifiers week. The stadium can be described as functional at best, however, at a match of real importance, a partisan atmosphere could certainly be generated.