The time had finally come to attend my first 2014 FIFA World Cup match here in Brazil. Belo Horizonte was the host city, and the Minaro the host stadium. Colombia and Greece were going to start their World Cup campaigns in this opening Group C encounter.
I’ve been a bit of a Greece fan ever since their plucky Euro 2004 triumph, so I was definitely not going to the game as a neutral. However it had been difficult to get my hands on any sort of Greek merchandise or kit to deck myself in. Knowing about the official FIFA fan shops at the stadium stocking the competing teams’ jerseys on match-day, I was banking on this to purchase my Greece kit. So till then I had on a blue track-pant as a colour of support among the hoards of Colombians in yellow everywhere.
The match was going to be an early afternoon 1 pm kickoff. So hoping to be seated before the teams came out for their warm-ups, I decided depart for the stadium around 10 am to give ourselves ample time to make our way in to soak the atmosphere.
The route to the stadium is very efficiently demarcated and organised, along with a heavy police presence. Most of the roads in the vicinity were cordoned off or entirely closed. The jolly Colombians were singing along as we all walked past horse-mounted police on one-side and FIFA hospitality tents on the other. Then there was a slight wait at the entrance to the Minerao complex as the outer gates on the main road hadn’t been opened.
But a loud cheer greeted their opening around 10:30. This was followed by a slow long queue between barricades to get past security where hand-bags were being x-rayed. Luckily all the knick-knacks my wife was carrying didn’t need to be confiscated and we quickly collected our bag and went through. The lady ahead of us in the queue though, wasn’t so lucky.
Now we were on the external hill-top city-overlooking promenade of the Minerao, which had all the various sponsors’ tents and F&B outlets, among other kiosks and set-ups. This and the stadium/ crowd managing process has pretty much been standardized by FIFA, and seems to be virtually identikit whatever the host city/ stadium/ country.
My next aim was to get the Greece jersey. Once again we got into a line, this time to enter the Fan Shop. As the slow line snaked into the very congested Fan Shop definitely many sizes too small for the demand, I promptly picked up my item, proceeding then to get into the, you guessed it - another queue, for the billing. After almost 45 minutes spent getting in and out of the Fan Shop, I was finally able to proudly sport a novel Greece jersey as I put it on behind one of the tents, to emerge with a fresh look!
Funnily enough, having another visible Greek fan in their midst didn’t seem to bother the Colombians who were present in such overwhelming numbers. Off we headed next to find our stadium section (North). After a relatively short queue this time, we finally had our tickets checked under a bar-code scanner, which allowed us to get through the turn-stiles. But there were no checks of identity, atleast not for us.
Now we were virtually just outside the entrance to the Minerao, and only needed to proceed to find our tier (Lower), followed by the entrance to our block. It is at these block entrances that one actually enters the stadium. Interestingly, while entering, it actually gave a feeling of coming out from a small concealed space into this gargantuan bowl of yellow filled with fans. So I re-did the whole feel, video-recording the whole experience.
Entering our block and into the stadium bowl, we proceeded to find our way to the row and seat. It so turned out, being row A, that we were seated virtually behind the goal and right at pitch-side, as close to the action as possible, which of course has both its positives (proximity to action) as well as negatives (very low field of view, and difficulty in making out happenings at the other end of the pitch, for which we had to rely on the big screen)
The Colombian fan dominance was hammered home by the jeers the Greece players first received as they stepped on to the turf for their warm-up, followed by the deafening cheers for the Colombian team as they came out a few minutes later. In the afternoon heat, both teams only did relatively brief warm-ups of 20 minutes before heading back in. Then in the period before kick-off, we had Feluco the mascot being paraded in front of us even as pitch-side TV reporters stood beside the turf in front getting more excitable with their descriptions.
More than 50,000 Colombians bellowing their national anthem in unison within the echoing Minerao must have definitely had an intimidating effect on the Greek team, who seemed slightly slower off the blocks. Following the quick opener, all mayhem broke loose, and all the Colombians sat around me made sure I felt their loud cheers. Greece came close on a few occasions but not close enough to find the equaliser as my cheers, gasps and frustrations had no effect whatsoever.
At 2-0, Colombia didn’t have much to worry about, as the fans kept breaking into their theme song to add to the crescendo. The 3rd goal was the cherry on their cake, following which all the Colombians I saw anywhere and everywhere, celebrated long into the night well into the next day. I could only console myself by watching the days’ remaining games and hoping for better luck for Greece in the coming matches.Published 19 Jun 2014, 06:48 IST