Villa Nova 2 v 4 Cruzeiro (30.03.13)
I sense from talking to people where I live in the titchy village of Muniz Freire that it is the sort of place that many of them will never leave, that’s partly because they’ll have little choice but also because the big wide non-Muniz Freire world is just a bit too big to contemplate. It’s not hard to see how you can get to that way of thinking as without a car even leaving and making it to the town takes a certain amount of planning.
So it is that it took two buses and two hours to make the early morning 40km trip to the main road, the one that connects Vitoria on the coast inland with Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state of Minas Gerais. This weekend is Easter, which brings with it a three day weekend and finally the opportunity for me to get away and see some football.
On the main road in a grubby town called Ibatiba there is a further three hour wait for the bus then eight on it before I make my evening arrival in Belo Horizonte.
The Brazilian summer is drawing to a close now and the weather is increasingly soggy, but there are still a couple of months to wait until the Campeonato Brasiliero starts in May. As of the moment the country is instead entrenched in its state championships.
For my Easter weekend the focus has shifted to the Minas Gerais state championship. It doesn’t have the glamour found in the Rio or Sao Paulo versions, but it does have two big fish, Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro, and happily I’d have the chance to see both, as the former were at home on Sunday and the latter were away but nearby the day before.
Up first was the game between Villa Nova and Cruzeiro on Saturday evening. Villa Nova are based in the small town of Nova Lima and the forty-five minute bus ride there from Belo Horizonte revealed the town to be not too much more than a colourful trickle of houses settling in between the rolling Minas Gerais mountains. All very South American, the Estadio Municipal Castor Cifeuntes sits packed in between painted houses and is virtually the city’s only flat spot.
Villa Nova most recently played in the Brazilian fourth tier, but having nearly gone to the wall a couple of years ago, their season now revolves around just the state championship. So it is that for one night the state’s eyes are on it and Nova Lima felt like an underdog town on FA Cup third round day. Wide smiles adorned proud local faces, flags and banners were slung from windows and on one of the hills near the ground people were already perched two hours before kick off for an illicit match view. To complete the feeling the streets around ran with out of town Cruzeiro fans. Conspicuous as much by their big city attitudes as by their blue shirts.
But make no mistake, this was a proper game. Despite the disparities, Villa Nova sat third in the table, were unbeaten in their seven games and had won four of their last five. Only four points ahead, Cruzeiro were going to need to do more than just show up to earn the points.
As the teams walked out fireworks exploded from the nearby hill from the perched and watching fans as well as from the far side favelas, and from the start the hometown heroes looked a match for their more illustrious visitors, playing it neat and on the ground. Cruzeiro got one shot in the first fifteen minutes, but that was a twenty yard volley plundered home immaculately by Borges. Worse followed as the visitors soon scrambled home a second, the tie seemingly over before half time.
But Villa Nova stuck to it, kept playing their passing game and pulled one back via the spot before the break. Second half and Cruzeiro were visibly rattled. The home side were doing all the pushing and ten minutes in got their leveler from a characteristically flowing move down the right. Euphoria from the locals, which also included a genuinely tuneful brass band.
Then the heavens opened and washed the host’s hopes away. Without a roof there was little for us supporters to do but stand it out and endure the torrential wetness, something that the gutsy hosts were not quite able to do.
On pitch Villa Nova were doing their best to stem the Cruzeiro tide, but eventually it became just too much for them. Two goals from Rocardo Goulart came between home huffs and puffs and Cruzeiro eventually gained a 4-2 win that they may have just about warranted but had needed to scrap it out to gain.
Luck was on my side and my worries of homewardness disappeared as I hurriedly left the stadium and a sympathetic bus driver stopped to give me a ride back into town. The journey allowed me to dry off a little a think back on a good game and a sizable what might have been.
Well, if you happen to be in the area…
You can very easily buy tickets outside the ground, Villa Nova are not quite Barcelona, so I reckon you’ll have an almost chance of getting in, even for the big games with Atletico and Cruzeiro.
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