Botafogo 2 v 1 Cruzeiro (01.06.2013)
I suppose it’s just human nature. About an hour after getting my grubby mitts on a ticket for the Brazil-England match at the re-opening of the Maracanã, the initial cranial euphoria was beginning to settle and the inevitable next plan started edging its way forward: is there another game I could possibly get to on the Saturday?
A few web-wandering minutes later and the already spectacular weekend was ready to be elongated and, better still, it was my adopted Brazilian mistress of Botafogo who I’d be able to see, in their third game of the new Campeonato Brasileiro season.
There was one complication to deal with however, Botafogo’s game may have been a home one, but it wasn’t to be played at home.
With the exception of Vasco de Gama and their splendid São Januário stadium, three of the four Rio giants are currently nomadic. Flamengo and Fluminense have long used the Maracanã as their de facto home, but recent re-construction has seen their hook slung and neither has yet confirmed that they’ll be moving back in again now the Maracanã is ready(ish) again.
Botafogo on the other hand seemed to have found a place to call their own a couple of years ago, signing a thirty year lease at the Estádio Olímpico João Havelange (probably soon to be renamed, with corruption allegations about the nonagenarian now having turned into facts- and everyone calls it the Engehão anyway), the athletics venue for Rio’s upcoming Olympics.
All was well then, until safety inspectors came round in March, checked over the six year-old stadium and closed it down indefinitely as the roof is already said to be close to collapsing. In some ways, it’s no great loss, the stadium is an assemble-by-numbers elephant of a place, characterless and affording awful low-slung views over a running track.
It all meant that the net needed to be cast out of the city and as far as Volta Redonda, an old steel-making town two hours from Rio de Janeiro by bus.
So the bus I caught and it was only during the ride that it dawned on me that you can do a reasonable amount of away days in England in a couple of hours. Ho hum, this is Brazil, two hours is around the corner in these gargantuan parts.
My bus arrived in Volta Redonda with only twenty minutes to spare, though by making friends with a couple of fellow Botafoguense I was able to nab a seat in a taxi ride to the stadium. My afternoon was thus spent with Guilherme and João, the former was old, frail but friendly, whilst the latter spoke rapidly and had a tongue too big for his mouth, giving my fledgling Portuguese language skills little chance.
Thankfully, the taxi ride was short enough that we didn’t have to bother with one on the way back, and we were in the Estádio da Cidadania a few minutes before kick off.
Outside the Estádio da Cidadania…
Given the distance and that it was the second ‘home’ game in four days, there were a decent number of Botafogo fans who’d made the trip. The stadium is only ten years old and with 20,000 seats is decently sized for the town it’s been plonked in, but is entirely without charm- one uninspiring cylindrical concrete stand with a couple of roofs on the sides. The Botafogo fans had half filled it, no mean effort considering the traveling required.
As we settled down in our seats (my pals out of breath, due in one case to age and in the other to a sizable beer belly) the visitors from Cruzeiro were already out and ready, to the restrained backing of a few hundred away fans. Back to the Brazilian perspective- their eight hour trip down from Belo Horizonte was slightly further than around the corner, more down at the end of the street.
The Cruzeiro away following…
The hometown-ish heroes then emerged and within five minutes had the lead, Uruguayan Nicolás Lodeiro firing home a rebound after a smart Vitinho run and shot. It took a while for the visitors to wipe away the sleepy dust, but soon they were drilling forwards looking for a leveler. Theirs is a side with a brutishly massive spine and some pretty components down the sides, and it was the brutes doing the pushing.
After displeasing the footballing gods with a terrific double save it was to be expected that Botafogo’s stand in keeper Renan (first choice Jefferson was back in Rio with the Seleção) would be culpable for the equalizer moments later. A soft palm away was fired back in by Anselmo Ramon, thwacked the post, was out and then back over the line via the luckless keeper’s backside.
Inside the Estádio da Cidadania!…
Second half and Botafogo were back on the gas. With Clarence Seedorf playing just off the lone striker they’ll always have a decent chance. If, as they say, the first yard of pace is in the head then Seedorf is always a couple of yards ahead of everyone else on the pitch. Even without the ball his aura is such that the opposition defenders neglect their duties out of pure fear for the Dutchman.
After hitting the goal frame Botafogo soon had another chance to retake the lead from the penalty spot, right back Lucas being chopped-down following a deft touch in the box. Lodeiro was on hand again to double his tally for the afternoon and score what turned out to be the winner.
The latter stages saw the Cruzeiro brutes again bearing down, but the Botafogo hatches were battened this time and the three points were going back to Rio with them.
That just left a two hour trip home again. That was, after my two friends and I had made the short walk back to the bus station…a five minute hop that took Guilherme, João and I a plodding twenty.