¨Vasco, vasco de gama, vasco de gaaaaaaaaaama!¨ There was no way I was ever going to come to Brazil without going to the Maracana, so once I found out there was a local derby coming up soon after I arrived I knew I was going to have to go. Getting a ticket to these games is easy. Find any football club in Rio. Find a queue leading up to a hole in the wall. When it gets to your turn look through the hole into some kind of dimly-lit cave, say the name of the game you´re after and follow it with arquibancada, por favor. This last part is to ask for the grandstand. This is the upper tier of the ground. The bottom tier is for wimps. Once you get to the game, savour the atmosphere outside for a little while, you´ll probably get to see some fireworks. Once you enter through the main entrance you can get to whatever part of the stand you want. Green is for the hardcore fans, neé hooligans. Yellow is for the drums and for the diehards who ain´t too bothered about a punch up. White is for families, couples and neutrals. If you carry on walking around you will then reach yellow and green again, but for the opposing fans. There´s a blue section as well on the far side but I think this is for the rich kids, so we won´t worry about that.
I arrived just as the game was kicking off, heading straight for the yellow section. I was tempted by the green but getting in there didn´t seem possible. So, yellow it was, in the Vasco end, by the way. Vasco are the smaller of the two sides, suffering relegation from the national league, and looking a shade of the team they once were. I love the underdog so couldn´t resist.
After 10 minutes, one of the Vasco wingers makes a run for the by-line only to be tackled by one of the Flamengo defenders, who clears the ball to safety. Instantly, the ref runs over, pulling a red card out of his pocket on the way. The Vasco end erupts, everyone´s hugging each other, the dozens of 12 foot Vasco flags are waving from side to side, and I´m struggling to remain on my step. The game goes on, with Flamengo playing some neat triangles, working out 3 or 4 openings. They seem reluctant to shoot and the keeper only has to make one save, but they´re all over them. With 10 minutes left in the half, the Vasco striker, Carlos Alberto (this is the same Carlos Alberto who scored the first goal in the Porto v Monaco Champions League Final, for anyone interested) is put through on goal, he squares up to the keeper and plays the ball into the bottom left-hand corner. Only one problem, the linesman had already flagged for offside. As Carlos Alberto has already been booked for winning a tackle earlier in the game, it´s no surprise when he has to make a sudden charge to the dressing room. Flamengo are back it in! Their fans are delerious. The score remains 0:0.
Flamengo looked great in the first half, my feet are starting to hurt and the sudden downpour cause me to change my position in the second half. I head to the white section, or calm section. This is full of Vasco fans, Flamengo fans and neutrals. I´m not used to this lack of segregation at a football match.
A similar pattern occurs in the second half, however it´s Flamengo who have the first man sent off here. Again, the ball was won fairly. Shortly after, a Vasco corner played right into the goalkeeper is dropped and a Vasco player is left with 5 yards and no chance of missing. Vasco are soon down to 9 men too, but have a rare break away, 3 Vasco attackers against 1 Flamengo defender, which ends in the second goal of the game. The ref, quiet so far, doesn´t want to be forgotten though and sends off 1 more Flamengo player for good measure. I think that´ll give him the headlines. The match pretty much fizzles out after this. There aren’t too many players on the pitch and they seem a bit tired out. Kleberson (ex-Man Utd and Besiktas) comes on for Flamengo for about 25 minutes but doesn’t really have any end result.
And then it ends. Vasco 9, Flamengo 8. Or is it Vasco 2, Flamengo 0? How are these games scored again? I can’t remember. Vasco won either way though so that’s good.
So it is true, you really can’t make any kind of tackle whatsoever in the Brazilian game. No wonder they don’t produce many great centre backs, they only get to play half of every game. The fans seemed to enjoy the red cards as much as the goals though so maybe this was all part of the entertainment value.
The major talking point for me though was the lack of segregation in the stand. A Vasco fan cheering in the stands completely surrounded by upset Flamengo supporters, and no trouble. I am told, however this really wouldn’t be the case in some of the bigger derbys, such as Corinthians v Palmeiras. On the metro home, both fans even sing together. Perfect!