Monday, June 23, 2014

Cheering for Iran - Belo Horizonte

Here are the shirts they have to wear for the whole Cup

So way back in November 2013, I entered the FIFA lottery under two names: my mother-in-law's and mine. We tried for four different cities, 2 x 4 people in each game. In one of those weird coincidences of life, the only tickets we won were 8 tickets for Belo Horizonte and the game on June 21. 

Later we would find out that we would be watching Argentina play Iran--ironic on several levels since Argentina is Brazil's biggest rival, and Iran is the USA's nemesis. Both BH and I were wondering who in the world we would cheer for. No, actually I wasn't--Messi is one of the sons' favorite players, and I refuse to cheer for any country that treats women as second class citizens. So, BH was more of the one torn--while he likes Messi, no Brazilian can cheer for Argentina.

As the game grew closer, it became clear that my mother-in-law would not be able to attend for health reasons. I tried several times to switch her ticket to my other son (the Messi fan was already going) but FIFA would not allow me to change the name on the ticket even to the grandson of the ticket buyer. There are some rules that are made to avoid scalping that are too general to allow any obvious exception. So we decided to take a risk and see if my son would be able to get in on my mother-in-law's discounted ticket (people over 60 and students are allowed half price tickets).

We spent the long Corpus Cristi weekend (also a happy coincidence of when we succeeded in getting tickets) in Ouro Preto, an hour and a half from Belo. On Saturday, we left at 8 am for the 1 pm game, knowing that we had an hour and a half drive in front of us.  The night before I had scouted out a residential street to park on about a kilometer from the stadium. By 10 am we had parked the car and were snacking on sandwiches on this shady lakeside residential street. At 10:30, we started our walk to the stadium, picking up more and more Argentinian fans on the way. Most were dressed in sky blue and white soccer jerseys, many with Maradona or Messi written on the back.  They carried flags, banners, signs and beer. They were generally well-behaved, though quite loud with a long playlist of Argentinian songs.

My kids blended in with their Messi Argentine jerseys--one Brazilian fan was so convinced that the blond twin was Argentinian that he insisted on taking a photo with him even after being informed he was Brazilian, too. BH, his daughter and my brother in law were all wearing Brazil shirts and biting their tongues--the rivalry with Argentina runs deep. I was in white as was my father in law, my stepson in a neutral grey. 

We ran into a few Iranian fans on the way wearing white, red and green. A couple had turbans, one had a crown, all were few and far between. In general, the walk up to the stadium was incredibly pleasant along the lakefront and in a giant centipede of fans. Finally we arrived at the long uphill leading to the stadium, called Mineirão. Mineirão was not built new for the Cup, but extensively renovated and was the first of the 12 to be completed last year. 


We passed through three gates on this hill up to the stadium. The first just checked if we had tickets (we did), the second made us throw away any outside food or drink, the third checked inside purses and bags. Then we walked past the "Tropa de Choque" or shock troops all armed to the teeth with shields and automatic weapons. Even their horses wore plastic eye guards for possible germ warfare (?). We saw not a single altercation at the game--but then we know the Pope is Argentinian, his boss is Brazilian and the Iranians care nothing about any of that. 

At the top of the hill, we came into view of Mineirão which looked impressive (though you have to like 60s architecture, one must say) all decked out in FIFA flags. We got into the short security line and went through the metal detector all in about 5 minutes. Then we found our gate and my heart began to beat faster. There was still the possibility that my 7-year old son would not be able to use the ticket of his grandmother and we would both have to sit outside the stadium for the game.

Security line #4
 We were sent to a special "preferential ticket holder" line for student and elderly ticket holders. My son passed through first, then the machine beeped asking for the document of the preferential ticket holder. My father in law handed over his. The ticket taker got a little confused about who had which ticket and in the end we all passed through. 

I was completely impressed with the organization of the stadium--well-signed and filled with volunteer helpers. No line for the women's room (for once!!) and we found our seats with an hour to go before the game. We had really lucked out in our ticket lottery--we were at midfield, with a great view of the big monitors as well. BH went off in search of food while we took selfies and tried to make heads or tails of the Argentinian fan chants. I dunno but probably something about Maradona. Or matte tea. No idea really.

BH found us some "Feijão Tropeiro" which is a wonderful Brazilian dish of pork loin, beans, farofa, kale and an egg. Warm, delicious-- a little hard to eat with only a plastic spoon. Apparently there are certain foods that different regions cannot live without (the acarajé in Bahia springs to mind) and this food is offered in their regional stadium in addition to the hotdogs and hamburgers. Loved it.  Beer was served in souvenir cups as was water and sodas. I had beer. Cold, fizzy, delicious. Better than any in the US parks (oh, all right, SF Giants stadium wins but barely--it's too cold to have a beer there anyway). 

We ate and watched the teams warm up and the Argentinians swarm in. There were at least 25,000 Argentine fans, combined with around 20,000 Brazilian fans and then about 40 Iranian fans. Seriously. A sea of blue and white. I must say that Argentines are great fans--singing and dancing and jumping. And they were not getting into fights with the Brazilians even when the Brazilians started cheering for Iran.

Yes, the Brazilians cheered for Iran. Loudly. Every time Iran got close to the goal and missed, you would hear a collective "ooooh" of disappointment. When they did a good defense or pass you could hear half a stadium sing "Ole, ole, ole, ola, Iran, Iran." I don't think Iran is that popular even IN Iran. Brazilians are so nice: they won't boo you but they will cheer for your opponent.

I personally would never cheer for Iran. I do feel sorry for them and their whole one-shirt-for-the-whole-Cup thing (see this blog post) but I make it a policy not to cheer for teams that won't let me into their home stadium. Because I am a woman.  Not because I feel very sleepy during soccer games.  

By 85 minutes and no score, the Brazilians were getting louder and the Argentinians quieter. The "Iranians" (Brazilians) had started singing "1,000 goals (as in Pele) and Maradona snorts cocaine". It sounds better in a song. I don't know--they showed crabby Maradona in the stadium on the big screen and I would seriously hate to meet him in a dark alley. I was very quiet. 

My son whose hero is Messi started to cry that there would be no goal by the Argentinian striker. He sat and mulled his hot dog while the Argentinians rose up as one and shouted "gooooooooooal" as Messi got a goal at 91 minutes. We all jumped up and down. The Argentinians were still standing and singing 10 minutes after the game ended and we left the stadium. 

Argentina 1 x Iran 0

A perfect game.


  1. Well, almost perfect. Argentina did win after all... :-)

    1. :) hahaha! You would have been cheering for Iran, too, right? Just like every other Brazilian.

    2. Absolutely! We can sort out the politics after the World Cup. God knows, Brazil needs a lot of work on that too. But right now, there's something more important going on that only happens every 4 years (or every 64 years depending on how you look at it).