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A Belated Pilgrimage: Visiting Old Trafford to Experience Premier League Football

Spherical Manor

At the beginning of March 2017, @SphericalManor made the lengthy journey to Old Trafford to watch what was his first-ever live Premier League match. An avid football fan for over twenty years who these days mostly witnesses the game in the flesh when he visits his local non-league side on a whim, his relationship with Salford’s finest is not as straightforward as his inner child would like it to be. A barrage of excuses and anecdotes regarding his sympathies can be found here, but below is an account of his experience as a long-distance traveller taking in Manchester United vs AFC Bournemouth.

A Belated Pilgrimage:

Visiting Old Trafford to Experience Premier League Football

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Aloof Allegiances

Stop grumbling, there are people in Africa who would kill for this. Plenty in Asia too for that matter, not to mention virtually every other corner of the globe.

But here I am, a man in his late-twenties who has followed the club…

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Aloof Allegiances

Spherical Manor

Recently, @SphericalManor made a belated pilgrimage to Old Trafford to watch what was actually his first ever live match of Premier League football (read about the experience here). As an explanation is possibly in order, what follows below is a lengthy account of his footballing allegiances.Packed with anecdotes and trivia, perhaps just be grateful that he isn’t still wrapped up in a sickly tangle of reminiscences….

Home shirts - 1

Aloof Allegiances

“Gloryhunter”

Unsurprisingly, this is not a word I would introduce myself with, though in response to some enquiries regarding my sympathies over the years, I have actually gone to the length of denying even liking football, less I risk getting branded one. Now, some would say not liking football is virtually a prerequisite for most long-distance Manchester United fans, but let’s not descend into petty name-calling too early here.

While the reason I, a man in his late-twenties who lives over 200 miles…

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2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship – A Look Ahead

 

Possibly against his better judgement, @DarrenSpherical is preparing to watch and report back on the leading talents in all 35 games of the upcoming Under-20 South American Youth Championship. If you are seeking information on the teams and players participating, click one of the links at the bottom of this article (or alternatively, here). Otherwise, featuring some reflections on the last tournament two years ago, provided below is a loose idea of what is in store over these 25 days…

quitostadium

Estadio Olímpico Atahualpa, Quito, Ecuador (capacity: 35,724). The venue for the 15 games of the Final Phase. 

2017 Under-20 South American Youth Championship – A Look Ahead

It faces stiff competition in the football-watching itineraries of even the most caffeine-addled obsessives, but within the next several years, many of its headline-grabbers are likely to invade the elite leagues of world football. From 18 January until 11 February witnesses the return of the biennial, raw talent-loaded South American Youth Championship (Campeonato Sudamericano Sub-20 Juventud de América).

Between them, the Under-20 sides of the 10 CONMEBOL nations shall make use of four different stadiums in the north and centre of Ecuador and duke it out in the latest edition of this prestigious competition. Such is the draw that it possesses that a staggering 65,235 turned up at Montevideo’s historic Estadio Centenario for 2015’s deciding match between hosts Uruguay and eventual-winners Argentina. Yet, though both of those sides certainly cared about winning, the competition is as much a qualification stage for the Under-20 World Cup.

Indeed, the tournament is structured as follows: the 10 CONMEBOL nations are split into two groups of five teams, in which they all play each other once. After these four games, the top three teams from each group go through to the final league of six sides, all of whom play each other once. Although following these five games whichever selección has the most points in this table shall momentarily bask in the glory of winning the trophy, all of the top four will nevertheless be travelling to South Korea in May for the World Cup. Thus, as one should be able to deduce, there is no actual knock-out final; it just so happened that last time around the top two played each other in what was the last match.

Cramming nine games into 24-25 days for each of the final six nations may not sound entirely conducive to the development of their players; however, intentionally or otherwise, it serves well the biggest attraction of this tournament: talent-spotting. Indeed, as the youngsters will be fully aware, professional scouts and agents from all over the world shall be present at the games, with many more of varying qualifications watching on from afar. To get an idea of the calibre of players who may be displaying their wares in the upcoming weeks, a perusal of past squad lists yields many household names. Lionel Messi? He banged in five goals in 2005 in an Argentina team featuring Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Biglia and Ezequiel Garay. Alexis Sánchez? He was there with Chile in 2007 alongside a six-goal Arturo Vidal, as well as Gary Medel and Mauricio Isla. Neymar? He led Brazil to victory in 2011 with nine goals in a squad that included Danilo, Casemiro, Oscar, Alex Sandro, Lucas Moura and Juan Jesus.

They have much to live up to and it is too early to judge the class of ’15; they are, after all, still between just 19 and 21 years of age. Nevertheless, it seems noteworthy that the final, decisive clash from that tournament featured some of the players who have since enjoyed the greatest prominence at club level. Indeed, the opener was scored by Uruguay’s Gastón Pereiro, one of the players of the tournament with five goals, who in July 2015 was snapped up by PSV Eindhoven for a handsome fee; in October of that year he also scored both goals in an away win against Ajax and now has over 20 goals to his name. Argentina’s first-half equaliser came courtesy of Sebastián Driussi who, in the last several months has emerged as a River Plate regular, netting 10 times in 14 league games; he has attracted interest from, amongst others, Tottenham Hotspur. Fittingly, La Albiceleste‘s 81st-minute winner was struck home by four-goal Ángel Correa, widely considered to be the championship’s standout player. Eyes were on the stocky rampager from the off as he had already signed for Atlético Madrid following some impressive displays at San Lorenzo. He has since been in and out of Diego Simeone’s side, though has scored some important goals, including the equaliser in September’s away draw with Barcelona. Speaking of Cholo, his son Giovanni Simeone was in fact the top-scorer in 2015 with nine goals. Derided by some at the time as being largely the beneficiary of the playmaking of Correa and co. as well as, less charitably, a goalhanger, he has answered such critics this season by making his mark on the European game, becoming a regular name on the Genoa scoresheet in Serie A.

Many more who featured in 2015 are playing regularly for top-level clubs in South America. Also, a considerable number of others have made the leap and are currently at teams in major European leagues, some of the most notable being: Gerson (Roma/Brazil), Mauricio Lemos (Las Palmas/Uruguay), Cristian Espinoza (Alavés, on loan from Villarreal/Argentina), Emmanuel Mammana (Lyon/Argentina), Mauro Arambarri (Bordeaux/Uruguay), Malcolm (Bordeaux/Brazil), Antonio Sanabria (Real Betis/Paraguay), Davinson Sánchez (Ajax/Colombia), Kenedy (Chelsea/Brazil), Rafael Santos Borré (Villarreal, on loan from Atlético Madrid/Colombia), Adalberto Peñaranda (Málaga, on loan from Watford/Venezuela), Sergio Díaz (Real Madrid/Paraguay) and Marlon (Barcelona/Brazil).

Some of these impressed two years ago more than others. Another player of note, the much-hyped ‘new Neymar’ Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa, had a mixed tournament in a patchy Brazil side but has since won Olympic gold, played and scored for the senior side and moved from Santos to Inter Milan for an eye-watering €29.5m. Whether he and the others live up to expectations remains to be seen. By contrast, Colombia’s nippy attacker Jeison Lucumí was widely picked out as one of the stars of Uruguay 2015 yet, in the two years since, has been languishing with fallen giants América de Cali in his country’s second-flight. He may still be only 21 and his team have just been promoted back to the big league but such tales do both cause one to ponder the power and influence of certain agents as well as caution against getting carried away with tournament form.

Indeed, a prime case in point comes from 2005 when Hugo Rodallega ended up the top-scorer, netting a staggering 11 goals. Though he has since distanced himself from the comments, he was reported as claiming that this meant that he is ‘undoubtedly better than Messi‘, who bagged a mere five. In fairness, while he may not have subsequently met some people’s expectations (least of all his own), a career that has included six seasons in the English Premier League can not be glibly dismissed. Quite, for most youth internationals from any part of the world, it would constitute a rip-roaring success.

Nevertheless, roll on Ecuador 2017, false promises, surprise gems and all. As one person could not possibly claim to be an authority on all 10 sides, there will be no overview on this website, but if that is what one seeks then some links at the bottom of this article should come in handy. Having scoured through all the squad lists, it can at least be said that those who regularly watch any of these nations’ domestic leagues should spot several familiar names. Overall, however, very few players have already been snapped up by teams outside of their respective homelands – expect that to change. Also, those who watched two years may recognise a few names, such as Jesús Medina (Paraguay), Adrián Ugarriza (Peru) and Rodrigo Amaral (Uruguay). Each of these players put in good showings and one can not help but wonder if their slight age-advantages will benefit them here. The likes of Gerson, Sergio Díaz and Adalberto Peñaranda would also be eligible for a second throw of the dice but, alas, none of these Europe-based players have been released.  Lastly, 19-year-old Gabriel Jesus, Manchester City’s £27m signing from Palmeiras, did not appear for his country in 2015 yet did at that year’s Under-20 World Cup and has since scored five times for the senior side in qualifiers for Russia 2018; needless to say, he hasn’t made the trip to Ecuador.

Thus, yours truly plans to go into this tournament with open eyes and shall report back after each matchday with observations on the standout players, providing video highlights, brief summaries and maybe the opinions of others as well. With two games per day for the first ten days, followed by a well-earned two-day break before, gulp, three matches per day every three days which cover the final five matchdays, one hopes to maintain one’s sanity.

The opening day is 18 January 2017 and the two matches will be Colombia vs Paraguay and Ecuador vs Brazil. Daily updates should appear on this website following each matchday but for more up-to-the-minute coverage, please follow @DarrenSpherical on Twitter. 

groups

The two groups: the teams play each other once, then from 30 January-11 February, the three top teams from each group play each other once in the final phase of six teams, with the top four qualifying for the Under-20 World Cup). 

Preview Articles

La Pizarra Del DT: Tournament Preview – Perhaps the most detailed overview in Spanish, though these translations should help decode the key information on each page: Estrella – Star, Otro jugador clave – Other key player, Entrenador – Manager, Baja importante – Important loss/absence. You’re welcome.

Argentina Team Preview – The most thorough look at these perennial contenders, courtesy of Peter Coates of Golazo Argentino. Here is another of his articles, which highlights five key players for La Albiceleste.

Uruguay Team PreviewTim Vickery takes a broader, historical perspective in his piece on La Celeste.

ESPN Tournament Preview Article – Tim Vickery with another article again looking both back and forward, this time with a more general outlook.

Goal’s Ones to WatchDaniel Edwards selects 11 players tipped to stand out in 2017’s competition.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Rebellion Festival – Day 1 (& The Journey)

Spherical Manor

Departing from the regular dispatches on obscure football players, @DarrenSpherical has turned his attention to near-mythical bands. He recently returned to the northern English seaside town of Blackpool to attend the 2016 Rebellion Festival, a mammoth four-day celebration of punk and its 40-plus years’ worth of subgenres, featuring bands, interviews, artwork, poetry, comedy and an improbable cast of characters.

Rebellion Festival 2016

4-7 August 2016

What follows below is as much a personal account as it is a review of this meticulously mapped mayhem written by a 28-year-old man who has committed a reality-defying amount of man-hours to this broad culture. I make no claim to be an authoritative guide and understand that many fellow attendees may stumble upon parts and wonder if I was actually at the same festival as them. Indeed, as will be expanded upon via a number of tangents inspired by what I encountered, there are countless strands, layers and…

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Venezuela 1-3 Ecuador – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (17 November 2015)

The fourth matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign yielded the fourth consecutive defeat for Noel Sanvicente’s charges. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Tuesday 17 November 2015 – Estadio Cachamay, Puerto Ordaz, Ciudad Guayana, Bolívar State

Venezuela 1-3 Ecuador

Video Highlights of Venezuela 1-3 Ecuador, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 17 November 2015 (YouTube)

Match Report

Contrasting Fortunes in Puerto Ordaz

What began as bottom versus top ended as bottom versus top yet, for now at least, Noel Sanvicente is still the Venezuela manager. A replacement had been rumoured beforehand and at least another one has been linked since the final whistle was blown in a disenchanted Cachamay stadium. Although Chita emphatically ruled out resigning immediately after this fourth consecutive qualifying loss, he is not really in a position to determine his own fate. With four months from now until matchday five, the Federación Venezolana de Fútbol (FVF) have got considerable time to weigh up how they envisage the remainder of the seemingly doomed Russia 2018 campaign. This may be partially revealed as soon as Monday 23 November, as a meeting with Sanvicente has been scheduled.

Before kick-off, fan discontent was already high, a fact reflected in the vast numbers of empty seats – a far cry from a near-full crowd of 35,076 who turned up to the Estadio José Antonio Anzoátegui for the same fixture three years ago. Much of the Puerto Ordaz public no doubt felt scarred and short-changed from the three other dreadful Vinotinto encounters that have taken place in the same ground over the past two months. Nevertheless, those who did attend brought with them some vocal, giddy, enthusiasm that could only be gradually tamed by events.

Many were excited to get a good look at a vast array of their leading representatives, all of whom currently play for overseas clubs in, remarkably, 11 different countries. This was a much-changed side from the one featuring five home-based players that was seen off by Bolivia at high altitude. It combined established cracks and familiar faces with a few individuals who many hope will be long-term regulars (namely injury-hit Rómulo Otero and the recently converted pair, Christian Santos and Jeffrén Suárez).

Alas, it did not take long to dissipate the rather optimistic hope that, in spite of recent performances, this encounter against CONMEBOL’s most in-form nation would be when things suddenly gel. Though the hosts just about held their own in the opening exchanges, the 11th minute witnessed Pumas striker Fidel Martínez receiving a short pass in a disconcerting amount of space before firing into the back of the net. The Venezuelan back-line breathed  a collective sigh of relief upon seeing the offside flag but their mood did not last long. Following a failed attack just four minutes later, they were caught hopelessly out of position as right-back Juan Carlos Paredes simply dinked a ball over into the central area to Martínez who had the time to control and strike home. Highlighting the hosts’ defensive woes, it was right-back Roberto Rosales – albeit, with little hope of success – who was the closest to putting in a challenge, with centre-backs Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and ‘Sema’ Velázquez never in the race.

Ecuador were apparently aware of Venezuela’s lack of pace at the back and later in the half were only narrowly denied with a couple more speed battles in open spaces that they instigated via chipped central passes.

No tactical know-how was needed for the second goal, however, though home fans will have felt a dispiriting sense of déjà vu. In the 23rd minute, it seemed Venezuela’s – and, perhaps, Sanvicente’s – fate was sealed when the pass out by goalkeeper Alain Baroja went awry. It was far too short for Vizcarrondo, who was beaten to the ball by Miller Bolaños who, in turn, nudged it to Jefferson Montero. The Swansea City winger quickly passed it back to Bolaños on the left side of the area and the Emelec man was able to return the ball to the centre for the incoming Montero, who doubled the lead with relative ease. While the culprit was different – for most observers, anyway – the goal inevitably drew comparisons with the mix-up involving Vizcarrondo and Baroja for Paraguay’s late winner  in the same ground a month ago.

Deflated on the pitch as well as in the stands, Venezuela struggled to inspire genuine hope of a comeback. Otero seemed the most likely catalyst with his occasionally testing balls into the area, bursts of pace, plus an ambitious shot or two. It was his run into the left side of the area in the 43rd minute that created a chance of sorts for Jeffrén; alas, he shot too close to goalkeeper Esteban Dreer. Just a minute prior, the ex-Barcelona wide man had fashioned a chance for himself when, from the right, he cut onto his left and struck a shot a yard or so wide from the edge of the area.

This slight momentum continued and grew in the early stages of the second half. NEC Nijmegen’s top-scorer Santos was to come close twice in as many minutes. Firstly on 52 minutes, he got onto the end of Rosales’ cross but his header, though powerful, was directed straight at Dreer. Soon afterwards, he received a flick-on by Salomón Rondón and beat Dreer to the ball, nudging it around him, though was ultimately denied by a defender guarding the exposed net.

Alas, just several minutes later as the hour mark approached, the contest was effectively over. From a break, Montero paced up the left to cross in a hanging ball that was met in space 16 yards out by Felipe Caicedo. Unmarked, the Espanyol striker powered a spectacular header into the top left-hand corner.
In the remaining thirty minutes, Ecuador continued to attack without increasing their lead. As has often recently been the case with Venezuela’s opponents, the home spectactors were left with the feeling that if their rivals had really needed at least one more goal, then they would have got it. The closest they did come, however, occurred in the 69th minute when a phenomenal 35-yard left-footed free-kick from Walter Ayoví venomously curled over the wall and then rattled off the highest point of the right-sided post.
Goal-wise at least, Venezuela were to have the last say. Their consolation came with little more than five minutes left as substitute Josef Martínez arrived unmarked at the far post to side-foot home Rosales’ cross from the right. Much as the Torino striker wanted to rouse his team-mates for an ambitious grand finale, it was the visitors who looked more likely to find the net. Indeed, as the game entered stoppage-time, Ecuador broke on a counter with at least a man advantage, but Rosales just about caught up with Walter Ayoví to commit a foul a couple of yards outside the area, for which he received a booking.
Nevertheless, with a 3-1 away victory, fans of La Tricolor will be as delighted with their fourth consecutive win as La Vinotinto followers will be dejected with their fourth straight defeat.
What follows are some thoughts on this encounter. 
Too Much Diversity? Venezuela’s Awkward Transition

Greece, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Colombia, Italy, Chile, England, Belgium and the Netherlands. These are the countries in which the Venezuelan starting XI play their respective domestic football. All different and all overseas. Given the weakness of the Venezuelan top-flight, the latter is perhaps not so much a problem but the former surely is. While several have long-standing experience of playing together at international level, this is certainly not the case for new ‘recruits’ such as Jeffrén and Santos. These two men are past their mid-20s and have only recently become eligible to represent La Vinotinto, having moved away from Venezuela with their families while very young.

Of course, most fans are always excited to see their disparate representatives all on one field together. However, it is hard not to avoid the feeling that their distances from one another for most of the year are not really conducive to effective team play. Indeed, familiarity amongst players at club level is a huge asset for international managers who are usually short of preparation time, as has been evidenced by the last two World Cup-winning sides, Germany and Spain.

While many South American nations have their leading talents scattered across the globe (mostly in Europe), the diversity of leagues represented is easily the highest amongst the current Venezuelan crop. Although a typical Argentina or Brazil squad may draw upon talents based in seven or eight different countries, the cream of the crop largely come from no more than three or four. While recent results for these two decorated nations may not be meeting past standards, their records from the past decade or so are nevertheless envied by the vast majority of national federations.

Thus, though Venezuelans should be proud to now have so many players plying their trade in highly competitive leagues, it could well be that they are currently at a difficult transition phase in their footballing development. Indeed, while it may only provide one piece of the puzzle, in order to see more unity and cohesion on the pitch we may all have to wait until more top players are clustered in no more than a handful of different leagues. In such a scenario, irrespective of whether or not they play for the same teams, not only would they be experiencing broadly similar playing styles, surfaces, cultures etc. but there would be more opportunities to socialise off the pitch. Fostering a collective team spirit is every bit as important as a functioning playing system.

Sanvicente’s Future/Venezuela’s Regression

Another defeat for Noel Sanvicente and another unwanted record. Venezuela have now got off to their worst start in World Cup Qualifying since the campaign for USA 1994. This was in a different format and consisted of a run of seven straight losses that, on the last matchday, was ended by a solitary victory. If Chita‘s current charges are to avoid again making history for the wrong reasons, their best chance may be in the next encounter away to Peru in March – quite a challenge in itself. Otherwise, their subsequent encounters in the 18-game process are against Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. For Venezuela at least, there really are no easy games in CONMEBOL qualifying.

Such regression has understandably irked fans. Not only are the results very poor but there is no discernible style to Venezuela’s play and there is little awareness of what the manager is trying to achieve. Consequently, analyses of team performances seem increasingly unenlightening. Even if a player shows glimpses of promise – for this game, Josef Martínez’s goal and general drive to go forward should not go unremarked upon – not only does it seem relatively minor but also, they seem to have prospered in spite of, rather than because of, whatever system Sanvicente is trying to implement.

Although they may just be idle rumours, two Argentines have been linked with replacing him as national boss. Firstly, 2014 Copa Libertadores-winning Edgardo Bauza of San Lorenzo and, even more eye-raisingly, renowned maverick Marcelo Bielsa, formerly of Argentina and Chile, whose most recent job was at Marseille. Even if it does not come from either of these two men, there is certainly a threat to the position of Sanvicente and he will have to wait until Monday to discover his fate.

UPDATE (23 November 2015): Following a meeting with the FVF, Noel Sanvicente remains as the Venezuela national team manager. One casualty from the talks, however, is the Estadio Cachamay, where Venezuela have played – and lost – two qualifiers and will no longer be appearing at during this qualifying cycle.

Venezuela Also Disconcerting off the Field

Finally, it was not just a bad night for Venezuelan football but also for the nation’s politics – not to mention democracy. Indeed, towards the end of the game, some fans started chanting against the current government headed by Nicolás Maduro and were audible to those watching at home. It did not take long for those in control of the public announce system to drown these voices out with the sounds of what was most probably the first piece of music they could lay their hands on. Anyone who is familiar with the country’s media will be unsurprised to learn that this unsavoury incident largely went unreported in the leading outlets.

Team Selections

Venezuela (4-4-2): Baroja; Rosales, Vizcarrondo, Velázquez, Cichero; Jeffrén (Martínez, 54′), Rincón, Lucena (Acosta, 46′), Otero; S. Rondón, Santos (M. Rondón, 68′).

Ecuador (4-2-3-1): Dreer; Paredes, Guagua, Erazo, W. Ayoví; Noboa, Quiñónez (Castillo, 70′); F. Martínez, Bolaños, Montero (Cazares, 76′); Caicedo (J. Ayoví, 82′).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical 

Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela – CONMEBOL Qualification Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018 (12 November 2015)

The third matchday of La Vinotinto’s 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign brought the third consecutive loss to Noel Sanvicente’s charges. Here, Hispanospherical.com provides a match report and offers some thoughts on the game.

CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018

Thursday 12 November 2015 – Estadio Hernando Siles, La Paz, La Paz Department

Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela 

Video Highlights of Bolivia 4-2 Venezuela, CONMEBOL Qualifying Stage for FIFA World Cup 2018, 12 November 2015 (YouTube)

Match Report

Fluid Bolivia Soundly See Off Sanvicente’s Makeshift XI

Not for the first time, a substantial strategy to combat the vertiginous altitude of La Paz was thwarted by Bolivia. This time, in a largely dominant display, La Verde bagged four goals – a feat they had not achieved since October 2012 – to emphatically end a run of five consecutive losses in all competitions. For Venezuela, it was their fifth competitive defeat on the bounce and their third straight loss in this World Cup qualifying campaign. Upon taking over in July 2014, manager Noel Sanvicente may have wanted the fans of La Vinotinto to be dreaming of Russia 2018 but already they can only think of Qatar 2022; he must now confront the very real possibility that Tuesday’s game against Ecuador may be his last. While the conditions definitely played a role in this latest reversal, Chita will have to concede that, as soon as the first ball was kicked, his charges were out-fought and his tactics were ineffective (and to some, incomprehensible). Once again, there was little on display to sway the hearts and minds of the ever-growing number of dissenters.

The hosts, coached by USA ’94 veteran Julio César Baldivieso and benefitting from having nine players in their line-up who regularly see club action in this stadium, frequently looked a threat going forward. Throughout the game, they passed and paced around with greater accuracy and purpose than their visitors, leaving observers with the impression that if they really wanted more goals, they could easily have had them.

They enjoyed much success on the flanks, particularly in the opening exchanges. With just five minutes on the clock, the irrepressible Alejandro Chumacero forced a good instinctive save from the legs of Alain Baroja, following a cross from Damián Lizio.

Despite such pressure being frequently exerted from wide positions, the opening goal on 19 minutes was more direct, albeit greatly facilitated by a defensive error. A long ball pumped towards the right-hand side was hooked by centre-back Franklin Lucena straight into more dangerous territory. Rudy Cardozo picked it up centrally some 40-plus yards from goal before rapidly feeding an incisive pass to Rodrigo Ramallo who, intentionally or otherwise, dinked the ball over Baroja.

Barely a minute later, Sanvicente was left mentally shredding up a month’s worth of preparation as Bolivia doubled their lead. Some neat interplay on the edge of the area culminated with Ramallo heading the ball on for Lizio who was barged over by Wilker Ángel. Juan Carlos Arce duly stepped up to convert the penalty to make it 2-0.

Whether a bit of complacency crept in amongst the hosts or the visitors suddenly found some attacking fluency, Venezuela’s immediate response saw them enjoy more time in opposition territory. Despite this, they were not really threatening Daniel Vaca’s goal, with Mario Rondón often chasing balls up the right but unable to put through a testing ball. Then, however, in the 33th minute, not without a little slice of luck, they were offered a lifeline. A throw from the right was touched on by Richard Blanco to captain Tomás Rincón on the edge of the area. El General did well to swiftly evade a tackle before striking a shot that was deflected towards Rondón who, in turn, just about nudged it past Vaca to halve the deficit. The Bolivian defence claimed offside but alas, the diversion had caught them out.

However, any hope of mounting a comeback was scuppered in first-half stoppage-time. A ball was sprayed out to Chucamero who was afforded considerable room on the right of the area, from where he crossed for Ramallo to head in with relative ease. 3-1.

Sanvicente appeared to want to shore things up at half-time by bringing on defender Francisco Carabalí for midfielder Arquímedes Figuera. Alas, this was to no avail as within three minutes the contest was all-but-over. Once again, Chumacero was the catalyst. With breathtaking skill, perhaps supplemented by some fortune, he received a hoisted ball on the right and, with a phenomenal first touch, gained a stately garden’s worth of space away from two defenders. He raced into the area before sliding it back to Ramallo whose shot was saved by Baroja at close range only to fall to Cardozo who, with the aid of a deflection, fired home.

Sanvicente responded by withdrawing – and, no doubt, humiliating – centre-back Ángel and replacing him with Arouca’s ‘Sema’ Velázquez, who received his first appearance under the incumbent manager. Given the already commanding scoreline and the subsequent continuation of attacking threat offered by Bolivia, it is difficult to say how much this change had in halting the concession of goals.

Nevertheless, in the 55th minute, Venezuela were to tease the eternal optimists by finding the net for a second time. Another throw-in – this time on the left – was picked up by Rondón who found Blanco on the edge of the area with a pinpoint pass. The Mineros de Guayana forward did well to take a touch to bring the ball away from his marker before striking low with his left boot. He shaped, he shot, he scored.

Despite this, Bolivia’s superiority was still very much in evidence for the remainder of the game, with attacks on the flanks as well as shots and balls fired into the area causing frequent problems for the Venezuelan rearguard. Such was the hosts’ dominance, with little more than ten minutes remaining, the La Paz crowd began to cheer their representatives’ every pass.

With eight minutes left, however, some of those in the stands may have briefly feared a previously unthinkable comeback as Venezuela put the ball into the back of the net. Luis Manuel Seijas’ corner from the left was headed against the crossbar by Rafael Acosta; from the rebound, Velázquez’s effort was saved but Rondón was able to hook it into the back of the net. Alas, the flag had already been raised – correctly – for offside.

Thus, Bolivia held on to their two-goal advantage to gain their first points of the qualifying campaign. Venezuela remain point-less and, if countering the after-effects of playing at high altitude before facing CONMEBOL leaders Ecuador (9 points) was not tough enough for Sanvicente, he will have to do it without one of his regular starters. Though it can not be said for sure that Seijas would have played anyway, he nevertheless ruled himself out in the third minute of stoppage-time, earning a straight red card; this was allegedly for comments made towards the official.

What follows are some thoughts on this latest Venezuelan setback. 

Match Thoughts

Decisions as well as Conditions Played Their Part

Despite undergoing specialist preparations with a pool of home-based talent at the national training facility (CNAR) for the past few weeks, Venezuela undoubtedly struggled with the altitude of La Paz. Only ten of those who received time with the hyperbaric chambers made the journey, with just five named in the line-up (plus one who came off the bench). Sanvicente’s selected XI consisted of a makeshift crop of individuals, many of whom have rarely, if ever, played together internationally and some of whom were only playing due to the circumstances.

Contrast this with the nine Bolivian starters (adding on two substitutes) who regularly play their domestic football at the Estadio Hernando Siles for either Bolívar or The Strongest. Indeed, all of the goalscorers and attacking threats – Chumacero, Ramallo, Cardozo, Arce and Lizio – are very much accustomed to playing at 3,600 metres above sea level in both the league as well as the Copas Libertadores and/or Sudamericana. Thus, while fielding a team with such experience undoubtedly aided the victory, their familiarity with one another for their clubs as well as their individual qualities were also major factors.

Venezuelan Rearguard Flimsy, Disorganised and/or Inexperienced

Not that these were the only reasons. For all the attacking qualities the Bolivians possessed, their routes towards goal – both through the middle and from the flanks – were greatly enabled by their opponents. Indeed, despite four of Venezuela’s starting midfielders – Rincón, Figuera, Acosta and Seijas – either being defence-minded or having experience of providing extra protection to the back four, acres of space was often gifted away. Furthermore, of the back line, only the experienced Lucena can be considered a regular; whereas Alexander González, a right-back or right-winger for his club Young Boys, was hopelessly exposed at left-back; the two home-based youngsters – 20-year-old debutant right-back Jefre Vargas and, especially, 21-year-old centre-back Ángel – will not wish to recall their rare outings any time soon.

On all four goals, there was more than one error of note. For the opener, Lucena’s poor clearance gifted plenty of space in the middle for Cardozo who, in turn, was not closed down and was instead able to rapidly pick a pass between the defenders for Ramallo to finish. On the second, Bolivia’s attackers were able to knock the ball between themselves in a central area before Ángel’s foul gave away the penalty. On the third, Chumacero had an abundance of time and space on González’s right-hand side to pick out a cross for Ramallo to nod home ahead of Ángel and Lucena. Similarly for the fourth, Chumacero glided into a huge free area in the right side of the area before Ramallo again beat the central defenders to the cross, with his shot being saved before Cardozo latched onto the rebound.

This is without detailing all the other chances that were created  on Baroja’s goal. Undeniably then, Sanvicente’s tactics and choice of defensive personnel were also factors in the loss. Given that many of these players would not be likely starters in regular playing conditions, they can consider this a squandered personal opportunity to make their presence count on this stage. Between them, they were responsible for the second-highest number of goals conceded in a match under Sanvicente (runners-up only to those involved in the 5-0 mauling dished out by Chile this time last year).

Experienced Men Stand Out in Attack but do they Possess a Future?

Despite the two goals, there are not many in the attacking positions who could be said to have done themselves many favours in the long run. It is perhaps asking a bit much to expect any attacking fluency and well-worked moves from individuals who rarely play in the same line-up but all the same, there was little of this on show. Indeed, of the starters, only Seijas can be considered a regular and he normally plays for his country just ahead of the back four, as opposed to on the left of midfield. He caused some problems from set-pieces but his red card at the death will have not helped his personal cause.

Mario Rondón will doubtless feel emboldened, not only scoring but also having a hand in the second goal as well as finding the net again towards the end – albeit after an offside flag had been raised. He regularly chased balls and with three goals since Sanvicente took over (albeit one of these has since been chalked off, through no fault of the player), he is having the best phase of his international career. Alas, with under 15 caps to his name and his thirtieth birthday approaching in March, Rondón is not well-placed to make a long-term claim for a starting spot. Indeed, he is not really an out-and-out striker and faces competition from numerous versatile attacking players, many of whom are just emerging and are tipped to be fixtures of the selección for the best part of the next decade.  That said, as he was omitted from the Copa América squad, one suspects he will at least derive some contentment from any future call-ups, having been largely ignored outright by previous managers.

Age is even more of a concern for the other attacker of note, 33-year-old Mineros de Guayana striker Richard Blanco. Nevertheless, he took his goal very well and also played a minor role in Rondón’s strike.

Although both men may struggle to get onto the pitch in future, Sanvicente must glean some satisfaction from the fact that both of their goals started via the same route: a throw-in. Indeed, this was not too dissimilar from the history-making Salomón Rondón goal against Colombia in June that had its origins in a Roberto Rosales throw. While in all of these situations, the touchline hoist may have been far from the decisive factor, it is a curious coincidence and most likely has its roots on the training ground. Although Venezuela still urgently need to broaden their attacking arsenal, this particular weapon does at least show they can always offer a surprise irrespective of their general performance.

Sanvicente’s Last Stand on Tuesday? 

Much of this speculation regarding the national team’s future could soon either be discarded or moderated as a change in leadership could well be in the offing. Indeed, the dissent that has long been a feature of Noel Sanvicente’s reign has grown considerably in recent months and increases with every disappointing result. This defeat was the sixth in Venezuela’s last seven games (with the other match being a dire home draw against Panama). Scurious internet rumours and managerial wishlists have since evolved into published articles suggesting possible replacements; questions regarding Sanvicente’s position have made it into at least a couple of press conferences. There is a growing feeling that Tuesday’s home game against Ecuador could well be Chita‘s last game in charge.

Although now is not yet the time to write an obituary, things have undoubtedly regressed during his 16-month reign, giving younger fans a taste of what the dark pre-boom years were like before the nation were viable underdogs. Indeed, despite the opening day win against Colombia, the failure to get out of their group in this year’s Copa América was their worst performance since 2004’s competition. Similarly, their three consecutive defeats mark their worst start to a World Cup qualifying campaign since their opening games of the preliminary stage of Japan/South Korea 2002.

Though the Venezuelan football association (FVF) has been relatively quiet on their manager’s position, it is hard not to escape the feeling that much is riding on Tuesday’s home clash in Puerto Ordaz. For this bottom-versus-top encounter with Ecuador, Sanvicente will welcome back leading players such as Salomón Rondón, Roberto Rosales and Oswaldo Vizcarrondo; they are tipped to be supplemented by the bright new things (at international leve, at least), Christian Santos and Jeffrén Suárez.

At this point, a sudden turnaround that catalyses and transforms the campaign seems rather unlikely. Not only have the players frequently been on the wrong end of scorelines in both competitive and friendly action, but they have also deserved to be. Unsurprisingly, they have rarely seemed particularly happy when out on the field; whether that is simply due to the results or the system under which they are playing is difficult to discern. Nevertheless, one can not help but feel that if Sanvicente is to keep his job, this does heavily hinge upon whether his players, particularly the most senior ones, really want him to. Regardless of how low Venezuela’s chances of making Russia 2018 already seem, many players know that Qatar 2022 is too late for them. For such players as well as many fans, when placed in such a scenario, patience does not seem like much of a virtue. The final whistle in Puerto Ordaz awaits.

Team Selections

Bolivia (4-4-2): Vaca; Saavedra, Zenteno, Marteli, Morales; Arce (Eguino, 86′), Chumacero, Veizaga, Lizio (Duk, 78′); Cardozo, Ramallo (Arrascaita, 58′).

Venezuela (4-3-2-1): Baroja, J. Vargas (Falcón, 65′), Ángel (Velázquez, 50′), Lucena, A. González; Acosta, Rincón, Figuera (Carabalí, 46′); M. Rondón, Seijas; Blanco. (The formation alternated somewhat; sometimes a 4-3-3, other times a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1).

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical 

Q & A with David Freeman, Author of Barra Brava (A Latin American Football Journey)

Having recently finished reading Barra Brava, David Freeman’s envy-inducing account of his 18-month journey amongst a diverse range of Latin American football fans, Hispanospherical.com has been fortunate to be able to talk to the author. Following on from an introduction to his book, this extensive Q & A should be essential reading for anyone who has ever contemplated embarking upon a similar adventure.   

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Game 18: Itagüí Ditaires (now Águilas Doradas) 4-0 Atlético Nacional, Copa Colombia Quarter Final First Leg, Estadio Atanasio Girardot, Medellin, Antioquia Department, Colombia, 15 September 2010. One of 67 games David Freeman attended in the Americas.

David Freeman’s Barra Brava is sold in paperback and/or Kindle format through Amazon’s many location-specific websites. To purchase a copy, click whichever link is most relevant to you: UK/Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Brazil and Spain

Barra Brava: An Introduction

In the collective consciousness of most football fans outside of its vibrant orbit, Latin America is somewhat of a dichotomy. While it may harbour a tantalising cocktail of innovative skills and irrepressible passion, it is nevertheless very much on the periphery of the global footballing mainstream. Although hundreds of its exports to Europe’s opulent centre-stage regularly provide incalculable instances of the substantial reservoirs of talent that this vast region consistently produces, the awareness of the footballing cultures from whence they came leaves something to be desired. Indeed, the clubs, supporters and environments that initially helped to nurture many of these cracks exist in many imaginations as little more than a combination of crude, often unflattering stereotypes, as well as names – the latter of which are diminishing in stature with each passing year.

As the exodus of native talent shows no sign of abating and kick-off times in this area for spectators in the Old Continent tend to be either anti-social or clash with top-flight European matches, none of these leagues appear well-placed to redress this situation. Nevertheless, for many, the curiosity will always linger. After all, having witnessed the 2014 Brazil World Cup, in which several Latin American nations were well-represented in both the stands as well as on the pitches, how many fans idly daydreamed about experiencing some of these atmospheres first-hand?

Well, one man who has already done just that and on a scale that is surely the envy of football fans and cultural tourists the world over, is David Freeman. His book, Barra Brava, is an absorbing travelogue, chronicling an 18-month journey that began in October 2009. Starting off with a brief Latin-tinged spell in the United States watching the now-defunct Chivas USA, he then crossed the language-barrier to experience many of the sights, sounds and sensations of Latin America, culminating with one final linguistic hurdle in Brazil where the fun ended in April 2011. Along the way, he visited 18 different countries, watching no less than 67 live matches in 15 of them. With so much ground covered, Freeman was able to experience the footballing cultures of not only some of the area’s heavyweights, such as Argentina and Mexico, but also those of nations that most people would struggle to name a single international player from (Guatemala and Nicaragua, anyone?).

Bringing a modicum of order to complement the roaming devil-may-care spirit that often pervaded his travels, Freeman made it his mission to mix with as many local supporters as he encountered. With his accompanying England flag conspicuously signposting him as a figure of curiosity in the stands, he was able to use his ever-developing Spanish skills to learn about many varied fan groups, their matchday rituals and relationships with their clubs. Subsequently in print, he displays an admirable levelling of the playing field, relaying his experiences of the barra bravas of the likes of Boca Juniors, Santos and Club América in a similar manner to those of Motagua (Honduras), Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica) and Blooming (Bolivia).

Wherever he turned up, there were always songs, gestures and/or dances to first decode and then perhaps, when enough of his beverage of choice had been consumed, join in with. Yet, as readers will discover, it was not always to be plain sailing, with the tensions in the stands sometimes escalating into atmospheres markedly less hospitable towards this Englishman. Indeed, from finding himself on an Argentine pitch being booed by supporters less-than-impressed with his flag to requiring police intervention to restrain a knife-wielding Colombian youth, Freeman’s recollections often serve to caution, as much as to inspire, the prospective traveller.

Away from the stadiums, his explorations of a rather breathtaking range of locations were no less colourful, with every other page flowing with anecdotes and evocative descriptions. A rich diversity of experiences was evidently had, not least during a lengthy spell at a Mexican hotel situated by a nudist beach as well as, conversely, when teaching English in the poverty-stricken Nicaraguan capital of Managua, where he participated in some controversy-mired Independence Day celebrations. Furthermore, some of his more inquisitive forays included visits to the Mayan ruins in Central America, the idiosyncratic capitals of Panama City, Bogotá and La Paz, as well as the topological treasures of the Calchaquí Valleys in north-west Argentina.

As can be expected, invaluable nuggets of practical advice are scattered throughout this book, rendering it an essential primer for anyone thinking of embarking on a journey that encompasses even a fraction of the ground covered here. Freeman regularly takes into consideration such readers, particularly when providing what amounts to a mini-dictionary of Spanish words and phrases at the beginning of each chapter that can be used to ingratiate oneself with the locals.

So, if you like the sound of going on such a trip yourself or would simply like to read the adventures of someone who did, be sure to check out this book, the most latest edition of which has just been published. If, however, before making such an investment, you would prefer to know a little more, then as well as perusing the promotional website, please read on as Señor Freeman has recently been kind enough to answer some questions in detail, providing a considerable idea of what Barra Brava is all about.

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Q & A with David Freeman, author of Barra Brava

[Darren Spherical] Hello David, thank you for agreeing to answer some questions (and for providing so many photographs!). Your book provides countless entertaining vignettes and fascinating insights into various footballing cultures and societies in the Americas.

Prior to beginning your adventure, you mention that you worked for an internet bank and had not done a great deal of travelling. What motivated you to sell your house to embark on such an extensive and, at times, daunting journey? Also, why Latin America?

[David Freeman] My short answer is that I’d been bitten by the travel bug when I went to Australia and seven years on I needed to scratch the itch. The timing was all about personal circumstances, having been promised redundancy and not having responsibilities such as kids to worry about. Latin America was chosen based on learning Spanish and being able to communicate throughout two continents.

Regarding the book’s title, on your travels you met dozens of different groups of fans from over a dozen Latin American countries. Based on your observations, could you give an introduction to the barra bravas? How did they differ in some of the nations you visited?

I’d describe the barra as universally passionate people who support their club in a noisy, colourful and fanatical way. In my experience, barra bravas are not the same as hooligans because clubs like Pumas (Mexico) and LDU Quito (Ecuador) are supported by civilised, friendly students who had no interest in violence, but instead created atmospheres to compete with the most fervent in the world. Whilst I tried not to get involved in the seedy sides of any barra that I encountered, there could be no doubt that in certain places (mainly Colombia and Argentina) they were a public menace whose activities resulted in people dying every year.

At each ground you entered, you tried to get a photograph of yourself with your flag (an English St. George’s Cross emblazoned with the name of Birmingham City’s Zulu Army firm). How did you feel in such situations? Regarding some of the more negative responses, you must have feared for your own safety at times? 

A gringo waving a flag around always attracted attention from the locals but I found the majority to be friendly, particularly as I spoke Spanish and it was clear that I was as crazy about football as they were. In some places it was really intimidating waving a piece of cloth around that advertised that you were a vulnerable foreigner, but it proved to be a great ice-breaker amongst curious strangers. The numerous positive experiences with my St. George’s cross far outweighed an occasional negative one – plus the volatile situations made for the best stories!

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To see dozens more photographs of David with his flag at stadiums, click here.

Could you give any advice to future football tourists who wish to experience some of the colourful and raucous Latin American atmospheres without getting embroiled in any trouble? 

Simple: go in the main stand. At every ground I visited there was a tranquilo section that charged around twice as much to enter than the ‘popular’ terrace. This more expensive seating area had a far better view, superior facilities, good stewarding and was populated by reasonable people. If, however, you insist on mixing it up, I would repeat the point about being able to communicate with the natives and, above all, be wary of everything!

With regard to fan culture (pre-match rituals, songs/chants, dances, paraphernalia etc.), what were some of the most memorable things you observed and/or joined in with on your travels? 

Personally, I found the friendly beer-drinking culture whilst watching games in Mexico, Central America and Ecuador enjoyable. More universally, the fans consistently bouncing and singing, always admirably supported by musical instruments. Every club had at least one drummer, some even had horn sections (see this video compilation for some of the highlights of fans I encountered). Also, the socialising during play, aided by the open terraces, which is something that has been lost in the UK. This is in contrast to Germany, which is the leading nation in Europe with regard to atmosphere at domestic fixtures, driven by their affordable safe standing sections.

Moving away from the stands and onto the pitches, you saw many well-known players, some of whom were winding down their careers after spells in Europe and others who were emerging and have since gone on to play in the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and elsewhere. Who were you most excited to see and who left the most lasting impressions on you?

Juan Manuel Iturbe impressed me most as a 17 year old turning a match at the 2011 South American Youth Championship in Argentina’s favour against Chile. He made some stunning appearances in the Copa Libertadores before impressing for Hellas Verona and now finds himself at Roma.

Of the big players I watched live more than once:

Neymar won the Libertadores with Santos in 2011 scoring crucial goals throughout, although showcasing his ample array of skills and tricks at that level did not always benefit the team.

Juan Sebastián Verón’s passing at Estudiantes was masterful in Argentina’s Primera División.

Salvador Cabañas looked a class act for América in Mexico’s top-flight, though this was of course before he was tragically shot by a drug dealer.

Indeed, understandably he was never the same afterwards. Staying with on-field matters, what were some of the most memorable games and goals you saw?

The Clásicos were always the best value for money atmosphere-wise; the derbies in Mexico (Pumas 3-2 América, Game 3) and Colombia (Deportivo Cali 6-3 América de Cali, Game 24) lived up to the hype on the pitch. My favourite was bouncing among Universidad Católica’s fans in Buenos Aires as the Chileans scored three goals in the last 20 minutes to record a 4-3 Libertadores group stage victory away at Vélez Sarsfield (Game 51). There were also many dull games where la barra provided the entertainment.

Just under a quarter of the games you watched were in the North/Central American (CONCACAF) region, often in countries which many football fans will not have considered visiting. What did you make of the play, supporters and stadiums in this area?

Central America’s population were as passionate about football as those in the southern continent. Yet though, for example, Los Ticos defied the odds to reach 2014’s World Cup Quarter Finals, football in Central America was markedly inferior to the South American game. Though considered part of the North, Mexico was the region’s domestic powerhouse, aided in part in being alone in having some of its teams compete in the most prestigious club tournament in the Americas, the Copa Libertadores. Whilst the CONCACAF Champions League wasn’t a particularly competitive tournament, it did throw up some interesting ties, sending high-profile MLS sides and former European legends to remote places such as El Salvador. In my experience, the rural locations were really friendly and the atmospheres were brilliant, even at a Nicaraguan league final held in a baseball park.

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Football-related photographs from Central America (Click to Enlarge)

Outside of the stadiums in this area, you seemed to have rather diverse experiences, from the fun of Mexico to the comparative austerity of Nicaragua. Which places would you recommend to visitors to this region? 

Most visitors to this part of the world head to Cancún (Mexico) or Costa Rica, and the tourist industry outside of these places is still developing. I found every country to be fascinating and despite not receiving as many visitors, each had some fairly well-established attractions. These were mainly based around coasts, lakes, mountains and Aztec or Mayan historical sites. Panama City was one of the oddest capitals I’ve seen and there was an amazing sunset pretty much anywhere along the Pacific coast. Nicaragua would be my suggestion if you want to escape reality and don’t mind a chaotically relaxed experience. Compared to South, Central America is far cheaper on the ground and much less ‘discovered’, although air fares can be expensive.

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Photographs from North/Central America (Click to Enlarge)

You watched 18 games in Buenos Aires (and 20 in Argentina altogether) in little over five weeks. As this is a footballing Mecca, what advice can you impart to anyone wishing to visit this city with similar intentions? 

Where possible, I would suggest buying your ticket in advance. Also, when I was there, the home fans were generally retained in the ground for 40 minutes after the final whistle, so going in the away end was preferable. However, as visiting fans have since been banned due to repeated problems with fan violence, there may be a wait before this advice can be put into practice again. Nevertheless, also make sure you use public transport to your advantage. From Central BA the train is best for Vélez, All Boys, Quilmes, Arsenal de Sarandí, Lanús and Argentinos Juniors; the Metro is convenient for River, San Lorenzo, Huracán and Atlanta; whilst the bus is quickest when visiting Boca, Racing and Independiente. Also, if you have the time and inclination, go to a smaller club in addition to Boca or River, as they can be far cheaper, friendlier and almost as spectacular. Finally, be wary of the alcohol exclusion zones around stadiums in Buenos Aires.

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Football-related photographs from Buenos Aires Province, Argentina (Click to Enlarge)

Outside of Argentina, but remaining in South America, what were some of your highlights watching football in this particular continent? 

Colombia had the most edgy and memorable atmospheres. Ecuador was the friendliest, although my opinion is aided by the fact that they served beer in the grounds, plus Guayaquil and Quito were unexpectedly vibrant football cities. Asunción (Paraguay) was a little gem in the middle of nowhere which had a wonderful history. Iquique (Chile) had the best band I saw, complemented by a full brass section.

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Football-related photographs from South America (Click to Enlarge)

Again, away from the football, what would you recommend to future visitors to the nations you travelled to in South America? 

Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia) was the most spectacular natural wonder I have ever seen and certainly guarantees some amazing photos. Generally speaking, Bolivia was cheap, friendly and diverse, with lots of unique tourist opportunities. Ecuador had easily accessible sights and offered the possibility of cycling from the Andes to the Amazon in a day. Colombia had rugged scenery as well as an attractive and cool population, although its reputation discourages many people. North-west Argentina’s vineyards and mountains were very pleasant and buzzing in the January I was there, as that is when many in Buenos Aires escape to the countryside.

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 Photographs from South America (Click to Enlarge)

On the subject of buying match tickets, it seemed that for the most part you showed up on matchdays without having pre-purchased them and yet, irrespective of what barriers you initially encountered, still managed to get in. As you appear to have acquired much know-how in this area, what advice can you impart?

Generally, I would advise showing up a couple of hours in advance, at which point you should be able to make a purchase and spend some time among the locals – most will be delighted that a gringo has chosen to watch their club. Face value prices were cheap – generally $5-10 in Central and South America, $10-12.50 in Argentina, whilst Brazil could cost as much as it does in the English Premier League. If you aren’t able to purchase a ticket in advance then touts are ever-present, although at the big Argentinian clubs you may have to pay tourist rates, which includes transport to the match (approximately $100 in 2011). Oddly, to watch Universitario in Lima – visit your local supermarket!

What were the most value-for-money places to live and/or watch football in? 

Buenos Aires is probably the world’s most exciting city to watch football in, and although accommodation isn’t cheap, public transport, food, drink and entrance fees are generally very reasonable – something I believe has continued as the Peso weakened in late 2014. Ecuador was probably best value in South America for watching top-level football, whilst accommodation and living in Central America was noticeably cheap. Conversely, Chile and Brazil were more expensive than the other countries I watched matches in.

While there was clearly much to be enjoyed on your journey, readers will discover that it was not always fun and games. Based on your experiences, if you wished to put someone off embarking on a similar adventure, what would you say to them?

Unless you go to a resort, Latin America isn’t somewhere that you can just turn up to without any preparation and then expect to have a great tourist experience. Considerations need to be made for the language barrier (hardly anyone speaks good English), the heat, the altitude and the distances you will be travelling within a limited transport network. If you like things going according to plan then this certainly isn’t your ideal destination, as nothing runs like clockwork. Also, it is important to accept that the locals will assume that you are rich and therefore you are likely to be a target. Although in my experience overcharging was the only real annoyance, I met many people who were robbed and subjected to violence, particularly in the big centres such as Lima and Quito. Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, seemed to be the most dangerous places, but it is all subjective.

What is your interest in Latin American football like these days? Do you look out for any teams in particular? Finally, on a related note, what have you been up to since returning from your travels?

I have been following Latin American results on Soccerway, particularly Argentinos Juniors’ return to a reformed 30-team Primera División and Vasco da Gama battling back into Brazil’s top-flight. Also, although I feel there could be a lot more exposure on British TV, I have been enjoying this year’s Copa Libertadores on Premier Sports and will certainly also be watching the Copa América on the channel and/or YouTube – whichever is most convenient. On a personal note, in the past three years between working for a bank and marrying my Brazilian girlfriend, I’ve spent much of my free time writing and editing the book. The first edition totalled almost 120k words, though thankfully the latest version has been whittled down to 103k – apologies to anyone who bought a copy a couple of years ago! Ultimately, while it may not be perfect, I believe it is a decent travelogue.

David, thank you for giving up so much of your time to answer these questions and providing a taste of your experiences. Again, readers, if you would like to purchase Barra Brava in either paperback or Kindle format, click on whichever link is most relevant to your location: UK/Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Brazil and Spain

If you have any questions for David Freeman, feel free to either reply to this article with them or, if you fancy the more direct option, he can be reached on Twitter under the account @TheBlueBarra

More From the Author

While Barra Brava is David Freeman’s first book, he has also written these articles on Latin American football, which may be of interest:

Fútbol in a Baseball Park, In Bed With Maradona, 15 February 2013. A detailed feature on the standard and status of football in Nicaragua, partially informed by his experiences of living there for four months as an English teacher.

Latin American Football 2012 in Review, Talking Sports, 2 January 2013. Covering the year following his travels, here is a summary of who won what in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico.

My Trip to Brazil: A Year of Expectation, Football Friends Online, 17 June 2014. Craftily combining a pre-World Cup trip to meet his Brazilian girlfriend’s family with a football detour or three, Freeman visited the Mineirão, Estádio Independência and, of course, the Maracanã.

Darren Spherical

@DarrenSpherical

Article originally published on 6 June 2015.