Brazil 2 Paraguay 1. The last and only other time I saw Brazil play was in 2002. It was just after they had won the World Cup, it was their first friendly on home soil and a chance to show off the trophy. Unfortunately, the players were largely hung over. Paraguay won 1-0. And despite being a small (both in population size and in stature if their players are anything to go by) nation, Paraguay play sharp, tough and effective football and look set to, yet again, qualify for the World Cup. I had all this in mind as we touched down in Recife to go the match. And, as if to focus my thoughts even more, Recife's tourist board had contracted a spotty teenager (who reminded me of the Simpsons character "Puberty Boy" - see below) to do keepy-ups and tricks while we all waited for our luggage in the arrivals terminal. Very strange. Very Brazilian.
Rachel's Dad had kindly bought me tickets for my birthday, and we even managed to wangle it for Rach to come along with various cousins and Aunts staying at home to help Granny with the kids. Rachel's Dad hired a bus and a load of us went down together. We made our way to Santa Cruz's stadium (which had been given a fresh lick of paint although, unfortunately, no new toilets) and into the stadium some two hours before kick off. We found an excellent spot but the downside was we had to stand as we waited. In actual fact, there was another complication: the cake.
Rachel's Dad, always one to think up an extraordinary plan, had decided we should bring a cake and some paper plates and plastic spoons into the stadium so that all of us could eat cake and sing happy birthday to Nelson (Rachel's brother) who was in the UK. Steve was to make a video of this and put it on Youtube. After procuring the help of his daughter to get the item past stadium security (the guards let out a chuckle as a chocolate cake sailed past them), Steve had a change of heart when he realised how crammed the stands were. Messy cake? Paper plates? Napkins? Everyone split up and sitting between strangers? I don't think so. And so, operation "penguin" commenced - or operation "how do we get the cake out of the stadium in one piece". I say "penguin" because for Rachel in the first half and for me in the second half we had the cake delicately placed between our legs in the style of a male penguin looking after his egg (see picture below). The stadium was heaving with people (57,000 in fact) and, despite the jam, the snacks vendors continued to wrestle through the crowds to try and sell their goodies. So, as you can imagine, it was with a sense of relief and a feeling of a job well done when we collapsed back on the coach with the cake in more or less one piece save for a minor bruise to the edge.
As for the game itself, Brazil were unlucky to concede the first goal (via a deflection) to the Paraguayan no.10, who is probably the shortest, chubbiest, rolly-pollyiest international footballer since Sweden's Tomas Brolin. Brazil rallied and Robinha and Nilmar, on his starting debut (see pic below), bagged the goals in the fight back. Robinho should have scored more after good work from Kaka, but the result was the right one for Brazil and the right one for us supporters.
One final highlight of the evening. Its not common for Recife to host a match of such importance so the red carpet was really rolled out for this one. The national team were treated like gods by their adoring fans. (See this video which features the team arriving at the gym next door to Rachel's family's apartment block). For Steve, the icing on the cake (metaphorically speaking) was the fireworks display that accompanied the reading of the starting XI by the stadium announcer. Extra special cheers went up for the current favourites Kaka (who had just been bought by Real Madrid for 60 million quid), Robinho and Pato as fireworks lit up the sky above the arena. Very celebratory. Very Brazilian.
ps. I must add that I experienced another thunderous rendition of TILB #28.