Justin with his ticketGetting to this Manaus game had been very hard, both finically and logistically.
I bought a ticket in March this year from a web-based company, and it cost $670 US and was in a really good place in the stadium.
The ticket was going to be sent direct to Manaus three days before the game. A day before I flew to Manaus from São Paulo I emailed the company to confirm the the ticket was in carriage. My email was bounced back with the domain name not being recognised. I then went to their website and found that too had been taken down.
I had researched this company online for reviews etc and they seemed good in the whole but the horror of the situation dawned on me that I could have spent all this money and that I would not be able to see the Italy game.
I called the company and again no one answered. I made my peace with the reality that I had no ticket and flew up to Manaus anyway, making a mental note to deal with the company again.
In life I have learnt (the hard way) that if something goes wrong there is nothing you can do about it and you just have to go with the flow as going against it will only take more energy so I knew that something would turn up if I just waited and looked further down the stream.
I made some loose enquiries at the FIFA fan fest centre in Manaus and their were tickets floating about, but at increased prices beyond my planned budget and someone I met on the plane had promised that they had spares that I could buy but I still did not have a ticket in my grubby little hands.
Justin with Daniel and Mathew at Manaus on way to the gameThe day of the match came and I was chilling at the guest house in Manaus and waiting for some people to call me back about a ticket.
Then it happened: Daniel had gone to collect another guest from the airport. Daniel drove into the car park and introduced me to his new guest.
Mathew is a photographer/journalist from the States and was covering the World Cup for a major magazine from there. I introduced myself and within two minutes Mathew told me that he had three tickets available for the game and would sell me one for face value at £100.00.
I nearly kissed him and we concluded the deal. The tickets were really good and were seven rows from the front on level one; basically amazing tickets that meant you were so close to the game.
It was decided that Daniel and his nephew Mathew would join with American Mathew and I to attend the game. So the four of us got ready to leave. The match was starting at 18:00 and the stadium opened at 16:00.
So the day had finally come, and with the Uruguay losing 3-1 to Costa Rica this was an ideal opportunity to make some ground ahead of the São Paulo game for England so with a fair level of excitement and nerves we all got in the car and made our way to the Arena Da Amazonia for the rumble in the jungle with England versus Italy.
The four of us decided to grab some food on the way as we were starving. We went to a food hall and ordered some food. Whilst all waiting at the table we heard a commotion coming down the road and we rushed to the road to see what was happening. It was the teams heading to the arena.
As we stood there the England bus went past in police convoy followed by the Italy bus - so cool. The atmosphere was really building and all four of us were getting really excited.
We parked the car and started walking to the Arena. It was a joyous sight watching everyone walk to the greatest show on earth in Brazil.
Daniel’s nephew Mathew is ten years old and was so excited and had already decided to support England, good boy!
Not fancy dress - a real English BobbyWe entered the Arena and to my surprise I saw two English police officers. At first I thought it was fancy dress but actually it was a real policeman and policewoman drafted in for the UK to keep and eye on the English fans - so, so cool.
The sad thing about this tournament is that in most games the FIFA allotted corporate seating areas are always mostly empty and this is awful really.
Why not give these seats to kids homes or something more deserving than fat cat corporate companies who have no respect for the beautiful game? England versus Italy was the same with a large area of empty corporate seating.
The four of us took our seats and waited for the game to begin. The players all filed out and started their warm up, the closeness to pitch side was amazing and you could see all the players and all of a sudden the pitch seemed really small.
It always happens whenever you go see a live game the pitch always seems smaller as watching on TV does give a distorted view of the scale and it felt like you were so close to the action you could of been watching a game in your local park... amazing.
The game began and unbelievably England's defence was holding its own really well and the boys looked sharp with their passing game too.
England warming upTheir shape was excellent and discipline good. Early on however Jaelkia was loosing a yard regularly and it was plain to see, again and again his opposite number was getting on side of him by a yard and this was worrying.
Raheem Sterling was snapping at everyone's heels again and doing a fine job with his pace and talent. Rooney playing on the left looked sharp enough and Sturridge was prowling round looking for that layoff or goal scoring opportunity.
I think in that first half England had about three or four goal scoring opportunities and they simply did not take their chances and if you don't take your chances at this level and the other team does then you will be in trouble.
Claudio Marchislo scored for Italy and we were in trouble, 1-0 kind of trouble. Within five minutes England had levelled with a sublime lay off by Rooney to Sturridge. 1-1. Then half time came and we all let a sigh of relief out. It was all to play for and in the balance.
The second half started and we looked tired. The defence started to become loose and Rooney was still misfiring. Jack Wiltshire came on and quite frankly does not look fit or look like an England player, he just seems weak and seems to be not strong enough to hold the ball with any real strength.
Then it happened: Balotelli scored a simple header on Joe harts near side post. Then the game was over... very disappointing but that's football.
So that night we went out and forgot about the game and enjoyed the fun that Manaus had to offer. No details I’m afraid, as your man in Brazil has to have some down time, right?
Marcio and familyThe next morning very bleary eyed Daniel drove me to the airport and I flew to Salvador. Salvador is a very industrial city with approximately three million people living there. They call Salvador the Africa of Brazil.
I was met by my old friend Marcio at the airport and we drove to the ferry port where we caught a ferry to the Island of Itaparica. We then travelled to Barra Grande.
Marcio is a final year graduate of Salvador University and is studying marine biology. I met Marcio three years previous when I was staying in Paraty. He lives on the island of Itaparica with his wife and daughter, Paulina and Andrea Marina.
His house is on the beach and it's going to be great spending time with them as a family and teaching three year old Andrea Marina English.
As I sit here on Monday morning approximately I week after I arrived I am thrilled with all the travels and things I have seen so far in this beautiful country.
I am looking out of my window onto the beach right now and straight ahead is Africa (5,000 miles away) and North West (5,000 miles away) is Europe.
I will not blog again until Thursday as there is no internet really here and electricity only at specific times of the day, so my IT options are limited.
Upon reflection of the game I don't think we did too bad and maybe we can still qualify.
As I send this I am at Mike’s beach bar on Ponte de Areia and it's paradise really, listening to Bob Marley and just about to watch the Portugal versus Germany game on TV and facing onto the ocean. Not bad Brazil, not bad at all.
Read Day 5 here
Justin with Eraldo CruzI arrived in Manaus: flying in over the canopy of the Amazon really was quite beautiful and managing to grab a blissful three hours sleep on the plane from Brasilia made my landing soft and dreamy but really alert too, due to the new aesthetic I was experiencing.
I got my luggage and was met by Daniel, the guy I booked with for my stay and he seemed a solid guy so all smooth on the arrival in Manaus.
As soon as you left the cool air of the terminal it hit you like a steam train - the unbelievable heat of the Amazon. It’s not a piercing heat, but a slow cook deep heat. It is just coming into the summer months in the Amazon and I would imagine you would get the same level of heat standing next to a blast furnace in the old days in Sheffield.
My host Daniel is a wonderful guy and along with sister Rebeca run a lovely spacious four-bedroom house in the canter of Manaus. I checked in and sorted myself out. I met Rebeca and her partner Lieutenant Franco who was in the CIGS regiment of the army numbering over five thousand strong which were based in the area of where the guest house was situated.
The Lieutenant was a lovely bloke and the army in Brazil are like the guardians of the people and with such a corrupt police force here they are always there in the background in Brazil and interestingly enough are handling all of the sec He was a gentle likeable guy and we talked about life, politics and football for a while. He suggested I came down to the base and checked the zoo out. “The zoo?” I asked.
Back to that later; I want to talk about the CIGS's regiment a bit more as they are a pretty spectacular lot.
An anacondaThe CIGS are the crack jungle warfare unit based here in Manaus. These guys are no joke and are trained to sleep and feed themselves in the Amazon whilst conducting military exercises.
They have to run 10-15kms through the jungle in one go before a break, SWAT and the SAS are trained by these guys too.
I met a lovely man called Eraldo Cruz who had been enrolled for 27 years and was the main instructor there. He was trying to convince me to go on an exercise with him and promised that if I was bitten by a snake it would be ok because he could save me.
Priceless although I must say that if I did have to enter the jungle for any reason he would be the guy I would want watching my back as he was born in the Amazon basin in a small village and probably knew how to survive in the jungle before his thirteenth birthday at least.
Now back to the zoo. The facility is run alongside the CIGS regiment and has a collection of animals from ranging from five different types of eagles, jaguars, anacondas, cougars and monkeys (three different kinds). My favourite monkey was from the prego species. They have a similar character to a Jack Russell: cheeky.
The ethos of the zoo is to look after animals that are found injured on patrol or rescued from poachers and so too tame to release again.
A lizardIt’s a difficult call as the enclosures for the monkeys are really excellent and the wild cats are in fair-sized enclosures perhaps each one the size of half a football field but just seeing them caged made me sad, however I could see the positive side on the rescue front.
For instance the Gaviao Real Eagle was trafficked by poachers and the Federal police after busting them gave the Eagle to the zoo.
The CIGS soldiers are responsible for maintaining the zoo and have veterinary surgeons who look after the animals. The Eagles are kept in cages which is sad but the condition of the animals was excellent and if you are going to have a zoo the best place is probably the amazon for climate and diet conditioning requirements.
The bond between CIGS and the animals in time means poaching could be eradicated and with a the large component of native Indian conscripts who are within the CIGS I think poachers would have to be pretty stupid to take on these guys on their own turf with the skills and knowledge they possess.
In the second half of the day I watched the Holland game on TV and quite frankly Dutch attacking football is back and has smashed the Tika-taka into little pieces and how much fun were Holland having with each other and Van Hal.
I sensed a complete togetherness within the team and VP is back in a big way so next season at the theatre of dreams looks like a beautiful story unfolding.
The pressure on Rooney is massive now as VP is Van Hal's favourite, so Rooney not only has to deliver for us England fans but for his club future too. Stakes have never been higher.
Chile were lucky to have the win in the end as the Ozzies could of been alright if the second attempt straight after their first goal had gone in things might have been different, but in the end sadly I think they were outclassed and beaten up a bit by Chile.
The level of football Holland have set raises the bar high for England in terms of competing at the tournament and they will either fight of flight.
No point with Hodgson being too cautious as I think it’s all about goal difference if the scoring continues like it, is so no draws or 1-0 will suffice this time. England have to score more goals than their opposition do, plain and simple, especially as our defence is not water tight yet by a long way.
And finally, before I go, at the end of my CIGS zoo trip I was sitting under shade with Daniel and we heard a big thump. Twenty meters away there was a bright Amazon green iguana laying on the ground who had fallen about three meters down onto the ground, I went over and had a chat and decided to call him Harry.
I have a charger problem (ain't that a surprise!) and until powered up can't send pics, but will later this afternoon so please come back and check the blog for pictures as they are stunning.
Read Day 4 here
Read Day 6 and 7 here
Home fans are happy to welcome Justin as an honary BrazilianAs I sit here on my leisurely six hour lay over at Brasilia airport on the way to Manaus I have the chance to update you all. Today was the day: the World Cup started in earnest in the ill-fated Arena de São Paulo, hosts Brazil taking on Croatia.
The opening ceremony was really quite gentle and fitting till J-Lo and Pitbull (panto)mimed their way through the World Cup song completely out of sync and then the World Cup started for real.
I watched the game in a local square with the Brazilian community with my good friend Danielle Leonel. The mood had lifted sum what from earlier in the week and although there was rioting going on in Rio & Belo Horitonze and the protestors had tried to block the road to the SP stadium, it was on.
Brazil started rather poorly and Croatia were all over them taking the fight to their front door but then the shock of Marcelo scoring a home goal and gifting the lead to Croatia stunned the arena and the community square and you could see the look of horror on all the beautiful faces.
Brazil seemed not to be creating the chances they should of been considering the talent they have in their ranks and Croatia kept sweeping down the left wing pinging balls straight into the box.
Home fans in celebratory moodThen it happened...the softest penalty you have ever seen and Neymar stepped up and fired it like a bullet off the desperate hands of the keeper and into the net. 1-1. Marcelo sighed a relief I bet.
Croatia came back strong but David Luiz and Oscar started to really come into their own and more than once Luiz saved Brazils bacon defending the balls coming into the box.
At times it was like watching Chelsea with Luiz and Oscar having a six sense together. Croatia were still not beaten but when Neymar slotted the second in from a great pass from Oscar the writing was on the wall.
The third goal was personally my favourite with Oscar toe punting it past the keeper with a brilliant bit of skill, and deservedly Oscar was named man of the match. Marcelo however was really beaten up by Croatia and I bet his shins are very sore after Croatia kept bringing him down again and again all night.
Also A few yellow cards were given in the match must notably from Neymar deliberately giving Luka Modric a forearm smash into the face and really being the World Cup should of been a straight red in my opinion and for sure home court advantage played a huge part in it only being a yellow and without a doubt in my view the ref bottled it due to the stature of the occasion.
If it had been Howard Webb it would of been a straight red.
Neymar will have to be very careful going forward as he now has a yellow that carries into the next match and anymore petulance from the baby faced thumb sucker and Brazil will loose talisman in the vital group stage.
So all in all the first game of the tournament did not disappoint and Croatia gave a good account of themselves but I am afraid just not good enough.
Also during the match the sound of fireworks and bangers could be heard everywhere in the city and indeed in the square and you felt the city of São Paulo rocking.
Oh yes, and so far I’ve only seen two England fans eating in a bar. I guess they must be all up in Manaus getting caught out by the sun in a classic mad dogs and Englishman scenario but will confirm that later when I arrive at approximately 7am tomorrow.
This was not a classic Brazil performance and Croatia caused them problems right to the end, but a win is win, however scrappy, and I think that the happiest face in the arena was Dilma Rousseff the Brazil president who almost jumped into the heavens with the result, as Brazil delivered the only result that she really needed to justify the costs incurred both financially and socially to the country of Brazil.
Sitting next to Rousseff was Sept Blatter surely realising this could be his last tournament of enjoying his seat in the gods and mentally preparing for his future seating arrangements in the cheap seats.
The atmosphere in the square was awesome with young and old all jumping for joy for the win and you it struck me that Brazil really needs to win this tournament for the sake of unity within Brazil but when they come up against a decent team I think things could be different.
So with my heavy eyes I will bed down on this concrete floor for a couple of hours of shut eye in the penthouse in the basement. The signs were all there this was going to be a great snooze.
Read Day 3 here
Read Day 5 here