Monday, November 26, 2007

Futebol-The Real Thing

After living here for a couple of months it was time for us to go to a major football…umm, soccer…game. We had been to a couple of games here in Aveiro, but the team plays in the second league this year and no one cares. So the 30,000-seat stadium usually has about 1,500 people in it on a Sunday afternoon. For the uninitiated, there are 32 teams in Portugal who are divided into two 16-team leagues. Each year, the bottom three of the first league move down into the second league, and the top three of the second league move up to the first league. There are three major teams in Portugal – Benfica, FC Porto, and Sporting – and they always play in the first league. In addition to all of this, there is the European-wide Champions League which annually has the top 1 or 2 teams from each country playing each other in a round-robin tournament. So on any given Sunday FC Porto (about 45 minutes away from us) might play Manchester United or AC Milan or some other major European team. It all boils down to there’s a whole lot of soccer every weekend, and it’s essentially the only sport the locals follow (and a little bit of Formula One or cycling).

But on November 22nd the Portuguese national team was playing Finland in Porto to qualify for the 2008 Euro Cup. The Euro Cup takes place every four years (2004, which was in Portugal, 2008 which will be in Austria/Switzerland, etc.), and is similar to the World Cup except only for the European teams. In other words, it’s a huge deal. The first event was getting there and parking. We had a planned meet-up time with some friends at 6:30. We showed up at 6:29 and our German friend was waiting. Our Portuguese friends, however, showed up at 6:50, which is normal. Then came the parking. Porto, like all European cities, is densely populated with winding little streets. They don’t exactly have big parking lots nearby. So people park on the sidewalks, on the grassy medians, on the sides of highways, and so on. We were lucky to squeeze our car between a tree and another car on a grassy median about a kilometer away from the stadium.

In the game, Portugal only needed a tie with Finland to qualify, and Finland needed a victory. The crowd was electric, the stadium in Porto where the game was played was rocking, and the flags were waving. We went with a couple of friends, two of whom were Portuguese and were rather nervous for their team to qualify. As we expected, Portugal played for the tie, meaning they were very conservative and focused mostly on defense. And it worked, as they tied 0-0 and the crowd went home happy. Well, sort of happy. A 0-0 tie at home against Finland is not enough to give the locals confidence they will do well at the Cup next year. But Portugal is traditionally one of the better teams, although a notch below France, Italy and Holland. The big surprise was that England didn’t make it, losing at home to Croatia when they only needed a tie. They fired their coach the next day.

We considered trying to get tickets to the Euro Cup, but apparently a few million people had that idea 8 months ago and the tickets are all sold out. Yes, they were sold out long before anyone knew which countries would qualify. Apparently that’s how tickets work here, including for the World Cup. You enter a lottery and buy tickets if you’re one of the lucky ones. You buy a package of games and then hope that the tickets you get are in a city near you and with a country that you care about. We’re told that trading tickets is very common, sort of like the Olympics. Anyway, for us getting to the game was great fun. It’s a nice social thing to do (although mainly with male friends…there weren’t many women at the stadium) [side note from Katrin…it was one of the few times the line for the men’s room was significantly longer than that for the women] and the talent on the field was truly amazing. We will try to get to more FC Porto games as they are vastly superior to the games played here by Beira Mar, the local team.

1 comment:

Nick said...

I root against Portugal because they are the worst divers. Plus, Chritian Rinaldo is the best player AND movei star handsome AND superstar rich, so that ain't fair. I am so coming to visit you all in the summer.