Press passes an adventure in Brazil
Journalists need to pick their World Cup press tickets up before 90 minutes before kickoff. Fine. I've been getting into stadiums two or three hours before matches and have been well organised.
For games in Belo Horizonte, I'd leave the apartment where I was staying at 8am for a 1pm game. There were no issues. This past Monday in Brasilia, however, I was still outside Brazil's magnificent national stadium before the host nation played Cameroon.
I've been to five of the World Cup venues: Porto Alegre, Sao Paulo, Rio and Belo Horizonte, but Brasilia -- the Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha -- is the best of those. With over 70,000 seats, it's a big one too. The red seats rise steeply from the pitch, but it's outside that makes the stadium.
While the exterior of the Maracana and Mineirao haven't changed since they were built in the 1950s, the Garrincha's exterior is new. The roof looks like a flying saucer of Oscar Niemeyer's nearby 1950s architectural fantasies, held up by 200 massive columns. It dovetails with the modernism of Brasilia, a monument fit for the centre of Brazil's capital city.
But I still wasn't in it. My host was a patient and kindly soul, but he wasn't aware of how urgently I needed to be in the stadium. He parked two kilometers away and as we struggled to get beyond the perimeter fence, time clicked away. I liked Brasilia, but it wasn't built with the pedestrian in mind. It is the only Brazilian city where you see few people on the street.
My host, who lived six miles from the stadium, told me not to worry, that everything would be fine. I told him that I was worried and everything wasn't fine and that I'd traveled 1,000 miles to cover a football match and I was about to miss my first deadline.
My host continued with his conspiracy theories about Brazil having already "bought" the World Cup. I heard similar from other Brazilians -- a nation that has less trust in authority than any I've encountered before.
Finally, I arrived 75 minutes before kickoff and my ticket had been allocated to another journalist. Gutted. Demand was high as Brazil were playing and the lady apologised before explaining that I was late. An English lady working for FIFA asked where I'd come from.
"I've flown from Belo Horizonte," I said.
"Let me see what I can do," she said.
She disappeared and came back a few minutes later with my ticket. She checked my name to see if I was also down for a mixed zone pass. I was.
"That's gone too," she said, before disappearing off and coming back with my pass. I thanked her and set about my job.
Brazil won 4-1 in a Neymar-inspired show, before I returned to the airport for what would be three nights spent on aeroplanes for my return to Europe.
Just before I packed my computer away I checked on Twitter to see reports from Spain that Ander Herrera was definitely about to join Manchester United. That was odd. I had lunch with one of his agents two days before leaving for Brazil and he'd said nothing.
He'd filled me in on details last year and arranged for me to go and see Herrera in Bilbao in November. I knew that the midfielder was deeply disappointed that the move to United fell through a year ago, but he couldn't say that as he'd get abuse from Athletic Bilbao fans.
It was now too late to check in Spain. I climbed into bed at 3:40am and was woken two hours later with a text message from England: "Herrera story true. Not to be sourced."
The source, though, was impeccable, but I had little time to follow up the story, for I had to be at another stadium for England versus Costa Rica. The atmosphere was the flattest of the four games I'd seen in BH, a meaningless encounter between a team already through and another already out, though England's 7,000 traveling fans were loud and in surprisingly good humour given the performances of their team.
"We're going home," they hollered to the tune of "Football's coming home." The World Cup has been superb so far and England were one of the few disappointments.
After, I managed to speak to a "devastated" Phil Jones, plus Costa Rica's assistant coach Paulo Wanchope and their excellent goalkeeper Keylor Navas. I'd first spoken to Navas after he made one of his first appearances for Levante versus Barcelona at Camp Nou last year.
A quietly spoken and religious man, his aim then was to play for one of the biggest teams in Europe. It seemed a little ambitious for Levante's reserve goalkeeper. It doesn't now. Steven Gerrard walked past and asked "Is the story about [Luis] Suarez true?" It was. And Suarez would be the story of the day as our match reports were relegated down the ranks of importance.
I left Brazil with fond memories though and the knowledge that, despite all the (often justifiable) fears of Brazilians, the World Cup has been a huge success so far. Why am I going home halfway through the tournament? It's important to get a balance between work, travel and family, especially with two young children.
That and Man United's preseason tour starts on July 20. I'll be back then from Los Angeles ...