Serbia 2, Brazil 1 AET
North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, June 21 2015
Look at me Ma! I’m on the side line at a World Cup final!!
What an experience. For the last few weeks I have been relishing the fact that I have had the chance to take photos of the best footballers in the world aged under 20. I have lived the dream really – experiencing a FIFA World Cup, something the vast majority of football fans worldwide will only ever get to see on a screen with their noses pressed up against the glass. And I experienced it from up as close as it’s possible to get. It all came to an end last night, with the final and the play off for third taking place at North Harbour Stadium, but a packed house in a slightly damp Auckland really saw it off in style.
The play off for third was played in pouring rain, so much so that for the first time in the tournament I gave up on sitting by the pitch due to my lens continuously fogging up which made getting good shots totally impossible. All the forecasts had said that it was only going to get worse and I was convinced that my day would be ruined by having no usable photos of either game. But the Football Gods and the Weather Gods must have struck a deal because miraculously it cleared despite all the evidence to the contrary, and apart from one downpour in the first half of extra time we got a dry game!
The Europe vs South America clash followed the script from start to finish.
Brazilian fans were looking like their usual cocky selves before the game and most of the crowd, no doubt easily impressed by the spectre of ‘joga bonito’, appeared to be mostly in the Brazil camp. But not me. I followed my flow chart and in so doing took due note of USA ’94 – for which I will never forgive Brazil as long as I live, and made the easy decision to back the Serbians. Besides, in a Europe vs South America clash, I am always going to be firmly in the Europe camp.
In typical European style, Serbia sat back most of the game looking like they were just holding on by the skin of their teeth, before the inevitable occurred – they managed to fluke a goal and take the lead with about half an hour left to play. Then, in typical South American style, Brazil deployed a bit of fancy pants trickery and managed to equalise. We then went to extra time and, in typical European style, the good guys found both their attacking mojo and a way to harness it in order to get themselves a winner!
To be perfectly up front, I would not have minded too much if Brazill had won, and I took little pleasure from the sad looks on their faces as they collected their runner up medals. But I did take immense pleasure from the Serbian players’ delirious celebrations. I believe it was their first title since the break-up of Yugoslavia, a former football superpower, and it was magnificent to see the joy on those young faces up close. Hopefully this is the start of a golden generation that sees them reach similar (as long as they don’t beat Italy) heights in senior football.
The slight dampener on the evening, apart from the rain, was the shambles that took place with the photographers after the trophy presentation. I have of course been critical of FIFA with regard to Qatar but that is no reflection at all on the local officials and volunteers at the venues who were mostly wonderful people who I really enjoyed working with and getting to know over the last few weeks. But there was a serious blunder made last night when someone gave police and security guards different information to the briefing we all had before the match.
We were clearly told that after the presentation we were allowed anywhere between the advertising hoardings and the crowd on all sides of the venue except the side where the dugouts are. We had a little diagram that was perfectly clear.
But when the Serbian players took the trophy over to the Southern end to celebrate with their fans, the security personnel wouldn’t let us over there to capture the moment. This led to some distraught photographers almost getting hurt or arrested as they tried to do their jobs. I hung back trying not to make matters worse for anyone and eventually a senior FIFA official arrived and told security to let us in, but it was a shambles and almost resulted in serious consequences.
The incident left me feeling a little bit shaken, but that didn’t detract from what a buzz it was to be there (eventually) with those players and fans to share their special moment. It was something I will be happily remembering for the rest of my days.
At the conclusion of my post on the opening game of New Zealand 2015, I wrote:
“Perhaps in 25 years’s time I will look back on this with the same fondness as I feel for Italia ’90 and USA ‘94. For some reason I have a strange instinct that I absolutely will.”
I can now report that that strange instinct has morphed into a firm probability.
Categories: FIFA New Zealand 2015
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.