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Alexis Sanchez is 3 feet tall. That’s my takeaway from the Brazil/Chile game I attended last night. Alexis Sanchez is 3 feet tall and so fast that when he runs his legs spin around in circles like the Roadrunner’s. Meep meep! Seriously, though, Alexis is tiny! I knew he was the shortest guy on our team, but until you see him close up standing next to Maicon you don’t realize just how wee he is. He’s sure strong, though. I saw him bull his way straight through several much larger defenders. And my favourite moment of the entire game was when he successfully tackled David Luiz. Ha!
I wasn’t originally planning to go to this game. I mean, I don’t support either Brazil or Chile, the tickets weren’t cheap, and it was on a cold Tuesday night in November. Plus I hate crowds, like really really hate them to the point where it causes me anxiety problems if I get stuck in one. So, no. And Dani Alves was injured and wasn’t going to play, which was half my reason for wanting to go in the first place! But then I realized that I may never have a chance to see two teams of this quality play again, or at least not for many years, and I would get to see some of my favourite players. So I not only decided to grit my teeth and go, I splurged on a really good ticket smack dab in the middle of the lowest tier, with an excellent mid-pitch view. Then I started to get excited. Alexis! Neymar!
Dani Alves! Maxwell!
The game was played at the Skydome*, which is not normally a “soccer” venue. They brought in real turf specially for this game, but as many of you noticed on your screens it was not ideal. From my vantage point the pitch looked very dry and slippery, and large chunks of turf were frequently becoming dislodged and had to be tamped back down. I could actually hear Xavi crying in Barcelona. Pretty embarrassing that my city couldn’t provide a better surface for two world-class teams. Also, I don’t like the Skydome. The seats are uncomfortable, and with the roof closed it has an odd “flat” sort of atmosphere more suited to a concert than a sporting event. On the up side, it’s only a short streetcar ride from my home, so I’m glad it was there instead of BMO Field.
I arrived about an hour early, because I’m just like that. There were already large crowds gathered outside, congregating in exuberant groups, waving flags, singing, drumming. One group of Chile supporters even let off a few fireworks (I’m sure their bags were searched extra thoroughly before they were let inside!). Everyone was in a good mood. There were a lot of friendly jibes going back and forth, but no hostility. This is Toronto, we’re just here to have fun. Settling in my seat, I took a good look at the fans. I would say it was about half Brazil supporters, 1/3 Chile supporters, and the rest just people like me who wanted to see a good game of football. There were plenty of Brazil jerseys on show, and a fair number of Barça shirts as well. I spotted several people wearing the senyera kit (plain or with Neymar Jr on the back). Chilean supporters didn’t seem to go in for jerseys as much, but they sure did like silly hats! Chile also won the banner wars, as one end of the stadium was fully draped in Chile flags and banners. I was in a section dominated by Brazil fans, so I resolved to keep my Chile-supporting ways on the down-low. I needn’t have worried, though. Turns out the couple on my left were also Barça fans, so the lady and I bonded over our admiration for Alexis. The lady on my right spent most of the game replying to messages on her BlackBerry. (We didn’t like her.)
The other reason for getting there early was so I could watch the teams warming up. I used the zoom lens on my camera and took a few snaps:
Including this one of Alexis and Neymar having a little pre-game cuddle (sorry it’s so blurry, I wasn’t prepared!):
And this one of Alexis showing off one of his best assets:
Of the game itself I can say very little. I’m sure many of you watched it yourselves. Someone on twitter said that they thought the pace was quite slow, but I can assure you that when these finely-tuned athletes are dashing around in front of you, they seem very fast indeed! Although it was only a friendly, both teams came out to play a serious game, turning out the best lineups available. I was especially interested to see Thiago Silva play, as I have never really followed teams he has been on, and the Barça board/coaching staff seems to think he is the perfect CB for us. I thought he played an excellent game, but I have to admit I don’t see what exactly makes him potentially excellent for *us*.
And of course there was Neymar. When his name was announced the crowd gave a gigantic roar. He was the man everyone wanted to see. (Alexis got a big roar, too, only slightly smaller.) Neymar is just as skinny up close, and looked a bit scruffy and tired. He didn’t do a lot in the warm-up session, in fact he sort of disappeared for a while. Not to worry, though, he was bright and ready by the time the game started. He rampaged straight through the Chile on numerous occasions and had several opportunities to score, but couldn’t quite get a decent shot off. One thing I noticed about Neymar is that he didn’t track back much, but to be fair, with the NT he is not asked to. The Brazil defense doesn’t push nearly as high as we are used to seeing with Barça and they prefer him to stay forward to be available once the ball is recovered.
In contrast, Alexis was literally everywhere for Chile. He was wide, he was in the middle, he was tracking back to recover the ball deep in his own side of the pitch. He was a human dynamo. If he wasn’t running he was lurking near the Brazilian box trying to find an inch of space to move into. Unfortunately, wherever Alexis went he was closely shadowed by Maxwell. Remember Maxwell? He of the pretty hair and the endless debates as to whether he was a better defender than Adriano? Well, I can tell you that he is still a very good defender, and gave Alexis all kinds of trouble trying to get away from him. I tried to get a good picture of them together, but they just wouldn’t stand still for me. How rude!
Other impressions: Hulk has the weirdest little stumpy bow legs, I can’t imagine how he can run as fast as he does. Robinho pissed me off by playing rather well. The rest of the Chilean team wasn’t much taller than Alexis. What’s the big fuss about Gary Medel? He was OK. Chile are an all-out attacking team and a lot of fun to watch, like a swarm of ants overwhelming a grasshopper. The Chilean goal was awesome– Julio Cesar didn’t know where to look! Watching a game without a play-by-play was strange at first. And the woman who announced the goals and subs sounded disinterested and robotic. They really could/should have done better there. Jumbotrons are confusing. Did it look to you like the Chilean keeper was wearing blue? Because that’s what the Jumbotron showed, but he was wearing purple, and not even a bluey-purple. Just purple. $10 is way too much for a tall can of beer.
And that’s it. I had a great time, although I think I am literally the only woman in Toronto who would go to something like this by herself. The couples around me certainly gave me the odd look, but once the game started we were all just fans together enjoying the spectacle. I’m glad I went. If Neymar (or Alexis!) ever wins the Ballon d’Or I can talk about the time I saw him live. I’m still sad that I didn’t get to see Dani Alves. Sorry, Maicon, but you’re no Alves. And I would have loved to see Neymar or Alexis score a goal, but it wasn’t to be. It was an excellent game, there was a big crowd (38,000+. Not sold-out, but quite respectable.), and everyone left happy. South American fans are the best! I didn’t stick around to try and get autographs or anything, that’s just not my style, but I did stay in my seat long enough to see Alexis wandering around shirtless. Oh MYYYY!!!! I am here to tell you that his abs are just as impressive in person. Sadly I did not get a picture, as my camera battery had died. Sorry. At least I will always have my memories.
*Edit: I refuse to call it the Rogers’ Centre. Nope!