On Thursday, 26th July, I had the pleasure of having some part in the Olympic excitement that has gripped the nation, by making the short trip to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to watch Brazil take on Egypt.
After an unsuccessful application attempt at the first time of asking, a process which baffled and bamboozled many, I was keen to see what would be offered when tickets would go on re-sale some months later. Having seen many negative headlines claiming hundreds of thousands of tickets had been left unsold, I thought it would be worthwhile to browse through the list of events and see what may be found and at what cost.
Predictably, the headline events such as athletics, gymnastics,swimming, cycling and the opening and closing ceremonies had nothing left to offer. However, there were a few surprising tickets to be found. For example, Boxing had plenty of sessions for both men and women to be taken. I decided to see what tickets were on offer from football, an event that is not particularly sought after at the olympics, with the track and field events predominantly grabbing buyers’ attention. Despite being the biggest seller in numbers of tickets sold, one would imagine that the stadia involved such as Old Trafford and Wembley would not be getting anywhere near full capacity and as a result, plenty of tickets were still available.
As I trawled the list of potential fixtures, I found the name Brazil catching the eye, and immediately made an order for tickets in the A bracket at a fairly reasonable £40 each. The prospect of seeing Brazil in action was appealing, the country carries a celebrity around it, a name that everyone knows as a world force in international football and although the teams are primarily comprised of younger players, there would almost certainly be a strong side that could be selected from their pool of talent.
Game day and a lively atmosphere in the centre of Cardiff, with a distinctly Brazilian flavour to the streets, with all manner of flags, shirts and scarves all around. After a relatively quick entrance, the seats were found and the wait began. The names that appeared made for interesting reading. Thiago Silva, Hulk, Neymar as well as Lucas Moura, the subject of much speculation currently, among others were in the line up.
As the game kicked off to a lively start from both sides, it became clear that there would likely be goals, and that it would probably be coming from Brazil. Slick passing movements and much of the play focussed on the left through Marcelo, it seemed only a matter of time before they would find their way through. Not to say Egypt did not have a part to play in the early exchanges, they showed some threat but failed to break on the counter attack when the opportunity presented itself.
In an open game, it was indeed Brazil who broke away and got the first goal and did so twice more, taking a 3-0 lead into the break, creating a party atmosphere among the crowd, particularly in the upper tier. The second half was a completely different story. Egypt came out looking far more aggressive in their play, more decisive in their passing, and suddenly finding themselves able to apply far more pressure to what had looked a suspect Brazilian defense. Brazil on the other hand, looked sluggish, passes were going amiss and found the left side being opened up, in part due to how far up the pitch Marcelo seemed to play and his lack of pace in getting back.
Perhaps as a whole, the side were lacking fitness, in part having not prepared and reached full fitness since the season ended, perhaps it was an over confidence at the ease with which they took the lead or perhaps the determination of the Egyptian players to get back into the game and restore pride, but the supposedly inferior team clawed two goals back, the second of which arguably being the goal of the night with a well placed finish from just inside the box. 3-2 and 10 minutes remaining, a tense finish was set up. However, with 3 changes and a sudden awareness of the opposition, Brazil were able to keep the ball and see the game out 3-2, with the fans satisfied that they had got good value for their money.
My overall thoughts on the experience and the game itself were positive. For the money paid, I had middle tier seats just off the halfway line. Although only 26,000 were in attendance, there was a lively atmosphere, with neutrals, Brazil and Egypt fans all mixing with a friendly vibe to the whole match.
The standard of football showed flashes of quality, almost exhibition in nature. In truth, it was hard not to be impressed by the Egyptian side, a team that would be deemed inferior next to some of the players in the Brazil side who are employed by some of Europe’s elite. Brazil had moments of brilliance, but it was Egypt who looked as though they had spent greater time preparing for the Olympics, events they had trained for as opposed to a Brazilian side who’s players had come off summer holidays after long seasons in their respective leagues. The result was an exciting and open game, in which either side could have come away with a result.
This begs the question of whether or not Olympic football is worth it. For football fans, it would be fair to say so. There are plenty of tickets available, the cost of which come to less than many other events of the games. As well as this, many games are contested outside London if travel is a concern and fans are given the opportunity to witness some young talent that could be stars of the future and some distinguished amateurs that we never see during the regular season. New names come to the fore and the possibility that matches may be played more openly suggest some exciting fixtures.
The football may not be of the highest quality, but in my honest opinion, there is plenty to be enjoyed by taking in the matches, regardless of who is playing. My only complaint may be the use of such large grounds, seemingly unnecessary if less than half capacity is reached. Smaller grounds would have provided a better atmosphere. The Cardiff City Stadium would have taken in the 26,000 that adorned the Millennium Stadium, for example, and I believe will have made for a more electrifying experience in the stands. However, this is a minor point in what I found to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I hope that those lucky enough to go to events in the coming weeks, come away with similarly fond memories.