Better late than never, readers! Nearly two weeks ago now, I had the pleasure of visiting the Morumbi, the stadium of São Paulo Futebol Clube, to watch their Brasilerião clash with Atlético Goianiense. This (drum roll please) is the story of the evening.
São Paulo 2-1 Atlético-GO
After meeting my friend Fabiano near the Pinacoteca in the North of the city, we headed by car towards the Morumbi district, home of the Estádio Cícero Pompeu de Toledo. We left well in advance of the nine o'clock kick-off (São Paulo is the ultimate concrete jungle and usually has the traffic levels to match), but we were pleased to find the route relatively empty, and it wasn't long before the stadium, surrounded by hills, crept into view. Parking was interesting; a whirlwind of negotiation, revs, horns, and swear words, but soon we were strolling onto the main concourse. Built in 1960, the Morumbi is in surprisingly good condition, due to frequent renovations over the years. The crowd included a considerable number of youngsters, girls, and pensioners; as Fabiano informed me (in a completely unbiased manner, naturally), São Paulo prides itself on being more family-friendly than local maniacs Corinthians. (N.B. I have been to a Corinthians game, and it was nowhere near as intimidating as certain people would have had me believe; the atmosphere at the Pacaembu was indeed raucous, but in an entirely positive sense.)
We entered the ground...although not with the riffraff, dear reader. Oh no, your SKP correspondent had VIP status; not, sadly, anything to do with my journalistic ambitions, but rather thanks to Fabiano's girlfriend working for one of the club's sponsors. I wasn't complaining, however, tucking into free food and drink, and taking in the magnificent view. Aside from the Maracanã, the Morumbi is surely Brazil's most iconic stadium; with its swirling Tricolor decoration, elevated floodlight rigs, and an almost unfathomable distance between the supporter and the action. Even from our pitchside position behind the goal, it took a keen eye to keep track of events. With a crowd of just 9,000 (the capacity is 67,000), one may have expected a subdued atmosphere, but the hardcore members of the Torcida Independente (São Paulo's largest fan group) were in fine voice, ably backed up by the pounding beat of the requisite bateria.
In the weeks previous to the game, São Paulo's form had been shaky at best; indeed coach Sérgio Baresi would have been sweating over his future. These nerves translated into a tentative start for the home side, who were admittedly missing some of their key players; Fernandão, Ricardo Oliveira, and Richarlyson were carrying injuries, and Dagoberto only earnt a place on the bench. Midfielder Jorge Wagner made his first start for months, and predictably looked off the pace for most of the game.
It was against the run of play, then, that the Tricolor went ahead. Right-back Jean bent a delightful cross into the six yard box, where centre-back Xandão rose to head past Márcio. The goal gave São Paulo the confidence to control the rhythm of the remainder of the half; young attacker Marcelinho in particular stood out for the home side, with his livewire dribbling and incessant running. Both he and Fernandinho went close before the interval.
The second period saw the introduction of Dagoberto; a former fan favourite who had (undeservedly) become somewhat of a scapegoat after the club's exit from the Copa Libertadores. The little support striker made an immediate impact, cutting in dangerously from his position on the left of the attack. São Paulo looked set to dominate the rest of the game, but then the unthinkable happened; Atlético scored. Newly-promoted, bottom four Atlético. The same Atlético who were in the third division when São Paulo were winning Série A. Elias, the Dragão's playmaker, played in Juninho, who rounded Ceni to tuck home. The stadium groaned as one; "we don't deserve to be near the top of the league if we can't beat this timinho (tiny side)," sighed Fabiano.
Fifteen minutes passed without much excitement. When Dagoberto headed home Marlos' hopeful cross, then, the celebrations rang out not only joy, but a fair dose of shock; this suddenly had the air of a victory plucked from the jaws of defeat. Dagoberto's publicist (do footballers have publicists?) must have been delighted with his celebration; the 27 year-old tore off his shirt and made his way over to the giant SPFC plaque to salute the crowd, who responded in kind with a rousing chorus of "Êêêê, oooo, Dagoberto é o terror!" ("Dagoberto's a terror!") The game predictably tailed off after this sugar rush, but the São Paulinos didn't care; this was the kind of unexpected boost that can ignite a season.
Before making our way home, we desperately tried (but ultimately failed) to get the attention of club icon Rogério Ceni, before sneaking off for a peek at the club's Libertadores trophies, proudly displayed in the club shop. There was also time for a quick photo with the club's mascot, a larger-than-life caracature of the man after whom the city and club are named; Saint Paul himself. It was a fitting end to my pilgrimage to one of the world's most historic stadia.
(Photo credits; All writer's own.)