By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the Brazilian football season back in full swing and Carnival attracting tourists to Rio in their droves, those hankering for some sport amongst the samba rhythms have a great opportunity to watch some action. This week will see the semi-finals of the Taça Guanabara take place followed by Sunday’s final.
Choosing the right match to watch is essential and now is the perfect time to see local derbies (known locally as “classicos”), which means the top four Rio teams playing each other. This week Wednesday and Thursday see Vasco verses Flamengo and Botafogo verses Fluminense, with the weekend’s decider closing the state championship’s first phase.
For football enthusiasts wanting to see some of Brazil’s best players in action (stars like Ronaldinho, Fred, Loco Abreu and Diego Souza all ply their trade in the Cidade Maravilhosa) these contests are a must before the 2012 Taça Rio kicks off in early March. The Taça Rio will see the smaller sides reintroduced to the competition, making for one-sided encounters in front of crowds of little more than 2,000.
Acquiring tickets is rarely a problem. Due to high entrance prices (expect to pay between R$40 and R$60) going to the stadium is an experience not every Carioca can afford. For this reason, it is usually possible to buy tickets at the ticket office outside the stadium.
However, to play it safe there is always an option to buy beforehand from official outlets around the city. Head to Rua Xavier Curado in Laranjeiras, Rua Haddock Lobo in Tijuca or General Severiano in Botafogo. Alternatively, tickets can be ordered online at www.futebolcard.com or www.ingressofacil.com.br.
When it comes to seating at games in Rio no-one is assigned a specific seat inside the stadium and it is first-come first-served. It is advisable to get in early and bag a good viewing point. For derby games fans generally group together, and although the ground may not be full the noise generated is more impressive than most European arenas.
Arriving early means a few beers and some bold match predictions. Unfortunately, as of this year, drinking outside stadiums is illegal and beer can only be consumed in bars.
Alcohol is not sold inside the ground, but there is a wide choice of soft drinks, ice cream and snacks available from vendors moving amongst the crowd, as well as small stands erected just outside the stands.
Most foreigners adopt a team (Flamengo has Rio’s and Brazil’s largest fan base), so buying a replica shirt is a must-have souvenir. With the cost of living skyrocketing in Brazil however, buying official merchandise can be prohibitively expensive.
A quick trip around the shops tells that official licensed shirts retail for R$200. But outside football stadiums, namely the Engenhão and São Januário, street hawkers are selling a plethora of items ranging from shirts, scarves, hats and flags for much cheaper prices.
Transport can be tricky as neither of Rio’s two current major arenas lie in the center (while the Maracanã Stadium is under renovation). A taxi from downtown costs roughly R$35 to the Engenhão and R$50 to the São Januário.
Otherwise, there are buses going to both venues as well as trains from Rio’s Central station. With all games this week at the Engenhão, trains from Central are a twenty minute journey to the Engenho de Dentro station, which is two minutes from the stadium.