29 march 2017
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Henry Winter

Alan Hansen

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World Cup 2014 diary

World Cup 2014 diary

 
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We are underway then. A special night at the Arena Sao Paulo has got things going but the second day of the tournament is where the reality of the World Cup hits you.
Three games in a day, including Spain vs Holland, reminds you exactly why you look forward to this competition so much every four years.
For me though, the realities of covering a World Cup sunk in as a late night of work merged into a long day of travelling - meaning I missed the repeat of the 2010 final.
On the move I have to write up last night's quotes from the mixed zone, which for once is not a particularly difficult task.
The mixed zone itself is always a circus. The basic principle is that the players must pass through an area full of journalists on their way from the changing rooms to catch their bus home from the stadium. They may choose to stop and answer questions or they may stare fixedly ahead, wearing oversized headphones and make a beeline for the back of the team coach.
Often things can get very... intimate. Journalists crush in, arms outstretched with dictaphones in hand, to try and grab a morsel of what is being said by a nearby player. On the first night, at the Arena São Paulo, the local media were a veritable rabble, desperate to ambush the Selecao players and get their thoughts on the win.
For us, the story was the referee and it was a case of fingers crossed that the Croatians would be fuming rather than downbeat. The latter would see them sulk on by (like Luka Modric did) but there were plenty still angry enough to need to vent.
We didn't have to wait long for Dejan Lovren and Vedran Corluka to come up with the gold.
But back to Sao Paulo, or the motorway out of it anyway so I could catch my plane.
For all the criticisms of the corporate sponsors around this event, many of them mine, I am immensely grateful to the two companies that combined to erect big screens at Sao Paulo airport so that travellers can catch games on the move. A crowd of several hundred watched intently as Mexico eventually overcame questionable officiating and Cameroon.
A jog through security on the final whistle sees me make my flight to Belo Horizonte where I will cover Colombia's game with Greece. The flight is packed with travelling Cafeteros, all dressed in yellow, draped in flags and full of the joys of football (beer).
They come into this tournament with a wonderful chance of making an impact after finishing second in South American qualifying and drawing a passable group for the finals. Jose Pekerman has been in charge for two years now and has been a huge improvement on the overly cautious Leonel Alvarez.
The loss of Falcao is obviously sad for the tournament and an enormous blow in a footballing sense but Colombia are fortunate insomuch as they have a whole host of forwards to slot in who aren't that much of a downgrade. Had they lost James Rodriguez to injury then he would have been far more difficult to replace.
Jackson Martinez's goalscoring record at Porto means that many Europeans would expect him to slot in, but Carlos Bacca appears to have the edge and will partner Teofilo Gutierrez up front.
Gutierrez, better known as Teo, is quite the character in South American football but never made the leap to Europe despite strong interest from Porto when he was starring with Racing Club in Argentina.
Oh, and he is probably most famous for pulling a gun on his teammates.
Racing Club captain Sebastian Saja was furious with the hot-headed striker for getting needlessly sent off in the Clasico against archrivals Independiente, a red card that cost them the game, and Saja took his frustration out on the Colombian in a post-match brawl.
When teammate Giovanni Moreno intervened to try and keep the peace Saja punched him and cut his eye, at which point Teo turned to his belongings and produced a pistol.
The police would get involved, and they discovered in the end that it was only a compressed air gun. It could still have killed Saja at close range, but it meant no formal action against the striker from the authorities.
Having pulled a gun on his teammates, Teo's Racing career was over. He later tried to assert that it wasn't his gun, it was his son's, but considering that his only child was two at the time that claim probably poses more questions than it answers.
Now older, calmer and much more mature, the 29-year-old is back in Argentina after a couple of years back in his homeland. As fate would have it, he has just won the title with River Plate and in the absence of Falcao is arguably his nation's first-choice striker.
So when Colombia walk out to play Greece we will see the pinnacle of this man's career. It could be the beginning of a great end to his redemption story, and it's quite the turnaround from Racing getting shot, to Teo being Top Gun.

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