Brazil World Cup 2014: A Senda Ambassador’s Life in Rio de Janeiro

Casey Grady is one of our Senda ambassadors who is currently living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is passionate about football and tries to play pickup games whenever he has free time. Casey is investigating Brazil’s street football culture and reporting back to us on his impressions.

Copacabana Footballing Guide for Tourists

Brazil is undoubtedly soccer’s spiritual and cultural heart. And with World Cup 2014 coming to Rio this summer, that footballing heart will only beat louder. Soccer, which is locally referred to as futebol, is central to Brazilian life. And within Brazil, Rio de Janeiro is the place for total soccer immersion. I went down to Copacabana, the birthplace of Beach Soccer (futebol na praia), where goals litter the iconic beach.

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Carioças, the nickname for Rio natives, are passionate about futebol.  To get their fix, many wake up at the crack of dawn and head down to the beach to attend fitness programs that emphasize beach soccer.  One morning, I woke up early and set out for Copacabana to observe and get coaching ideas and training tips. If you pay a small fee (and are able to wake up early enough!), you could probably join the programs and play.

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As the sand gets extremely hot under the midday sun, you will not usually see people playing during the day.  The one exception to this rule is when it is overcast.  When cloud cover cools the sand down to a tolerable temperature, more teams train during the day.  Unfortunately (or maybe not so unfortunately), gloomy days in Rio are exceedingly rare.  So rare in fact, that Brazilians don’t seem to know how to react to rain.  During stormy weather, it appears that everyone forgets how to drive.  I’ve suffered through the most horrendous storm-induced traffic jams while in Brazil!

In addition to futebol, many groups of Carioças practice futevolley in the early evening. Kids in uniforms dominate the best fields because their clubs pay to reserve the space. Sometimes I have seen adults training on the beach as well. These are the members of the organized workout groups that I mentioned earlier.

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Now, I hope that I have not given you the wrong impression about Rio beach soccer culture.  Although the organized groups that I mentioned above require membership fees to play, there are plenty of opportunities for free pickup games for tourists!

Hate playing in the sand?  There is only one place to go in the South Zone of Rio to play on (synthetic) grass: Complexo Aterro.

I went down to Complexo Aterro in search of pickup games.  When I arrived, there was a group of guys from the local neighborhood.  They meet at the Aterro complexo de futebol (link above) before 8:45 on Saturday mornings.  One guy, almost like a coach, but more like an organizer, wrote my name down on a list. It is first come, first served and seniority is also a factor if there are lots of people in attendance. Usually, gringos are substitutes.  7v7 or 8v8 games end when 10 goals are scored, which usually takes 1.5 to 2 hours.

Guys pay about $10/month and get a red and blue uniform.  For reasons that are beyond my comprehension, no one ever has a ball except the organizer. The guys that pay the monthly fee get priority over people who don’t.  As native Brazilians are chosen first, you will probably be a substitute unless there are no locals around. When it is overcast, there are not too many people in attendance.  But if it is sunny and hot, tons of people show up.  The heat makes playing much more exhausting on the AstroTurf and so multiple substitutions are required.

The game starts at around 9:00 Brazilian time. When the first team scores the 5th goal, it is halftime and it’s time for some liquid refreshment.  There is a nice man who is always around selling water.  He sells on credit so you can pay him later and don’t have to fumble for your wallet during the game.

As I said before, the first team to 10 goals wins. But when it is scorchingly hot, the game sometimes will end after only 8 goals.  This ensures that none of the players keel over from dehydration and heat stroke.  If there are lots of people sometimes 7v7 becomes 8v8 or 9v9 with subs, depending on the number of available players. The larger games only increase the amount of bickering and complaining that occurs between players.

When you sub off, your day is done!  The substitutes can enter either team, red or blue.  A sweaty jersey and shorts may be offered to you, but I wouldn’t suggest wearing them unless you like bathing in another person’s sweat!  I bring my own clothing so I can keep my sweat to myself.

I hope that I have given you a useful introduction to pickup soccer in Rio.  If watching the best footballers in the world compete at the World Cup in Rio doesn’t inspire you to get out there and play some pickup, then I don’t think anything will! While the location and rules may change, the love for soccer is universal.  I’m sure that with a little effort, you’ll be able to fulfill your dream of playing soccer in its spiritual birthplace.

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Good luck and play hard!

Story from Casey Grady

Edited by Evan Hofberg

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