Sao Paulo, Brazil – In the narrow streets around Allianz Parke, hundreds of Palmeiras fans hooded together, stroking their necks to try to get a glimpse of whatever television screen they could find. The epidemic meant that they could not make it to the finals in Rio de Janeiro. But it also meant that they could not even go to bars and restaurants, which are restricted to take service on weekends.
Instead, fans improvised. A handful of them, living in apartment buildings and homes around the stadium, home to their beloved Palmeiras football team, engage their screens so they can be seen on the streets outside. Other fans crowded outside the bar and café, cheeked on by Jouk, waving flags over his shoulders.
His thoughts were inside the famous Maracana, 300 miles away in the furious heat of Rio, where his team faced their rival Santos in the final of the Copa Libertadores for the biggest prize in South Africa club football.
In a normal world, of course, many of them would have been there instead, in thousands, by plane and car and by road, just to be there, to awaken the spiritual home of Brazilian football in the green. White. It was, after all, a historic moment: the first time since 2006 when the Libertadores final was contested by two Brazilian teams, and the first time it was contested by two teams from São Paulo State.
Most of them, of course, cannot be there, because this is not a normal world. Only 5,000 fans were allowed to participate in the finals in person – all of them were selected exclusively by the respective clubs, but also through ticket sales, and all of them, counternatively, the 78,000-seat Marakan was packed into some open squares by spreading into its huge, largely empty bowl.
But even though circumstances had changed, the old instinct was not. In the last 10 months, it has become clear that – no matter the risk or the restrictions – if football is played, for the moments that mean the most, fans will feel the urge to be together.
And so Palmyras fans came to Allianz Parke on Saturday, to a place that feels like home, hours before the game started, to drink and sing and wave their flags. He had waited a long time for this – his team had not been crowned the champion of South America since 1999 – and would have to wait a bit longer, cautious compared to its quality through 90 minutes of play More defined than, more aware is played by teams. What can be lost compared to what can be won.
Then it happened in a hurry. A scuffle on the shore, and Santos’ veteran coach, Kuka, was dispatched. 90 minutes were up, the clock ticking deeper and deeper into injury time. Eight minutes later, Ronnie, the star of Palmyras, stepped forward, crossing a deep, searching cross. Breno Lopez, his jump time, Santos stepped his header above the goalkeeper.
He raced towards the fans, and lay down on the seats to get him and his teammates. Palmyras had a win. And in the narrow streets around Allianz Parque, which cannot be felt there, finally, as if they were.