Friday, June 19, Valparaiso, Chile The Swiss are snoring like walrus. I slip out of bed, into the cold, and make for the lounge so I can try to post a quick blog update. As I am either in bed, in a bar, in a bus or in a football stadium it has been proving pretty difficult keeping up to date on proceedings these past 9 days. This is my ideal chance with only one bloke in the lounge using one of only two computers. "Ah mate, is that a Riga United top?" This is too absurd for words. Mind you, we are in absurd Valparaiso so maybe not. Turns out Billy and I not only played football against one another two years ago in Latvia - him for Durham University and me for Riga United - but we both came on as subs with him marking me! What a small world. 14,000 kilometres away from Riga, and Billy isn't even here for the Copa America, so the obvious random football connection doesn't work. He is actually travelling through South America for six months. Crazy really. So, instead of blogging, I end up posting stuff on Facebook about this strange coincidence. The Swiss probably put this silly story down to the lasting effects of their Teromoto excesses last night. But the Riga United connection to this event runs deeper: Mael, a French mate of both Hannes and myself, actually recommended we stay at Angel Hostel in Valparaiso after travelling through South America a year ago. Mael played for Riga United some years ago...as did Hannes, one of my travel companions!
The lads got in at 5 this morning, making my 3 o'clock finish look positively second division. It is toasted cheese sandwiches and Nescafe for our free hostel breakfast, the meal of champions. I am on my way back to Santiago today for Chile v Bolivia, so I go for a quick trip up one of the funiculars with Hannes and a one-hour tour around another part of Valparaiso we didn't explore yesterday. The views are strange and, at times, stunning. Much of the art is, shall we say, a little bit 'out there'. I could do with a few more hours here so I've made the decision to return to Valparaiso in July when Katya joins me in South America.
I only need to wait 6 minutes for the first available bus back to Santiago, where I am checked into the old school Vegas Hotel. Hannes was originally meant to join me but he's decided to stay with the other lads and the horse's head in Valparaiso. The hotel classes itself as a 'boutique hotel' but actually it is just an old school establishment that has suddenly become cool again after years of being regarded as crap. I really like the place, and its location between Londres and Paris streets, is one of the nicest in the whole city.
On the road up to the National Stadium the road-side vendors are out in force again, selling a quite crazy mix of merchandise, food and general tat. For some reason though, the police are very arsey today. For all the previous games they seemed good-natured but I sense they are in the mood for a rumble tonight and they have positioned their zombie riot trucks all over the place. They are also detaining young men in the streets for the crime of drinking flat beer which seems a bit over the top, even if it is the bi-law for the championships. The press centre is also a different place to what it was with extra security checks. I accidentally wander into the women's toilets and get all but accused of being a pervert by one of the stadium guards, FFS.
Chile v Bolivia and at times Chile are simply brilliant. The whole team is fluid, quick in speed of thought, multi-directional and appears to possess half a dozen Glenn Hoddles. They work their way through the lines and create overloads at will. Really this is a pleasure to watch. The closest England have come to playing like this was the 4-1 Euro '96 victory over Holland at Wembley. Vidal, Sanchez, Vargas, Medel, Valdavia and the rest are playing the kind of football most players, teams and fans could only dream of. 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, 5-0 ... it could be 10, quite frankly. And all the neutrals and Chile fans are understandably sad when the final whistle goes. Pick of the goals are Sanchez's one-two with Valdavia, and Gary Medel's awesome lobbed finish late on.
Back in the city centre, the wild street celebrations are already turning dodgy. Gangs of lads are arriving and goading the police. Avenu O'Higgins which is closed off for over a mile is absolutely covered in broken glass. Hundreds of riot police are readying themselves for a fight anytime soon. The youth of Santiago love to riot. There have been riots almost every night since we came here: student protests, workers' protests...football riots. I've seen countless football and anti-globalisation riots over the years and I know when one is about to turn very nasty. I'm only back in the Vegas for about 15 minutes before the sound of more than a dozen different police sirens fills the night air.