May 27, 2006
Soccer, sun …..and RAIN was the order of the day when the Notre Dame team arrived in Sao Paulo. It was not the welcome we had looked for and our first destination of the exotic sounding Riviera did not quite live up to its reputation. Surely there was a beautiful beach nestling nicely among the palm trees but the rain would not stop and our first practice on the beach left everyone well drenched.
The next morning (Wednesday) it was off at the crack of dawn headed for the city of Santos where we were to play the U-19 squad of the Santos FC, the famous professional team where the fabled Pele spent the majority of his career. We went to their training center and played in a magnificently manicured pitch, which in spite of the continuous rain was amazingly in excellent playing condition. It was a sharp introduction into Brazilian soccer as the young professionals who were preparing for the national championship showed excellent skills. Notre Dame hung in well and a goal by Joe Lapira forced a tight game that saw the Irish go under in a 2-1 result.
The Irish take part in some ‘sand soccer’ during their stay in Brazil.
From Santos we headed on a three hour bus ride into the the mountains on the other side of Sao Paulo to the Santa Filomena training center. This is to be our base for the next week and has served as a training home for nearly every professional team in Brazil. Throw in the fact that the Brazilian National team has used it on a number of occasions and you can understand the quality of the fields and facilities on offer.
On Friday we headed back to Sao Paulo to take on the Palmeiras Reserve team. This was an older team consisting of several Palmeiras first team players and on paper was billed as our toughest challenge. The team responded magnificently and just when it looked as thought the Irish would pull out a tie a Palmeiras forward squeezed a hard, low, curling drive past the diving Andrew Quinn in goal with just three minutes remaining. It was a tough blow as we had created several excellent scoring chances and Nate Norman must feel extremely hard done by when he was upended in the penalty box.
There was no rest for the Irish, since the next day (Saturday) we took on UNIP, one of the top university teams in Brazil. This was the first game against non-professional opponents and it allowed us that chance to leave Dale Rellas, Greg Dalby, Ryan Miller and Andrew Quinn on the bench. It allowed some of the younger players to get theri start and goals by Nate Norman, Ian Etherington, Kyle Dulworth and Justin McGeeney saw the Irish cruise home to a 4-2. win.
Tomorrow (Sunday) it is off to see Palmeiras play Gremio in the Brazilian 1st Division game. There is now question if you love soccer this is the place to come and I am also happy to add that the clouds have all cleared away leaving everyone with plenty of sun, soccer…..and plenty of fun!