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Debriefing: GOOOOAAAL! Soccer in São Paulo

PJL: The highlight of my trip to Brazil was seeing a Corinthians futebol game at São Paulo’s beloved Pacaembu Stadium, an Art Deco landmark built in 1940.

I’ve seen soccer games in England, Italy, Thailand, and Croatia, but I’d never seen such an exuberant crowd, except maybe at a Springsteen show—and even that’s really only during "Born To Run," when the crowd pumps their fists and yells "whoa-oh-oh-oh-ohhh-ohhh!" At Brazilian soccer games they do stuff like that for 90 minutes straight. The spectators literally did not stop singing. Or banging on giant drums. Or making these ear-piercing screeching sounds. (Corinthians’ hard-core supporters are known as the Gaviões da Fiel, or "Hawks of the Faithful"; the screeches are supposed to resemble birdcalls but sound more like the Nazguls of Mordor’s terrifying cry in Lord of the Rings.)

Alongside Rio de Janeiro’s Flamengo club, Corinthians are one of Brazil’s most popular soccer teams, and their fans are legendary (you might say notorious) for their fealty. "Corinnnn-thians! Corinthians minha história! Corinthians minha vida! Corinthians meu amor!" goes their signature song: "Corinthians, my history, my life, my love." I don’t doubt it for a minute.

The Hawks have about 23 distinct chants or anthems, which they broke out gradually over the course of the game, like a well-crafted set list. (I can imagine the pre-show strategizing: "I say we hit ’em with ’Vamos Comer os Porcos’ to open the second half." "Yeah, that’ll segue nicely into ’Corinthians, Corinthians’ for the climax.") What’s more, every last person sang along AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS. Watching a stadium full of Paulistanos punching the air and bellowing in unison, I suddenly understood why Queen was huge in Brazil.

Vamos comer os porcos, by the way, can be loosely translated as "Let’s eat the pigs," which you have to admit is a really, really great chantand an intimidating one, too, when sung by 15,000 hungry-sounding Corinthians fans all madly stomping their feet. Tonight isn’t even a particularly big-deal, high-stakes game, but a São Paulo State Cup contest (or Paulista championship) against Grêmio Barueri—the "pigs" in question. Though Corinthians languish in the middle of the league rankings, their play is vastly superior to Barueri’s, and they manage to get about 237,000 shots on net compared with the Pigs’ three or four.

Naturally, the game ends in a zero-zero tie. (Did we honestly expect anyone to score?) But if the denouement is a little deflating—sadly, we never get to hear fans shout "GOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAL!!!"—the on-field action is almost beside the point. It was an altogether thrilling night. Next time you’re in São Paulo (or anywhere else in Brazil), do yourself a favor and see a game—there’s no other experience like it.

Since many soccer games sell out, tickets are best obtained in advance through your hotel’s concierge. Corinthians game schedules are available on the team’s website: www.corinthiansfutebol.com.br (Portuguese only).

If you’d prefer to experience a game with an English-speaking guide (who, besides arranging for seats and transportation, can translate all the chants), contact the excellent São Paulo–based travel company Matueté (55-11/3071-4515; www.matuete.com; e-mail: info@matuete.com).

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