Rugby player tries to play footie with Brazilians

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Football, Amazon style: Competing for a header on a sandy field in Tapajós National Forest

“Do you play?” inquires Pedrinho.

“Sort of,” I offer. “I have an unusual style.”

I decide not to elaborate further. More detail about my limited, rugby-esque, head down, rarely pass, commit-lots-of-fouls football technique surely wasn’t necessary at this stage.

“The tournament’s tomorrow. You’ll be on the Jamaraquá team, don’t let me down,” he adds with a smile.

In the meantime the inhabitants of this sparsely populated rubber tapper village on the shore of the Tapajós river, a tributary of the Amazon, have another soccer matter to worry about – the Copa América.

South America’s answer to the European Championships, this tournament is a big deal in Brazil. For weeks leading up to the event, the chat is about little else.

Poor performances have left the team needing a win or a draw against Paraguay to stand a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages.

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Settling in for the big game with Pedrinho and his family

The generous family I am staying with invite me into their compact sitting room-cum-bedroom to watch the big game.

Nine of us cram into the sparsely decorated, mud -floored affair, where a television is the only luxury item. No matter how poor the family, in Brazil there’s always a TV.

The atmosphere is tense. Brasileiros are expressive, passionate folk and every pass is greeted with a roar of pleasure or a cry of anguish.

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Spot the chicks watching the big game from the floor

With a minute to go, the small crowd is near silent as the gold and greens find themselves trailing 2-1. The unthinkable prospect of losing to lowly Paraguay is becoming a possibility.

Even the small chicks perched in front of the TV are quiet. But then, with just moments to spare, a bloke called Fred slots the ball in the back of the net.

“Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooolllllllllll,” screams the commentator.

The family erupts. The chicks start pecking incessantly.

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Relief: Brazil equalise in the last minute and the family erupt

I am relieved. The win means the locals are in buoyant mood the following day for the village’s own tournament on a patch of sand about 100 metres from the river.

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Local kids play their own game next to the football field

The rest of the players are all trainerless, but I take one look at their mangled feet and decide to stick to footwear. I don’t fancy trekking through the jungle on crutches!

Despite being late in the day it is still lung-burstingly hot and within 20 seconds I am puffing more than a chain-smoking dragon.

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Protecting the crown jewels as I jump to block a free kick

The locals seem unaffected by the heat. Being Brazilians they all want to be grevista (striker), which is fine with me. As the token, cumbersome Englishman I happily become the solitary stopper.

I think I do an adequate job of getting in the way and causing a bit of a nuisance for the opposition, although on several occasions I am humiliated by their skills.

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Dream team with token Englishman

In between games I am kept cool by a constant supply of cold beer which, surprisingly, doesn’t seem to improve my performances.

Let’s just say I’m not expecting a called from the manager of Flamengo anytime soon, but at least I didn’t make a howler.

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Eyes closed, smack it as hard as you can!

After half a dozen 10-minute games everyone crowds around one of the goals for a penalty shootout. For some inexplicable reason they turn to me, the defensive (ahem) brick, to take the penalties (I suspect they just want a good laugh).

My tactic is to thump it as hard as I can.

This is surprisingly effective for the first four attempts but my final effort sails way over the bar –  bringing back memories of Chris Waddle’s 50th row shocker in World Cup ’90.

Still, in the end no one seems to care and after a few more beers with the Brazilians I take the best post-match shower I’ve ever had – in the Amazon basin!

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Bliss: Relaxing aching muscles as the sun sets

About travellingtoothbrushes

We are a couple of journalists with restless toothbrushes. Our teeth scrubbers seem unable to leap out of their respective washbags to take up a permanent residency on the bathroom shelf. So, we've decided to let them live the way they want to and take them on a trip around South America...
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