Europe might be home to many of the biggest soccer clubs in the world but the real spiritual home of the game is in South America.
Some of the best players to have ever played the game have come from Brazil or Argentina and Uruguay were the hosts and winners of the first-ever World Cup in 1930.
As a massive soccer fan myself, going to see a game in South America was near the top of my list of things to do when I explored the continent.
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Experiencing South America’s Stadiums
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The first place that this was a real possibility for me was in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The city is home to many of Argentina’s biggest clubs, including the well known Boca Juniors.
Unfortunately, Boca Juniors were not playing at home during my stay in Buenos Aires but I was still able to visit the stadium. It stands right in the centre of the La Boca neighbourhood and sits at the heart of the community.
Many of the surrounding buildings and streets are covered in flags, murals and even feature statutes of former players, a real indication of the cultural importance that soccer has around here.
One lady that I met, Maria, told me that she had lived in the La Boca neighbourhood her whole life. She told me that despite not being a huge soccer fan herself, she enjoyed match days as she could feel the atmosphere throughout the entire neighbourhood. According to her, it is soccer that brings the area to life.
The stadium of the Boca Juniors has been the home of the team since 1940 and when you walk around it, you can certainly get a sense of the history. Inside, a museum has been erected to teach tourists all about the history of Boca Juniors.
This covers information about the legendary soccer player Diego Maradona, right up to the more recent wins of the Copa de Libertadores in the 2000s. The museum also provides the opportunity to walk down to the pitch.
Of course, the atmosphere was nothing like it would have been on a matchday but I still got a sense of how formidable a place this would be for opposition teams.
This visit really whet my appetite to actually go and see a game firsthand. So, after a bit of research, I found out that San Lorenzo was playing fellow Buenos Aires club, Racing Club de Avellaneda, during my stay.
There was no need to think twice. I was going! However, tickets were difficult to come by. As it turned out, San Lorenzo only sold tickets to people who are official members of the club, something that I certainly wasn’t.
As a result, I had to book my tickets through a company that specialises in taking tourists to matches in Argentina. However, this wasn’t a problem and most importantly, I was going to the game.
I took a bus there with a few other backpackers. The San Lorenzo stadium is not in the nicest part of Buenos Aires, so we all had to keep our wits about us as we approached the ground.
Being the over-the-top sports fan that I am, I had bought a San Lorenzo shirt the previous day to ensure that I would fit in with the crowd. The stadium did not have allocated seats in the part where I was. Instead, it was standing only and I had to try and find the best spot to soak up all of the action.
At the opposite end of the ground were the San Lorenzo super fans. They arrived only around five minutes before the game kicked off but you could hear them long before that, chanting outside of the stadium.
I have been to a lot of soccer matches in England but the atmosphere at San Lorenzo was unparalleled. The football match itself, however, was not. The game ended in a 1-0 victory to Racing Club.
It was a match that San Lorenzo failed to really get going and they were deservedly beaten. Despite this, the crowd never stopped chanting. Even as Racing Club scored their only goal, the crowd was still cheering for San Lorenzo all the time.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
After such a positive experience in Buenos Aires, despite the loss for San Lorenzo, I was keen to go to another match once I arrived in Brazil. And, what better place to go than one of the world’s most famous stadiums: the Maracanã. After finding out that during my time there, Flamengo was playing fellow Rio club Botafogo, it felt only right that I went.
The atmosphere in Buenos Aires was one thing but it was on a totally different level in Rio. Despite the stadium only being approximately two thirds full, it was the best atmosphere that I have ever experienced at a soccer match. The noise from the crowd was deafening and the chants did not stop for the entire game.
This was a far more exciting match. It finished 4-0 to Flamengo, the team that I was supporting. Luckily, I avoided witnessing two defeats in two games!
It is obviously different when compared to watching your home team play but it was a match like none I had ever been to. Just like with the game in Argentina, the Botafogo fans were buzzing, despite their team being beaten.
I found myself jumping about and even trying to learn some of the Flamengo chants, something that I am sure you can imagine I had limited success with due to my non-existent Portuguese!
A Must For Soccer Fans
As a huge soccer fan anyway, these two games were up there with the highlights of my trip to South America. To experience the game that I love in such a different way and also to soak in such an unbelievable atmosphere was a real treat.
Even though I attended both matches with people who were not massively into soccer, they also had a great time because of the brilliant atmosphere. The calibre of soccer might be higher in Europe but if you want to feel the real passion of the crowds, you have to see soccer played in South America.