A guide to watching football in South America
Watching a football game in South America is an exhilarating experience, though it’s not without its risks. Take the right precautions though and you’ll not only see some of the world’s best footballers in action, you’ll also have a travel tale to regale your friends with for the rest of your life.
The driving forces of South American football are undoubtedly Argentina and Brazil, though there are plenty of enticing fixtures outside the big two. So finish your beer, track down a ticket and get ready to experience 90 minutes of adrenaline-fuelled action with our guide to South American football.
Know your fixtures
Brazil is indisputably one of the most passionate football nations on the planet and when the Seleção is in town – Brazil’s beloved national team – tickets are exceedingly hard to come by. It’s the same for big domestic fixtures, particularly derbies featuring the big São Paulo and Rio clubs. However, it may surprise you to learn that average attendances in Australia’s own A-League are higher than the Brasileirão, meaning plenty of action takes place in front of empty seats. The trick is to research your fixtures to ensure you attend a match in front of a packed house and not a half-empty stadium.
Pro tip: To ensure a better atmosphere, try to attend a match in a stadium with a smaller capacity.
Buy the right ticket
So you can just mosey up to the booth on match day and purchase a ticket to the game, right? Wrong. While many fixtures in South America are not sell-outs, it’s still safer to buy a ticket in advance than risk a pre-match surge towards the gates. Some clubs don’t even sell tickets to non-members or unregistered fans, in which case you’ll need to buy your ticket from a ‘tour agent.’ These are essentially just black market dealers who often charge 10 times the face value for tickets. The benefit here is that you’ll often be accompanied inside the ground by a ‘guide,’ meaning there’s less likelihood of running into trouble with fanatical hardcore fans.
Pro tip: The more expensive your ticket, the less likely you are to encounter hardcore supporters.
Experience a derby
Forget Rangers versus Celtic , for many the world’s greatest derby is the legendary Superclásico between bitter Argentine rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate. Contested twice a season between the working-class upstarts from the gritty Buenos Aires neighbourhood La Boca and their more affluent rivals from the upmarket barrio of Belgrano, the Superclásico is a veritable explosion of noise, colour and occasionally a decent football match. This is the granddaddy of all derbies, though there are plenty of big fixtures across the pampas in neighbouring Brazil. These include the famous Flu-Fla clash between Rio clubs Fluminense and Flamengo and the Paulista derby between Corinthians and Palmeiras.
Pro tip: There are several major derbies elsewhere, including the Uruguayan clash between Penarol and Nacional and the fiercely contested Santiago showdown between Colo-Colo and Universidad de Chile.
Grab some merchandise
Football scarves and jerseys make great souvenirs. Needless to say, club merchandise is ubiquitous in South America, although buying the official supporter gear can be a costly affair. A cheaper alternative is to purchase one of the many replica knock-offs from the hawkers and street vendors selling their wares outside the stadium or along the beach front, though be aware that these products are far from genuine articles.
Pro tip: Be careful about wearing club colours in unfamiliar neighbourhoods and outside stadiums, as some fans can be hostile towards opposition supporters.
Watch an international fixture
An altogether different experience to its domestic cousin, watching an international fixture is a colourful experience. Crowds of face-painted and flag-waving fans can often be less intense than club supporters, though that’s not always the case when heavyweights like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Colombia face off against each other. International football is a regular fixture on the South American scene, with World Cup qualification a gruelling 10-team affair, while the Copa América continental championships take place frequently.
Pro tip: Get off the beaten track and support South American underdogs such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Peru.