El Clasico

      El Clasico is the crosstown game between the two professional soccer teams of Guayaquil.
      The game, earlier this month, was sold out. But in Guayaquil, there is always a way.
      I figured getting to the stadium to find scalpers would be a headache. And indeed, a line of police and barricades was blocking the main avenue towards the stadium.
      But one driver convinced the policeman to let him through and we just followed, without a challenge.
      A number of ticket sellers descended on us. But Flor, my best friend’s wife, is from Guayaquil and comes from a family of commercial folks. She adopts a thousand-yard stare when bargaining, as though she is thinking about something else and is only vaguely aware of this sort-of gnat that is buzzing around her.
     Then Flor asks about the location of the seats, and the bargaining is under way. As the woman answers, Flor still has the remote, mind-elsewhere look. Then she asks the price. They go back and forth.
     And quickly the deal is made. We have tickets, for $35 a piece, to the Clasico between Emelec, in blue colors, and Barcelona, in yellow.
     When we get there for the seven o’clock game, the stadium is packed and we are shunted down into the last open area, low and behind the goal, front row seats for one end of the pitch, but very hard to see what is happening at the other end.
     Vendors dressed in street clothes pass by regularly with cold beer and small plastic cups of local nuts with a spicy sauce.
     The level of human activity and noise in a packed stadium in Latin America is something to behold. Drums are pounding, huge team flags are waving, and vast crowds stand and sing insults to their opponents with accompanying bodily gestures.
     Off to our right are the roughly 10,000 away fans in bright, Barcelona yellow. They sing in full throated unison, “No llora, Emelec maricon,” or, Don’t cry Emelec, you fag.
     In response, about 20,000 Emelec fans, in deep blue, chant, “Amarilla, hijo de puta,” Yellow, son of a whore.
     The joy of being in that stadium is hard to convey.
     From the outset, the game has a fast and intense pace. Emelec dominates with youth, speed, creativity and a trio of attackers. Barcelona is staid, stiff, feeding everything to two Argentine strikers who fail to get a good chance on the goal.
     Barcelona is lucky to not be down by at least two goals, as the half ends at 0-0.
     Early in the second half, Emelec is awarded a corner kick and, directly in front of our seats, a tall Emelec defender soars high and, unchallenged, heads the ball into the corner of the goal, giving no chance to the Barcelona goalee. The stadium explodes.
     En masse, the Emelec fans are singing their insults, others are banging massive drums, blowing horns and waving flags.
     But now there is a game on. Barcelona attacks and attacks. The ref has missed some calls right in front of us and now at the other end of the pitch, he misses a Barcelona forward’s use of the hand to put a ball in the back of Emelec’s net.
     Tumult erupts on the field.
     A sideline judge has seen the play correctly, and calls the handball, but he is immediately surrounded by aggressively protesting yellow-clad players. In front of the goalmouth, the blue-clad players of Emelec are mobbing the main ref who missed the call, in a violently heaving scrum.
     A good 50 uniformed soldiers then rush onto the field. Utter chaos!
     After the Ecuadoran army has managed to calm things down, the ref throws the Emelec goalee out with a red card. The goalee, in his foolish haste to confront the ref, had rushed towards him and, it was clear from later videos, tried to avoid bumping into the ref, but did in fact brush him. Harsh call.
     With a substitute goalee and down a man, Emelec’s defenders cannot keep the yellow players at bay and, in added time, Barcelona scores. 1-1.
     The crowd leaving the stadium is remarkably well-tempered. I walk out with our group on a rainy, warm night to find a taxi, with a full sense of satisfaction at having seen an excellent game and been part of a cultural phenomenon.

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