On soccer nights, fans challenge fear in Venezuela


As nightfall takes over the streets, much of Caracas becomes a ghost town. But something is moving today in the shadow of the Caracas FC football stadium.

Amateurs emerge in small groups along the sidewalks. The lighted green of the court shines through the openings of the gray concrete building.

Caracas need to beat Peruvian Melgar by three goals in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores to qualify for the group stage of the continental tournament.

But being encouraged to go out on a night of games in Caracas is an adventure that goes far beyond sports rivalry. It is a challenge to crime and scarcity.

"The situation in the country is complicated at night," explains Daniel Mendoza, a skinny 25-year-old boy with curly brown hair under a cap. "Football helps you endure the situation for a while."

– noise in the bleachers –

The red bar shirts appear behind the Caracas bow at the Olympic Stadium. The drums and trumpets sound.

"The Red Devils, always loyal, always present," says a slogan painted on the booth half full. An official announces that there are 3,500 spectators: approximately one tenth of the capacity of the stadium.

"There used to be more emotion and people," says Mendoza. "With the situation where the country is located, people are discouraged and there is not much atmosphere."

For the most successful soccer team in Venezuela, there is more than just the glory at stake.

The winnings of a major club tournament would be very useful, given the economic hyperinflation that plagues the country.

Caracas used to wear Adidas equipment. Last year, Venezuelan football players complained that the Adidas balls were replaced by lower quality ones.

Mendoza's ticket to Tuesday's game cost $ 2.70, more than half of Venezuela's monthly minimum wage. As a telecommunications engineer, his own salary is around 50.

"In the last few years, I've started to hear how many fans yelled at the government," he says. "I am aware that there are also people in favor of the government, but not enough to make a big noise."

– Added insecurity –

In the streets leading to the stadium, a different kind of tension reigns.

Caracas residents are constantly warning of violent crime: in case of robbery, there will be no local police to help. If there was a shot or knife, the medical means needed to care for the victims are scarce.

But lately, to the usual insecurity, we must add the political tension after the opposition Juan Guaidó challenged President Nicolás Maduro for the leadership of the country.

Young soldiers in green uniforms stand guard at checkpoints by the roadside, rifles pointing to the ground.

A new seal, from recent weeks, points out the locals.

– Some oxygen –

Despite the risks, some faithful of Caracas still venture in the evening to participate in the game.

Among them are Alejandro, a potbellied man of 46 years and his daughter Ainhoa, of 16 years, with long brown hair and bright eyes.

"It's an opportunity to share football as a father and daughter," says Alejandro. "It's like oxygen, it's an outlet for Venezuelans."

Alejandro asked to be identified only by his first name for professional and political reasons.

The Caracas presses high and strong, deserving several yellow cards and scoring two goals. But in the 89th minute Melgar scores to win on the overall.

A red card for Caracas follows, culminating in a disappointing night.

"The referee is a son of a bitch!" Sing Caracas fans on the way to the darkness of the streets.

In front of the team bus, the riot police stay in their shields or get distracted with their cell phones.

– Complicated return –

Ainhoa's father asked her not to tell her friends that she was going to play. He feared they would ask him to approach them, which would further complicate his already risky return home.

"We take the risk because we want to go to football, but you are always aware of the insecurity," he says. "If your car breaks down and you get stuck on the road, you do not know what can happen."

Ainhoa ​​was born in 2002, when a military coup briefly removed from the presidency Hugo Chavez, Mentor of Maduro.

"I always liked football," says Ainhoa. "What I like is not so much the goals as the battle, the development of the game."

Unlike a football game, for Ainhoa's daily life can be repetitive and predictable.

"It's something that you live every day: economic problems, insecurity," acknowledges Ainhoa. "Since I was born, it's been the same, I've seen everything."


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