Fifa World Cup: searching for a Portugal party in Macau as Cristiano Ronaldo fever picks up

The South China Morning Post hops on the ferry to check out the atmosphere in the Portuguese enclave

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 4:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 5:03pm

After Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup hat-trick heroics stifled Spain, the South China Morning Post thought it made sense to go to Macau to join the local Portuguese community for his, sorry, the team’s next game against Morocco.

We were greeted with a lukewarm reception. Fisherman’s Wharf, which was packed to its faux-ruin rafters for Euro 2016 and Portugal’s unexpected win according to our local sources, was dead.

Admittedly, the game was some hours away and all signs pointed to the venue being World Cup-friendly, but sadly only during three hours of the weekend when the family fun and games area was open.

For all the World Cup branding, the opportunities to actually watch the football were limited – and while we were there it was limited to one man watching a replay of Senegal v Poland on the big screen as commentary boomed out on the PA, a few interactive football games in disrepair and more bunting than a royal wedding.

More ghost town than goal town, Fisherman’s Wharf was clearly not the spot, but where would we find the Portugal fans? Not the casinos, who have not missed a trick with getting on the World Cup branding but have few screens on show.

We headed for another tip: Cathedral Cafe in Cotai, a little bar in the shadows of the cathedral in the old town.

We arrived well in advance of kick off to meet Steven, the gregarious Australian owner, who admits he is no football fan, but had seen an increase in business over the World Cup, particularly for the Japanese games.

Portugal should be a good crowd, he said, and introduced us to Elias, a Portuguese wine merchant, who could tell us more. Elias told us that he actually preferred rugby to football but made an exception for the World Cup because of the passion shown on and off the pitch.

His son, though, is a huge fan of Benfica Macau and is one of the local side’s ultras who went to watch the team in Taipei in the AFC Asian Cup.

Roadhouse was where the fans usually watched games, said Elias, but tonight instead of the bar the lads were going to the Portuguese consulate. We were warned that there was no beer and we would need passports.

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With a couple of leads and the same number of hours till kick-off we wandered the labyrinthine lanes of the old town hopeful of finding some hidden gem, a Benfica bedecked bar or some small restaurant with old football fans chewing the fat.

There were plenty of sports shops in the warren of cobbled streets and as many people wearing Portugal shirts as there were tourists ticking egg tarts off their bucket lists but what bars and restaurants we did find did not have televisions.

We stumbled upon one, Piri Piri by Food Truck, which is actually a brick and mortar sandwich store. Over a steak sandwich the Portuguese chef-owner told us that there were 30 people in for the Portugal v Spain game and that was at 2am. He expected a better crowd for the 8pm kick-off.

Full of sandwiches and options for the game we chanced our arm at the consulate to find that the game was actually being shown at the IPOR, the Portuguese cultural arm attached to the consulate, and that we didn’t need a passport.

We were waved in by a smiling guard. Vitor, the consul, greeted us as he and his team set-up. Of course we could watch, take a seat, he said in his suit and Portugal scarf, looking every inch the football manager.

We’ll be back, we said, sweating profusely as chairs were arranged in front of the big screen. We headed back to Cathedral Cafe for the kick-off as a handful of fans ambled in during the run-up. The boss kept the introductions flowing and it was a familial atmosphere in the cellar by the time the anthems drop.

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Ronaldo put his nation ahead with a diving header and those there raised the roof, matching the Portuguese commentator on the television for volume. There was plenty of discussion as the Super Bock, sangria and sausages flowed.

We headed to the consulate to find it was standing-room only, all eyes glued to the big screen as every kick was felt in unison and a chorus of groans, cheers and whistles in the flicker of the LED.

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This was what we were there for, an incredible atmosphere as the mixed crowd all willed Ronaldo to pull Portugal through with Morocco coming more into the game. Scenes.

One more stop as we moved to the sandwich spot for the final whistle. It was not as busy as the last place but full enough with fans who, by the time we arrived, could not wait for the final whistle.

But not because they were in a rush to go home and they carried on eating and drinking, but Portugal were making a meal of victory as the North Africans threatened.

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When the whistle came it was greeted with a cheer that might be the reason the Environmental Protection Bureau were on the scene minutes later.

We finally got to the Roadhouse later, a less frightening prospect than the Patrick Swayze film of the same name, but proof enough during Uruguay’s laboured win over Saudi Arabia that we chose the right side of the water for the Portugal match. Even if it was a game of three halves.

Portugal play Iran on Tuesday morning at 2am (Hong Kong time).