Mixing it with the stars at the World Cup: Ferdinand, Veron, Kewell…

I find myself in a privileged position as a member of the press covering the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

I find myself in a privileged position as a member of the press covering the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

The access I was granted for the Argentina v Bosnia-Herzegovina match at Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro last Sunday was a real eye opener.

Upon entering the sprawling stadium media centre, one of the first faces I saw was that of Argentine great Juan Sebastian Veron.

The former central midfielder, also known as ‘La Brujita’, played for Argentina in both the 1998 and 2002 World Cups and won a total of 73 caps for his country.

As I approached the Estudiantes la Plata legend he appeared tired so I quickly turned on my poor Spanish and said: ‘Hola Juan, como estas?’, to which he responded, ‘Muy bien, y tu?’. A fairly standard response really.

After replying to his question with the obligatory ‘bien’, I then asked in English if it were possible to get a photo and he was more than happy to facilitate.

The process of a swift ‘selfie’ was taken before I asked Veron if he had been busy. The former Manchester United, Chelsea, Lazio and Inter Milan then said, ‘Yes, muy cansado’. That was my cue to leave him to his own devices so I rapidly blurted out a ‘muchas gracias’ and I was on my way.

It was a big buzz to meet a person with such a commanding presence who was once feared on the football pitch and has now turned his hand to a little bit of punditry on the side as he prepares for his new role as director of Estudiantes.

Also present at the Maracana was Rio Ferdinand who recently ended a successful 12-year career at Manchester United.

I stumbled across the former England centre-back after the match when up in the press tribune following the completion of his duties for the night with the BBC.

I would be lying if I said it was an in depth conversation but I at least managed to ask what his plans for next season were. Typically, he responded with: ‘I’m not sure yet’.

Nevertheless, Ferdinand gave me the time of day to snap a quick pic which proceeded a handshake and then we parted ways.

And in a coincidental parallel, Ferdinand later bumped into former United teammate Veron downstairs and the meeting was picked up by a Peruvian newsagency who posted a video online of the encounter.

Also among the plethora of media in attendance at the Maracana’s media centre was Everton manager Roberto Martinez who was deep in conversation with Spanish journalist Guillem Balague who is known for his work on Sky Sports and for Spanish sports daily AS.

To add to the meetings with Veron and Ferdinand, I also got the opportunity to greet Australian great Harry Kewell at Rio de Janeiro’s Santos Dumont Airport after the Australia v Holland match.

Kewell was on the same flight back from Porto Alegre and was happy to pose with myself and my travelling companions for a quick snap once we landed.

There was a humorous two-way conversation between a friend of mine and Kewell which began with: ‘Harry, I’m taking a selfie with you when we land’. To which the former Leeds United and Liverpool winger said: ‘A what?’. My friend retorted, ‘A selfie’ to which Kewell replied: ‘Ok!’.

It was good to see a relaxed side of Kewell who has been harshly judged in recent years after chopping and changing clubs in order to prolong his career.

But Australians should never forget just how good he was for the sport down under, particularly for his efforts for the Socceroos in his 56 national team appearances.

It hasn’t been a bad first week in Rio for the cup or ‘Copa do Mundo’ as they call it in Portuguese. So far the experience has been brilliant and I look forward to seeing some more key figures when I cover the Belgium v Russia game from the Maracana on Sunday.

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