SARANSK, Russia (Reuters) - Sustained by Portuguese wine, cheese and sausage, and battling off swarms of mosquitoes, friends Carlos Brum and Pedro Lobito have driven their spectacularly decorated camper van 7,000km from Lisbon to Russia to cheer on their heroes in the World Cup.
Now they are in Saransk for Portugal’s match against Iran on Monday. And the two fans are confident they will drive the van all the way to the final.
“We’ve been on the road for three weeks,” said Lobito, a 45-year-old developer, shortly after waking up from a night’s sleep in the van. “Twelve days just to get to Russia.”
The 17-year-old Mercedes Sprinter was parked outside a post office on a central Saransk boulevard on Friday morning alongside a police car.
Painted in Portugal’s red, green and yellow colors, it is emblazoned with slogans such as “Forca Portugal” (Power to Portugal) and the national crest.
It also has on its sides dozens of snapshots of players, friends and fans, and match tickets. Some go back to South Africa in 2010, others are from Portugal’s victorious European Championship campaign in France two years ago.
Brum, a 61-year-old silversmith originally from the Azores, drove a bigger bus across the African continent to South Africa for that tournament, then sold it there. The Sprinter has done duty for numerous Portugal matches in Europe over the years.
To reach Russia, they drove from Lisbon through Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. They saw Portugal’s games against Spain in Sochi and against Morocco in Moscow before setting out for Saransk, 650km southeast of the capital.
“We have food, wine, cheese from Portugal. We set up a table, share it with people, and talk about our cultures. We had 180 bottles of wine. Now we have less,” said Lobito.
Russian people have been very welcoming, they said. The police in Saransk even offered them water when they pulled up outside the post office feeling a bit the worse for wear.
“Last night we stopped at a gas station for a rest. The mosquitoes came in millions. We were eaten alive. Look at Carlos,” Lobito said.
As for Portugal’s prospects, they had high hopes. The team has already qualified for the knockout stage without playing to their full potential. Talisman Cristiano Ronaldo has scored four times in two matches.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is a great leader. Portugal haven’t played their best but they will comeback,” Brum said.
“It is a pragmatic team now. We are not playing so beautifully but we are playing with an objective. Cristiano Ronaldo is the engineer. When we need him, he is there.”
Lobito added: “We have tickets to the final. If all goes well, Portugal will be there.”
Reporting by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Christian Radnedge