South Florida 'futbol' fans search obsessively for Panini 2014 FIFA World Cup stickers

For some the album obsession is a family affair that can be costly


MIAMI – The Panini World Cup Brazil 2014  fever hit Felipe Sanchez and he said it hurts.  He is on a mission to fill an album with adhesive stickers to complete a guide for the games starting in June. And he has spent hundreds of dollars.

His 16-year-old son Manuel Sanchez was staying away from paper. He was using FIFA's new virtual Panini Online Sticker Album. On Saturday, FIFA reported there were 1.5 million users trading about 80 million virtual stickers with strangers online worldwide.

"My dad couldn't understand it. He said he wanted the album not something in the air that he couldn't look at," Manuel Sanchez said. "I told him he could look at it from his phone any time, any where, but he wasn't into it."

In South Florida, soccer fans were dealing with low supplies in an operation that started about four decades ago in Modena, Italy. In stores from Weston through Kendall, there was a high demand for $1 packs of seven unidentified cards and $2 full color albums. On the web, the stickers were on Amazon, eBay, Craigslist, but collectors warned that there were fakes.

To complete the FIFA virtual album, fans must find 392 stickers -- 352 of the stickers representing 11 players in each of the 32 teams included in the virtual challenge.

To complete the 72-page paper album, fans need 639 stickers. Keeping track of the numbered spots was a challenge for some. On iTunes and Google Play, there were downloadable Panini collectors apps. Others were using handwritten lists with notes, check marks and highlighters.

Sanchez, 54, doesn't use apps. He memorized almost all of the spots he was missing. He grew frustrated a week ago, after he opened three boxes with 500 stickers each. He was stuck with a useless inventory. And that meant trading time.

"I do it at work, at the gas station, in restaurants, where ever people seem to like soccer," Sanchez said in Spanish. "I have the cards in my truck."

There were five Panini trading events from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in South Florida Saturday. Sanchez and his son said they were going to two in Hialeah. The others were in Boca Raton, Weston and Miami.

On Twitter, some were using hash tags "#gotgotneed," "#WhoDoYouCollect" "#StickeroftheDay" and "#WorldCupFever" to post their "in need" and "for trade" lists. On Facebook, there were desperate pleas for help in public pages.

And in South Florida streets, there were moments when the love of futbol crossed social classes. A resident at a luxurious high-rise in Brickell walked up to valet parking staff to offer tips in exchange for help with trading cards.

Juan Camilo Velazquez, who lives between Miami and Medellin, said that he was paying about $2 for specific cards to entrepreneurial fans in Colombia, where FIFA introduced the album in 1982.

"The cards are more expensive, but it's cheaper that way. Otherwise you end up spending more at random,"  Velazquez, 37, said in Spanish.

For most fans on the hunt, completing the album has been a family tradition that they have followed for decades.

Mario Rueda, of Fort Lauderdale, said he spent about $100 in boxes of stickers to complete his Panini album. He has been trading with his brothers, sisters and nephews in Colombia.

"I'm 45 but I will do it until I'm 90 if I get there," Rueda said.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Panini album fever guides


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