It’s game on for soccer fans
The pace is picking up for the 2014 FIFA World Cup as host country Brazil prepares for the arrival of some 600,000 visitors, writes Steve Meacham
A VERY cheerful and suspiciously paint-stained Brazilian street vendor introduces himself to our group of Australians enjoying a relaxing al fresco beer in a street bar after a hard day’s sightseeing.
His entertaining and infectious sales pitch is conducted totally in pantomime, since he doesn’t speak English and none of us speaks Portuguese.
But then, as sales pitches go, it’s not overly subtle. With a bit of wire, a few stones, some rubber and various shades of paint, the vendor has created a visual joke that appeals to every soccer nut in this football-crazed nation of 200 million people.
His invention is a jiggling mobile in which a wire swordsman (painted in one famous football club’s strip) rams his sabre into the backside of another wire figure, similarly painted in the colours of that team’s most hated rival.
Talk about rapier wit.
Tonight – a few weeks before the 2014 FIFA World Cup opens in Sao Paulo, the world’s ninth biggest city – the street vendor is showing us the colour combinations that usually sell. Sao Paulo’s Santos v Rio’s Fluminese. Spain’s Real Madrid v Barcelona. Britain’s Manchester United v Liverpool.
But he’s already got his paint pots ready for the biggest killing of his career – the 2014 World Cup. Even before the first game kicks off with Brazil v Croatia on June 12, he’s counting the souvenirs he can sell in different paint combinations: Brazil v Argentina, Portugal v The Netherlands, Spain v Italy, England v Germany.
The 20th FIFA World Cup – and the second to be held in Brazil (don’t mention Brazil’s first attempt at hosting in 1950, they lost 2-1 to neighbours Uruguay) – sees every one of the previous winners since the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 in action: five time winners Brazil, Uruguay, Italy, Germany, England, Argentina, France and the trophy holders, Spain.
So what can a World Cup traveller expect in Brazil 2014?
Twelve Brazilian cities will host World Cup games this year, more than any previous World Cup. The Brazilians insisted on 12 because they wanted to showcase the country’s state capitals and spread the supposed economic benefits.
Yet the decision means the 32 teams and their spectators will face huge travelling times as they fly between games.
It also necessitated a highly controversial stadium rebuilding program, which has reputedly cost Brazil an unprecedented $4.3 billion. Averaged out over the 64 games, that works out at a staggering $67 million a match.
Five of the host cities have built brand new venues, the one in the nation’s capital, Brazilia, was demolished and rebuilt; and the other six have been reconfigured to meet “FIFA standards” (which includes improved seating, sight lines and roof protection that many Brazilians believe was totally unnecessary). One stadium, Arena da Baixada in Curitiba – where Australia plays its final group match against world champions Spain on June 23 – is unlikely to be finished by the time the tournament kicks off. As late as February, FIFA was threatening to strip Curitiba of all three games it is due to host.
As for the brand new Arena Amazonia at Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon jungle, where England and Italy play their opening game on June 14, many Brazilians question