It’s game on for soc­cer fans

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - FOOTBALL FEVER -

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?

THE VENUES

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

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