Count down to kick-off, stadium worries and Argentina’s prayer


Curitiba stadium, one of the host stadiums faces a nail-biting completion phase

-PAECAMBU, SAO PAULO.  Today marks 95 days until the worlds greatest sporting event kicks-off here in São Paulo, Brazil.

The anticipation is certainly growing: Television advertisements now somehow all relate to the competition or national side, flags have already been appearing in car windows, from apartment balconies and in Avenida Paulista  huge digital clock has been erected to count down the minutes remaining until the spectacle gets under-way.

Shortly among many of the neighborhoods, streets will be painted in the national colours- it’s a long tradition in the favelas during every world cup, but having not had the world cup for the last 60 years, now on home soil the preparations will likely be even more colourful.

There are still minor concerns overshadowing what FIFA’s Sepp Blatter had hoped would be a “clean and quick preparation phase”. There are questions around infrastructure, transport and accommodation, but the biggest issue giving organizers sleepless nights is the readiness (or lack of) of some stadiums. Most notably the Curitiba stadium Arena da Baixada is today, with only 100 days left until it’s first tournament game, considered only 94% ready.

Should FIFA declare games unplayable and Arena da Baixada not ready before the event, it would mean the designated games in Curitiba begin moved to other stadiums. Not ‘the end of the world’, but a headache for the logistics teams of national sides already arranging accommodation and transport and of course for the committed fans who have already purchased tickets and flights.

Elsewhere, here in Brazil all remaining focus turns to the Selecão (national side) and the few remaining undecided positions. That maybe includes a goalkeeper, a central midfielder ..and a goalkeeper.

Julio Cesar, the former Queens Park Rangers and Inter Milan keeper, moved to Toronto FC of the MLS in what many have considered a desperate move to get some games under his belt ahead of the tournament. Cesar remains first choice for Felipão, however, having been dropped from the first team and even demoted to third choice under Harry Redknapp   at QPR, Cesar jumped at the opportunity of first team football in Canada.

Up-front, the question remains who will support Neymar. Fred, Hulk, Jô, Pato, Luis Fabiano are all of course in the running, but Felipāo’s main concern will be keeping Neymar fit and sharp. Pele, Brazil’s greatest player and Ronaldo Phenomino, the player who almost single-handedly won Brazil’s last World Cup triumph against Oliver Khan in Germany, have both described Neymar as the worlds greatest and certain to take the stage this summer and Scolari will be praying on it.

Across the border in Argentina, the Argentines are praying for a most different fate for Neymar; a national right-wing paper has replaced it’s header-strip with a prayer for Neymar. However this is no prayer to wish the Barcelona star great success in June, instead they ask readers to “take a moment to bring injury to Neymar”.

You see, Argentina fancy their chances in this tournament. It is likely they could have one of the easiest paths to at least the semi-finals and they see Brazil as their biggest obstacle to bringing the trophy back to Buenos Aires.

This behavior would no doubt be lamented anywhere else and despite being met with much tension in both strongly Catholic countries of South America, it is somewhat unsurprising…
The rivalry between these countries runs deeper than any I have witnessed in international football.

95 days and counting, and it will be gone in the blink of an eye…


World Cups create Governments: Why Dilma is desperate for the trophy

FIFA President Joseph Sepp Blatter, right, poses with Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, left-Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo, BRAZIL.

Dilma Rousseff is severely risking over-using a phrase,
so desperate is she to convince the world that this World Cup-
that will kick-off in 5 months time- will be “a copa das copas” (“the cup of all cups”). 

Indeed it is desperation that creeps from the corners of her mouth in any trying smile at the end of a public appearance or speech. It is desperation that is etched into the entangled furrows of her brow, produced from any agitating question fired her way from a journalist-asking about Brazils preparedness for the tournament this summer or the rhetorical and now generic; “Do you expect more protests like before?!”- saying ‘No’, will show her to be a fool and not aligned with the views of her public, saying “Yes” will show her to be a fool to not have done enough to deliver the wishes and needs of her public.

This is also set to be election year in Brazil and it comes to us at a pivotal moment too. Whatever the outcome of the worlds largest sporting event, come October attention here will turn to the election polls. With ailing public health services, a lack of good education and poor transportation systems, to name just a few, there’s a lot at stake. Equally and understandably, Dilma remains reluctant to make the brave economic decisions the country is in great need of to curb the faltering state accounts and to bring down the 6% inflation. Whether Neymar makes history or not, raising the flagging growth figures is a Brazilian goal this year (that were last week once more dropped my the central bank as they predict just 2.28 % growth- but we can expect that to fall again before too long).


Brazilians are a forgiving people. Should they succeed in lifting that trophy for the 6th time in their history this summer, much of the anger at the cost of the World Cup will be forgotten. The issues that plague media debate, Facebook timelines and most crucially brazilian livelihoods will be swept away in the green, yellow and blue of the nations flag and celebrations- for some nights at least, Brazil will be in party mode; work canceled, children on mandatory holiday and bars kept open for the whole celebratory circuit.

It is then, when Dilma must strike. That is her moment to win the election, three months before they even take place…

Let me explain: World Cups create governments. 
In 1966 England won the World Cup – our first and (until now) only international trophy success.  Harold Wilson‘s Labour Party were in power at the time and he only had to give one semi-rousing patriotic speech in the days that followed our victory for his and his party’s popularity to sore through the roof. Fast forward to the summer of 1970 and England were taking on West Germany in Mexico in the quarter finals of the same tournament that had taken place 4 years prior on English home soil. This year in Mexico, the English were considered far stronger, sharper and more qualified than when they had been when they won it previously, yet despite being 2-0 ahead, they lost the game 2-3 and flew home early and dejected. Four days later Britain held it’s general election. A week later the Conservative party moved into Number 10 Downing Street…

You see Harold Wilson was counting on another World Cup triumph as much as any England fan and when they slumped to such a painful defeat, the public turned bitter and seemingly let it out on politics. The Labour foreign secretary blamed the defeat on ” a mix of party complacency and the disgruntled Match of the Day millions”.
I have little doubt that Dilma could face the same fate if  a disgruntled Brazil turns on the poor state of affairs- should Filipao’s men fail to deliver the much coveted 6th Copa do Mundo to the expecting public.

But then again, he most likely will deliver it. It is somehow already written..

When Filipao  (Felipe Scolari, Brazil’s coach and the man who carriers the hopes of millions), names his final squad at the end of March, a certain degree of the destiny of June’s fixtures will already have been decided and set in motion.

There is a deep exception and until now somewhat unspoken expectation in Brazil, the players feel it, but not the weight; that falls solely on the shoulders of the countries first female leader._68295021_018383818_ap