-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…