KEIR RADNEDGE in LONDON
— It’s World Cup time! Never mind that the worldwide qualifying battle began in June last year and that most of FIFA’s 209 members have been knocked out already; the European campaign is only just beginning.
Whatever dark fears may yet be harboured by FIFA progress-chaser Jerome Valcke about the state of progress in 2014 host nation Brazil, reports from on the ground in Brazil from the Football Association are positive. Now all that remains is for England to qualify, starting out against Ukraine and Moldova next month.
Team England’s logistics experts have crawled all over most of the venue cities – well, strolled, walked, ridden and flown – to assure themselves that Wayne Rooney & Co will be as safe and snug as possible.
Now it’s up to manager Roy Hodgson to achieve the results to ensure that all this groundwork has not been in vain. As if qualifying for the finals were not a pressured enough task, Hodgson must manage it against the high-profile of the FA’s 150th anniversary next year.
As befits the world game’s one and only original football federation, the celebration of history will not be a hole-in-the-corner affair. Various friendlies against suitably high-profile opposition are being planned along with a welcome back next May to not only the Champions League Final but the full-blown annual UEFA Congress along with it.
By then England hope to be a long way down the road to Rio – or wherever else they are to be blown all over the length and depth of Brazil by the organised lottery of the draw for the finals.
Fans planning ahead should stock up, conversely, on both fur coats and anti-mosquito pills and potions. As Hodgson noted today, the longest north-south stretch in the history of the World Cup means players, officials and fans must cope with all manner of climatic extremes.
The challenges do not stop there.
Hodgson says: “It’s a vast country. There will be so many difficulties for the teams who qualify. To go to Porto Alegre in the south you would need a fur coat with temperatures reaching single figures, maye even lower. But if you’re up in Manaus you’ll be fighting 45 or 50 degrees of heat and plenty of mosquitos in the Amazon jungle.
Not only but also . . .
“When people talk about Brazil they talk about Rio de Janeiro but all 24 teams can’t be there. When I was out there with the FA we visited three cities including Sao Paulo – another fantastic city, a massive city, which makes New York look very small – and Belo Horizionte, which we don’t talk about very much but which is another big city.
“There are going to be enormous logistical problems. The FA has already done a lot of work in terms of preparations and what would be possible for us in Rio or Belo Horizonte or Sao Paulo but the local organising committee haven’t yet come up with a definitive decision about which training grounds will be paired with which hotels – and that is very important to a team because you don’t want to choose a hotel with a training venue you don’t like and vice versa.”
But what he really, really wants is the opportunity to confront those challenges i.e. to qualify to be there.
Brazil 2014 is the World Cup just about everyone wants to taste. Hodgson and his British home manager counterparts – Michael O’Neill (N Ireland), Craig Levein (Scotland) and Chris Coleman (Wales) were unanimous about that at a sponsored gathering in London today (however their various bosses might have viewed the risks to the countries’ FIFA independence of them sharing the same stage for half an hour).*
Hodgson again: “Playing in Brazil puts added spice into this tournament because it’s one of the major football powers and is a country totally dominated by football. Everywhere you go football is the be-all and end-all for the Brazilian people.
“Of course they’re also noted for the party atmosphere which the fans won’t find too daunting. They might be keener to go to Brazil than to some other countries which are sometimes chosen as World Cup venues.”
Absolutely right . . . a factor on which international federations and sponsors might reflect usefully when they consider bartering the attraction of new markets against maintaining the established loyalties of old ones.
** Vauxhall sponsors all four national teams.
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