KEIR RADNEDGE in COSTA DO SAUIPE —- So the 2014 World Cup, after 820 matches between 203 national teams (out of an original entryof 208), scoring at the rate of 2.87 goals per game, all came down to this: a two-hour extravaganza of a draw ceremony in an outlandishly out-of-the-way Brazilian coastal resort.
Highlights of the draw were Brazil v Croatia in the opener in Sao Paulo – assuming the Itaquera is ready – and Spain starting against Holland in Group B in an immediate repeat of the tortuous final of 2010.
The Group D draw set up England to start in the one venue they did not want, Manaus, against Italy; with Uruguay also in the group this guaranteed at least one former world champions will not make it to the second round. The most attractive group to the neutral was G, with Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States.
Thus Jurgen Klinsmann, now coach of the US, will come up against the man he hand-picked as his assistant (and ultimate successo) in running Germany’s World Cup campaign in 2006.
As for the hoopla, it was hard not to sympathise with Klinsmann who remarked that he would be quite happy to be sent an email “telling us who we got.” Otherwise he and 29 other managers had to be present for the occasion and the subsequent media circus concerning the qualities of their opponents and the essential transcontinental travel been produced by the managed lottery of the draw process (Absentee managers being Mexico’s Miguel Herrera and Uruguay’s Oscar Washington Tabarez).
Overseeing the occasion was Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s French secretary-general with the television slice of proceedings being run by the husband-and-wife team of Rodrigo Hilbert and Fernanda Lima.
While the death of Nelson Mandela dominated the media’s news output around the world it was acknowledged in an opening montage of Madiba’s involvement in bringing the World Cup to South Africa four years ago plus a muddled few seconds’ silence/applause.
Then it was on with the show, led by presidents Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and Sepp Blatter of FIFA.
Blatter took the opportunity to issue a barely veiled appeal to Brazilians to forget aboutj street protests while the circus was in town.
He said: “It was time that the World Cup came back to Brazil. Next year it will 60 years since Brazil first organised the World Cup and, in the meantime, Brazil have won the trophy five times so it is justice to this country where football has such a value.
“The greatest humanist in the world [Nelson Mandela) said that sport and football connected people and I appeal first to the population of Brazil, through this World Cup, please come together and join everybody because it’s a game for you but then also to the fans around the world in the 208 other national associations.
“It’s a big fiesta, the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and I would like to thank the government and governors for all the work that has been done . . . It will be a great World Cup, perhaps the greatest of all times.”
That was the cue for Vicente Del Bosque, manager of Spain’s 2010 World Cup winners, to bring the trophy itself on stage followed by a parade of Brazilian favourites including Ronaldo, Marta, Bebeto and, of course, Pele.
Finally, 48 minutes into the show, the all-important goldfish bowls appeared on stage plus the ‘fishermen’ Mario Kempes, Fabio Cannavaro, Lothar Matthaus, Zinedine Zidane, Hierro, Cafu, Alcides Ghiggia and Sir Geoff Hurst. Ernst & Young (not on stage) was entrusted with overseeing fair play behind the scenes.
Valcke explained the procedure including the European floater then went into the tp seeds’ draw allocation. Brazil as arranged in Group A, Spain in Group B, Colombia in Group C, Uruguay in Group D, Switzerland in Group E, Argentina in Group F, Germany in Group G and Belgium in the travel-friendly Group H. Italy were then drawn into the floater’s slot, in Group D.
The schedule then duly unfolded with Brazil to play Croatia in the Opening Match, Group G perhaps the toughest between Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States with Group D casting up an early, painful exit for at least one of previous world champions Uruguay, England and Italy.
Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
Group B: Spain, Holland, Chile, Australia
Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy
Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea