DEC 6 / KEIR RADNEDGE in COSTA DO SAUIPE: So the 2014 World Cup, after 820 matches between 203 national teams (out of an original entry of 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 about 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.
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DEC 6 / Blatter tribute to ‘extraordinary’ Mandela
COSTA DO SAUIPE: The passing of former South African President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela prompted tributes and messages from all over the world, including from the world of football.
In his own tribute, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said: “It is in deep mourning that I pay my respects to an extraordinary person, probably one of the greatest humanists of our time and a dear friend of mine: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
“He and I shared an unwavering belief in the extraordinary power of football to unite people in peace and friendship, and to teach basic social and educational values as a school of life.
“When he was honoured and cheered by the crowd at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium on 11 July 2010, it was as a man of the people, a man of their hearts, and it was one of the most moving moments I have ever experienced. For him, the World Cup in South Africa truly was ‘a dream come true.’
“Nelson Mandela will stay in our hearts forever. The memories of his remarkable fight against oppression, his incredible charisma and his positive values will live on in us and with us.
“As a mark of respect and mourning, the flags of the 209 member associations at the Home of FIFA will be flown at half-mast and there will be a minute’s silence before the next round of international matches.”
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DEC 6 / Brazil had better teams than this one who never won the World Cup, warns Carlos Alberto
KEIR RADNEDGE in COSTA DO SAUIPE: Carlos Alberto Torres, Brazil’s World Cup-winning captain in 1970, has warned his fellow countrymen not to run away with over-confidence of a record-extending sixth triumph on home ground next year.
Carlos Alberto, who scored Brazil’s rampaging fourth goal in their 4-1 victory over Italy in the final in Mexico City, is one of the host nation’s ‘World Cup ambassadors’ for next year’s event.
But, from his own experience, he remains all too well aware of the danger of the pressures of fans’ expectations.
He said: “We need to keep our feet on the ground and be realistic. Everyone wants to see us erase the fiasco of 1950 [when Brazil lost the final in Rio to Uruguay] but the fact that the World Cup will be held in Brazil and we have the presence of our fans can be detrimental.
“Even in Mexico in 1970 the pressure was almost too much. In the first minutes of the final we were a disaster but we were level at 1-1 at the end of the half and improved after [coach] Mario Zagallo talked to us very strongly during halftime.
“You can’t say we are the 2014 champions already. That’s not the right approach. We’ve had better national teams than the present team which didn’t win the World Cup.
“Just because the World Cup will be held in Brazil does that mean we will win? Not necessarily. Just because it will be in Brazil and all our supporters will be signing the national anthem does that mean we will win? No.
“We have what it takes to get there . . . but we are not the champions in advance.”
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