KEIR RADNEDGE in SAO PAULO: After all the years when questions featuring ‘Sao Paulo’ and ‘Opening Match’ in the same sentence would fire Jerome Valcke into the stratosphere, an uneasy peace has been accomplished.
It is not that FIFA’s secretary-general and World Cup progress-chaser has been persuaded that everything in the Brazilian garden is rosy; however, he has seen enough progress to believe that, just maybe, in a Brazilian sort of way, everything will be all right on the night.
Valcke is in Sao Paulo now ahead of the Confederations Cup draw on Saturday. This features in his last Brazilian inspection tour of the year and now, at least, he knows he can say with some confidence that the Opening Match of the 2014 finals will be staged on June 14 of that year in Sao Paulo.
This was not always the case.
Political and the consequent excuse of financial considerations had produced a lengthy stalemate over the venue. Logic and civic pride, with the final always set for Maracana, insisted that the Opening Match would have to be in Sao Paulo. But political rivalries prevented monies being released to develop the ‘obvious’ Morumbi.
In the end Corinthians came up with a plan for a new stadium of their own in Itaquera. The club insisted they needed ‘only’ a 45,000-capacity venue so local and federal cash had to be provided to fund the necessary 20,000 expansion.
Work is progressing. Valcke saw that for himself yesterday/Wednesday when he inspected the Arena de Sao Paulo, the venue for the Opening Match of the FIFA World Cup on 12 June 2014, when thousands of fans will flock to the stadium.
Accompanying Valcke were Local Organising Committee board members Bebeto and Ronaldo as well as Minister of Sport Aldo Rebelo. They travelled from the city centre on a local equivalent of London 2012’s Javelin train to the stadium site in 19 minutes.
Valcke said: “It’s incredible in a city this size to be able to travel from the centre to the stadium in just 19 minutes, like we did. Everything worked perfectly. It’s a great stadium too, and an amazing project overall. My congratulations to Sao Paulo.”
CBF and COL president Jose Maria Marin and Sao Paulo Mayor Gilberto Kassab joined Valcke & Co for the stadium tour. Rebelo and Marin also talked up the local regeneration projects which, according to Kassab, are “all on schedule.”
Of course for the stadium workers the visitors who mattered were not the ‘suits’ but the old World Cup-winning heroes.
“This is the nicest bit about these visits,” said Bebeto. “You can see how much of a difference the World Cup makes to people’s lives and how proud these workers feel to be playing a part in this great party. And it makes you even happier to come here and see how the party is going to spread to other areas away from the stadium.”
= = = =