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Is Brazil Ready for the 2014 World Cup?

September 10, 2010

Construction at the heart of the Amazon: Vivaldo Lima (Vivaldao) Stadium in Manaus.

This is a piece by my mate Jerrad Peters (with a little ‘ghost writer hand’ from me ) for Soccer365.com, on Brazil and its woes leading up to the 2014 World Cup:

Is Brazil ready for 2014?

The three years and 10 months between now and kickoff of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will be an adventure. There’s really no other way to describe it. So the sooner you get to know the setting and characters, the better you’ll be able to follow the plot as it develops. And what a plot. This is part drama, part action with the occasional infusion of comedy, just for good measure. There’s really never been a show quite like it. There may never be again.

The Setting

Brazil was awarded the 2014 World Cup in October 2007. In the three years since they’ve accomplished next to nothing, save for a small crackdown on gang violence. The country’s safety infrastructure is one of two core challenges for the government and the organizing committee in the run-up to the tournament. Most of these efforts will be concentrated in Rio de Janeiro, where 1.6 million of the city’s 6.1 million inhabitants live well below the poverty line and the murder rate is nearly 40 out of every 100,000 people.

If Brazil is to host a successful World Cup, they’ll need to convince international travelers that their cities are safe. South Africa only partially accomplished this. Although there was no major violence during the 2010 World Cup, tourists from Europe tended to keep away out of fears for their own safety.

Brazil’s second major challenge is physical infrastructure, particularly transportation systems and venues. This is where they are especially lagging. FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke has already publicly criticized the progress of the preparations, and there’s no shortage of evidence to back up his concerns.

Each of the 12 host cities are due to receive an airport upgrade, as most of the original facilities are small and date from the 1940s. In mid-August, however, the airports of Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Salvador and Brasilia failed to get the environmental license necessary for the upgrades, putting the already-delayed construction even further behind schedule.

Monorail and light rail lines and terminals are also supposed to be functional by 2014, but work on these projects is either delayed or hasn’t begun. Ditto for five of the seven stadiums to be built from scratch. In total, Brazil expects to spend approximately $18.7 billion on infrastructure programs, but that money is either tied up in red tape or hasn’t been properly allocated.

The Characters

Ricardo Teixeira is the protagonist of this story. The president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), Teixeira has been nicknamed “National Media Mafia Sub-Boss” in the Brazilian media and is the ex-son-in-law of longtime FIFA president João Havelange.

Yes, it’s as sensational as it sounds. As a matter of fact, Teixeira’s daughter Joana is head of the World Cup organizing committee. She was named to the post by her father. Why not keep it all in the family?

But if Teixeira sounds like a control freak, he was anything but when it came time for the CBF to name the 2014 host cities. Rather than submitting a list of 12 cities to FIFA in 2008 as he was expected to do, Teixeira abandoned the process entirely and allowed FIFA to pick the cities randomly.

Teixeira, who is elected to his post by Brazil’s 27 state football federations and 20 first division clubs, didn’t want to risk his influence at the state level (his power base) by selecting cities from certain states while neglecting others. As a result, FIFA made the decisions for him. And, as a result, the northweastern outpost of Manaus was included on the list while São Paulo—Brazil’s most populous city—was left off.

Thankfully for São Paulo, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) has his powerbase in the region and has vowed to do whatever it takes to make the city’s Morumbi stadium a World Cup venue. Needless to say, he is the second major character.

As it happens, Lula is a massive fan of São Paulo club Corinthians, where his son is a director. He’s also never shied away from using his position to influence soccer in the country. In 2009 he made a very public attempt to get popular Corinthians striker Ronaldo recalled to the national team, and he has reportedly meddled frequently with club management.

Lula will be able to devote even more time to the World Cup after next month’s presidential election. Having served his two terms, he’s unable to run for office again. Instead, his chief of staff Dilma Rousseff will be running on behalf of his Workers’ Party, and she’s expected to win an easy majority.

If Lula needs anything to accomplish his World Cup plans, chances are she can do it for him.

The third major character is Mano Manezes. The manager of Brazil’s national team, he’s got a building project of his own to complete before 2014. And it’s the one that matters most to people inside the country.

Like many of the promised infrastructure programs, the Brazilian national team has had to start its building process from scratch with less than four years before the World Cup. After a disappointing tournament in South Africa this summer, manager Dunga was axed—along with his cautious, pragmatic mentality—and replaced by Menezes. Sort of.

The CBF’s preferred choice to succeed Dunga was actually former Brazil and Portugal boss Luiz Felipe Scolari. But Palmeiras beat the national team to Scolari’s signature and forced Teixeira to hire his number two choice—Fluminense manager Muricy Ramalho.

Again, however, Teixeira hadn’t done his homework. He failed to contact Fluminense before appointing Ramalho—an embarrassing oversight—and was eventually left red-faced when Ramalho opted to see out his contract at the Rio club. Menezes agreed to leave Corinthians for the national team just days later, but not before everyone was left with egg on their faces.

This is the situation in which Menezes now finds himself. He’s the third-choice manager of a national team that left South Africa in disarray, charged with fashioning a world champion in less than four years. It would be an uphill battle at the best of times, and the chaotic background of World Cup preparations will only make things more difficult.

Menezes is the one to cheer for in this story. But you get the feeling Teixeira, Lula and the organizing committee will make things as challenging as possible for him. That said, we’ve got four years to find out exactly how it all unfolds. The adventure awaits.

With files from Rod Beilfuss

Jerrad Peters is the author of We Call it Soccer: Understanding the World’s Most Popular Sport. Follow him on Twitter @peterssoccer.

soccer365.com

RB

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