Soccer: Daunting task for 2014 hosts

By Tim Vickery

"Building work which has hardly been finished, pitches in a poor state, crime, problematic traffic and bad services have made Brazilians feel at home [in South Africa]," wrote Andre Kfouri in Lance!, Brazil's sports daily, on June 19. "It is hard to imagine that in 2014 our reality will be better."

Kfouri drew two conclusions.

"The first is obvious; if South Africa can stage a World Cup, so can Brazil."

The second: "The tournament seems to be passing through a period of adaptation so that no one gets a fright in four years."

For all of Brazil's growing economic strength and international importance, staging a World Cup presents huge challenges. Some, as Kfouri outlined, are similar to South Africa. But there are also extra ones, the consequence of staging it in a country the size of a continent.

"I've always said that the 2014 World Cup faces three major problems," said Ricardo Teixeira, the long-term president of the CBF (Brazil's football association) at an event last week to launch the tournament logo. "The first is airports, the second is airports and the third is airports."

Brazil is more than seven-times bigger than South Africa. Air travel will be a necessity, but the 2014 hosts lack the capacity to move World Cup-sized crowds around the country. Recent tournaments have had all the teams constantly moving around the host nation. In Brazil, this will surely be impractical.

In a reversion to the system prevalent until the 1990 tournament in Italy, groups will almost certainly be staged within one of four sectors.

The split is likely to be as follows: a central axis of Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Salvador; a southern block of Porto Alegre, Curitiba and Sao Paulo; a northeastern group of Fortaleza, Natal and Recife; and an inland collection of Brasilia, Cuiaba and Manaus.

This will be a second successive winter World Cup, in a country where the term has no meaning in many regions. The likes of Manaus, Cuiaba, Fortaleza and Natal are likely to have temperatures well over 30C in June and July.

But Porto Alegre and Curitiba in the south may well be under 10C, and could even be at freezing point. Teams based in one region for their group matches may suffer when the knock-out stage takes them to another.

As Fifa's inspection report pointed out in 2007, Brazil is not counting on a single stadium meeting World Cup standards. Money will be thrown at the problem - but whose? And where is the return?

Nine of the stadiums are owned by regional government, although they could be privatised or administered by private companies. But it is unclear how the grounds in Cuiaba and Manaus can be viable.

- INDEPENDENT

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