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riodejaneiro_aerea_arenamaracana-135768The legendary Maracana stadium was modernised at a cost of more than 1 billion reais and now boasts room for 78,838 fans.

A massive press area was set up for the Confederations Cup and thousands of journalists covered the FIFA-organised final between Spain and Brazil in June

But now that the running of the stadium has been turned over to Rio authorities they are unable to find room to house the few hundred local and international reporters who want to cover the Brazilian Cup Final.

Several foreign correspondents have been refused permission to cover the game. The new Maracana’s press box “isn’t big enough for big matches,” admitted Eraldo Leite, Acerj’s president.

So, the biggest stadium in Rio and the most emblematic of all Brazilian grounds hasn’t built a press box big enough to handle press for big games. That forethought. That’s planning.

I came to Recife last year and took a public bus to the Ilha do Retiro to see the Sport-Ponte Preta game.

The ride was more memorable than the game. Passengers were thrown to one side and another as the driver careened round corners. People were quite literally shrieking with fear and begging him to slow down.

I took a taxi home as there was little public transport still running at midnight when the game ended.

On Sunday, I came to Recife’s sparkling new Arena Pernambuco to see Spain play Uruguay in the Confederations Cup. I was taken here and dropped off by an air-conditioned FIFA shuttle bus and got a nice seat in a beautiful stadium.

The two trips were both to see football matches in Recife but the only thing they had in common is 22 players, a ball and the trip along appalling roads filled with pot holes the size of televisions.

Much of the protests that erupted across Brazil last night are not against the World Cup per se. They are directed at the double standard of beautiful new stadiums being built for FIFA at a rush (and huge cost) while the government neglects much more necessary investment in hospitals, schools and sanitation.

This video was made by a friend and that sentiment is summed up by one girl around the 2:40 mark.

“We don’t have health, we don’t have education, we don’t have anything dignified,” she said. “The only thing that they gave us was a stadium.  If our child is sick we don’t want to take him to a stadium. We want education for our children and decent health. We don’t have this in Brazil.”

Two of the worlds most powerful teams are warming up for the Confederations Cup with games against Haiti.

Spain beat them 2-1 on Sunday in Miami and the Haitians acquitted themselves well. Tonight they play Italy in Rio de Janeiro in a rematch of what was one of the most memorable World Cup games ever.

In 1974, Italy were among the favourites to win the World Cup and Haiti were playing in the tournament for the first and only time.  Italy had gone two years without losing and famed goalkeeper Dino Zoff had not conceded a goal in 1142 minutes, then a world record.

Then Emmanuel Sanon came along and scored one of the greatest goals in the tournament’s history:

Twenty years later I lived in Haiti in 1994 and one of the highlights of the year was the World Cup.

When I arrived in Port-au-Prince in 1993 we got around six to eight hours of electricity a day, usually from around midnight to sunrise.

Then, at the start of 1994 the supply dried up. In some weeks we got just three hours, just enough to charge a car battery we used to power our laptops.

When the World Cup started we realised why. The military dictators had been rationing electricity in order to ensure there was enough during the World Cup. For a whole month we got 24 hours of electricity a day.

The reasoning was this: Haitians will put up with a coup and indescribable hardships. But they won’t put up with missing the World Cup.

Things have changed in Haiti and not always for the better. But one thing that hasn’t altered is reverence for the late Emannuel Sanon. Or memories of that amazing day in Germany.

ronaldo-nazario, from 9nineRonaldo woke up in UK today on his first full day in what promises to be a year-long business sabbatical at advertising firm WPP.

One of three men organizing the 2014 World Cup and June’s Confederations Cup warm up competition, he leaves at an inopportune time.

Stadiums are late, infrastructure isn’t being built fast enough and the budget is rising.

“Our problem is cultural. We leave everything to the last minute,” the former Real Madrid and Inter Milan striker told O Globo last week. “We’ve had since 2007 to get organized.”

And yet they haven’t. Why Ronaldo, who is one of those charged with making sure the tournament runs smoothly, is taking leave of his position right now makes no sense to me.

FIFA says he is an unpaid volunteer and that he will be returning to Brazil whenever his presence is needed at events.

The fact is, however, it is one more sign of Brazil’s lack of seriousness.

If you assume a position organising a major tournament like the World Cup, you should devote yourself to the task, not do it when it suits you.

Ronaldo’s departure on the eve of the Confederations Cup, with stadiums still not ready four months past the initial deadline, and public transportation projects so far behind schedule they probably won’t happen before June 2014, sends a clear signal to the world.

The signal is that Brazil isn’t taking this seriously.

The most amazing moment of last night’s Ballon d’Or ceremony came before the winner was announced or even before the play button was pressed and the big screen lit up with the brilliance of Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Iniesta.

It came on twitter, when FIFA forwarded this quote from Ronaldo:

“FIFA is doing something huge for our population. I hope the Brazilian team performs well.” @ClaroRonaldo on the 2014 World Cup

Strangely, the tweet doesn’t show up in Ronaldo’s feed, which is run for him by the Claro cell phone company. That suggests it was either a direct tweet to FIFA, or that he took it down. (Unless FIFA made it up, which is highly unlikely.)

Now Ronaldo is one of the best known and most beloved people in Brazil. He’s one of the greatest football players of all time. And he leads Brazil’s 2014 World Cup preparation as a member of the Local Organising Committee.

But when he comes out with comments like that you have to ask if the big man has put his commitment to FIFA ahead of his loyalty to Brazil.

I can’t really think of anything that FIFA is doing for the Brazilian population that doesn’t come with a quid pro quo or a major down side.

In fact, it’s exactly the other way around. Brazilians are bending over backwards to help FIFA.

I could explain exactly why but I’ll leave it to Christopher Gaffney, who put it much more succinctly than I could in his always excellent Hunting White Elephants blog.

Take it away, Christopher…

“I would like to have a party at your house. This is a great opportunity for you. I won’t pay you anything, but really, your house is inadequate, unseemly even, so please reform it and beautify the streets. When I get there, no one else can come within two kilometers, a condition you will guarantee by force of arms. You are responsible for the music, drink, getting me and my friends there, telling others about it, and providing everything that I can think of, whether or not I have told you about it. Make sure there is a recycling bin because I am very concerned about sustainability. I would like you to close down all the roads so I can get there more quickly in the limousine that you will provide. If I break everything, too bad. If I decide not to show up, well, that’s up to me. Everything good that happens at this party, I will take credit for. In fact, I’ll sell the video and party favors around the globe to my exclusive profit, and you’ll get nothing in return but the world will see how pretty your house is. In the case that one of my friends urinates on your couch or puts a hole in the roof you can’t ask for compensation. Don’t even think about complaining, it’s not his fault that has a bit of a heavy wrist and loses control. Once you’ve prepared everything and gone into debt to do so, I guarantee, semi-absolutely, that it is going to be an amazing party but remember that we have different interests here. If you do everything I say and give me everything I want at your own expense, then I will tell people what a good host you were. I need to make enough money at this party to tide me over for years and it’s your obligation to make this happen. If things aren’t just right or if I am in any way inconvenienced by what I perceive to be a lack of preparation, or if the path between my five star hotel and your house is not plastered with my image, I will simply cancel without prior warning and leave you holding a very empty bag. Sound good? Sign here.”

Wake up, Ronaldo!

FIFA today published the 12 posters that will be used to publicise the host cities of the 2014 World Cup.

See them all here at the FIFA site.

They’re all predictably colourful and apart from two or three similarly stylised.

The more I look at them the more I think the majority of them are a bit of a mess.

My favourite is probably the one from Manaus (pictured right), which is the one that most avoids that stylised pattern and the abuse of colours:

FIFA revealed its 10 candidates for Goal of the Year today. See quick versions of them all here:

That youtube link has only partial versions of the goals, such as Neymar’s spectacular dribbled goal against Inter, in which he takes the ball from his own half, beats four men then dinks it over the goalie.

The FIFA site has longer links to them all, and here’s Neymar’s.

The other goal that stand out for me is one I’d never seen before by Gaston Mealla of Nacional Potosi in Bolivia.  I had to watch it three or four times to really see what he did.

And then there’s Messi’s Goal against Brazil from June or July. That one to me has to be the contender, partly because of the environment and the opposition (although what were the midfielders doing??!?).

To me, the real great goals embody individual brilliance and teamwork. In the words of the Guardian’s Rob Smythe, “any hairy arsed chancer can get lucky from 30 yards.”

Having said that there are a few great strikes, including one from Olivia Jimenez of Mexico against Switzerland:

So, my three favourites, in no particular order: Neymar, Messi and Jimenez.

You can cast your vote HERE.

FIFA’s Secretary General Jerome Valcke published his regular column today and in it gave the strongest hint yet that Recife will be cut from the Confederations Cup.

Next Thursday, FIFA will announce the cities that will host the tournament. So far, six are on the preliminary list: Brasilia, Salvador, Recife, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and Rio de Janeiro.

Recife is the big question mark because builders say it will be ready in February, only four months before the tournament starts.

Valcke said today that arenas must be ready six months ahead of time:

“This is a crucial moment for us organisers because once the ticket sales start it would be very problematic if a venue runs into challenges to be ready to host matches. And here I need to repeat myself when we speak about readiness. We do not mean the day of the tournament kick-off but with enough time to stage at least two proper test events. That is also why we always reiterate that the venues for the major FIFA tournaments need to be ready six months ahead of the first game.

“I know this sounds a long time but in reality it’s not. New venues particularly need more time to be fully tested at various events at different capacities. From electrics to crowd management, from stewards to public transport and parking management all processes must be well established to ensure that come the FIFA Confederations Cup next June – when Brazil will be in the spotlight of the world – we will not face any major operational obstacles.”

I mention the construction of the Arena Pernambuco in this recent Reuters piece.

I visited the stadium last week and it looks like it will be great, with steep stands and a cauldron atmosphere due the fact that the fans are on top of the players.

It would be a shame if it is not ready in time.

But all will be revealed next week.

The ball to be used in the 2014 World Cup is to be named Brazuca, a playfully slang word for native Brazilians, FIFA and official sponsor adidas announced on Sunday.

Brazuca got 70 percent of the more than 1 million votes cast in an online contest to choose the name, adidas said.

The name, which adidas said summed up the irreverence of the host nation, won out over Carnavalesca, a word describing someone who plans or participates in the country’s raucous carnival celebrations and Bossa Nova, a reference to the famous samba-jazz music genre popularised in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1950s and 1960s

“I’m delighted that Brazilian football fans have had the opportunity to play their part in deciding the name of one of the event’s most important symbols,” said FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke.

“I’m sure that the Brazuca ball will go down in history together with other iconic FIFA World Cup balls, such as the Tango in Argentina in 1978 and the Azteca in Mexico in 1986.”

The name was revealed today during TV Globo’s Esporte Espectacular programme.

Brazil has approved 54 cities to host national teams during the 2014 World Cup.

It’s a preliminary list that should rise to closer to 100 by the end of the year.

The cities must have at least one  FIFA-standard hotel and at least one FIFA-standard football pitch. Teams will base themselves there for the group stages of the tournament, and from there fly or drive to games.

That’s why 30 of the 54 are close to Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, each of which will host at least six matches.

Japan, England, Australia, Holland and the United States are among those nations who have sent representatives to scope out potential bases.

See the official FIFA document with all the approved areas here.

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