Jim White

Flying under the radar could help England in Brazil

Jim White

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Along the beachfront in Fortaleza, life is going on much as it would even without a World Cup.

Which means, this being Brazil, football is everywhere.

Stroll along the promenade walks in the early evening and down on the beach there are floodlit pitches on the sand, on which dozens of boys play all night. Up on the prom there are floodlit concrete futebol de salao pitches on which bare-foot young lads do improbable tricks with the ball.

Next to them are floodlit foot volleyball pitches, on which overweight middle aged men flick and head and chest the ball, wheezing between the points. Little crowds gather to watch the games, tourists gawping at the abundance of skill on display.

This is all the evidence you need that the World Cup belongs in this country: the game is almost universally loved (though the taxi driver who took me to the stadium this morning claimed to be the only man in Brazil who prefers surfing to football).

Never mind that the tube workers are on strike in Sao Paulo, never mind that there are serious issues concerning cost and infrastructure over-run, never mind that hoteliers are charging prices that would embarrass a central London cabbie, this is a country ready to embrace the tournament with a gusto which simply can’t be manufactured.

You don’t need to see that all the edges of the pavements have been painted yellow and green to realise the competition is in the right place. It is plain on every inch of sand.

And now the World Cup is here, some are trying to make a bob or two. This morning gaggles of entrepreneurs were working the traffic jams on the way from the city centre in Fortaleza to the newly-built stadium (unlike some of the others, completed ahead of time and looking magnificent, its pitch rather more lush and playable than the one in Manaus appears to be).

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At every road junction, blokes in Brazilian team shirts were offering waiting motorists Brazil flags for their cars, yellow and green Brazil hats, or a host of other team shirts. On the ring road, three cars had had a minor shunt, and while the drivers exchanged insurance details, they were surrounded by the flag salesmen trying to pass off some of their goods.

Just what you need, Sir, to soften the blow of an early morning crunch: a Ghana shirt. It was either a gesture of solidarity or the very definition of optimism.

Interestingly, apart from a rather unflattering portrait of Wayne Rooney among a bunch of other notable players decorating a beachfront bar, there is very little to suggest England are in this tournament.

Nobody is flogging England shirts. The ceaseless 24 hour television news coverage the interest centres on the endlessly repeated footage of Neymar turning his ankle in training, a moment which according to the excited commentator, had the entire nation holding its breath (the Barca man recovered).

There was nothing yesterday about Alex Oxlade Chamberlain out running in a knee brace or Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge gamely attempting capoeira during a tour of a Rio favela. England seem to be passing under everyone’s radar locally. Which is probably how Roy Hodgson would wish it.

Even so, even though nobody appears to be expecting anything from them, or featuring them on the television news, or even talking about them, every time England move from their hotel at one end of the beach in Rio to their training centre at the other, everyone knows about it.

Their team bus is flanked by half the Brazilian military, with out-riders, flashing lights, a helicopter buzzing overhead. But then, they are not alone in being treated as if they are heads of state.

Security seems to be the principal concern of the organisers. All along Fortaleza beachfront, there are cops everywhere, standing around in gaggles, watching the female bathers waddle past in their micro bikinis.

Not just cops either, but military policemen with very large weapons. Or maybe they’re just pleased to see the women in bikinis.

And in Sao Paulo, where he is addressing FIFA’s congress, Sepp Blatter is accompanied wherever he goes by more gun-toting protection officers than a retired US president.

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But then Blatter probably does feel a touch paranoid at the moment, as if the world is out to get him.

The beleaguered head of Fifa was yesterday claiming The Sunday Times revelations about the process by which Qatar was given the 2022 World Cup, was driven by racism.

Utter garbage.

It was driven by a desire to see the most glittering competition in the sporting world held in an appropriate venue, not in the place which offers those doing the decision making the most sizeable cash inducement.

Indeed, if Blatter wanted to know the sort of country that should be hosting his tournament, all he needs to do is to ask his security detail if he might take a stroll through the back streets of Sao Paulo. Then he would see in every pick-up game a place utterly in thrall to the sport he claims to administer.

He managed to make the right decision about the 2014 competition and hold it where it would be nurtured. It is not being racist to ask him why he couldn’t manage the same trick for the 2022 one.

Jim White will be blogging on location for Eurosport throughout the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

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