Okay, the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil ended two weeks ago. After 64 matches over a total of 32 days, the winner of this year’s Cup has been determined and crowned. Meanwhile there were a ton of surprises, delights, disappointments and shocks along the way. With it over, the 32 teams had their experience for another tournament with Germany coming out as the winner.
The German players are of course celebrating with the whole country. All the players however are now taking a break from their international teams and are mostly focusing on the upcoming club play. But the crazy thing about the end of the World Cup is the reminder that the next one is four years away. And the focus shouldn’t begin the year before the World Cup begins but as soon as international team play resumes again, like as early as this September.
Anyways here are my cheers, disappointments and neutrals for this year’s World Cup teams. Also I may offer some unprofessional advise of my own for them for World Cup 2018:
Germany- Germany did it! After 24 years, they found themselves back on top with their fourth World Cup. Germany owes its success to a restructuring of its program following their disappointing Group Stage exit during Euro 2000 with innovative focusing on their youth system. It has obviously paid off, and with a team full of young players. Nine of which including five-time goal scorer Thomas Muller were under the age of 25. Germany has an additional 12 players under 25 that have been called up to represent Germany internationally in the past twelve months. So there’s no doubt that Germany has a future in football.
This comes especially handy as World Cup captain Philip Lahm has announced his retirement from international play and 36 year-old scoring sensation Miroslav Klose has left a big question mark for World Cup 2018. Another recent question mark is coach Joachim Loew announcing his plan to step down as head coach of Germany after Euro 2016. Whatever the situation, it’s going to take the same team unity that gave Germany its success here in Brazil. Yes, they have the Cup now and they should celebrate but the celebrating will have to stop soon and they will have to get their team focus back. Let’s not forget rival countries could be copying Germany’s success method soon to give themselves their own success. Four years may come sooner than you think.
Argentina- Most teams believe you should only truly be happy if you win the World Cup. Argentina may have won it twice before but they should also be happy as this is only their fifth time ever in a World Cup final. The disappointment of not winning the Cup will bite for a while but Argentina and all thirty other teams that didn’t win the Cup will have to focus again. Coach Alejandro Sabella announced the day before the World Cup final he would step down as coach of Argentina. Nothing whether it be of Sabella’s resignation or a successor signed on has been confirmed as of yet. A successor will have to be found in time before international play resumes, with a September 3rd friendly rematch of the World Cup final in Dusseldorf.
The line-up will also be in question. The youngest player of Argentina’s World Cup roster, Marcus Rojo, was 24. Sure veterans like Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi, Sergio Romero and Angel di Maria look like they may be strong enough to play for World Cup 2018 at ages 30-31 but Argentina will have to look to its younger talent for its future and especially pay close attention to their national age-group teams for potential rising stars if they want to win in Russia.
Netherlands- They didn’t make it to the final this time around. Nevertheless this is a big improvement from a team that in recent World Cups have become to be known as the Dirty Dutch. Back in 2006, their Round of 16 match against Portugal resulted in the most carded game in World Cup history with sixteen yellow and four red cars between the two teams. Then in 2010, the Dutch again made World Cup infamy by helping make the final between Spain to be the most carded World Cup final ever with fourteen yellow cards and one red. Even I considered it the ugliest World Cup final I’ve ever seen. This year, the Dutch did amass eleven yellow cards in total but no red. Also none of their matches resulted in more than six cardings. Quite the difference.
This World Cup they not only had to focus on their play behavior but also on their world ranking. We should remember the Netherlands had a big disappointment in Euro 2012 with losing all their Group Stage games. They did the right thing in hiring Louis van Gaal. However van Gall has since resigned and has brought back Guus Huddink who led them to the 1998 semifinals. We’ll see how that works out in the future.
Colombia- Here in 2014, Colombia finally had its breakthrough with its best ever performance, breaking through to the quarterfinals for the first time. Extra icing on the cake was James Rodriguez being the only player at the Cup to score six goals. Excellent since the team is full of young talent including six players born in the 1990’s. Colombia has a lot of potential to go further in the future but it’s going to take the right guidance and the right team chemistry in the future. However coach Jose Pekermans should now congratulate himself for a job well-done and a Colombian comeback well overdue.
Costa Rica- Hands down Costa Rica was the Cinderella team of the tournament. The World Cup ‘minnows’ that went further than anyone expected. Their Cinderella success however should not be dismissed as luck. They were in the toughest of the eight groups being paired up against past World Cup winners like Uruguay, Italy and England and they came out on top without a loss and leaving the others wondering what went wrong. They followed it up with a Round of 16 win against Greece on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw and even bringing the Netherlands to a scoreless draw in their first-ever quarterfinals before losing on penalty kicks. So a team from a small country in Central America is deserving of nothing short of respect, especially for proving itself a tough adversary to some of the biggest powers in football. The future looks very good since six of the players are under 25. However recent news is that Jorge Pinto has stepped down as head coach. We have yet to see if Costa Rica can take it as far, if not further, with a new coach. Only time will tell.
Belgium- This World Cup is the comeback of Belgium for their first World Cup appearance since 2002 and their best World Cup finish since 1986. Signing on Marc Wilmots, who played for Belgium in three World Cups, as coach in 2012 was the best thing for the team as it helped propel the team to achieve World Cup qualification in 2013 in convincing fashion and go straight wins at the World Cup before falling 0-1 to Argentina in the quarterfinals. There’s no doubt that Wilmots will be kept as coach; he’s actually assigned to stay as coach until 2018. The team also shows promise of continued success as seven members of the World Cup roster are under 25. These next four years will define how further Belgium can take their new-found success. Anything can happen in the next four years but for now, the Red Devils are back!
Chile- Not too many people would consider going as far as the Round of 16 worthy of a ‘cheer’ but Chile deserve it. It’s not just advancing past the Group Stage for the fourth time in their ninth World Cup appearance but also bringing Brazil to a 1-1 draw in the Round of 16 before succumbing to a penalty shoot out. The simple draw showed that Chile is a team competent enough to expose Brazil’s weak spots on a World stage. Chile just keeps on getting better and better. However you can bet they not only want to qualify for the next World Cup but hopefully not meet up with Brazil in the knockout stages. It must be annoying having Brazil bring their World Cup trip to an end after happening all four times they’ve advanced. Chile has a bright future and next year they’re hosting the Copa America. Another chance to improve over time.
Algeria- Another ‘cheer’ for a Round of 16 team has to go to Algeria. After three previous World Cup appearances being eliminated in the Group Stage, it took a 4-2 win against South Korea and a 1-1 draw against Russia to help Algeria advance for the first time ever. Even though they lost to eventual World Cup champions Germany 2-1 in extra time, they gave them a great challenge keeping the game scoreless in regulation time. Algeria along with Nigeria made World Cup history by making this the first World Cup where two African teams advanced past the group stage. The team shows promise for the future as eight players are under 25. One thing is that Algeria’s coach Vahid Halilhodzic has stepped down since the World Cup and has been replaced by Frenchman Christian Gourcuff who is very experienced in club coaching but will be a national coach for the first time. Only the next four years will tell.
Goal-Line Technology- There were new technologies introduced at this World Cup. The most notable one being one that was a long-time coming: goal-line technology. This came through popular demand as a goal from England in a Round of 16 match against Germany that was shown on countless replays to be a legitimate goal wasn’t counted. For years, FIFA president Sepp Blatter was against goal-line technology, believing calls should be done by ‘a man, not a machine.’ At last year’s Confederations Cup, goal-line technology was finally introduced. Here at the World Cup was featured the Goal Control system consisting of fourteen high-speed cameras with seven directed to each of the goals and data sent to an image-processing centre to accurately determine if a goal or not. A watch owned by referees only that vibrated if a legit goal was also part of the technology. It proved to work at it was necessary to declare France’s second goal against Honduras. That you Blatter for finally doing something right!
France- You may feel that a country like France that has won the World Cup in the past should do better than the quarterfinals. That may be true but their finish should be respected as well. If you remember World Cup 2010, France was the team that collapsed the biggest as infighting with the players, federation and the head coach led to the team to just fall apart. France has since rebuilt itself hiring Didier Deschamps, captain of France’s World Cup-winning 1998 team, after Euro 2012 and the results have been successful. France was successful in the group stage winning their group, winning their Round of 16 match against Nigeria 2-0 before losing to eventual champions Germany 1-0 in the quarterfinal. A major factor of France’s comeback is not just with Deschamps’ guidance but with its wealth of young talent. Nine players on the World Cup roster were under 25 and Paul Pogba won the FIFA Young Player award and Raphael Varane an additional nominee. Their future looks bright but the next four years will tell the tale.
Mexico- Up to 1986, the only times Mexico ever made it past the group stage what when they hosted. Since 1994, they’ve made it past the group stage every World Cup they’ve been in including this one.Mexico continued to impress in this World Cup by winning against Croatia and Cameroon as well as bringing Brazil to a scoreless draw. Mexico also gave Netherlands a great play in the Round of 16 and could have tied or possibly won in extra time had that controversial dive from Arjen Robben not happened. Mexico is on the right track with coach Miguel Herrera. A relief since they went through a multitude of coaches before sticking with Herrera just before qualifying for the Cup. The team also appears in good shape with a good amount of young players. However it will take consistent play from them to qualify again and possibly have their best World Cup ever in 2018.
United States- It seems like with every World Cup, it’s another chapter for the American national team. With each passing quadrennial, the US is being taken more and more seriously. Hiring former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann was a huge boost to the team. Even with Landon Donovan being dropped from the 2014 line-up, the US accomplished a lot of feats. Firstly, they became the second consecutive American team to advance past the group stage. Second there’s Clint Dempsey scoring in the first 30 seconds against Ghana: the fasted goal of the 2014 World Cup and the fifth-fastest World Cup goal ever. Third there’s goalkeeper Tim Howard who made sixteen saves against Belgium, the most ever in a recorded World Cup game. Fourth there’s 19 year-old Julian Green whose goal against Belgium made him the youngest goal-scorer at the 2014 World Cup.
The U.S. shows potential for World Cup 2018. Seven members of this World Cup’s team are under 25 and Klinsmann plans on staying on as coach. However with the World Cup being held in Russia, they have to overcome their ‘Europe Curse.’ It’s a fact that the U.S. has never won a World Cup game held in Europe. It’s very possible that the curse can be broken as they’ve become a lot more competent since Germany in 2006. Russia will be another proving point for the Americans.
Nigeria- None of the African countries here got further than the Round of 16. Nigeria deserves some acclaim. Firstly because their trip to the Round of 16 made them the first African team to achieve that in a total of three World Cups. Secondly for playing with dignity for their country while the Nigerian Football Federation was under FIFA investigation as many top members are to be prosecuted in Nigeria’s high court which would mean Nigeria’s national teams could be banned from playing. Thirdly for playing in a Round of 16 match against France where the American referee appeared to show favoritism to France possibly resulting in their win 2-0. The ban has been lifted a few days ago and the federation’s membership has not been determined. However this will be questionable how Nigeria’s teams will do in the near future. Hopefully a controversy like this should not appear during international play or even World Cup qualifying as controversies in the past have led to teams being banned from upcoming World Cups.
Bosnia-Hercegovina- Bosnia may have expired in the group stage but they actually have nothing to apologize for. This was their first ever World Cup. Sure they did well in qualifying for their World Cup berth but you should remember Bosnia is a very young team. They’re a team that had to recover from a brutal war that ended in 1995. Bosnia is already very experienced in playing against European teams but they lack experience playing against teams from other continents. In fact they’ve only ever played against 22 non-European teams. Bosnia is a team that will grow in knowledge and experience over time. The World Cup was an excellent learning experience for them and they can only get better over time. Also it’s easy to feel for Bosnia after the disallowed goal by Dzeko which could have been a draw and allowed Bosnia to advance past the group stage. I’m confident they will have their time.
Ecuador- It may not be easy being the only South American team that didn’t advance past the group stage and sure, Ecuador did do it in 2006. Nevertheless Ecuador did deliver a performance worth admiration. Firstly for competing in the honor and memory of their teammate Christian ‘Chucho’ Benitez. Secondly for delivering a great effort that included winning against Honduras, bringing France to a scoreless draw and scoring first during their loss to Switzerland. It’s not fair to call Ecuador’s performance in 2014 as the ‘Enner Valencia show,’ despite how great he was. The team itself did an excellent job as a whole. Nevertheless the national team is awaiting a new coach in preparation for the next World Cup and for next year’s Copa America.
Croatia- Ever since Croatia finished third at the 1998 World Cup, they’ve been struggling since to prove they’re no World Cup ‘minnows.’ 2014 was another continuation of the struggle as they only won one game: against Cameroon 4-0. The other games to Brazil and Mexico were both 3-1 losses. However this is the big improvement since 2006 back when they had a single draw and two losses. Croatia will be keeping coach Niko Kovac and the team possesses a lot of good young talent. Also Croatia is familiar on the European circuit but has only played sixteen teams from other continents. Croatia should get better over time.
Brazil: As Host Country- There was huge debate whether Brazil was doing a good job as host country. Construction of venues and infrastructure were behind schedule and of huge concern to FIFA. The expense of $14 billion was also a huge concern and much of the heat was placed on President Dilma Rousseff. However when the World Cup started, it was the party it was hoped to be. Games were very well-attended if not filled to capacity. The FIFA Fan Fests set up in cities’ locations just outside host venues drew huge crowds. Even the final at the Maracana was well-attended despite Brazil not qualifying. The Brazilian tourism authority reported that the Cup generated $15 billion in incoming tourism money which will be used to create 1,000,000 additional jobs.
Brazil: As Host Team- I am not going to go into the number of ignominious records Brazil set during their last two games of the World Cup. Enough is enough. We should remember last World Cup’s hosts South Africa failed to advance past the Group Stage. And Germany had a substandard team when it hosted the World Cup back in 2006 but was able to go as far as the semifinals.
Brazil has always had successes throughout the decades. They have also had their ruts over the years but would find a way to shine through over time. To put it subtly, the biggest thing Brazil’s losses proved is that it needs to change its ways to get back on top. This will require not only an improvement of the national team, whether it being hiring new members or improving members kept on, but also of the whole Brazilian Football system. It’s not to say it can’t be done. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, Brazil had to deal with the fact their best players were offered big money to play for European clubs and that would cause problems in the team unity. Brazil was able to overcome it in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Now it’s dealing with the new situation of young talents taken and trained by those clubs at an early age: an increasingly common and increasingly global practice over the years. This is a new challenge to the Brazilian team. I’m sure there are more challenges ahead like newer training methods and newer talent spotting. I’m confident Brazil will be back on top but it will have to take the right moves to make it happen.
Spain- If you thought Brazil’s big loss was a shocker, how about Spain’s ouster from the Group Stage. This comes after an impressively stellar record of wins and losses over the four-year period between the two World Cups. Even coach Vicente del Bosque couldn’t answer how a team that consistent can suddenly choke at the World Cup. Whatever the situation, del Bosque has not been dropped as coach. Most of the team from the World Cup are still members of the national team. The team however will have a lot of proving to do in the wake of their debacle. The friendlies start again in September and Euro qualifying will start around that same time. Competing as world champion is one thing but competing after such a humiliation is another. Only time will tell if Spain will come back.
Uruguay- The disappointment shouldn’t come simply because of the insane actions of one man. The disappointment should come upon the struggle to play after. Uruguay is not just Luis Suarez. It’s also Diego Forlan, Diego Lugano and Edinson Cavani. In the meantime, we’ll see what happens to ‘Chewy Louie’ and his ban. Will his ban hurt him as much as many experts predict? We’ll also see how well the national team does as a whole. Oscar Tabarez is going to be staying on as coach. In the meantime, it’s still great to see a comeback form one of the classic greats.
Cameroon- I usually would have at least one good thing to say about every team at the World Cup, even the worst, but not in the case of Cameroon. It finished last amongst the 32 countries and for good reason. It’s not just simply because they’ve really headed downhill since their quarterfinal finish in 1990 but they did it here in very violent fashion. The most noticeable was during their 4-0 loss to Croatia. There was Alex Song elbowing Croatian Mario Mandzukic in the back and getting a red card for it. There was also the infighting of Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Benjamin Moukandjo. In the end, they lost all three of their games and their only goal came in their last match against Brazil. No doubt if Cameroon want to get their winning form back, they should definitely improve and restructure their team. However there has not yet been any word of whether coach Volker Finke will be kept or dropped. Only time will tell.
Italy- It was a shock at first when Italy, the defending Cup champions, failed to win a game and advance past the Group Stage. It was a shock again this time around when Italy again failed to advance. And this comes two years after Italy made the finals at Euro 2012 and just a year after finishing third at the Confederations Cup. It’s not to say Italy is now fading in terms of their greatness. Mario Balotelli has become the latest new star of the Azzuri. And there are seven total players under 25 on the national team. It’s just a matter of restructuring the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) so that they can bring back Italy’s winning ways. Right now they have to find a new coach as Cesare Prandelli has resigned since the World Cup.
England- It’s interesting Group D was the ‘Group Of Death’ with three powerhouse teams and one ‘minnow’ who surprised them all. However it came as a shock that of all the countries, it was England that would succumb to the pressure biggest. Here in Brazil, England had what could be rightfully called their worst-ever World Cup performance. No question that the English team will have to improve over the years. One surprise is that Roy Hodgson has been kept on as coach. It’s interesting that while some countries that performed poorly have either dropped their coach or had them resign, there are countries like England and Spain that are keeping theirs.
Also there’s another possible factor to England’s poor performance this time around. A friend of mine mentioned that England had a team with a lot of young inexperienced players. That was a good point since England had eight players in their lineup born in the 1990’s and even two under the age of 20. It’s a wonder if they formed their 2014 team with World Cup 2018 in mind. Whatever the situation, the federations and coaches should know that any team formed for any World Cup is expected to deliver during that World Cup and not simply learn for the sake of the next.
Portugal- If any country has had a bigger-than-ever success run in this new century, it’s Portugal. Before the 21st century, it only qualified for the 1966 and 1986 World Cups. Portugal has since qualified for all four World Cups in this century including finishing fourth in 2006. However Portugal found itself back in 2014 where it started in 2002: conking out in the Group Stage. Sure enough it was thanks to a 4-0 blitzkrieg from Germany. What it is about Portuguese-speaking teams getting a blitzkrieg from Germany this year? Whatever the situation, it was enough for Portugal to miss out on the second Group G berth for the knockout round to the U.S. upon goal differentials. However the big disappointments were not just the play but also the violent conduct of Pepe against Germany’s Thomas Muller and the egotism of Cristiano Ronaldo. Even Ronaldo’s game-winning goal against Ghana came too much too late.
The future of Portugal’s team comes in question as Paulo Bento will be kept on as coach. Also only three players on the World Cup team were under 25. That won’t be good as their star player Cristiano Ronaldo will be 33 come the next World Cup. Portugal has to work on its future if it wants to continue its winning ways.
Russia- You’d figure that after being dropped by England in 2010, Fabio Capello would have it easier coaching Russia to World Cup success, right? Actually not so as Russia not only failed to advanced past the Group Stage but failed to win a game. That was the first time as the Russian Federation that they failed to do so. This is especially frustrating after the critical final game against Algeria who advanced. Russia had to deal with spectators carrying laser pointers which are not allowed at FIFA games. Whatever the situation, Russia really have to train well for 2018 as they will host the next World Cup. Capello has not been dropped as of yet so it may be possible Russia will continue with him. However they will have to make things work. Already Russia had to deal with two Dutch coaches in the six years before hiring Capello. They might even have to rethink the hiring of foreign coaches as Russia have been criticized about the team being moulded ‘Italian style’ not just with Capello but two assistant coaches also from Italy. They also have to focus on their young talent too. Already their World Cup team had seven players under 25. Whatever happens, the world will be watching in 2018.
The Asian Teams- It’s not just that none of the Asian teams were able to make it past the group stage.This World Cup is the first since 1990 where not a single team represented under the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) were able to win a single game.Even Australia, which transferred to Asia’s confederation after being ruled too big for the Oceania Football Confederation, lost all their games. This is not just a case where all four teams need changes in their nation’s federation but the AFC needs revamping too in order to make the Asian countries a challenger on the World football scene again.
Brazil’s Construction Crews- I’m glad I’m writing this after talking to a Brazilian yesterday. The laxed construction works of Brazil is common place mostly because of corrupting and bribery which cause buildings to finish later than they should and also most triple their originally-estimated expense. Here Brazil’s stadiums took up a significant chuck of the $14 billion price tag. That can be blamed for it. Also to blame can be FIFA for placing such demands on Brazil. However Brazil itself can be blamed for the laxed time it took to finish the stadiums. Some were only completed within hours of their first World Cup contest. And the problems didn’t even stop there. There came with the infrastructure around it that was supposed to help not only the stadiums but the cities to make things easier in the future. That proved the opposite for Belo Horizonte as a piece of freeway collapsed just two days before the Mineirazo. Two people were killed and 23 others were injured. And now there’s the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio coming up and construction crews are so behind–IOC representatives are claiming Rio facilities are only 10% completed– the IOC is thinking of moving the Games to another city if preparations don’t improve. Did Brazil’s presidents know what they were in for when they had so many events to host from 2013 to 2016? All I can say is I hope all this construction doesn’t end up making white elephants out of the finished products or else Dilma will have a lot of explaining to do.
Well the next World Cup is four years away. No doubt the 32 teams will be focused on qualifying and hopefully winning the Cup. Teams that did not qualify also have goals and plans of their own. In the meantime, I wish all national football teams best of luck in qualifying and hopefully winning.
DISCLAIMER: Before I begin my blog, I want to give you all a quick reference post for my Group Stage predictions for this year’s World Cup. Title will open the link to my predictions:
As for predictions for the knockout rounds, I’ll wait until the qualifiers are decided. Meanwhile I will give a prediction for the final for those curious: Brazil vs. Argentina which Brazil wins. Let’s see if it hold up. Anyways enough of predictions! On with my blog!
“For any country, organizing a cup is like playing a game, sweating and often suffering, with the possibility of extra-time and penalty kicks, but the final result and celebration are worth the effort.”
-Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil
The 2014 World Cup opened on June 12th with a spectacular opening ceremony at 3pm in the newly built Arena de Sao Paulo. The competition started with the opening game of hosts Brazil vs. Croatia. Each team by now has played at least one match to get things rolling. Even in the months and years leading to the competition, the World Cup made headlines and continues to make headlines now for all the activity on the field and off.
NOTHING LESS THAN THE WIN
Football is a matter of life and death in Brazil. Literally. I’ll get to the Maracanazo in one of my future blogs but you will understand why Brazil has to win. And nothing less. Brazil has won the World Cup five times, more than any other country. They’re one country with such a legacy in football that anything less than the World Cup is unacceptable. In fact it’s the Maracanazo that Brazil no longer wears white. Brazil comes to this tournament not ranked #1. Actually they’ve been ousted in the quarterfinals these past two World Cups. However hosting the World Cup in a country that treats football like a religion would consider the loss of the World Cup like a stab at the heart. They have coach Luis Felipe Scolari who coached Brazil to win the 2002 World Cup heading the team consisting of veterans like Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, Jefferson and Frad as well as newcomers like Oscar, Bernard and rising phenom Neymar. Will they deliver to the challenge or will they choke under pressure? Already they started with a good win against Croatia 3-1 but just yesterday they had a 0-0 draw against Mexico. Makes me wondering if they found Mexico too much of a challenge or they were saving themselves for later. We’ll see. There isn’t a single team in the world Brazil can’t beat. However it is possible for some teams to beat them. Hope it’s not here.
As you may have noticed when I did my blogs about the stadiums, I made comments about the construction problems that happened along the way. There were even construction fatalities like back in November when a crane inside the Arena de Sao Paulo toppled and killed two workers. This bad planning is nothing new in Brazil. Brazil has a habit of building things slower than expected. However it was already noted by FIFA as far back as 2011. Stadium expenditures were originally expected to cost $1.1 million. Instead stadium works cost $3.6 billion. Some of you may remember from the Confederations Cup that Brazil had six stadiums ready for that competition. There still six more remaining. FIFA gave Brazil a deadline of December 31, 2013 to have all the stadiums completed. Six were incomplete by that time. As you may have noticed in my group blogs, there were many stadiums that took until April or May for completion. Even the condition of the Arena de Sao Paulo was in question just 24 hours before it was to host the opening ceremonies and opening match.
It wasn’t just the building of new stadiums that was the problem. Airports in many of the cities needed upgrading to cope with a huge influx of tourists coming in. Thirteen needed upgrading and it was predicted in 2011, ten would not be ready. That led to Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff to auction off many of the airports to the private sector. There were even monorail projects planned for many of the host cities but many were not completed. Some even had to be downgraded if they wanted to finish on time. In May 2014, FIFA reported that only 36 of the 93 major projects had already been completed. However FIFA secretary Jeroma Valcke did make note that many of the projects were meant to continue after the World Cup including ‘legacy projects’ sponsored by FIFA costing $20 million and coming completely at FIFA’s expense.
The slagging preparations of Brazil has garnered criticism from all around. FIFA has expressed their disappointment, even many journalists have dismissed this as the most trouble-plagued or the worst-organized World Cup in history. Even Brazil’s legendary players of the past had things to say about Brazil’s preparation problems. Romario, now a political figure, criticized Brazil’s handling of the preparations but said: “FIFA’s requirements were excessive.” Ronaldo spoke of his embarrassment of the country’s infrastructure and how: ” a series of investments were promised but won’t be delivered – only 30% will be delivered.” Pele however has been the most outspoken in his disappointment but he especially focused his disappointment on the expense of the World Cup: ”It’s clear that politically speaking, the money spent to build the stadiums was a lot, and in some cases was more than it should have been. Some of this money could have been invested in schools, in hospitals. … Brazil needs it.”
FORGET ABOUT THE PRICETAG?
After Pele’s quote, you may be asking how expensive is this World Cup going to cost? Well, not as expensive as the $51 billion Putin and his Russia spent on the Sochi Winter Olympics but high enough. Brazil’s World Cup comes at an estimated price tag of $14 billion: close to the $15 billion spent on the past three World Cups combined. $3.6 billion were spent on either building new stadiums or fixing them for FIFA regulations. The other money was spent on the infrastructure and transit projects that I just talked about. With them being unfinished, you may wonder what’s to blame? The spending or the poor planning? There was even an additional $900 million spent on security. It planned to have one police officer for every 50 spectators. Totals include 150,000 public security professionals and military along with 20,000 private security personnel. Other security innovations include facial recognition systems and unmanned security robots. Sure FIFA promised that they’d give $2 billion to the event but that can only go so far. Even Romario has described this World Cup as ‘the biggest theft in history’ which he believes expenditure will total $100 billion in the long run.
The projects, both successful and incomplete, and the costs that came with it sure did a lot to the opinions of the Brazilian public. A Brazilian polling company published results that stated the approval rating from the Brazilian public to the World Cup had dropped from 79% back in 2008 to only 48% back this April. 55% of respondents believed the event will give more harm than good to Brazil. Even FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitted: “Brazilians were a bit discontented because they were given a lot.”
Funny that this was not the case when Brazil hosted the World Cup back in 1950. Back then, they only needed six stadiums to contest the match and only two new ones were built. Funny how times change, especially in terms of huge sports events.
PROTESTS PART TWO
You may remember I posted a blog about the protests happening around the time of the Confederations Cup. The protests were successful in bringing changes to Brazil in most areas, if not all. Back in the original blog I pointed out that Brazil is a developing country that has made a lot of developments and improvements in the quality of life in the past 30 years. I still stand by that belief however I won’t deny that there are still a lot of problems in Brazil still outstanding. The most notable being health care and rampant crime. In fact I saw a news story around the World Cup about growing up in the slums of Rio. Crime and gang problems are so bad even the police are afraid to go in to install law and order. It’s exactly like it was depicted in the 2003 film City of God. Brazil being a developing country determined to succeed does get reminders how they’re lagging in some areas and I’m sure will over time. The big protest focus around the World Cup has been about the government’s financial management of the company. I’m sure with a World Cup as expensive as that, you can’t blame them for being disappointed.
One thing about the Confederations Cup is that both President Rousseff and FIFA president Blatter were booed before their speeches. Because of that there were no speeches at the World Cup opening ceremonies. Last years protests not only made news for them happening around the time of the Confederations Cup but also that the protests reached the stadiums. Protests leading up to the World Cup led to organizers stepping up its security. The security this time have been successful from preventing protests from reaching the stadium. It’s not to say it’s without noticeable incident. In fact two CNN journalists who were covering the protests around the June 12th opening game, Shasta Darlington and Barbara Arvantidis, were injured.
Reaction to the protests has been understandable but still disapproving. Rousseff came to the defense of the expenditures saying: “the federal money spent on the stadiums is in the form of financing that will be duly repaid by the companies and governments that are exploiting these stadiums.” She also reiterated that all the construction and infrastructure were for long-term benefits for Brazilians. We shouldn’t forget in two of the stadiums I profiled, there will be extensive land development plans for two of the new stadiums so it’s not just about having bigger stadiums. Sepp Blatter has spoken his disapproval saying the protesters “Should not use football to make their demands heard” and that expenditures were “on items that are for the future, not just for the World Cup.” Pele himself, though understanding of the protesters’ anger, but is critical of them: ”Some of this money could have been invested in schools, in hospitals. … Brazil needs it. That’s clear. On that point, I agree (with the protests). But I lament what protesters are doing, which is breaking and burning everything. It’s money that we will have to spend again.”
FIFA’S BLATTER UNDER FIRE
It’s not just the World Cup that’s facing the heat. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has come under fire for corruption. Back in 2011, Qatar won the rights to host the 2022 World Cup. Lately there have been reports that Qatar paid for votes. It’s a wonder too for the World Cup to go to a country only 4,500 square miles wide and with a population of just over 2 million people. Qatar has denied any wrongdoing but the British paper The Sunday Times is insistent in their allegations. Already there’s talk within the FIFA membership with the most vocal opposition coming from head of the Dutch Football Association Michael van Praag and FIFA has conducted an investigation into the matter headed by FIFA investigator Michael Garcia. However it will not be handed to a FIFA jury until just days after the World Cup and Blatter says no decisions will be taken until September or October. The 78 year-old Blatter who has been president of FIFA since 1998 has always maintained that this term will be his last but already the media and certain members of FIFA want him to resign soon in the wake of the scandal and even five of FIFA’s six major corporate sponsors are demanding a thorough investigation of the allegations. FIFA has claimed it’s racism behind the accusations and Blatter himself has described the outcry as the “storm against FIFA” and “discrimination and racism” as most of those accused of accepting bribes are from African countries. The response to the scandal is something that will only be defined over time.
So there you go. This is a taste of what’s in store for the World Cup. Sure there are the pressures on the field but lots off the field too. How those get managed are bound to get some healthy media attention. Some will even require time to decide its fates. You can guarantee even after the World Cup is finished and the winning team is crowned, neither FIFA nor Brazil will stop making headlines.
Grelard, Phillippe and Talek Harris. “FIFA’s Blatter urged to stand down” Agence France-Presse afp.com 10 June 2014 <http://sports.yahoo.com/news/fifas-blatter-urged-stand-down-214645012–sow.html>
Uncredited Author. “Pele critical of Brazil’s World Cup organization” AP- Sports Associated Press. 20 May 2014 <http://sports.yahoo.com/news/pele-critical-brazils-world-cup-172944083–sow.html>
Woolard, Rob. “World Cup poised for troubled kick-off” Agence France-Presse afp.com 11 June 2014 <http://sports.yahoo.com/news/world-cup-poised-troubled-kick-off-113730515–sow.html>
WIKIPEDIA: List of 2014 FIFA World Cup controversies. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_2014_FIFA_World_Cup_controversies>
You could say it took a lot to determine the 32 countries that qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup: thirty months, six confederations, 204 countries or teams, 820 matches, and a total of 2303 goals to decide the 31 berths up for grabs. Finally on November 20th, all thirty-one berths up for contention were all decided. However deciding the eight groups of four for the Group Stage was also another tricky matter. Yeah, just when you thought it would get easier.
Yesterday, the eight First Round groups were decided at the Costa de Sauipe resort in Bahia. It was broadcast live around the world. I myself saw the live telecast at 9am my time. The draw to form the eight groups for each World Cup involves a process with a lot of thought: four countries per group with continental separation. That would mean each continent other than Europe would have only one of their countries in a First Round group. Europe by means of fielding thirteen berths this World Cup would have a maximum of two countries per group. That’s always been the case since the World Cup expanded to 32 countries back in 1998.
The respective continent’s confederations contested their matches conducted their own qualifying format for deciding their qualifiers for the World Cup. There were even two countries that qualified via a ‘wildcard’ berth where they’d have to play a team from another continent twice. The thirty-two qualifying countries were all decided more than two weeks ago. Seeded teams which I will talk about later are in italics:
- Host Nation: Brazil
- South America: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay
- Europe: Belgium, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland
- Africa: Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria
- The CONCACAF (North and Central America, Caribbean): Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, U.S.A.
- Asia: Australia, Iran, Japan, South Korea
That list of qualifiers does provide for some interesting notes. Australia has played for the Asian confederation (AFC) since 2006 because of its superiority in Oceania’s confederation (OFC). Also Spain, the defending World Cup nation, still had to play qualifying matches as the defending World Cup team no longer qualifies its own automatic berth: a FIFA rule in effect starting with the 2006 World Cup.
Dividing the groups into four teams of appropriate continental separation would include something else involved: a seeded pot. Host Brazil was already allocated to Group A: a FIFA regulation in effect starting with the 2006 World Cup. Each of the other seven groups would have to have one of the teams amongst the Top 7 of FIFA’s World rankings from October 2013. In order from 1st to 7th, they were:
There always was a seeded pot for drawing groups for the World Cup that would involve a complicated system involving a multitude of ranks, previous World Cup places and other factors. This time around the seeding was just on that one FIFA ranking list. Sure, it was odd to see countries normally not amongst the top seeds like Belgium and Switzerland in the mix but finally creating a seeded pot was that simple.
The pots meant for continental separation amongst the groups were not that easy. One easy element was that Pot 3 consisted of teams from Asia and the CONCACAF: continents that both fielded four berths. As you could tell, the seeded pot consisted of three South American teams and four European teams. That’s where complications and confusions would arise as Pot 2 would consist of Africa and South America. Pot 2 ended up with seven countries since three of South America’s five berths were seeded teams. Pot 4 consisted of the nine non-seeded European teams. So how do you solve this problem of those pots with the continental maximums?
Yeah, explaining continental limits and parities is easy. Making it happen in the groups this year is the hard part. So FIFA under Sepp Blatter decided to make the following procedures to even it up:
- Draw one European team from Pot 4 and place into Pot 2 for four even pots of eight with the teams assuming the first position of their group.
- Draw from Pot 1 to decide the first teams for Groups B to H.
- Draw amongst the four seeded South American teams and place the drawn out team in auxiliary pot ‘Pot X’ for the sake of continental separation.
- Place the European team drawn out of Pot 3 with the South American team from Pot X.
- Draw from the remaining pots to determine the other qualifying teams.
- After the Pot 1 teams were drawn, draw the positions of the teams of the other three groups as the draw goes group by group.
Yes, it’s hard to make sense. It’s hard to explain. And it’s hard to make it all work out. It’s not like the last World Cup where there were five seeded European teams and you’d easily have a European pot of eight. Nevertheless it was accomplished. The European team from Pot 3 that was drawn out first was Italy. The seeded South American team that was put into Pot X was Uruguay which was already drawn to Group D. That would mean Uruguay and Italy would both be in the same group. The remaining teams would also be drawn out evenly.
So after all that confusion and fretting, all the First Round groups were drawn out. The parity and continental separations took place as FIFA wanted it: maximum two European teams and maximum one team from the other continents in each group. So here are the eight First Round groups for the 2014 FIFA World Cup:
- Ivory Coast
- Costa Rica
- South Korea
The group set-ups sure have gotten a lot of people talking. Some people have noticed that some groups are so tightly put together, it’s hard to declare the one group to call the ‘Group Of Death.’ Some are stating it’s Group D with Uruguay, England and Italy. Some are saying it’s Group G with all four of its teams being top contenders. Some are even saying it’s Group B with their very first match—Spain vs. Netherlands—a re-contest of the 2010 World Cup finalists.
Whatever the situation, all 32 teams have to be ready to face their Group Stage opponents and put their best foot forward if they want to advance and be the last team standing that wins the 2014 World Cup. The world will be watching from June 12th to July 13th. I myself will be doing group-by-group reviews on my blog in the weeks leading up to the start. Stay tuned for more action.