Will God be Brazilian in 2014?
“God is Brazilian” is a favourite phrase for Brazilians when fortune smiles on their country.
Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva famously uttered it after massive new oil reserves were discovered off the coast in 2007.
Often, it is used with a dose of irony after something turns out right even when circumstances suggested it would or should not — such as a game where Brazil find themselves on the back foot for 89 minutes and then sneak a late winner.
The phrase would also fit perfectly if, having dallied and left preparations to the last possible moment, Brazil pulled off a successful and seamless World Cup in 2014.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter highlighted concerns when he said: “It’s tomorrow, the Brazilians think its just the day after tomorrow.”
He added that Brazil were further behind than predecessors South Africa had been three years before the 2010 tournament.
His comments clearly tweaked Brazilian nerves and drew an angry response from Ricardo Teixeira, who is both head of the Brazilian organising committee and the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF).
Some media reports said Teixeira was so angry that he has decided to vote for Blatter’s rival Mohamed Bin Hammam in the FIFA presidential election in June.
Others speculated that Teixeira wanted Blatter to rebuke Brazil to goad the country’s politicians into speeding up work on roads, transport links and airports, all of which are moving painfully slowly.
Sports minister Orlando Silva, who crucially does not control the purse strings, said earlier this week: “Seventy percent of the projects must be started this year or we run the risk of not finishing them in time.”
As a Reuters special report said recently, the stadium that is ear-marked to host the tournament’s opening match in Sao Paulo has not even been started yet, the latest setback being two oil pipes which pass under the site and must first be diverted.
Many fear that road and air traffic, communications grids and other systems could simply collapse under the weight of extra demand during the Cup unless progress is made at a pace that Brazil has, so far, not shown it is capable of.
Anyone who has travelled on a puddle-hopping domestic flight will know that the country’s air system lags way behind that of South Africa. And Sao Paulo to Recife by bus: you’re looking at 48 bone-grinding hours.
Brazil was elected unopposed in 2007 under the rotational system — subsequently abandoned — which sent the 2010 World Cup to Africa and 2014 version to South America.
But Brazil has had even longer to prepare than that.
Back in 2003, the other nine South American federations agreed to support Brazil as their only candidate making it clear that the country would host the event. As Teixeira said at the time: “If South America has been put forward as the only continent, it’s all done.”
He also said the head start would be used to Brazil’s advantage. “Brazil is up to the task even if there are 36 teams. We have excellent stadia and airports.
“Normally, countries are only awarded the World Cup six years in advance and this gives us a big advantage.”
An advantage, it appears, which may have been squandered.