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Doves spare Dilma and Fifa blushes

the first one: it’s an own goal

the second one: neymar equalises

All the books, films, television documentaries, radio shows, magazine and newspaper presentation and social media chatter tell the same tale of historic World Cup excellence and drama.

It ranges from Frenchman Lucien Laurent’s very first goal back on the opening day in 1930, to the achievements of Leonidas, Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Paolo Rossi and Diego Maradona.

Reality acknowledges that the World Cup of today will never stand comparison with the selected highlights of yesteryear. It should be appreciated for what it is — a celebration of nations through the greatest common denominator.

Every four years, the circus lands in a new temporary home. The stage for the opening act was the Itaquera stadium here in Sao Paulo, the new home of the grand old Corinthians club.

Also, every four years demands an opening ceremony. This was no exception. No cliche samba and bossa nova. Instead the sun-kissed fans, almost all wearing yellow, were entertained by a pageant representing Brazil’s natural flora and fauna, the diversity of its society and culture and, of course, its football.

Jennifer Lopez and her pals delivered the “official song” — no World Cup is complete without it — and then it was three children, the doves of peace and... the kick-off.

No speech from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. No speech from Fifa president Sepp Blatter. Fifa said the peace symbolism was considered more appropriate. Fifa did not say that Rousseff and Blatter had no wish to attract the inevitable jeers and catcalls which would have greeted them.

The reasons for that unpopularity were encapsulated in the clumsily misbegotten creation of the very Itaquera stadium itself.

This officially-labelled “Stadio de Sao Paulo” was the last stadium to be completed, never had a full-capacity test event and is, in any case, expanded with temporary stands. Fifa demands a 60,000-plus capacity for Opening Matches and Corinthians wanted “only” 45,000. Hence the extra seating.

In fact, the city of Sao Paulo already had a magnificent, established, but ageing stadium at Morumbi.

Certainly it would have needed redevelopment but that was all (comparatively speaking). However, the then President, Lula da Silva, is a Corinthians fan and wanted “his” club to have the honour of the Opening Match.

Ricardo Teixeira, then the dictator of Brazilian football before his scandal-driven flight to Miami, repaid various favours — such as a stymied parliamentary inquiry into his own enrichment — by insisting on that new stadium.

Several years of protracted wrangling then followed over which level of government — federal, state or city — would come up with the money. Hence the acres of razed ground around the stadium for apartment blocks, offices, shopping malls and transport hubs which never progressed any further than the architects’ drawing boards.

Itaquera itself resembles nothing more nor less than a box on top of a hill. This is not a Bernabeu or Camp Nou or Azteca or even mini-Maracana; this is a functional venue thrown together at a high cost and at high speed to welcome the kick-off to world sport’s greatest attention magnet.

Be warned: what the world will see over the next few weeks will not be carefully selected and edited highlights but reality. A football match is mostly a 90-minute construction exercise to devour, not a tennis-style tie-break to provide instant gratification.

This is why hearts sank around the world every time a new injury in training or warm-up matches ruled an outstanding player out of the finals. Colombia will miss the matchless centre-forward Radamel Falcao, France will struggle to cover the creative absence of Franck Ribery, Germany will regret the constructive gap left by Marco Reus.

Not all the world’s greatest players have strutted their stuff on the World Cup stage.

This does provide a plus factor. Young players are hidden among the 700-plus players at these finals whose names are largely unknown beyond their own national boundaries but who, by next month, will be international icons.


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