20 October 2018
Brazil has all but taken ownership of the World Cup. Even the ball is customized for this tournament. Photo: Bloomberg
Brazil has all but taken ownership of the World Cup. Even the ball is customized for this tournament. Photo: Bloomberg

World Cup opener: How Brazil even got this far

All the headaches, all the heartaches, all the ugliness have come to this. And fittingly, Brazil launches its own World Cup in a highly anticipated opener pitting it against Croatia.

The Brazilians begin their quest of a sixth championship at 4 a.m. Friday (Hong Kong time) in a tournament they have played each time since it began. No country has won more titles.

But this Brazilian team takes to Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians a little worse for wear after months of sometimes acrimonious encounters with the very people for whom its success means the world.

In one incident, they were heckled by protesters into the team bus which was then plastered with signs demanding more money for education rather than for stadiums.

The episode highlighted Brazilian anger over the US$4 billion bill for building stadiums alone. The country last hosted the World Cup in 1950.  

It was not the only headache for the government.

Protests, delays and cost overruns so alarmed FIFA, football’s world governing body, that at one point, it was reported to be “weighing its options”.

Just months before kick-off, a proposed new airport lay unfinished, a new metro system was nowhere in sight and many of the venues were holes in the ground.

Whether the Brazilians for whom football is a religion have come around to their national team will be known when it takes on the Croats in the kick-off of a 64-match fixture in the month-long tournament.

The biggest question is whether the country as a whole can rise to the challenge.

President Dilma Rousseff has repeatedly appeared on national television to rally her people and reassure the world that the tournament will be a success. 

On Wednesday, she made a last-minute appeal and used the occasion to rebuke pessimists who complain Brazil should not be hosting the event.

Brazil has more than football pride riding on this World Cup opener. It has a record to keep: it has won all eight of its inaugural matches in a World Cup competition since it drew with Sweden in 1978.

Reports say morale in the national team is high and the smart money is on Brazil parlaying it into an unprecedented sixth championship, headaches, heartaches, ugliness and all.

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