Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 12th 2014 Contents A build-up that has witnessed
social unrest and highlighted
the chasm between the haves
and have-nots in one of the
most vibrant countries on the
globe could be put to the test
today as the 20th World Cup
kicks off with hosts Brazil meet-
ing the unpredictable Croatia
in Sao Paulo.
The hosts have the time-hon-
oured tradition of getting the
tournament under way so it
won t be long to gauge whether
the febrile expectations of 200
million Brazilian citizens will
inspire them on to ultimate glory
or prove an impossible burden.
The Selecao may well be the
clear favourites but anything less
than lifting the trophy in Rio on
July 13 will be considered a failure
for Phil Scolari s team.
Let s not forget as well they
will be expected to play with a
panache and flair that we all
associate with football in this
part of the world.
Many think Croatia will be
sacrificial lambs and would prob-
ably not hold out much hope for
a side that was beaten twice by
Scotland in qualifying but
changes have been made with
former coach Igor Stimac shown
the door and replaced by the
inexperienced but hugely respect-
ed Niko Kovac.
He managed to galvanise the
nation enough to ensure quali-
fication via the play-offs and
although this is a daunting open-
er, his optimism is not misplaced.
He said: "If we had to be
drawn in the same group as
Brazil, then the best outcome for
us is to meet in the first game.
The pressure is all on them and
I am hopeful of springing a sur-
Croatia s footballing highlight
remains their Davor Suker-
inspired third place in France
back in 1998 but this team is
hardly bereft of the talent capable
of serving it up tonight.
They have a midfield of Ivan
Rakitic, Luka Modric and Mateo
Kovacic that any world side
would look upon enviously and
although main striker Mario
Mandzukic is suspended for this
game, veteran Wolfsburg hitman
Ivica Olic looks raring to go in
relief after an excellent season in
As for the hosts, this is obvi-
ously the chance to send out a
message not only to their rivals
but also ensure the population
is right behind them and singing
from the same hymn sheet at a
very early stage.
The latter aspect may not be
quite so straightforward.
Barcelona wing-back Dani
Alves has every right to feel they
will hit the ground running now
the tournament starts in earnest
but a scruffy 1-0 win last week-
end over Serbia was accompanied
by a chorus of boos throughout
from unimpressed spectators
with the Serbs unfortunate not
to actually claim some sort of
result. Golden boy Neymar will
need to settle in quickly and
although an average first season
at Barcelona should be discount-
ed, the pressure is on the 22-
year-old to deliver both creatively
and with goals.
Conversely, Croatia have been
in relaxed mood.
Kovac demands discipline as
well from his players---they have
much more about them than to
just simply frustrate Brazil---so
the ability to keep possession for
decent spells should allow them
to establish some sort of foothold
in the game.
Brazil vs Croatia
Sao Paulo, 4 pm
The host nation has never lost their
opening World Cup game, with the
20 previous hosts winning 14 and
drawing six of their openers. Eight of
the last 12 opening matches at
World Cups have produced one goal
Croatia have only conceded 11 goals
in 13 World Cup games (0.85/game).
It's the best ratio among the 32
teams taking part in 2014.
Brazil are taking part in their 20th
World Cup. They are the only team
to have taken part in every single
Brazil have won eight of their last
nine World Cup games in the group
stages (1 draw). Their last defeat
dates back to 23 June 1998 against
World Cup record
Five-time winners (1958, 1962, 1970,
1994, 2002), twice runners-up (1950,
1998), twice third (1938, 1978),
World Cup record: Third (1998),
twice group stage (2002, 2006)
Julio Cesar, Jefferson, Victor; Dani
Alves, Maicon, Marcelo, Maxwell,
David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Dante,
Henrique; Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho,
Ramires, Fernandinho, Oscar, Willian,
Hernanes, Bernard; Fred, Neymar,
Manager: Luiz Felipe Scolari
Stipe Pletikosa, Danijel Subasic,
Oliver Zelenika, Darijo Srna, Dejan
Lovren, Vedran Corluka, Gordon
Schildenfeld, Danijel Pranjic, Domagoj
Vida, Sime Vrsaljko, Luka Modric,
Ivan Rakitic, Ognjen Vukojevic, Ivan
Perisic, Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo
Brozovic, Ivan Mocinic, Sammir,
Mario Mandzukic, Ivica Olic, Eduardo
da Silva, Nikica Jelavic, Ante Rebic.
Manager: Niko Kovac
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, June 12, 2014
SAO PAULO---The biggest question for
today s opening match of the World Cup
isn t whether host Brazil can beat Croatia
but how the unfinished and troublesome
Itaquerao stadium will hold up in its first
ever encounter with a full-capacity crowd.
Will everything work? More importantly,
will the 61,600 spectators be safe? Not
even World Cup organizers can be totally
sure. Because of chronic delays, worker
deaths and other problems during its con-
struction, the new arena has never been
match-tested at close to full capacity.
Heads of state, VIPs and other lucky
ticket holders will, like it or not, become
guinea pigs by making up the first crowd
to completely fill the stadium and put full
strain on all its facilities, safety plans and
equipment, managers and staff.
"If that was me who had to run that
event, I d be extremely nervous," said John
Beattie, president of the European Stadium
and Safety Management Association, an
industry group of sports-venue executives.
Alarmingly, seemingly lax security at and
around the Itaquerao allowed an Associated
Press reporter to wander freely this week
through unfinished and empty rooms, elec-
trical rooms and uncompleted executive
suites. Exposed wires and unfitted lights
hung from ceilings.
Corridors and other areas smelling
strongly of plaster, paint and glue were
clogged with uninstalled furniture and fit-
tings, piled up crates of catering equipment
and construction materials waiting to be
Only once, at the perimeter fence when
entering the stadium complex, were the
reporter s credentials and heavy bag
"That s outrageous," said Lou Elliston,
an inspector at the Sports Grounds Safety
Authority, a British government regulator
of football venues in England and Wales.
She oversaw the openings of the reno-
vated Wembley Stadium in London and
the new Emirates Stadium that Arsenal
moved to in 2006.
Just two matches---not the three Fifa usu-
ally wants---were held at the Itaquerao to
test its readiness before the opening match
which, Fifa says, could draw a global tel-
evision audience of one billion.
Cool Cristiano arrives
With his cap on backward, Cristiano Ronaldo
strolled off a plane, lifted a hand and coolly pointed
to acknowledge a bunch of fans who shouted out
his name. Another day in the life.
And on his cap? A No 7, of course, his beloved
The Portugal and Real Madrid forward took his
first steps in Brazil to yells of "Ronaldo!" as he ar-
rived for the World Cup showing no signs of the left
leg injuries that had troubled the world player of
the year's buildup to the tournament.
He ambled across the tarmac with his backpack
and a kit bag at an airport near Campinas, a city just
north of Sao Paulo. Across the runway, red-suited
construction workers abandoned their work to line
up against a fence, straining to catch a glimpse of
him. Brazil's Neymar and Argentina's Lionel Messi
are already here, so Ronaldo completes the top trio
of World Cup superstars. Game on.
Party time with Pele, Diego
Just outside the Maracana Stadium's main en-
trance, the debate rages on: Who is the greatest
football player of all time?
Over here is Argentinian Daniel Gonzalez, wear-
ing Diego Maradona's 1986 World Cup uniform and
a wig with his trademark black curls and perform-
ing the midfielder's waltzing warm-up routine.
Nearby is rival Marcio Pereira da Silva, dressed in
Pele's No. 10 Brazil jersey and juggling a ball with
his knees and shoulders.
In the run-up to today's opener, the two street
artists have been competing head-to-head---for the
pocket change of fans from around the world, who
flock to Brazil's Temple of Soccer, below the statue
of 1958 captain Hilderaldo Bellini lifting above his
head the first of the country's five championship
"Maradona and Pele are making peace," Silva said
with a smile, stretching his arm around Gonzalez in
front of a small crowd that included Mexican soccer
fans in tall sombreros, well-dressed street preach-
ers and a sunburnt cyclist who pedaled 3,500 kilo-
metres from Argentina. "The fight is over. Now it's
time to party."
No celebrations for Jones
American midfielder Jermaine Jones doesn't
have to worry about how he'd celebrate if he scores
against Germany on June 26. He won't. The 32-
year-old, who was born in Frankfurt, played three
exhibitions for the Germans in 2008. But he was
among the final cuts by coach Joachim Loew from
the European Championship roster, and Jones
switched allegiance to the United States, where his
father was born.
Jones made his U.S. national team debut in Octo-
ber 2010 and has gone on to score twice in 42 ap-
pearances: against Jamaica in the 2011 CONCACAF
Gold Cup and against Scotland in a 2012 exhibition.
"I think it's in respect. I grew up in this country.
They gave me a lot. I have my first cap for the na-
tional team in Germany. I'm happy, too, that
Joachim Loew gave me this chance, so I will not cel-
ebrate if I score. But if somebody else scores, they
Croatia to test hosts
Stadium remains a worry for opener
Portugal's soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo
arrives at the Viracopos airport, in Campinas,
Brazil, yesterday. AP PHOTO
Brazil's Neymar controls the ball during an official training session
the day before the group A World Cup soccer match between Brazil
and Croatia in the Itaquerao Stadium, Sao Paulo, Brazil, yesterday.
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