Soccer City: Brasília – an idea that hasn’t captured football

NATION capitals are very often not the seat of power in football – London, for example, has enjoyed periods of domination, but over the course of the past 50 years, Manchester and Liverpool have been England’s dominant cities as far as the beautiful game is concerned.

Across Europe, a similar tale is told – Germany, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Austria, to name but a few, have seen their capitals challenged and usurped by other cities.

Brasília, the capital of Brazil since April 1960, is different to so many other principal cities, chiefly because it was a purpose-built metropolis for administering a somewhat fragmented country. There are no long-established football clubs in the way both Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have the game firmly embedded in their psyche, culture and history.

Absence

Today, Brasília has no representatives in the top levels of Brazilian football. It has a notable stadium that hosted games during the 2014 World Cup, but the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha remains a somewhat ghostly place that has been used for a number of different events, but rarely major football.

Tattoo conventions and culinary events have been held at the stadium and it is also used as a bus depot by the local authority, but it sits in a barren landscape and has become shabby. The general consensus tells us there is not a strong appetite to bring top football back to Brasília even though like all Brazilian cities, there are thousands and thousands of passionate fans.

The original stadium dated back to 1974 but the rebuild was designed to make a grand statement for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. With a total cost of US$ 900 million, three times the envisaged bill, It is the third most expensive stadium ever built. As white elephants go, it’s one of the biggest. State officials have hinted it was a mistake to build such a structure in a city like Brasília and have calculated that it will take 100 years to recoup just 12% of the overall cost.

Brasília, of course, is a city renowned for its ambitious and striking architecture. When the city was built in the late 1950s – it took just four years – Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, along with structural engineer Joaquim Cardozo created a number of breathtaking buildings which kick-started the Brazilian modernism movement. Brasília, which was seen at an attempt at creating a utopian city, sat at the heart of the Distrito Federal, a new capital for the nation in an area that was largely undeveloped. In 1960, the population was around 136,000 but today, Brasília has over 2.5 million people. It is regarded as a relatively affluent place, notably around the Plano Pilato, the centre of the city, but elsewhere there are slums and poverty.

In 1960, Brazil was considered one of the homes of the modern game, their national team won the 1958 World Cup and retained it in 1962, and their football was admired the world over.

It takes time to establish a football team, but in a country with legendary names like Flamengo, Corinthians, Santos, Botafogo and Fluminense, all from Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, it’s not just about creating something attractive, it’s also a lot to do with changing mindsets. The top clubs from Rio and São Paulo have bigger fanbases in Brasília than any local team has ever had. The people moving to the new capital, largely civil servants and construction workers, brought their club allegiances with them.

These cities have dominated a Brazilian football culture that incorporates beaches, favelas and street football. Brasília’s problem is that many have seen it as being “unBrazilian” in that it has lacked the dynamic of the rich living alongside the poor. While this includes extreme suffering and high crime rates, it also cultivates a form of creative tension and aspiration among young people hell-bent on escaping the deprivation through football. But it could be changing as Brasília confronts classic Brazilian problems of inequality, congestion and urban sprawl.

Many footballers have come from poor and deprived neighbourhoods but the Federal District has produced some excellent players, such as Kaká, who was born in Gama, close to Brasília, and Felipe Anderson of West Ham United.

Clubs

Creating new, local clubs with a credible following has always been difficult, some have been formed by entrepreneurs that have fallen by the wayside. The oldest professional club in the city is Brasília Futebol Clube, founded in June 1975. Playing in a kit that resembles Arsenal’s famous red and white, their home ground is the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha, but it is simply too expensive for small clubs to host games there. Although they have won the state league (one of the weakest) eight times, they are not even in the Campeonato Brasilense’s top division.

Brasília played in Série A in 2000 when an expanded league (116 clubs) paid tribute to former FIFA President João Havelange. In 2014, they won the inaugural Copa Verde, a regional competition designed to promote football outside of the main hubs, gaining entry to the Copa Sudamericana.

Legião are another club that are supposed to play their games at the Estádio Nacional. They were founded in 2006. They have played in Série C, albeit very briefly. Real Brasília were formed in 1994 and play out at Vila Planalto. They are simply known as Real Football Club today. Teams like Gama and Brasilense have tried to make play at representing Brasília, but the distance from the city to the club is 30km and 20km respectively.

If there can be any comparison with the struggle to make Brasília a footballing stronghold, it is in the new towns of Britain, where migration of people has been accompanied by their clubs, in other words, in locations like Milton Keynes, Stevenage, Basildon and Harlow, establishing a local club has had to overcome numerous hurdles.

It’s unlikely this will change, the best hope for the unloved national stadium is a commercial development that will circle the structure. It might pay, although it’s not what was envisaged. But if a World Cup cannot inspire a city, what hope is there? The old saying is, “build it and they will come”. That hasn’t really happened, has it?

@GameofthePeople

Photo: PA

 

 

World Cup 2014: For football’s sake, it has to be Germany

World Cup FinalOn one hand, people want Lionel Messi to cement his place in footballing history as one of the true greats with a World Cup win, on the other, those that value the qualities of teamwork will want Germany to lift their fourth title on Sunday.

While Brazil showed us what happens when a team degenerates into a pathetic rabble, Germany reminded us that in the ultimate team game, the whole is invariably greater than the sum of its parts.

Quite often, the teams that seduce us do not get to the World Cup final. We were in danger of having a final between two teams that were not necessarily the best in the competition – as in 2006, for example. The Chileans, the Colombians, the Dutch (at times) and the Costa Ricans have all had their moments of brilliance but the “old guard” comprising the Spanish, English, Italians and Portuguese all went home with their tails planted firmly between their legs.

Throughout the history of the World Cup, teams that have captured the imagination have fallen short– teams like Hungary (1954), Portugal (1966), West Germany (1970), Holland (1974), Brazil and France (1982).

When a host nation disappoints, it deflates the competition, but fortunately for FIFA, it only happened in the semi-final. But Brazil failed to excite, despite a few wins, and will go down as one of the least convincing hosts of all time. They looked workmanlike, devoid of flair, apart from the tragic figure of Neymar, and they were frankly, lucky to get as far as they did. If any good has come of Brazil’s epoch-making capitulation, it is that people are now waking up to the reality that Brazil have long discarded the garlands of Pele and co. and the country’s football is in a mess.

So from the melee, Germany and Argentina – the latter carried by Messi almost as much as Neymar dragged the Brazilians through – have emerged as the most consistent and robust of the 32.

What has the World Cup taught us? That Spain have to rebuild (which they will), England have systemic problems (which some people have been in denial about), Italy are also in decline, that South America has more to offer than the big two (they just need to learn how to travel better), and it affirmed the widespread belief that FIFA is corrupt to the core. The competition has, however, restored some faith in the World Cup after disappointment in five of the last six.

But before all those 30-something journalist start talking about “best ever” and other superlatives, 2014 did not maintain its momentum and at the end of the day in the cliché-ridden game, we will remember the collapse of two mighty names (Spain and Brazil) and Suarez’s bite more than anything else. It’s been a good World Cup, but not a great one.

1986 and 1990 revisited then…

Argentina

Their route to the final has been steady but unimpressive. The semi-final against the Netherlands was a dire affair and settled in the most unsatisfactory way, but it almost summed up the uninspiring way in which they have weaved their way through the competition. You always feel as though Argentina have more to give, but as we saw against the Dutch, if you keep Messi quiet, you keep Argentina subdued.

Road to Rio
Group F
June 15: Bosnia & Herzegovina W 2-1 (og, Messi) in Maracana, Rio (74,738)
June 21: Iran W 1-0 (Messi) in Belo Horizonte (57,698)
June 25: Nigeria W 3-2 (Messi 2, Rojo) in (43,285)
Round of 16
July 1: Switzerland W 1-0 (Di Maria) aet in Sao Paulo (63,255)
Quarter-Finals
July 5: Belgium W 1-0 (Higuain) in Brasilia (68,551)
Semi-Finals
July 9: Netherlands D 0-0 aet – won on pens in Sao Paulo (63,267)

There’s no denying that Argentina are considerably better than Brazil as South America’s representatives. Messi may be the pivotal figure in their line-up, but players like Angel Di Maria – if he’s fit – Mascherano and Rojo have been sound if not spectacular. One player that has had a disappointing finals is Sergio Aguero, who looks so impressive back in the English Premier, but has been off the pace in the World Cup. The Argentine defence looks solid – they’ve kept four clean sheets in six games. They lack real firepower and 50% of their goals have come from Messi.

Likely line-up: Romero; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rojo; Biglia, Mascherano; Di Maria, Messi, Lavezzi; Huguain.

Germany

Thanks to that semi-final, and the recent dominance of Bayern Munich, Germany’s players are rapidly becoming as familiar as any English Premier side’s squad.

Their path to the final has been steadily building, with the public execution of Brazil highlighting just how could they can be. It’s a typical German quality to get better as a tournament progresses, so we should not be too surprised that they find themselves in the final once more. The 4-0 win against Portugal and the 7-1 destruction of the hosts have bookended some solid but not entirely convincing performances.

The Road to Rio
Group G
June 16: Portugal W 4-0 (Mueller 3 – 1 pen, Hummels) in Salvador (51,081)
June 21: Ghana D 2-2 (Goetze, Klose) in Fortaleza (59,621)
June 26: USA W 1-0 (Mueller) in Recife (41,876)
Round of 16
July 1: Algeria W 2-1 (Schuerrle, Ozil) aet in Porto Alegre (43,063)
Quarter-Finals
July 4: France W 1-0 (Hummels) aet in Maracana, Rio (74,240)
Semi-Finals
July 8: Brazil W 7-1 (Mueller, Klose, Kroos 2, Khedira, Schuerrle 2) in Belo Horizonte (58,141)

In every department, Germany are strong. As mad as Neuer is, he is also an excellent keeper, as he demonstrated when Brazil were in desperate search of some consolation in the second half of the semi. Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira and Thomas Mueller have all been outstanding, and Miroslav Klose has enjoyed a bit of an Indian summer. We shouldn’t be that surprised, given their series of near-misses in recent years. Germany’s time has come.

Likely line-up: Neuer; Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Hoewedes; Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Khedira; Mueller, Klose, Ozil.

It’s almost time to put the wallchart away…

World Cup 2014: Beware the locust

LocustIn the Bible, the locust is a symbol of bad luck or punishment, or so they say. Was the appearance of a huge cartoon-like locust on James Rodriguez’s shoulder a sign that good fortune was about to run out on the host nation? With Thiago Silva and Neymar now sidelined, it would seem that Brazil have been deprived of their two key players at a vital stage of the tournament.

Sometimes, you just know that when so much expectation or publicity is heaped upon an individual that it’s all going to end in tears. It doesn’t just apply to football, although we have seen the life and times of Diego Maradona end in disaster, the calamity that was Gazza, and the Suarez affair. Away from the game, there was always a touch of the femme fatale about Princess Diana and Amy Winehouse. Their lives were a drama and they ended in drama. Neymar’s early exit from the World Cup, with an injury that could have serious implications for the future of his career, has just a hint of inevitability about it. It’s sad for him, disappointing for the Brazilian people and also dilutes the closing stages of what has been an absorbing World Cup.

Brazil against Germany promises to be a fascinating contest. Germany have been fairly low-key in their progress, but they now have the chance to upset the locals and get to the final – with Neymar out of the way, they have a great opportunity against a crestfallen nation.

There’s also a great opening here for Argentina and Lionel Messi. If it was battle between Neymar and Messi to be the star of the tournament, now the impish Barcelona man has the way clear to make the headlines. Like Germany, Argentina’s route has been unspectacular but steady.

Argentina are keen to prove they are more than just a “Messi vehicle”, although given his contribution so far, it’s hard to truck with that view. Everyone’s waiting for an excellent display from Argentina to underline their credentials to win the competition. It might just come against a Belgian side that also has a 100% record but have also failed to excite.

The two sides have met before in the World Cup – in 1982, Belgium beat holders Argentina in the first game of the competition in Spain. And four years later, Maradona’s two goals beat Belgium 2-0 in the semi-finals in Mexico City.

In the other quarter-final, the Netherlands should account for Costa Rica, who have already dramatically exceeded expectations. The Dutch have scored 12 times in Brazil 2014, more than any other nation. It should be Argentina v Netherlands in the semi-finals in Belo Horizonte next Wednesday.

We need a stirring couple of games to maintain momentum in the competition. The goals-per-game rate in the knockout stage is just 2.2, much lower than the 2.83 from the group stage.