By Sebastian Perez-Ferreiro:
The first round isn't even over yet but the verdict is in: Brazil
2014 is the best World Cup since Spain 1982, and may go down as the best
ever if the superb level of play continues through the July 13 final.
tournament has already given us the shock of seeing defending champs
Spain humiliated by Netherlands and Chile; Mexican goalie Memo Ochoa's
gravity-defying save against Brazilian star Neymar, and Uruguayan
striker Luis Suárez's heroic takedown of England.
For those who
need stats to validate a point (I'm talking to you, US sports-industrial
complex), the first 16 games produced 3.06 goals-per-game – compared to
a measly 1.56 at this point in South Africa 2010 – and six
All of this is great news considering that
FIFA recently feared this would turn out to be the worst World Cup
since the tournament's inception in 1930. Even former Brazilian great
Ronaldo, a member of the organizing committee, said last month that he
was "appalled" at his country's woeful unpreparedness to host the event.
does anyone remember now that stadiums and airports weren't completely
finished in time? Or that the world's biggest party was going to be
engulfed by protests – with Guy Fawkes-mask wearing, Molotov-cocktail
throwing youth stealing center stage from Neymar and Argentina's Lionel
In the final run-up to the tournament – after FIFA
president Sepp Blatter claimed Brazil was further behind than any other
previous host nation and FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke said the
country risked becoming the "worst organizers" – Brazilian columnist
Vanessa Barbara said enough's enough.
"Well, if they wanted
punctuality, maybe they should have chosen the Germans or the Swiss to
host their events. We Brazilians are slightly different," Barbara said
in a stinging retort published in The New York Times in May.
is not the first nation to stumble in organizing the event. Colombia
ceded its right to host the 1986 Cup because it couldn't comply with all
of FIFA's demands. Crime and lack of infrastructure were supposed to
derail South Africa 2010, which went off without a hitch.
always-dependable Germans had at least one snafu in the lead-up to
their 2006 World Cup, when the retractable roof on the new stadium in
Frankfurt sprung a leak during a rainstorm and showered the pitch in the
warm-up Confederations Cup before a global audience.
once the official ball started rolling, nobody remembered the Frankfurt
roof leak, just like no one seemed to notice that the Itaquerão
stadium's roof was incomplete on June 12, when Brazil-Croatia kicked off this World Cup in São Paulo.
It's as if Brazil's tropical air and traditional jogo bonito, or beautiful game, inspired
not only the spectators but the other 31 national teams as well.
Whether it's the Dutch players casually strolling on the beaches of
Copacabana, or the Costa Rican squad dancing samba during a visit to a
Santos school, everyone seems more relaxed, which leads to more
And while 'black bloc anarchists' still
haunt the margins of some small clashes with Brazilian police, we have
not yet seen a replay of the massive protests sparked by a bus fare hike
in São Paulo, with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, that
overshadowed last year's Confederations Cup.
Brazilians are most
likely still angry that their country clamped down on demonstrations and
spent about US$12bn at the behest of an organization as corrupt as
FIFA; and tourists who landed in Rio de Janeiro on the eve of the Cup
couldn't help but notice that airport workers were on strike and
makeshift walls hid unfinished works. But nobody blames the beautiful
game for it.
Since Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura blew the
opening whistle and then called a dubious penalty for the home team, all
the talk has been about the great goals and the controversial calls –
though that could change if Brazil makes an early exit from the
In the end, though, football itself does not have to
answer for FIFA's misdeeds or the persistent inequality in Latin
America's largest economy. As the troubled genius Diego Maradona said
after retiring from the game, "The ball doesn't get tainted."
June 20, 2014