Europe sets out on road to Brazil
Published: 20.09.12 / Written by: David Gold
Last week teams across Europe began the long journey to Brazil in 2014.
For those who are successful and rock up in Brazil in two years' time, they may find that the arduous process of reaching the country pales into comparison compared with what is awaiting across the Atlantic.
The contrast between the summer heat and winter cold, and excessive travelling distances between group games are the headline problems that await those qualifying for the World Cup. The sheer lottery of the draw for the World Cup groups, to be made in December 2013, will be even more important than usual when it comes to Brazil.
One team drawn in Group H, for example, will be playing games in Belo Horizonte, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, clocking up barely 700 kilometres on their journey between group games. A team in Group G will be equally lucky, playing in the north eastern cities of Fortaleza, Recife and Salvador.
But there are plenty of short straws. Brazil are guaranteed one of them, as they will travel almost 4,000 kilometres between their group games, and one of their opponents will have an even more gruelling schedule. They will travel from São Paulo in the south to Manaus in the north west, before heading to the North East and Recife.
Just hope that isn't your team given that nightmare schedule.
Equally, the south will be pretty cold during the World Cup, meaning some of the teams there could have an advantage in limited fatigue compared to sides playing in the north east, where it will be very hot, summer like temperatures - as well as in Manaus, in the heart of the amazon.
The haphazard organisation of the tournament has been well documented. Much is to do with the former Brazilian football chief Ricardo Teixeira, who stalled on naming host cities as so not to offend any states, who vote for the head of the Brazilian Football Confederation. Similarly Teixeira was reluctant to exclude cities from having the chance to host big teams during the group stage, so he had everyone flying across the country during the opening rounds. Except unlike most European nations - Russia aside - Brazil is the size of a continent.
Russia, the host of the next World Cup, is similarly vast, except they have the sense to organise the tournament in such a way that teams will be playing group games in a cluster of three venues which are reasonably close to each other. They are also only hosting games in the European part of the country - there will be no trips near to outer Mongolia or Irkutsk, near Alaska.
Brazil will be unique. The advantage is that it is the most football mad country on earth. With that comes increased interference from politicians, many of whom are in their roles because of football, such as former Brazil forward Romario, now a congressman. Or his strike partner at the 1994 World Cup Brazil won, Bebeto, now on the organising committee for the World Cup. Or the numerous senators who mobilise the support of the clubs they are involved with to win election. And where else would the power base of the country's President, Dilma Roussef, be prevented from hosting World Cup games because of her dispute with the then head of the Brazilian Football Confederation? Only Brazil. Magicaly, wonderful Brazil. But chaotically disorganised too.
Qualification for Brazil will be a tough slog for the European nations. But once there, the road to Rio will be just as arduous.