Sun, palms and turtles backdrop for World Cup draw
04 December 2013, 17:44
Costa do sauipe -Sweltering temperatures and palm-tree fringed beaches home to dozens of newly-hatched turtles heading for a glistening azure sea were the setting as World Cup organisers met Wednesday to finalise preparations for Friday's draw.
FIFA chose the northeastern resort of Costa do Sauipe for the draw, an hour by road north of the city of Salvador, once Brazil's capital and still the focus of the country's African heritage.
World football's governing body Tuesday had to accept publicly that three of the 12 tournament venues will not meet what had been a strict December 31 delivery deadline -- but FIFA maintains that will not affect the event being a success.
Work stopped temporarily at Sao Paulo's Arena Corinthians venue last week following a fatal accident which killed two construction workers, while Cuiaba and Curitiba are also running late, with authorities saying they may not be ready before February.
But FIFA president Sepp Blatter insists everything will come together in time to stage an event to remember.
Known for its fine Bahia region cuisine and carnival, Salvador also revels in the monicker of Brazil's capital of happiness.
However, that was not the image it transmitted during last June's Confederations Cup, when violent street protests were what put it in the headlines.
Several Brazilian cities saw protests as more than a million people vented their anger at government corruption and the price tag for the World Cup and Rio 2016 Olympics -- an estimated combined $26 billion (19 billion euros).
If FIFA were hoping to avoid negative publicity this time around, then the choice of Costa do Sauipe -- well away from urban areas and therefore not easily accessible for would-be protesters -- would seem ideal.
A number of international journalists flying in to Salvador discovered local taxi drivers and workmen appeared never to have heard of the entertainment complex hosting the shindig at a reported cost of $15m.
Protest groups have promised to keep on voicing their concerns that major sporting events are hoovering up public cash, which could be better spent on issues such as education and health infrastructure.
Before the 32 teams are drawn in eight groups of four, a range of Brazilian acts including singers Alexandre Pires and Vanessa da Mata, and the Companhia de Danca Deborah Colker will perform.
Comperes will be actors Fernanda Lima and Rodrigo Hilbert with the hosts seeking to showcase the diversity and quality of Brazilian culture under the official tournament slogan "All in One Rhythm."
However, even that brought a misstep as two Afro-Brazilian soap stars were overlooked with Lima and Hilbert, both white, getting the nod, to the consternation of many users of social media in Brazil, who questioned whether race had played a part in the choice.
On hand for the drawing of the balls from the pots will be stars of yesteryear including Geoff Hurst, the only man to score a World Cup final hattrick in England's 1966 win over Germany, and France '98 hero Zinedine Zidane.
FIFA is keeping the exact draw mechanism under wraps until Friday but each group will be topped by a seeded nation.
The eight seeds from the first pot are hosts Brazil, defending champions Spain, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland.
Pot two has seven teams for the time being, including the five-strong African contingent, with pot three containing, among others, the United States, Australia and Japan.
Pot four consists of the nine non-seeded European teams -- including three former champions in England, France and Italy. One of the nine will have to be assigned to pot two.
England have several times made a meal of getting through a seemingly easy group -- they reached the last 16 in 2010 as runners-up behind the USA after drawing with the Americans and also Algeria before beating Slovenia.
But coach Roy Hodgson is more worried about avoiding the stifling heat of northern cities Manaus, Fortaleza and Natal than daunting rivals.
"We will hope for our best but it is like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates. We will open it up and see what we get, then try and digest it," Hodgson noted en route for Brazil.
German counterpart Joachim Loew said for his part: "We'll take things as they come. We don't have a favoured opponent."