Brazil has five years to pull off a miracle, get into Cup-hosting shape
Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup, the first staged in South America in 36 years
An ultra-ambitious plan is in place to select 12 cities to host games, the most ever
Stadiums a concern since none are Cup-ready; transportation even bigger worry
Now that the World Cup is a tournament for 32 teams, more countries can qualify, but fewer can play host. South America makes this situation very clear. The continent staged the inaugural World Cup in 1930 and, up until 1978, hosted four of the first 11 -- all in the days when a maximum of 16 teams took part.
Since then, the tournament has grown, first to 24 and then to 32, without returning to the continent of its birth. And six years ago, when FIFA announced that under a rotation system, 2014 would be South America's turn, everyone knew what the outcome would be. CONMEBOL (the South American Federation) almost immediately announced that Brazil was its sole candidate.
Colombia later broke ranks and briefly ran a rival bid, but it was never serious. Its main aim was almost certainly to protect itself from the rise of Venezuela, which was investing heavily in stadiums for the '07 Copa América. It was successful -- Colombia overcame its neighbors to be awarded the 2011 Under-20 World Cup Cup. At the senior level, though, Brazil remains the only South American country that could single-handedly stage a 32-team tournament.
This is a consequence of the continent's economic inheritance. Many South American countries are dominated by one major city -- typically the port through which its raw materials were exported and manufactured produce flooded in. It was a model that left the countries with a big port and an undeveloped hinterland, like a huge head on top of a feeble body.
When Uruguay staged the first World Cup in 1930, the action was restricted to Montevideo. The three stadiums used were all situated in the nation's capital. In '62, Chile used four stadiums in four different cities, but the Nacional in Santiago was the only ground with a capacity of more than 20,000. In '78, Argentina used two stadiums in Buenos Aires as well as four grounds in other cities around the country.
The comparison with Europe is clear. In '34, Italy used eight cities. Four years later, France used nine. In '58, Sweden used 12. Brazil used six in '50, still the most decentralized World Cup ever staged in South America -- although Brazil is sure to break its own record in five years' time.
A country of continental dimensions, Brazil takes up half of South America, and has no problems finding enough potential venues for a World Cup. Eighteen cities are candidates to stage matches in 2014. FIFA originally wanted 10. Brazil has been lobbying hard for 12, and is optimistic of success. Whatever the outcome, it's going to be an ambitious project that will represent a huge opportunity for the development of the Brazilian game.
The '50 World Cup is usually remembered for the defeat that Brazil suffered against Uruguay in the final, the biggest disaster in the country's collective consciousness. But there's another side to the story.
With matches in Porto Alegre and Curitiba in the south, in a new stadium in Belo Horizonte (where the U.S. beat England) in the hinterland and in Recife on the northeastern coast, the '50 World Cup was a genuinely national affair. It helped to strengthen soccer outside the traditional centers of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. When the country at last set up a national championship in '71, the fruits of this process were soon apparent. The major clubs of Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre lost nothing in comparison with the traditional giants.
From a long-term perspective, the '50 World Cup was a raging success. Brazilian soccer now needs to ensure that the same is true in 2014. There's little doubt that Brazil can stage a tournament full of magical moments that will be recalled fondly for many years by the local population, thousands of tourists and billions worldwide watching on TV. But what will be the lasting legacy for the Brazilian game? This is the most important consideration.
The possibility exists that the opportunity might be wasted. The story of the Pan-American Games, staged by Rio de Janeiro in '07, illustrates the dangers. The authorities basked in an orgy of self-congratulation, the event went way over budget, huge sums of public money were spent -- and the legacy was deeply disappointing. None of the promises on transportation infrastructure were transformed into reality and the sporting installations that were built for the games aren't considered successful.