This is our latest installment of "World Cup Update," which will be published every Thursday afternoon from now until June 12 – when the games begin – rounding up all the stories happening off the pitch.
FIRST, THE BAD NEWS: Construction worker Muhammad Ali Maciel Afonso died on the job last Thursday at Cuiabá’s Arena Pantanal from an electrical shock. The 32-year-old Afonso is the eighth person killed while working to build the 12 World Cup stadiums.
READY FOR LAUNCH: In a rare bit of good news on the stadium front, São Paulo’s Itaquerão stadium and Porto Alegre’s Beira-Rio stadium held their first test events this past Saturday. Itaquerão hosted 20,000 fans for a Corinthians exhibition, while Beira-Rio drew 35,000 Internacional fans to their team’s 2-1 league win over Atlético Paranaense. Both stadiums will have full test runs this weekend.
GUESS HOW MUCH THE WORLD CUP IS WORTH: Go on, guess. Just know that you owe me the difference between your guess and the actual amount.
BILLS, BILLS, BILLS: It’s estimated that a trip to see the World Cup will cost you anywhere from $3,000-$30,000, but that’s peanuts compared to what the Brazilian public is paying. Political corruption is leading to massively inflated costs, and despite promises that stadia would be built with private funds, the Mane Garrincha facility in Brasilia – the country’s capital, which has no professional team – will itself cost $900 million, each cent of which came from state funds.
Meanwhile, a new round of protests against the government have taken place within the network of Brazilian consulates in North America and Europe over wages. In Rio, protests have also come in the form of scathing graffiti art emblazoned on the sides of buildings (WARNING: Explicit language).
THE WRONG WAY: FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke, meanwhile, has said that the protesters have it all mixed up. “When people are saying that we have put something into the World Cup that they could use for other projects, they're wrong,” Valcke told reporters. “The World Cup is a way to speed up a number of investments in a country. … If a country is bidding for a World Cup, it's with the idea of developing the country and not with the idea of destroying the country.” He also said that he would stay on in his position if current FIFA president Sepp Blatter won his bid for a fifth term in office.
NON-BUMMER INTERLUDE: Before we go on, let’s at least take a moment to celebrate the fact that, despite all the bad things that have happened as a result of this tournament, there will be soccer played, and soccer is a good thing. For your viewing pleasure, here's every goal at the 2010 World Cup.
SER CUIDADOSO: If you are going to Brazil this summer, and at some point you get robbed, for the love of God, do not scream. São Paulo police are urging tourists not to “react, scream or argue” with robbers, apparently in order to decrease the chances that they will kill you after they’ve taken your stuff. Brazil has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and less than two weeks ago, an amateur soccer match was briefly interrupted after “bandits” began celebrating a goal by firing AK-47s in the air.
Here’s a full accounting of the security situation in Brazil. Even if you do avoid getting attacked, a study by Oxford epidemiologist Simon Hay determined that nine of the World Cup stadiums are in areas with high rates of dengue fever, a disease for which there is no cure or vaccine.
THE CAVALRY: With the World Cup less than a month away, the US government has been lending Brazil a hand with security preparation by funding 39 training programs for the Brazilian armed services, including a week-long course organized by the FBI. In addition to the US, Canada, Great Britain, Japan and Germany have also provided assistance to help Brazil’s security get ready for the Cup.
SPEAKING OF THE US… US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has announced his preliminary 30-man roster. Notable snubs include D.C. United striker Eddie Johnson, and former New York Red Bulls defender Tim Ream’s dark-horse candidacy to make the roster seems to have come up short. On the other hand, who do you think the most valuable player in the squad is? Based on Panini sticker sales, it’s Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey. How much do you think autographed stickers of those two players went for?
THE CONCACAF ROUNDUP: Meanwhile, the US’ regional neighbors have come out with their own preliminary rosters. Costa Rica’s squad includes five MLSers, but not Everton midfielder/fullback Bryan Ovideo, who couldn’t recover in time from a broken leg suffered in January. Honduras called up just 23 players, four of whom play in MLS. And guess who’s back for El Tri? (Hint: It’s Rafa Márquez.) In the interests of increasing the number of qualifying teams from three-and-a-half to a round four, CONCACAF expects that every team will do their duty.
COACHES WHO THINK THEIR TEAMS CAN WIN THE WORLD CUP: Staying focused on Mexico for a moment: Head coach Miguel Herrera is pretty sure that his team’s going to win the World Cup. England manager Roy Hodgson is much less sure, but unsurprisingly thinks that his team has a shot. Sadly, the British government does not share his optimism. Documents from the Home Office give the Three Lions a 54 percent chance of making it out of the group stage (hey, better odds than group partners Costa Rica!), and just an 11 percent chance of making it past the quarterfinals. If Whitehall’s prediction is accurate, here’s a handy list of excuses the team can resort to.
SPEAKING OF ENGLAND: Hodgson’s preliminary roster hit the presses this week. Chelsea left back Ashley Cole didn’t make the cut, and promptly retired from the international game. Toronto FC’s Jermain Defoe is not on the roster, either. (He’s listed as a “stand-by.”) Fun fact: If you only counted goals from English players, Premier League champions Manchester City would have been relegated this season. Based on England’s history of penalty-kick shootouts, however, the strikers will have to step up in a big way to avoid finishing level. In any event, the team won’t be practicing penalties any time soon.
ALL THE ROSTERS!: The deadline for teams to announce their preliminary rosters was on Tuesday. The deadline to submit final 23-man rosters is June 5, but until then here are what the teams look like now. FIFA has extended salary insurance for the players in case of injury. Meanwhile, here’s a handy list of each team’s slogan for this World Cup.
ALL-SNUBS: This team comprised of players who didn’t make it on to World Cup rosters could probably make a pretty deep run in the tournament, but that knowledge won’t placate Frenchman Samir Nasri’s girlfriend, who took to Twitter to voice her … ahem … displeasure with France’s head coach.
THE GOATS: What are the greatest teams of all time in World Cup history? (See what I did there? It’s an acronym, guys.) The Los Angeles Times has taken a crack at compiling a list, and it has a lot of familiar names – Spain, Brazil, Italy, Argentina, Uruguay, England, France and West Germany each have at least one team represented – but there’s one more country in there that you will never guess. But still, guess away.
DEMANDS: Most teams at the World Cup have made requests of the hotels they’re staying at, and they range from “perfectly reasonable” to “totally insane.” Take a look for yourself. Iran’s team, however, is being issued demands by their own Federation: Don’t swap shirts, because we aren’t giving you new ones every game.
FOR OUR VIEWERS AT HOME: Bad news, guys: That ultra hi-def TV you bought isn’t going to make a difference for this World Cup. Only three games will be broadcast in UHD, primarily because most broadcasters don’t have the capacity to transmit the volume of data necessary for a UHD feed. But hey, at least you have a sick TV.
COACHES ON BLAST: Since naming the Dragons’ squad last week, Bosnia & Herzegovina head coach Safet Susic has come under scrutiny for perceived nepotism after he included his nephew Tino-Sven. Rather more serious is the spotlight under which Brazil manager Luis Felipe Scolari finds himself. Scolari is under criminal investigation in Portugal for money laundering and tax evasion while he served as the country’s head coach from 2003 to 2008.
ON TO THE NEXT ONES: As much trouble as Brazil is having putting together this World Cup, it seems that Russia and Qatar are having just as many problems. Valcke said, “I know there will be a number of problems” in Russia, but Qatar has drawn much, much more criticism this week. The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that at least 4,000 workers will die in Qatar if no reforms are implemented to improve working conditions. The country has announced that there will be changes to its labor laws, but officials also insist that “there has not been a single injury or death on the World Cup projects.” Amnesty International say that proposed reforms “fall far short” of what is needed.
ACTUAL GOOD NEWS: Just before Brazil and Croatia kick off the first match of the World Cup on June 12, Brazilian scientists will give the first (and very public) demonstration of a mind-controlled mechanical exoskeleton designed to give paralyzed people the ability to move again. Using their thoughts to guide the machine, an as-yet unnamed volunteer will walk across the field to the center circle and deliver the competition’s ceremonial first kick.