This is our latest installment of "World Cup Digest" 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.
BEDLAM IN BRAZIL: The World Cup approaches, but the host country has been rocked by another round of protests in the last week. The pictures coming out of Brazil have looked almost apocalyptic, and the police response hasn’t been particularly reassuring.
Riot police and protesters clashed in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, and police in Sao Paulo swarmed the subway last week in an attempt to crack down. At the same time, military police in Recife went on strike, prompting the government to send tanks into the city to keep order. A portion of officers representing 17 Brazilian states went on strike on Wednesday, while Sao Paulo was paralyzed by a bus-workers’ strike.
The protests focus primarily on the perception that the World Cup is drawing resources away from needed improvements in infrastructure and public services that had been promised to accompany stadium construction. The stadiums themselves cost over $3.5 billion to construct, many in places where there is no professional team to occupy them after the Cup is over. Brazil is spending around $11 billion to host the tournament, but according to some experts the Cup will have a neutral impact on Brazilian GDP “at best,” and Brazil’s currency is decreasing in value.
The government has received much of the criticism – the World Cup might sink President Dilma Roussef’s candidacy in the elections later this year – but FIFA has also become the object of many Brazilians’ disgust. One of the first viral images of the World Cup – a cartoon depicting FIFA’s impact on the country – will break your heart. For a more in depth look at the political and social dynamics of Brazil, here’s TED to explain.
FIFA’S RESPONSE: General Secretary Jerome Valcke told reporters that, no, seriously, Brazilians want the World Cup to happen.
STADIA: There’s good news on the stadium front. The stadium in Curitiba’s test run last week went off without a hitch, while Sao Paulo’s Itaquerao stadium and the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba have also passed muster at their most recent test events. All 12 stadia have now been tested. However, none of the tests were at full capacity. Seats still need to be installed, and the roof at Itaquerao is leaky. It won’t be fixed before the World Cup. Meanwhile, a second test event scheduled for May 29 at Corinthians’ stadium has been cancelled.
FIFA UNDER FIRE: In a somewhat surprising plot twist, the Brazilian association of professional athletes sued FIFA this week in a bid to reschedule every match that is slated to begin at 1 pm local time. The move seems to validate the concerns of European teams over the oppressive heat of the equatorial high noon, but as yet, FIFA has not responded.
INJURY ROUND-UP: Uruguay fans got an unwelcome bit of news when Luis Suarez left training on Wednesday with “intense pain” in his knee. The Liverpool hitman immediately got surgery, and the Uruguayan federation is hopeful he’ll still be able to play at the World Cup.
SPRINGTIME FOR BRAZIL: Even though it will technically be winter in almost every part of the country, and David Luiz is having trouble sleeping, and it will be nearly impossible to get flights to anywhere else because they’re being cut, and the promised clean-up of Rio’s waterways for the Olympics is definitely not going to happen … Brazil is winning the World Cup! Or at least so say the finance geeks.
WINTER FOR ENGLAND: Though, in a strange twist, it will in fact be summer in England. Not, historically, the best time of year for Wayne Rooney, who has yet to do on the international stage what he has done throughout his career in the Premier League. It turns out that it may be a difficult time to be an England fan, soccer reasons aside.
British police have warned fans travelling to Brazil to be wary of Argentinean gangs, who are said to be planning on crossing the border to target English supporters. Tensions between the two countries remain high as a result of the UK’s continuing claim of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.
Rooney and England will be flying out to Miami on June 1 to begin their warm-weather training before going on to Brazil, and Roy Hodgson will use the day before to “spy” on Italy when they take on Ireland in a friendly in London.
AND JUST WEIRD STUFF HAPPENING IN FRANCE: We mentioned last week that Samir Nasri’s girlfriend, Anara Atanes, reacted to the Manchester City midfielder’s exclusion from the French national team by ripping into France manager Didier Deschamps on Twitter. Deschamps and the French Football Federation are now suing Atanes for publicly insulting them.
In other French news, Franck Ribery has announced that this World Cup will be his last, while backup ‘keeper Steve Mandanda will have to miss this one due to fractured vertebrae.
BALLIN’ WITH ZAC AND AMOBI: adidas’ new Brazuca ball is already being used in MLS, but it will be a new experience for most squads in Brazil. It’s an entirely new design from the Jabulani, the ball used at the 2010 World Cup, and improves on the design that got ripped by field players and goalkeepers alike. Goalkeepers still hate the Brazuca, though. To take you through it, we present Philadelphia Union defender Amobi Okugo and goalkeeper Zac MacMath.
MORE OFFICIAL WORLD CUP STUFF: We now know what the official song of the World Cup is – Brazilians apparently hate it – and we know Lupe Fiasco’s going to be US Soccer’s official music director. We know what ESPN’s official World Cup commercials are going to look like. We also officially know that Spain’s tika-taka style is not dead, yet.
IF IT AIN’T BROKE: Match fixing is a massive problem in international soccer, and though FIFA has a system to detect suspicious betting patterns, they have still reached out to betting houses around the world to report evidence of illegal activity.
FEVERISH ANTICIPATION: While we talked a little bit about dengue fever’s potential impact on the World Cup last week, and now experts have revealed which cities are most likely to be hit with outbreaks. Dengue is transferred via mosquitoes, so it is generally geographically confined. The exception is if a dengue-infected person returns home and gets bitten by a local mosquito who then picks up the virus, and health officials are concerned that this scenario might play out due to the volume of visitors to the World Cup. If you’re still interested in travelling to Brazil, however, the New York Times has compiled a handy list of travel tips.
MLS CONNECTION: Some have criticized the USMNT players who have decided to return to MLS, but how many players on your average World Cup-winning squad play abroad rather than in their domestic league?
Not to say that foreign-based players aren’t important: Tim Cahill is being hailed as Australia’s best hope to get results at the World Cup.
THE BEST. SORT OF.: Some great players never win the trophies or accolades that their talent might otherwise entitle them to. For a list of the best players who never made it to the World Cup, and a list of players who never played in the World Cup, here’s the Los Angeles Times.
AND FINALLY: Who are US women's soccer stars Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan predicting will win the World Cup?