This is our first 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.
- STICKER SHOCK: We’re a little less than two months away from the World Cup final at Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracanã Stadium, and although the game is sold out, a ticket can still be yours for the low, low price of $40,000. Just don’t let FIFA find out you bought it from an unlicensed exchange, though, otherwise your ticket might be invalidated.
- VIOLENCE IN THE FAVELAS: Also this week in Rio: the Pavão-Pavãozinho favela has been rocked by violence after the death of a famous dancer who was allegedly tortured to death by police. One 30-year-old man was reportedly shot in the head after locals clashed with authorities charged with “pacifying” the slum. FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke responded to the violence, saying, “There is not a single country where there are not problems on the day to day.” Just to be safe, though, Brazil has hired private security firm Academi – formerly known as Blackwater – as a consultant in the lead-up to the World Cup.
- OLYMPIC PROBLEMS: If you still can’t find a silver lining in this cloud, take solace in this: Brazil’s work in getting ready for the 2016 Olympics is going far worse, according to the IOC vice president, who said the country’s preparations for Rio 2016 were “the worst I have experienced."
- GEESH, IT'S HOT OUT HERE: Forget about all the human suffering outside the stadium, however: What about the poor European players who will have to endure the “inhumane” Amazonian heat while they play in the world’s single most popular sporting event in front of hundreds of thousands of adoring fans?
- ZERO TOLERENCE IN BRAZIL: Racism reared its ugly head again in the sports world this past week, first with the Donald Sterling incident in the US and then with a spectator at a Villarreal-Barcelona game in Spain who threw a banana at Barça defender Dani Alves. FIFA head honcho Sepp Blatter took to Twitter to defend Dani Alves, saying there “will be zero tolerance” of discrimination at the World Cup.
- DRINKING WITH BIN LADEN? The US national team's training ground in Brazil is about five miles away from an Osama bin Laden-themed bar, owned and operated by an impersonator of the deceased al-Qaeda leader. In fact, there are nearly a dozen such establishments in Brazil.
- BETTING ODDS: The latest betting odds, the Yanks have 125-to-1 odds to win the Cup. England have significantly better odds at 28-to-1, but if they’re going to win they’ll have to do so without young star Andros Townsend, who will miss the tournament after announcing he’ll undergo ankle surgery this week. For the players who do make the trip to Brazil for Roy Hodgson’s squad, however, there are some snazzy three-piece Marks & Spencer suit waiting for them.
- STICKER SHOCK, PART 2: FInally, the soccer world was stunned by the news that Panini, the company that has been producing collectible stickers of World Cup players since the 1970 tournament, was victim of a massive heist last week. Thieves made off with more 300,000 stickers that were bound for Rio. Panini insisted that there would be no shortage of stickers for sale.