Buckle up, Brazil's World Cup is upon us

The clock may show the World Cup kickoff is still days away, but as far as I'm concerned the big game has already begun.


    As I write this, the clock shows 12 days until the World Cup kickoff. As far as I am concerned, the kickoff is just a formality, because the World Cup has started.

    I was in Manaus this past week, and foreign tourists were already showing up for jungle tours before the football.

    In the hotel, people from Match, FIFA’s official travel agency, were hunched over laptops and mobile phones looking busy.

    At the Amazonas Arena, FIFA-managed security checked the trunks of cars coming in. In the bowels of the venue, young volunteers and other FIFA officials with big credentials dangling around their necks were busy setting up their offices, as new vehicles supplied by official sponsor Hyundai waited in the parking lot to shuttle important people around.

    Local police in SUVs patrolled the arena with a new sense of urgency, with a heavy foot on the pedal.

    Signs reading, “Welcome” and “Bienvenido” were all over the city.

    Neighbourhood street artists put the final touches on incredible World Cup displays.

    At Sao Paulo’s international airport, the first port of entry for more than 70 percent of World Cup tourists into Brazil, a noticeably higher number of police were on foot patrols in the terminals, including the sparkling new Terminal 3. Tourists with big smiles wearing silly yellow hats pulled luggage, while others struggled to find anyone who could speak English help them find their gate or taxi.

    The new Sao Paulo stadium, which will host the opening match, has one big final test match this Sunday. The stadium is not quite World Cup-match ready, but it’s all decked out in signage.

    On Saturday, across the street from the stadium, thousands queued for more than an hour to get a glimpse of the World Cup trophy.

    Sepp Blatter arrives in Brazil on Monday and he’ll head straight to the capital for a meeting with President Dilma Rousseff. They have an icy personal relationship after months of barbs on Brazil’s delayed preparations.

    Meanwhile, Team Australia arrived last week and Aussie journalists following their team were already tweeting their first impressions of Brazil.

    Yesterday other camera crews were getting their beauty shots of Sao Paulo and the same for camera crews arriving in Rio looking for that iconic Copacabana beach shot.

    The World Cup is upon us.

    For Brazil’s preparations, what is done, is done.

    What’s not, likely won’t be before kickoff.

    Nothing is going to radically change in the next 12 days. 

    The optimists say Brazil is ready to host the World Cup of all World Cups. "It’s Brazil, for crying out loud!"

    The pessimists say with so many last-minute projects not yet completely finished, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. "It’s Brazil, for crying out loud!"

    The truth is, like most things in this country, it’s not as simple as that. Everything is in the eyes of the beholder.

    What we do know is if FIFA wanted safe and predictable, the tournament was better suited for Germany or Switzerland. But FIFA wanted new and different, the exotic land of samba, the country of "futebol" with the South American vibes and all that energy and craziness that goes along with it.

    You got it, FIFA.

    Brazil is a high risk, high reward country. And if FIFA didn’t fully realise that when they awarded the country the bid, they do now.

    The headlines coming from Brazil have been screaming "risk" for months now. FIFA is hoping the ‘reward’ part of the equation comes very soon.

    The FIFA World Cup is upon us.

    No, scratch that, the Brazilian World Cup is upon us.

    Buckle up. Pull the strap low and tight around your waist. Hold on and enjoy the ride. Here we go.

    Follow Gabriel Elizondo on Twitter @elizondogabriel



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