Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Trials and tribulations: Brazilians and gringos alike look to catch the eye in Série A ahead of World Cup

The 2014 Campeonato Brasileiro got underway at the weekend, to relatively little fanfare. For European fans weaned on the pizzazz of the Premier League, La Liga et al, the start of the Brazilian season can seem like a strangely anodyne affair. Sure, people are excited, but there’s little of the urgency that defines the big kick-off in the Old Continent.

This is a perennial problem. The structure of the season in Brazil ensures that Série A begins just when the two most important cup competitions – the Copa Libertadores and the Copa do Brasil – are clicking into gear. With the former offering prestige and the promise of a money-spinning Club World Cup campaign, you can understand why contenders tend to take things easy in the Brasileirão. The Copa do Brasil, meanwhile, is a de facto qualifying competition for the Libertadores. It also matters.

This year, the proximity of the World Cup could have its advantages, however. In this early stage of the season, a number of players will be looking to impress enough to secure their place at the competition.

Read the rest of this piece over at Yahoo! Eurosport.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The season starts here: Brasileirão 2014 preview

It’s springtime in Europe. Blossom and leaves are returning to the trees, birds are chirping louder than ever, while for a hardy subset of the football-loving world, the internet’s blurriest, most unreliable streams beckon anew. That’s right, after a meagre four-month lay-off, the Campeonato Brasileiro crashes back into our lives this weekend, promising thrills, spills and unpaid bills.

This year’s edition is set to be even more fraught than usual; as you may have heard, there’s a bit of a football thing happening in Brazil in June and July. The Brasileirão has therefore been split into two chunks: a starter course before the Copa and the rest after. With the transfer window also guaranteed to play havoc with squads, fans are preparing themselves for what might just be the most disjointed league season in recent memory.

Read the rest of this preview over at WhoScored.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The final countdown: Thoughts on Luiz Felipe Scolari's plans ahead of World Cup squad announcement

In just over a month, Luiz Felipe Scolari will name his provisional squad for the 2014 World Cup. On June 2, he will whittle the group down to 23 men, who will be handed the task of discharging what has come to be seen as a national obligation: winning the thing on home soil.

Brazil awaits the decision with bated breath. Every man, woman and child will have their say in the coming weeks. As bossa nova pioneer Tom Jobim once remarked, “You need balls of steel to be a football manager in a country that has 150 million of them.”

Happily for the Seleção, Felipão is not a man to doubt his convictions. Read the rest of this piece on the Yahoo! Eurosport website here.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Community values: Street Child World Cup highlights football’s power for good

Against the backdrop of stadium accidents, it was heartening to see evidence of football’s power to shape the world in a positive manner this week. The Street Child World Cup (SCWC) got underway in Rio on Sunday, bringing together over 200 children between the ages of 13 and 17 from around the world for a 10-day celebration. On the schedule are small-sided games, cultural events and debates, culminating in a declaration of rights at Fluminense’s historic Laranjeiras ground.

The tournament, which took place for the first time in Durban in 2010, aims to shed light on the plight of street children the world over, challenging negative perceptions and mistreatment. By setting up in World Cup host countries, the organisers – who are backed by Save the Children – believe the event will encourage governments to put in place front-line responses to tackle an issue that affects millions.

Read the rest of this article on the Yahoo! Eurosport website.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

FIFA magazine article goes down like a lead balloon in Brazil as World Cup stadium issues linger

Earlier this month, FIFA felt compelled to withdraw an article about Brazil from its website. The piece, a series of tips for World Cup tourists published in the organisation’s weekly magazine, drew scorn from many in Brazil after being picked up on by the local press.

The criticisms were largely aimed at a passage on Brazil’s attitude to timekeeping (“When arranging to meet someone, nobody will expect you to be there at the exact time”) and the final epithet: “A Brazilian’s attitude to life can be summarised like this: relaxa e aproveita – relax and enjoy.”

You can understand why Brazilians – particularly those keen on portraying the country as a place of business rather than some 24-hour beach party venue – would take slight umbrage at that last point, laden as it is with easy stereotype. But really, there was very little to be offended by in the text. In fact, to the critical eye, most of its admonishments were gentle to the point of glibness.

Perhaps it should not be surprising that Brazil is feeling a little touchy about the way it is being portrayed. With the maelstrom of scrutiny over World Cup preparations showing no sign of abating, the country’s shortcomings have become global news as never before. And they might have assumed that FIFA, of all people, would refrain from sticking the toy knife in.

Read the rest of this blog on the Yahoo! Eurosport website.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Corinthians cry foul after embarrassing state championship elimination

With the four big sides of the São Paulo region arbitrarily kept apart in separate groups in the new-fangled state championship (don’t ask), progress to the next round was expected to be a formality. After all, even under the old system – which admittedly only lasted four years – not once had any of the big guns failed to make the knockout stages.

But Corinthians have never been a team to shy away from an early-season crisis. They went into the weekend in danger of becoming the first high-profile side to come unstuck in this year’s truncated estaduais, sitting third in their section behind Botafogo-SP and Ituano.

Qualification was not out of reach, but it was out of their hands. To stay in contention heading into the final round of the group stage, the Timão needed to avoid defeat against Penapolense on Sunday and then hope for a favour from bitter rivals São Paulo, 3-2 winners in the clássico a week earlier.

Read the rest of this piece on Yahoo! Eurosport's Rio Report blog.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Racism rears its ugly head in Brazilian football

Brazil often presents itself – or is presented from without – as a bastion of racial harmony, the rainbow nation made flesh. In some ways, this view holds sway: few countries have diversity written into their DNA in the way that Brazil does. This land is African, indigenous, European and a million other things all at once, and celebrates its melting-pot identity with some verve. Frictions have flared through the ages, but assimilation has been the norm.

Yet things are not as rosy as they can seem. It has struck many that Brazil’s great social division – the staggering wealth gap that consigns millions of people to slum life with others swan about in gross opulence – is demarcated along racial lines. Poverty in Brazil is largely, although not exclusively, black (and 'Indian') poverty. With income bleeding into education, there is at the very least a notable inequality of opportunity.

In my latest Yahoo! Eurosport column, I offer a few thoughts on race and racism in Brazil in the wake of two notable incidents last week. Click here to read it.
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