Sauipe Class, the posh outlet in the middle of the immense Costa do Sauipe resort where the World Cup draw took place last Friday, turned into a kind of speed-dating opportunity for journalists and the managers attending the ceremony.
Invariably, answers about expectations for the draw referred to an almost universal desire of avoiding heavy travel at all costs. So it could come as a surprise that Brazil, given all the power that the hosts apparently have over the fixture list, will be hitting the road hard next summer -- in fact, they’re one of the teams that will clock the most air miles in the group stages.
After opening the tournament against Croatia in Sao Paulo on June 12, Brazil will then host Mexico in Fortaleza five days later before finishing their Group A commitments against Cameroon on June 23 in Brasilia. That's around 2485.485 miles (4,000km) in 11 days.
Worse yet, the Selecao will not play at their temple, the refurbished Maracana, unless they reach the final. Imagine England deciding to relinquish their right to play at Wembley and forgo using the mystique of the stadium to their advantage.
Perhaps, but things are a bit different on the warmer side of the Atlantic. First of all, Brazil's World Cup flight plan mirrors the entanglement of sports and politics that has prevailed for decades in the country. Things are not different when there’s a World Cup involved. Everybody wants a piece of the Selecao, and that trumps the mere logistics. Nobody was ever in doubt that the Selecao would end up being a travelling band.
But before you start pitying the players, bear in mind that some of them are quite happy with the schedule. They might not all be doing somersaults about playing in Sao Paulo, a city that has always been a difficult place for the Selecao given one of the most demanding crowds in Brazil. The 1950 team, for example, were booed to the rafters after a 2-2 draw against Switzerland, which could not be more of a contrast with the carnival atmosphere that greeted them in Rio.
Players do understand, though, that there was no way the richest and biggest Brazilian city would miss out on the action. Yet there are fewer reservations towards Fortaleza. Not only have Northeastern crowds historically treated the Selecao like the Beatles circa 1964 (just without the "more popular than Jesus" comments) but also the Castelao has become a special place for the players since the game against Mexico in the Confederations Cup on June 19 -- even the Mexican media mentioned the iconic execution of the national anthem at that match, the one they are scheduled to hear again next June.
Finally, Brasilia. It's the capital of the country but far from a traditional football city. One has to wonder if the notorious favor-trading between the Brazilian Football Confederation and assorted congressmen wasn’t the rationale behind the decision. Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza and Salvador are other possible Selecao stops en route to the final. The public in Rio will at least have the chance to see Argentina, Spain and France there in the group stages.
Unlike England, Brazil never exclusively played at the Maracana when they could, with friendly matches staged all over the country for at least the past three decades. However, the Maracana is still the place where the Selecao has held the bulk of their games (104), losing only seven times. That one of them was a World Cup final doesn’t seem to be a huge problem given that the last two finals the team played at home, the 1989 Copa America and the 2013 Confederations Cup, were both wins in Rio -- and, of course, the 2014 World Cup final could well be another for the home side.
When the list of dates and venues was released in 2011, the official word from the Local Organizing Committee was that Rio had received the biggest amount of games (seven, alongside Brasilia). "The World Cup can’t be only about one city," said one LOC member.
One can't stop thinking, though, that the Maracana was hard done by decisions not specifically related to the benefit of players and fans.