Brazil are to open the 2014 football World Cup with a match against Croatia, the tournament’s organising body Fifa announced during the draw for the event on Friday.
President Dilma Rousseff presided over the ceremony, which started with a minute’s silence to honour former South African president Nelson Mandela, and used the opportunity to tout her government’s progress on lifting millions into the middle class over the past 12 years.
“Visitors will have the opportunity to see Brazil . . . a country that has confronted the challenge of ending misery and creating opportunities for all,” she said.
The draw was an important moment not only for the 32 teams contesting the tournament but also for the 12 Brazilian cities that have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in stadiums and other facilities for the matches.
The tournament favourites are host Brazil, current champions Spain, Italy and Germany – although fans in Latin America’s largest country will also be wary of their neighbour and great rival Argentina.
Five-times World Cup winners Brazil were seen as having a light group. Aside from Croatia it included Mexico and Cameroon. Argentina’s was regarded as the easiest, with the South American nation set to play Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The group that pits England against Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica, meanwhile, was seen as one of the toughest because of the presence of three former champions.
Germany will face the US, Portugal and Ghana; France take on Ecuador, Switzerland and Honduras; and Spain come up against the Netherlands, Australia and Chile.
The draw brought good news for some Brazilian cities, such as the Amazonian centre of Manaus, which will host England and Italy’s opening match, and Salvador in the northeast, which will host games involving Spain and Germany.
Other cities were less fortunate, including Cuiaba in the country’s centre-west soyabean belt, which will host no games involving the favourites despite investing in an overhaul of the local stadium.
Politicians will be watching the tournament nervously, remembering the nationwide protests that marked the Confederations Cup in June, the dress rehearsal for the World Cup.
Those protests were sparked by poor public services in sectors such as transport and health, with the demonstrators contrasting the problems with the lavish expenditure throughout the nation on stadiums.
One hotel executive predicted the cup would be a mixed bag economically for Brazil, with cities not involved in the event likely to suffer a loss of business and even some that are participating – but do not have strong matches – also likely be disappointed.
“Hotel bookings will be lower during the cup. First, there are hundreds of cities and only 12 are hosting games so the others will be facing a very limited amount of clients during that time,” the executive said.
“Second, for smaller host cities such as Cuiabá, three or four games are not going to fill up that city for a month. And then imagine if they get some [minor] game . . . I don’t really see millions of people flying all the way there to see that.”
Additional reporting by Samantha Pearson
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