Pele, check. Christ the Redeemer, check. Samba, check. A back heel, check. A commentator gargling “Braaazzilll”, check. Women in bikinis wobbling bottoms, check. The principle of geographic separation, check. Alan Shearer, check. Hello and welcome to the World Cup draw live from BBC HQ in Salford. Sky stayed home too because as Glenn Hoddle, long-windedly introduced as the last Englishman before Roy Hodgson to take England to a World Cup, put it, “at the end of the day it’s a draw”.
Don’t tell that to Sepp Blatter, who arrived in Fifa’s big tent expensively pitched in the resort of Costa do Sauipe on Brazil’s sun-kissed coast on the arms of two suitably Amazonian-looking women. When it comes to events like this Fifa’s attitude towards women, or “ladies” as Blatter prefers to call them, makes darts appear progressive.
In the yawning build-up to the draw, that has sprawled across the week like a, well, like a Fifa World Cup draw, footage of the 1982 cock-up overseen by a young Blatter – he has been there for ever – was doing the rounds.
In 1982, balls spat out of a machine that looked as if it had been put together by Caractacus Potts and were ferried across a beige set to Sepp by small boys with pudding bowl haircuts. Things have advanced since then. Now they use “legends” with little hair at all. The colour-crazed set was straight out of The Wizard of Oz, another long-winded story concerning the principle of geographic separation.
It fell to Jérôme Valcke, Fifa’s general secretary, to explain what was going on with a bit of sub-Clouseau banter with a beautiful lady, to use official Fifa World Cup draw terminology. Valcke is a master of the draw, been there, drawn it, got the mascot. If you want a draw done then the no-nonsense Frenchman is your man, especially if you’re France as they ended up in a straightforward-looking group.
At times it sounded like a game of high stakes battleships; B3, E2, G3. Hit, and hopes destroyed. It felt like that when England were finally plucked out by Sir Geoff Hurst. “Ooooohhh,” said Jonathan Pearce, commentating for the BBC. And then, just in case we hadn’t got that, he added another “oooooohhhh”. “Nightmare, nightmare,” he said. Not a good draw, then.
In the audience Greg Dyke ran his finger across his throat. Luckily Roy Hodgson wasn’t looking at his chairman’s vote of confidence. Instead Hodgson was concentrating on a folder in his lap, no doubt filling in his groups – he comes across as the type to religiously fill in his World Cup wallchart and his Panini sticker album.
The draw done, Pearce said it was time for more dancing as his producer was plainly heard instructing him to wrap up. It was time to go home – or reinstate our geographic separation from Brazil. Shearer kicked his football brain into gear. “That’s a tough group,” he summed up instinctively. “A tough, tough group.”
There was time for one more leap across the Atlantic to hear from Hodgson. Your thoughts Roy? “It’s tough,” summed up Roy. Hodgson reckoned plenty of the other 30 coaches there – Bosnia’s was absent after missing his flight – would be claiming tough groups but was certain his was indeed tough.
Fabio Capello, now Russia’s manager, disagreed. “Interesting,” was his take on England’s fate. How interesting we never found out as the BBC cut him off in his prime as he peered at his chart. The Italian looks notably younger and cheerier than four years ago when England received a draw described in one newspaper as “EASY”.
That stood for England, Algeria, Slovenia and Yanks. Not this time, this time it was Uruguay, Costa Rica and Italy, which stands for U CRIE. Or shall we just leave it at tough?
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