Roy Hodgson has admitted that England’s long-term plans to base themselves in Rio de Janeiro at next summer’s World Cup could yet be torn up if Friday's draw today sees them playing group games in the more far-flung Brazilian host cities.
It has long been the Football Association’s plan to base the squad at the Royal Tulip hotel on the Sao Conrado beach, with their training at the military base of Urca, by Sugarloaf Mountain. The team trained there in June before their friendly at the Maracana against Brazil and Hodgson took a close look at both hotel and pitches on arrival in Brazil on Tuesday.
However, the England manager confirmed in interviews yesterday in Brazil that he was “open to all things” with 16 different possible combinations when it came to the three venues at which his team could play in their group games. They will find out their destiny at 4pm today at the draw in Salvador.
While the FA has been working on a Rio base for around two years – Hodgson first visited Brazil in the summer of 2012 – there are memories of the huge travel logistics that plagued their four games at Euro 2012. In that case an early decision to stay in Krakow in Poland was stuck to even though all three group games, as well as the quarter-final against Italy, were in Ukraine.
At Euro 2012, it was estimated that the England team took flights totalling more than 5,000 miles on the round trips from Krakow to Kiev and Donetsk over the course of their four games in the two cities. Should England, for instance, be drawn in Group A from Pot Four today they would face combined round trips from Rio to Natal, Manaus and Brasilia of more than 7,000 miles.
The FA’s position has always been that there is little or no chance of changing the base, and while there is still determination to stay in Rio no matter what, Hodgson’s comments revealed that outcome is by no means set in stone.
Asked about the possibility of changing base, he said: “We are open to all things. I hope we do not have to change … we have spent a lot of time on the choice of hotel and choice of training ground so that would be a pity if we have got to move. We have an open mind at the moment. We will do out best like a lot of teams.
“I don’t think you’ll see many teams desperate to move bases because where you have got your base has been well selected. If you change at the last minute there is no guarantee you will get the training fields as good in the base you have chosen. I will keep an open mind but I am rather hoping it won’t be necessary.”
The FA has taken a proactive approach to finding England an ideal base since it was left lagging behind in 2010 for the South Africa World Cup where other prime sites in Pretoria were taken by Argentina. England ended up in the disastrously remote Royal Bafokeng complex where boredom and discontent festered under Fabio Capello’s strict daily regime.
The FA has explored possible base camps in Recife and Belo Horizonte and judged Rio to be the most practical option given how little of their fate they can control once in the draw. Fifa told national associations that those who engaged with the process most thoroughly would get their first choices, and the English and Dutch have both been among the most active.
The governing body is obliged to submit two options to Fifa for its base and it would not confirm yesterday whether the second was outside Rio. As soon as the FA knows which group England has been drawn in – and they could possibly be first drawn from Pot Four into Pot Two – officials will visit the venues to secure hotels for the night before the games.
Again, there were problems in South Africa with hotels at game venues, especially for the round of 16 tie against Germany in Bloemfontein. The accommodation there was likened to a “1950s holiday camp” by one of the touring party. Michelle Farrer, the FA’s long-serving director of team operations, is staying on in Rio after the draw and will visit all three venues where the FA has no choice but to stay in a hotel allocated by Fifa.
The group to avoid for England is Group A which will throw up huge challenges if they are drawn into it from either Pot Four – Natal, Manaus and Brasilia – or Pot Two, which one European team will be moved into. In that case they will be obliged to play in Sao Paulo, Manaus and Recife, more than 6,000 miles in round trips from Rio.
There is unlikely to be an immediate decision taken on whether the FA changes its plans surrounding the Rio base in the light of an unfavourable draw. Hodgson plans to meet his staff, including Gary Neville and Ray Lewington, to discuss planning for the tournament before Christmas. He is in Brazil with chairman Greg Dyke and general secretary Alex Horne.
Having visited the Royal Tulip on Wednesday he said he was pleased with the hotel which has carried out major improvements and will also be open to non-FA guests during the tournament.
The FA has questioned Foreign Office estimates that only 1,100 English fans will travel to Brazil to attend games at the World Cup. Tickets for England games will go on sale to members of the away travellers group on Monday with Fifa giving eight per cent of capacity per game over to each of the two national associations of the competing countries.
The FA estimates that it will sell around 2,000-3,000 tickets per game with its total number of tickets dependent on the capacities of the stadiums in which England play.
The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, admitted that the stadium in Sao Paulo, due to stage the opening game on 12 June, and the site of an accident that killed two workers last month, will not be ready until mid-April.