Sexy singers and rolling balls fail to prevent another bore draw
It was about 20 minutes into The Preliminary Draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ that it became clear you would need a passion for consuming large amounts of mostly meaningless data or an in-depth knowledge of Brazilian music to get much out of it.
Such was the hype, the impending sense that something really exciting was about to happen, that it almost felt as though it was 2014 already. Then somebody handed out a piece of paper saying 824 qualifying matches must be played before that point.
While pondering the possibilities of The Cape Verde Islands versus Madagascar, or Vanuatu against American Samoa, the mind wandered on to just how the draw to see who would play each other to be in the draw for the main event became such a main event. It cost 30 million reais (£8m) to put on and while about 300 protested outside at the World Cup's use of public money and against Brazilian football's head, Ricardo Teixeira, armed police stood grim-faced and a helicopter buzzed overhead. Foot volley on Copacabana beach seemed a world away.
Inside the giant temporary structure, Sepp Blatter got the balls rolling with a eulogy to "this multicultural country of joy and celebration" and soon Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was on stage, having acted this week to ensure Pele was involved by giving him the rather nebulous role of Honorary World Cup Ambassador. 'The King' had apparently been snubbed by Teixeira and said on Friday "I would not go to a party to which I was not invited," although FIFA's press machine claimed that Pele had been invited in April but declined by email. Like all the best celeb parties, this had back-biting.
The three-time World Cup winner received a rousing ovation when introduced, but the microphone was kept away from Teixeira probably in the fear that Brazil's Prince Philip would start another international row. After branding the English as "pirates who can go to hell" over allegations he was involved in corruption during the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bid process – he was later cleared – Teixeira had been criticised by Pele on Friday. Of course, Fifa seated the two next to each other.
One felt for the young mind of Neymar, the 19-year-old star of Brazilian football, when he was brought on to help with the draw for the African zone. But having made the front pages for abandoning his iconic hairstyle in the build up to Santos's epic 5-4 midweek defeat by Flamengo, Neymar must have been a fire risk under the lights considering the amount of gel required to restore the Mohawk.
Pop sensation Ivete Sangalo's sensuous show had the usual effect at such events of making the suited, seated crowd look stiff and a little embarrassed, while Daniel Jobim performed a sweet homage to his grandfather, Tom Jobim, one of the fathers of bossa nova and writer of The Girl from Ipanema. Up at the Tom Jobim International Airport they might not have been quite so tranquil while dealing with the 43 flights moved there from the Santos Dumont airport, which being next to the draw venue, was closed.
Once Asia, North and Central America and the Caribbean, and Oceania had been given their travel plans for September 2012 to October 2013, it was Europe's turn. There was a moment of tension for England as they were in the last two drawn and risked being placed with France but Ronaldo had the good grace to place them in a very winnable group.
After the corporate razzmatazz and protests, there were plenty of reminders around Rio of why holding the World Cup in Brazil is such a good idea and why it will be the antithesis of Qatar 2022. With Flamengo and Botafogo winning, the bars and streets of Zona Sul were vibrating. In a square in Laranjeiras, young and old partied at a bring-your-own-instrument samba jam while men in Fluminense shirts danced. And, apart from some cans of beer and street barbecue, it didn't cost a thing.