Belfast Telegraph

Euro 2012: Brazil will make Euros seem like a beach holiday

By Sam Wallace

If the England players thought that their four return flights between Poland and Ukraine in the space of 16 days this month were a drag, then they have yet to confront the reality of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil that will embrace host cities over 2,000 miles apart and swings in temperature from tropical to freezing.

Next month Roy Hodgson will fly to Brazil, in the company of the Club England managing director Adrian Bevington, to inspect the venues that the Football Association has chosen as possible base camps for the tournament. They will travel to Brazil in the knowledge that no European nation has ever won a World Cup held in South America, and that includes rather more accomplished sides than the current England one.

By the end of August, the FA will have to submit its preferences to Fifa, which then has the difficult job of assigning these bases provisionally to the 203 nations who are entering qualifying. If choosing between Ukraine and Poland for Euro 2012 was a headache for the FA this time, it pales in comparison with the choices in Brazil.

England will travel to Brazil next summer to play the host nation and then Uruguay before the start of the Confederations' Cup as a means of familiarising players with the country. It will be the first time that England have been to South America since John Barnes scored his famous goal in the Maracana stadium against a Brazil side much changed from the 1982 World Cup team; and England won the game 2-0.

Back then Mark Chamberlain – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's father – was in the England team; he and Barnes were racially abused by England fans on the flight home. Times, thankfully, have changed. The England team also played a friendly against Chile in the Estadio Nacional in Santiago, where General Pinochet's regime had murdered many political opponents. Many of the players received letters from relatives of the dead before the game urging them not to play.

Providing England make it to the 2014 World Cup finals – they begin their qualifying campaign against Moldova in September – they will play the United States in Florida on their way down to their Brazil base camp. The FA could opt for the warmer north-east coast around Fortaleza, Recife and Natal or, as is more likely, the big-city bases in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in the south.

FA officials have their eye on a hotel in Sao Paulo that they believe would suit their purposes perfectly, but first they will have to take their luck with the group stages draw. Being drawn in Group E, for example, might require England to play one game at the tropical Arena Amazonia in Manaus and another at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre in the far south, which has milder winters than Europe but can occasionally experience freezing temperatures.

Logistically, the 2014 World Cup finals are the FA's biggest challenge yet. In South Africa two years ago it had the simple decision to train at altitude, although in retrospect mistakes were made with the isolation of their base outside Rustenburg. In two years' time, the FA will have to weigh up safety against the benefits of a city centre location, and then take account of the mind-boggling diversity of climate.

Bevington has already visited Brazil with FA delegations on three previous occasions trying to narrow down the options. When Hodgson goes next month he will see for himself the scale of the challenge facing England to make an impression in a World Cup that will be staged on an unprecedented scale.

Belfast Telegraph