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A game of two halves

world cupFirst of all I’ll put my hand up and admit I am not a football fan, just one of those people who inexplicably find themselves sitting in front of the telly during big sporting events. So what do I know? Only that a 90-minute match that produces just one goal at the very end is a pretty boring finale to the World Cup, however fancy the footwork was up until that point.

Football pundits say that this was the best World Cup ever. If I had a six week all-expenses trip to Brazil, I’d be feeling that way too. For me, the sheen came off this cup last year when thousands of Brazilians began protesting against the billions being spent on staging the event while money was desperately needed for public services. Coming from a nation where football is a national obsession, this was an indication that bread and circuses politics don’t necessarily addle people’s brains.

Then on the eve of the cup the ugly side of beautiful game captured the headlines, with accusations of corruption at the highest echelons of FIFA – something about money changing hands in order to secure Qatar the 2022 World Cup.

Football’s always been corrupt, they say, never more so today when it has become big business, with some international players earning more in a week than I could earn in 10 years. That is crazy. No wonder star names like Wayne Rooney failed to sparkle. Why would you exhaust yourself too much in that all heat when you’ve got a gold mine waiting for you back home?

In some cases, players unashamedly had their eyes more on the money than on the ball. Both the Nigerian and Ghanaian teams refused to train before crucial knock out matches because they had not yet received their bonuses. It had to be flown out to them in cash that day. They lost, of course. It was left to the Algerian players to redeem football’s tarnished image when they decided to donate their second round prize money of $8 million to the embattled people of Gaza.

Brazil’s spectacular collapse against Germany, as painful as it was for the nation, was, symbolically at least, a case of nemesis following hubris. BRIC nation or not, $11bn is a huge amount to host the World Cup when your country’s sprawling favelas are as well known as your Christ the Redeemer statue, and especially when you’ve got the Olympics in two years’ time.

I watched some of the more lively matches right through and couldn’t help wondering where all the black people were. Thanks to its once thriving slave trade that was not abolished until 1888, Brazil has the highest number of African descendants in the world yet you wouldn’t have guessed this from the audiences. It seems that, sadly, most are still too poor to afford the price of a ticket.

For the final match, the authorities deployed 26,000 security forces just in case, as good an indication as any that football is not just a game.

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