World Cup Diary: Brazil reinventing, redefining itself one step at a time

SALVADOR, Brazil —

Brazil wasn’t what I had expected. I’ve been here three weeks now, covering the United States men’s national team across this vast and diverse country, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it.

The image was strikingly similar to that of the country where I covered the last World Cup, South Africa: A shambolic government that couldn’t get anything done by a deadline, inflicting crippling poverty lived in rambling shantytowns, in a country ruled only by lawlessness. But as it was in South Africa, most construction in Brazil has been completed, or at least looked the part, and I’ve never once felt unsafe.

Sao Paulo, where the United States and its press corps have been based, is a confusing place. There is no containing its sprawl, all of it infested with boxy apartment towers — invariably with terraces adorned with flapping Brazilian flags — pricking the blue sky. The traffic is soul-crushing. On a bad day, you can average less than five miles an hour in your cab or bus. Some days, early in our stay, the subway workers were on strike and it was worse still and you just stood there, thousands of running cars frozen in place.

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The brazuca reminds us of Brazil’s one true love

BAHIA, BRAZIL — With all the negativity surrounding the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it’s easy to forget what it was that brought the tournament here in the first place: soccer.

Before the concerns about infrastructure, stadiums, transportation, government distrust and overall cost of the world’s sporting event, there was the simply the game, and the Brazilians’ undying love for it.

On Thursday afternoon in Bahia, adidas gave me the official match ball for next summer’s World Cup. Little did I know that the ball would prove to be the apple in the eye of every Brazilian I met that day.

Every few feet, someone wanted to hold it and take a picture with it. A couple of local volunteers looked like they might cry when they had to part with it. You could see the unbridled joy in just the way people looked at what adidas is calling the “brazuca” – it’s like a holy grail to Brazilians.


There was the young girl who asked me if it was the “oficial brazuca,” and her jaw nearly dropping to the floor when I told her yes. And when she held it, she jumped around like it was Christmas morning.

There were the two children so small they could barely wrap their arms around it, beaming with delight as they desperately held on tight.


There was the waitress who, after a few minutes of gesturing and attempts to explain what she wanted, gave me her email so I could send her a copy of the photograph I took of her holding it.

There was the chef who took a break to come all the way out of the kitchen to the dining area just to hold, juggle and take a picture with the ball.


There was the cheeky little boy that jokingly tried to run off with it – twice.

Despite ever-growing concern and frustration with Brazil’s World Cup, the Brazilians’ excitement and joy from something as simple as the brazuca made it clear that if there is one thing this country can find happiness in, it’s soccer.


New-found passion: Lessons learned at Emirates Stadium



Any American over-enthusiasm for my first major Premier League match had to be immediately hidden by the slightly disgruntled grimace one adopts when jammed ear to ear into an Underground train. I had taken a studious approach to dressing — wear all black and then piece together your pitch-side outfit from the team shop when you get to the grounds. I had been joking beforehand that I would go full kit, but figured I’d buy a hat and maybe a shirt. Past experience has proven there is nothing colder than soccer stadiums during the UK in winter, so the extra layers wouldn’t be a burden.

One hour later and many pounds lighter (in money, not weight), I had a hat, three pairs of socks, shorts, a retro jacket and a Cup-font away jersey with my name custom printed on the back. I’ve been trying not to let my head perform the currency conversion ever since, but, hey, I crossed an ocean to get here. Sometimes you gotta let the pence fall where they may.

image   This lad in front of me clearly enjoys Jack Links beef jerky.

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High-end fashion: adidas unveils Yohji Yamamoto adizero F50

Never afraid to push the envelope, adidas teamed up with award-winning Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto to launch these limited edition yet radical Yohji Yamamoto adizero F50 cleats.

Inspired by Japan’s modern sci-fi culture, Yamamoto (the same mastermind behind adidas’ Y-3 brand) crafted these gaudy boots and incorporated imperial lion-dogs who guarded Japanese emperors who lived on sacred grounds during ancient times in the design.


Image courtesy of adidas

Yamamoto explained:

“My inspiration is a mixture of ancient traditions and modern sci-fi from Japanese culture. I hope the inspiration of the boot harmonizes the players and gives them extra confidence to express themselves without any fear. People should feel free to express themselves. Just follow your own instinct.”


Image courtesy of adidas

Bayern Munich defender David Alaba and Paris Saint-Germain’s Lucas Moura are just few of the world footballers that will wear the Yamamoto adizero F50 cleat this weekend:

These boots will not be easy to find however. Only 2,000 pairs will be made available globally, making these special boots an ultimate collectors item.