FOX Soccer Exclusive
Will violence hinder World Cup plans?
The chaotic events in São Paulo on Wednesday night tapped into the worst fears about Brazil's readiness to welcome the world to South America over the next few years.
Disturbing pictures and scenes from the second leg of the Copa Sudamericana final between Argentine side Club Atlético Tigre and Brazilian giants São Paulo overwhelmed any discussion of the game.
The proceedings deteriorated quickly after São Paulo scored its second goal of the night. A rash of poor challenges flew in from all quarters and referee Enrique Osses struggled to keep hold of the match as it spiraled out of control. Osses issued six yellow cards and sent off São Paulo defender Paulo Miranda between the second goal and the halftime whistle. Several Tigre players surrounded Lucas after the first half ended which prompted Brazilian security officials to enter the field to intervene on the midfielder's behalf.
Tigre officials alleged that Brazilian security forces entered their locker room to strike and threaten their players during the halftime break, according to the club's Twitter feed. An official with São Paulo police confirmed to Brazilian newspaper O Globo that local officers did enter the Tigre quarters during the break. Television cameras captured blood stains on the walls of that same area, while the visitors refused to emerge for the second half. CONMEBOL officials ultimately decided to suspend the match and swiftly awarded the title to Sao Paulo.
"I did not want it to end the way it ended," Tigre midfielder Martin Galmarini told FOX Deportes. "I am sad, being threatened on the end of a nightstick and a gun."
For a country seeking to reassure its visitors ahead of the three major events it will stage between now and 2016, the events of Wednesday night offered yet another setback to that particular campaign and provided a troubling reminder that plenty of work remains to ensure similar scenes do not recur in the future.
Details will emerge over the next few days to determine the veracity of Galmarini's statement and the other claims made by the visitors. The early reports may or may not stand up to further scrutiny. But the mere existence of those allegations and the more concrete displays of mayhem on the field still serve to stoke the lingering concerns surrounding the safety of coaches, fans, officials and players ahead of the Confederations Cup in 2013, the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.
In the days leading up to this high-profile match, Brazilian officials trumpeted their commitment to security ahead of those marquee tournaments. A press release from the Ministry of Sport last week said the bid committee planned to spend R$1.879 billion ($907 million) to ensure the World Cup went off without a hitch.
"São Paulo's government adopted measures and responses for security together with the federal government, who offered help," Brazilian minister of sport Aldo Rebelo said in the release. "The actions are being adopted together for the World Cup. That's why the government has made a program to compile the measures needed for everyone's security, involving the police, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defense, the acquisition of equipment and the Command and Control centers. This is an item that we face with much importance."
And it is a problem those officials will probably solve in time for the World Cup in a year and a half. The tournament – with all of its attached economic and sporting meanings for a country that craves success on its home soil – means far too much to the country to permit any sort of massive off-the-field failure. It may take every moment until the opening game to prepare the country for the massive event, but the Brazilians will likely find a way to get it right.
Even if the final outcome will likely allow the country to emerge with credit, these scenes – admittedly prompted by the on-field tensions in a particularly nasty game – do not inspire overwhelming confidence that everything will turn out all right in the end.
Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @kylejmccarthy.
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