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World Cup a Distant Dream for Brazil and Colombia
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The last train to Sao Paulo trundled out of Rio de Janeiro's Central station several years ago and it could be an even longer wait for the next one.

While tens of thousands of fans who went to this year's World Cup in Germany were whisked around the country by high-speed trains which streaked through a sleek, modern rail network with clockwork reliability, Brazil, candidates to host the 2014 finals, abandoned its passenger trains years ago.

The alternatives are bone-crunching bus and car journeys of hundreds of kilometers over pot-holed highways, some of them stalked by gun-toting bandits, or the uncertainties of a chaotic air transport system.

Brazilian air transport has been in crisis following the country's worst air crash on Sept. 29 in which 154 people died.

The last few weeks have seen hundreds of delays and cancellations following a work-to-rule by air traffic controllers, who are widely reported to be underpaid, overworked and dependent upon unreliable obsolete equipment.

Yet a good transport network is one of the key criteria for successfully staging a World Cup.

The lack of it is one of the many stumbling blocks facing Brazil and, to a lesser extent, rivals Colombia, the only two nations to formally express their interest to FIFA in staging the 2014 World Cup before the Dec. 18 deadline.

The tournament is due to be staged in South America under FIFA's new rotation system which will begin in South Africa in 2010.

FIFA, however, has already said it will look elsewhere if the South American Confederation cannot produce a bid which meets its rigid criteria.

Clear run

Until this week, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) believed that it would have a clear shot at the tournament.

Three years ago, the federations of the South American countries voted unanimously to back Brazil as their only candidate.

But the Colombian FA broke ranks this week under pressure from Presi0dent Alvaro Uribe, who wanted the country to launch its own bid.

The Brazilian media immediately dismissed the Colombian bid.

"They know they won't win, but at the least they will put the country on display," sneered the Rio de Janeiro-based daily newspaper O Globo in an editorial.

In fact, there seems little to choose between the two, apart from Brazil's incomparable tradition on the field and the fact that it has already hosted one World Cup back in 1950.

Both are multi-racial nations of stunning natural beauty whose inhabitants are known to like a good party but where a reputation for violence puts off foreign visitors.

Brazil's security problems are largely urban, highlighted recently when two of the country's top judges were car-jacked by eight armed bandits on the main road from Rio de Janeiro airport to the city centre.

Colombia has seen a sharp drop in urban crime in four years under President Uribe but parts of the countryside are still controlled by guerilla groups, who have fuelled a 42-year civil conflict.

Early withdrawals

Both countries' previous attempts to host the event ended in embarrassing and early withdrawals.

Colombia were awarded the 1986 World Cup but pulled out two years before it was due to be staged because of economic problems. The tournament was instead held in Mexico.

Brazil were candidates to stage the 2006 World Cup but withdrew three days before the final vote decided in Germany's favor in July 2000.

The campaign never captured the public's imagination and attracted vociferous opposition from Pele, who described it as a waste of money.

Colombia and Brazil would have to invest lavishly in new stadiums. The Metropolitano stadium in Barranquilla is the only Colombian arena which comes near to World Cup level while Curitiba's Arena da Baixada is the only Brazilian stadium which would have any chance of passing the test today.

The world famous Maracana, like many of the gigantic stadiums built around Brazil between 1950 and 1980, is now crumbling and many believe it should be pulled down.

Both countries are confident they can drum up the necessary investments but neither has yet to announce concrete plans about how they intend to bring their infrastructure upto scratch.

So far, the respective discourses have been limited to words of optimism.

"We can do it, we can provide the necessary investments and the country has to start thinking about big projects," Colombia Vice-President Francisco Santos told Reuters this week. "Countries need to have dreams, they need great achievements."

Brazil president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was similarly upbeat.

"Football is the greatest passion in the country and it deserves to host the World Cup," he said recently.

"I will give all the backing necessary to (CBF president) Ricardo Teixeira so that, 64 years on, we can hold the World Cup in Brazil."

(China Daily December 23, 2006)

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