COSTA DO SAUIPE, Brazil — The Amazon jungle city of Manaus was the big winner at the World Cup draw.
Branded “the place ideally to avoid” by England coach Roy Hodgson this week, the humid, steamy city far distant from the soccer hotspots of Brazil became the tournament’s must-see venue on Friday.
Manaus got lucky beyond its dreams despite being awarded just four group-stage matches at the 44,000-capacity Arena Amazonia.
England vs. Italy tops a four-match World Cup bill on the opening Saturday, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal comes to play the United States on the second Sunday.
Two more European visitors must also trek northward: Croatia vs. Cameroon and Switzerland vs. Honduras.
Miguel Capobiango, World Cup coordinator for the Amazon state governor’s office, told The Associated Press: “We won the World Cup today.”
Some team coaches did not share his enthusiasm.
Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld is now rethinking his team’s plans of training more than 1,680 miles away near Sao Paulo. His fellow German Volker Finke, the Cameroon coach, described the prospect of playing in Manaus as a “little bit of a problem.”
Hodgson steered clear of making strong statements Friday after previously igniting the Manaus mayor’s anger.
“I have never been to the Amazon. It will be a very interesting experience, not just for me but for the team,” Hodgson said after the draw.
“We would also prefer that England doesn’t come,” Manaus mayor Arthur Virgilio had said on the eve of the draw. “We hope to get a better team and a coach who is more sensible and polite.”
Naturally, the draw fulfilled England’s long-shot odds of opening the show for Manaus on June 14.
“He’s one of the few people in the world who is not curious about the Amazon, who doesn’t want to know Manaus,” Mayor Virgilio said of Hodgson.
As a keen reader, Hodgson probably already knows that English influence runs deep in the history of Manaus. British businesses came to the Amazon for its rubber, invested in architecture copying the style from back home, and workers left behind the soccer clubs they created more than 100 years ago.
“We have plans that you can come and fish for piranhas,” Capobiango said of the city nestled near where the Amazon and Negro rivers join at the “meeting of the waters.”
The Manaus area is also known for alligators, snakes, famously big spiders and potentially a few mildly hostile locals.
Brazil favored to
win World Cup;
Brazil was made a 3-1 favorite to win the 2014 World Cup it will be hosting.
The Brazilians remained at the same odds after Friday’s draw as they held going into it.
Argentina was next at 9-2, barely up from 5-1 odds, according to the professional oddsmakers Keith Glantz and Russell Culver. Germany was 5-1, followed by defending champion Spain at 7-1.
The United States, placed in a difficult group with Germany, Portugal (30-1) and Ghana (175-1) for the first round, dropped from 60-1 to 150-1.
“We’re excited,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge and we think we’re a good team. We think we’re a good team that can get better in a lot of areas. That’s going to be the challenge for us and the motivation for us in the next six months.”
France, at 20-1, sneaked ahead of top seeds Uruguay (25-1) and Switzerland (100-1) in the odds.
Other highly touted teams were Belgium (14-1) and Colombia (20-1).
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