The price we pay to see Brazil

By Martin Samuel, November 12, 2009
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Has there ever been a more low-key build-up to a match between England and Brazil? Location, location, location: that is the problem here. Neutral venues at international tournaments aside, there are only two stadiums that should ever host this game: the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro or Wembley.

Unfortunately, the Brazilian national team is hawked around the world like the Harlem Globetrotters, and this is the price we pay.

We go to Doha for the dough and, by doing so, undermine a fixture that is still regarded as the truest test in international football. Just three English wins in 22 matches, and the last, 19 years ago. A game like this should not be dismissed as an inconvenience by self-absorbed club managers.

The teams have met played in some strange places over the past 53 years, but never one so alien. Gothenburg in Sweden, Vina Del Mar in Chile, Guadalajara, Mexico and Shizuoka prefecture in Japan have hosted World Cup meetings, while LA, Washington and Paris have held games in invitational tournaments. Heading off to a country that has never qualified for the World Cup finals to play a one-off friendly is a first, though. Qatar has cash but no real pedigree in sport, which is why their most famous athletes, like their biggest games, are bought.

The first Qatari Olympic medallist, Mohamed Suleiman, who claimed bronze in the 1500 metres in 1992 was actually Somalian, but the concept of importing talent reached its peak before the 2000 Sydney Olympics when Qatar paid roughly $1m for eight Bulgarian weightlifters.

Men such as Angel Popov and Yani Marchokov happily became Said Saif Assad and Jaber Saeed Salem and earned modest success. Buoyed by this, Qatar offered a similar sum to Kenyan steeplechase runner, Stephen Cherono, who instantly agreed to become Saif Saaeed Shaheen. When he won a world championship gold in Paris in 2003, his brother Abraham, also a steeplechaser, walked off in disgust.

This is how Qatar put itself on the sporting map, part of a plan to be reinvented as an international sports destination, in competition with Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

To this end, Doha bid unsuccessfully for the 2016 Olympics and Qatar is bidding for the 2022 World Cup, a campaign stage-managed with help from Mike Lee who aided the successful London 2012 and Rio De Janeiro 2016 tenders. Attracting prestigious matches is part of this scheme.

So we can see what is in it for Qatar – and it’s obvious what is in it for Brazil. But for England fans it can only leave a feeling of dissatisfaction. South America is a longer journey, but the trip would at least feel right. Instead, England will play Brazil in a country famous for buying sporting success the way a rich man joylessly picks out his latest executive toy. Not really much to get excited about, is it?

    Last updated: 12:59pm, October 20 2010