Mourning Mandela, organisers launch World Cup draw
Mourning the death of Nelson Mandela, organizers Friday set the stage for the World Cup draw as 32 teams waited with bated breath to see who they will face next June.
Anti-apartheid hero Mandela's passing almost two decades after his iconic embrace with a mainly white South African Rugby World Cup-winning team has added poignancy to the showpiece proceedings, set to kickoff at 1600 GMT.
The draw build-up has been dominated by news of stadium delays and anti-World Cup campaigners threatening public protest.
Yet Mandela's death has changed the tone as participants remember a man who knew all too well how to harness sport and political progress.
For all the logistical problems Brazil has faced in trying to overhaul a continent-sized country of some 200 million people, news the South African icon is no more has struck a chord at the becah resort draw venue in Costa do Sauipe.
""We knew he was unwell and that he was going to die," FIFA president Blatter said, revealing there would be a presentation showing Mandela holding the World Cup trophy during the event in his homeland in 2010.
"You will see what we shall show today, him with the World Cup in his hands. It's his happiest moment. A dream became reality when we gave the World Cup to South Africa," the head of football's governing body said.
Blatter dubbed Mandela one of the "greatest humanists" on Thursday, reminiscing how moved he was to see the former president cheered at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium ahead of the 2010 World Cup final.
But it was a decade earlier that Mandela summed up how it was sport, not politics, which can bring social change of the kind Brazil now seeks in hosting its second World Cup and three years from the Rio Games, the first South American Olympiad.
"Sport has the power to change the world to change the world, it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does," Mandela said in a 2000 address to the Laureus Sports Awards.
And as Brazil battles some public opposition to the event -- one was announced for Salvador, an hour away from the draw, and another in Rio, for Friday -- another Mandela observation also sent out a message from beyond the grave as Brazil looks to bolster its infrastructure through sport.
"Sport can create hope where once there was only despair," Mandela said on that same occasion.
And furthermore, "it is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers."
Earlier, the self-styled Popular Committee of the World Cup" protesters said it would hold an 'anti-draw' in Rio, to complain about privatisation of the Maracana Stadium and what they term "the eliticization of soccer."
Ensconced in their Costa do Sauipe tourist haven with the world's media and the coaches of the teams, the draw was to start at 1300 local time (1600 GMT).
Friday's lottery involves some complex juggling to separate as far as possible teams from the same continent.
But some of the eight groups will have to contain two European sides, with the continent having 13 of the 32 qualifiers.
The presence of all eight former champions -- only surprise package Bosnia will be making their debut -- could produce some ultra-tough groups.
Brazil could theoretically face two European former champions in the shape of, for example, France and Italy.
England coach Roy Hodgson believes that where a team plays could be more important than whom they face as the team drawn second in Brazil's group faces a marathon travel schedule and having to play in sweltering heat in the north.
Last week's fatal accident at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, in which two workers died, forced organisers to put back the stadium's completion date.
But Blatter insisted he was confident the venue would still be able to host the opening match on June 12.
That would mean the stadium will have to undergo testing less than two months before the kick-off of the game which will feature the hosts and five-times world champions.
"We have received information it should be ready in mid-April," Blatter said.
"For the time being there is no Plan B," Blatter added.
Aside from Sao Paulo, Curitiba is also running behind schedule and set for February completion while Cuiaba is on course for a late January finish, forcing FIFA to drop an initial firm December deadline for the completion of all 12 venues.
Brazil last hosted the World Cup in 1950 but in those days there were only 13 teams and none of the mass media coverage which accompanies the modern game.
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