Editorial: World Cup drama on and off the pitch

Football fans or not, it's hard to ignore the World Cup.

Even without New Zealand's All Whites there to provide glimpses of the unbelievable - Winston Reid's last-gasp equaliser against Slovakia, holding world champions Italy to a draw - there will be unforgettable moments.

In part that is because it's the world's biggest sporting stage, and a large chunk of the globe will be tuning in.

Its return to Brazil for only the second time will bring an added element, like the fervour that New Zealand rugby fans brought to hosting the 2011 Rugby World Cup, multiplied by a factor of tens of millions of fans equipped with a greater sense of rhythm.

Thirty-two teams will fight it out, bringing hordes of supporters, celebrities and politicians with pressing business in Brazil.

There will be upsets in the early rounds, there will be controversies (though goal-line technology will take at least one inglorious uncertainty out of play), and perhaps a scandal involving an English player, or his girlfriend.

Unfortunately, the Irish aren't there to provide the hard-luck story, or the happiest fans whatever their team's results. But the English and the Dutch can fill that void, and we also have Australia to feel sorry for, or superior to, in one of the multiple "groups of death".

It makes picking the last 16 a perilous exercise, which augurs well for some thrills along the way.

Fifa will just be hoping that the deeds on the pitch take away the uncomfortable focus on off-field issues. Among them have been worries about the readiness of the stadiums - a concern that usually fails to eventuate, as in South Africa in 2010.

Of more concern is the domestic anger and protests in Brazil at the billions spent on the tournament instead of improving public services, and allegations of corruption involving the government and stadium builders. President Dilma Rousseff made a plea this week for the country to get behind the World Cup, rebuking "pessimists", but protests in several cities continued this morning.

If the host favourites get on a roll, the protests may be drowned out by a month-long samba celebration.

The issue that is not likely to melt away, however, is the allegations of corruption within Fifa itself. Long accused of questionable practices, the all-powerful world football body is under intense scrutiny over the process used in awarding the 2022 tournament to the small Gulf Arab state of Qatar.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter did nothing to enhance his credibility by saying that allegations that Qatar tried to buy the tournament were motivated by "racism".

This prompted a British peer, and former head of England's governing football body, to say Fifa acts like a mafia family, with a tradition of "bribes, bungs and corruption".

The trouble is that Fifa is a law unto itself, and is investigating the Qatar allegations internally.

For now, though, the world will sit back and watch one of the great sporting theatres unfold in its spiritual homeland. It's a combination that's hard to beat.

The Nelson Mail