EXCITEMENT, AS WORLD CUP BEGINS TODAY

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Sao Paulo—Brazil is desperate to make a powerful statement of intent in today’s World Cup opener against Croatia as they seek to relieve the suffocating pressure that has engulfed the team in the build-up to the tournament.
Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has the luxury of being able to field the same team that destroyed world champions, Spain 3-0 in the final of last year’s Confederations Cup, with Barcelona star Neymar the focal point of a powerful and settled line-up.
The five-time champions are expected to qualify from their group without too much trouble but Barcelona defender Dani Alves admitted there was anxiety ahead of the Sao Paulo opener, as they seek to ease the jitters.
“I have always said that if you don’t feel anxiety it is not worth being a professional athlete. The opening game is difficult, important,” said Alves.
But Scolari, who masterminded Brazil’s last World Cup win in 2002, is likely to stick with his tried-and-tested winning formula against 18th-ranked Croatia after the same 11 edged past Serbia 1-0 in a friendly last week, courtesy of a goal from Fred.
Croatia will be missing Bayern Munich’s striker, Mario Mandzukic because of a red card he picked up in a match against Iceland in November.
But they also boast of Real Madrid’s Luka Modric in their line-up, who said the key to the game would be the midfield battle, admitting the task of taking on Brazil in their own backyard was daunting.
“Virtually every game is decided in the midfield. In most situations, the winner is the team that has the better midfield,” said Modric. “I hope that we can show our qualities and can beat Brazil. But this will of course be very difficult.”
Modric, fresh from winning the Champions League with Real Madrid, highlighted the danger of Neymar, hailed by many as the key man for Brazil.
“Neymar did not have the best of season with Barcelona, but when he plays for Brazil, he is a completely different player,” said Modric. “But I believe that we will find a way to stop him.”
The match will be played in the 61,600-capacity Corinthians Arena, which was delayed by accidents in which three workers were killed.
Opening ceremony spectacle (Time 7.15 p.m)
More than 600 dancers reportedly started rehearsing a month ago to put on a show that the world will surely be amazed at.
“The Opening Ceremony is a tribute to Brazil and its treasures: Nature, people football,” said Daphne Cornez, the show’s Belgian artistic director.
“The sense of excitement here is amazing and everyone is very motivated. It doesn’t matter whether they’re feeling tired or hot sometimes, or if they have to go through routines again and again; they just keep on smiling. It’s amazing.”
One of the performers, a 60-year-old female dancer, Edna Sasson, who will be representing a river could barely contain her excitement. “It’s a unique event,” said Sasson. “It’s not like dancing at the local theatre or any other theatre for that matter”.
Adamawa shuts viewing centres
Meanwhile, back home in Nigeria, the Adamawa State Government has announced the closure of all commercial football viewing centres in the state with immediate effect.
A statement issued in Yola, yesterday, and signed by the Director Press and Publications to Governor Murtala Nyako, Ahmed Sajoh indicated that the closure was based on advice by the 23rd Armoured Brigade of the Nigerian Army, Yola to that effect.
“Owing to the current security challenges, the Army authorities have advised the state government to close all the commercial football viewing centres during the forthcoming World Cup Competition in Brazil”, the statement read.
The measure, according to the statement has become imperative as insurgents tormenting the northern states, especially the North East Sub – region have shifted most of their attacks on commercial football viewing centres and other crowdy public places.
Government, according to the statement reasoned that commercial football viewing centres will record unprecedented crowd during the world cup tournament, and the insurgents might capitalize on the crowd- pulling tournament to wreak havoc.
It advised owners of such viewing centres to take the ban in good faith as it is in the interest of the public, especially the youths who constitute the larger percentage of the viewers.
It will be recalled that an attack on a football viewing centre in Mubi, Adamawa State about two weeks ago, claimed the lives of over 40 persons, and left hundreds others injured.
Reacting to the closure, some operators of such centres in Yola, described it as a welcome development.
Aliyu Auta, owner of Uratu VIP football viewing centre opined that though the closure has to do with security which is the most important aspect of life, the economic effect to the operators also matter a lot.
Auta was of the opinion that since most of them depend on the centres for their livelihood, government should provide alternative measures.
Source: Vanguard

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