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Dublin: 10 °C Friday 18 October, 2019

'You're Irish?' asked the smiling apparatchik with the golden tickets. 'What's the craic?'

Mikey Stafford checks in from Fortaleza where getting into Brazil’s press conference was almost as hard as getting a ticket.

Fortaleza is ready for the Brazil circus ahead of tonight's Group A clash with Mexico.
Fortaleza is ready for the Brazil circus ahead of tonight's Group A clash with Mexico.
Image: Themba Hadebe/AP/Press Association Images

Mikey Stafford reports for from Fortaleza

OVER BREAKFAST YESTERDAY we watched Neymar the football-playing fish beat a sluggish competitor called Chicharito in a game of first-to-three.

In the evening, while walking on Fortaleza’s promenade, my girlfriend had her picture taken with a Neymar lookalike.

The evening before we witnessed the Brazil number 10′s on-again-off-again soap actress girlfriend Bruno Marquezine being pursued down the same beachfront by Mexico fans keen for a snap with the picturesque WAG.

All three rings of the World Cup circus have enveloped the capital city of the northeastern Ceara State and driving the hype, like anywhere else in the world, is the media. We could have stayed in Salvador for the Germany-Portugal game but then we would have missed out on the fun and games ahead of Brazil’s second World Cup game against Mexico this evening.

photo (1) Neymar's twin was doing the rounds in Fortaleza last night. Source: Adelle Hughes

The facilities here for journalists are impressive — huge media centres, well-equipped press boxes, spacious press conference rooms staffed by translators, dedicated shuttle buses to and from the grounds and an army of volunteers to answer every question, no matter how ridiculous.

Fortaleza’s impressive Estadio Castelao is no different but yesterday its preparedness was stress-tested by the arrival of the Brazilian media. Of the approximately 500 written, TV and photo journalists at the match tonight roughly half hail from the the host nation.

Having forsaken Germany’s four-gun salute in Salvador it looked for a worrying few hours like we would miss out on a ticket to the Seleção Show. Yesterday’s pre-match press conference was seemingly over-subscribed so had to join The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times and many, many more media organisations on a waiting list.

It would be lovely to report we all remained composed and retained our dignity during this process but as the stack of precious passes in the harried FIFA official’s hand grew smaller the stress levels of the press pack climbed higher.

photo 2 (2) "Tickets" were at a premium for Scolari's pre-match press conference. Source: Mikey Stafford

Eventually, with minutes to spare before Luiz Felipe Scolari and Thiago Silva addressed the packed auditorium, was given a golden ticket.

“You’re Irish?” asked the smiling Brazilian apparatchik. “What’s the craic?”

“All the better now that I’ve got this,” I replied, brandishing my pass and hightailing it through the air-conditioned warren of subterranean tunnels that made up the Castelao’s media centre. Having made it on time and surprisingly even finding a seat, I settled down for an audience with “Big Phil”.

Unfortunately there was no opportunity to ask a question, despite waving our hand in the air, side-to-side like we just don’t care. I could have been wearing a giant foam finger and still been ignored — the lion’s share of the questions went to Brazil’s media and with six channels sharing the broadcast rights, plus up to 10 national papers, that is a lot of questions.

When famous Mexican journalist Ines Sainz can’t even grab the microphone, you know the odds are stacked against you. The FIFA facilitator did ask for Sainz to be given the last question saying, “and finally to the lady in the middle”, but the male journalist in the front row charged with handing the mic back to her shamelessly chose not to understand and took the last question for himself. He looked nothing like Ines Sainz.

Ravens Jets Football Ines Sainz: one of Mexican TV's most famous faces couldn't get a word in at yesterday's press conference.

A relaxed Scolari was amused by this incident and it is no surprise to learn the grizzled Brazil coach has the media eating out of his hand. The press conferences during his short stay at Chelsea were usually amusing affairs and, in his native Portuguese, he was bright and breezy. Well, at least his translator was. At one point he asked his captain if he wanted to pick the team after Silva began listing the options available should Hulk fail to prove his fitness before this evening.

That no one dared ask about the suspected stye in his right eye, even after he joked about it himself, suggested the media are wary of getting on Scolari’s wrong side. Once the press conference was over a Brazilian journalist admitted he had wanted to ask about his right eye, which was practically closed, but he didn’t want to “burn a question” as “journalists here often make him angry.”

Competition is fierce in the Brazilian market, particularly television. With media giant Globo taking the decision to broadcast SporTV 24 hours a day throughout the tournament there is great pressure on their army of journalists, in their natty blue shirts, to produce the content that will fill the 18-plus hours when matches are not being played.
The demands will be even greater after the first round when there are fewer games to broadcast, preview and review.

As long as the “Big Phil Show” is on the road the Brazilian media will be able to feed the beast. Elimination cannot be contemplated, by the supporters or the media.

The show must go on.

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Mikey Stafford

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