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'Francois's eyes glitter like his merchandise as he gives his prediction: Switzerland and Brazil'

Swtizerland’s squad — comprised largely of the children of immigrants and refugees — stands poised to give its reputation a great boost, writes our man in Brazil.

LAST NIGHT A Swiss man laid bare on the table the riches that can be extracted from Brazilian resources.

Unlike his compatriot Sepp Blatter, who will spend little over a month here for FIFA’s congress and the proceeding World Cup, this “stone dealer” has spent 25 years living in Bahia, trading in the gems that are mined in the vast state of which Salvador is the capital.

Francois gave us an hour long tutorial on his trade, mesmerising us as he produced tray after tray of precious stones from shelves under his unassuming desk in his unassuming office on an unassuming street in the city’s Pelourinho district.

By the end we were beguiled by his kaleidocope of beryls, malachites, rubies, black diamonds and emeralds — the green gem for which Bahia is renowned.

South of Salvador yesterday, in São Paulo, Blatter was doing his best to charm a much larger audience as the embattled FIFA president addressed the African and Asian confederations’ gatherings ahead of tomorrow’s Congress.

He singled out the British media for their attempts to “destroy the institution” in the wake of the Sunday Times’ revelations surrounding Qatar’s successful bid for the 2022 World Cup. As always the Swiss septuagenarian struck a defiant tone.

“I still have fire inside me and, if we show unity, that is the best way to deal with those in the world that want to destroy Fifa,” said Blatter, who was backed up in the strongest possible terms by an African Federation resolution, which condemned the “repeated, deliberately hateful, defamatory and degrading attacks by some media, notably British, on the image and integrity of the Confederation of African Football”.

The continent’s football rulers were striking back at the ST allegations that Mohamed Bin Hammam supposedly bribed several African members of FIFA’s executive to vote for Qatar’s bid.

Salvador is the largest African city outside Africa. Over 80% of its three millions inhabitants are black descendants of the slaves brought here by the Portuguese to work on the cotton and sugar plantations that enriched the European empire.

In a city of over 300 churches the religion of Candomble still holds sway. Selecting elements of Catholicism and African traditions it is a religion of saints and gods, where people’s buzios, or cowrie shells, are read by the priests.

While the city hosts Spain and Holland on Friday, it seems to be just as geared towards the harvest festival of São Joao, with decorations on almost every street of the Pelourinho.

photo 1 Salvador is already gearing up for the Festival of Sao Joao later this month Source: Mikey Stafford/TheScore.ie

One local paper, Massa!, featured on its front page yesterday a woman in traditional wide Bahian skirt and headdress reading shells in the colours of the competing nations.

This city of immigrants will host the second game of a team of immigrants who may go a long way to rehabilitating Switzerland’s football reputation.

Two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld will retire at the end of the tournament, which may see his exciting team turn a few heads and cause a few shocks.
The conservative European country is growing more and more embarrassed by the presence of FIFA and their Bond villain-inspired headquarters in Switzerland. Not to mention the governing body’s Swiss president, who spends a great deal of his time and energy on defending FIFA against accusations of corruption.

A diverse but politically delicate country, football’s reputation among a dubious population can receive a boost if a team comprised largely of the children of immigrants and refugees can perform well in the next month.

Some of their stars, like centre halfs Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou, are well known to Premier League fans. Arsenal centre half Djourou was born in Ivory Coast, while new Aston Villa signing Senderos, the son of a Spanish father and Serb mother, can speak six languages.

photo 3 Is the future written in the shells?

Their poster boy is Xherdan Shaqiri, an ethnic Albanian whose family fled Yugoslavia in 1992. The Bayern Munich attacker will lead the line with Josip Drmic, the Swiss born Nuremberg striker of Croatian ancestry.

Turkish midfielder Gokham Inler is Hitzfeld’s captain and he will command the centre of midfield alongside his Napoli team-mate Valon Behrami, born in Kosovo.

Anothe Kosovan, Granit Xhaka will pull the strings, while Fulham’s Macedonian midfielder Pajtim Kasami offers Hitzfeld yet more options.

Brazil Switzerland WCup Soccer The Swiss team landed in Sao Paulo on Saturday night. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Their World Cup build up, including a 1-0 win over the same Jamaica Group E rivals France beat the tar out of have dampened expectations slightly ahead of their opener against Ecuador on 15 June in Brasilia.

However any type of result in the capital will see the Swiss roll into Salvador for their encounter with the French with confidence, and Francois’s eyes glitter like his merchandise as he gives his prediction for the final.

“Switzerland and Brazil,” he says.

For these to meet in the Maracana one will have to finish second in their group, but were it to occur the Swiss would not be without confidence following last year’s 1-0 friendly win over the Seleção in Basel.

The winner that day was an own goal from Dani Alves, himself a jewel of Bahia. Is a remarkable rehabilitation written in the shells?

Open thread: What is your favourite World Cup goal?

About the author:

Mikey Stafford

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