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TLOTLDR - World Cup Blog Day 9 (9th June 2014)

"We are flying down to RIOOOOOOO!!!!!!!" exclaimed esteemed football writer John Richardson in his best Bryan Ferry voice as we headed for Gate 26 at Miami Airport.

Much better reference than any of that 'Route One' Duran Duran nonsense.

We arrived in Rio at 6am with some of our party having got the full complement of sleepy time as we crossed the equator. Others weren't so lucky, yours truly included. I can't sleep on planes, it's a physical impossibility for me. Or perhaps more accurately, when I WANT to sleep it doesn't happen, when I'm not fussed I invariably drop off for an hour, but only an hour in truth.

Leaving the airport with baggage all present and correct, we got on the bus to our hotel. The initial views from the windows were unremarkable to say the least, but Sugar Loaf Mountain and the tiny figure of Christ The Redeemer atop it were visible from the moment we left the airport. The traffic was mentally busy for first thing in the morning.

Everyone uses their car horn in Rio. Constantly. Whether they're just tapping their horn to the music in their cars I'm not sure, but they don't shut up for a second with their bippety-bipping. Passing through a long tunnel we finally emerged to see the high rise blocks of the hotels apartments and offices of Rio, but lurking behind them were the favelas, a constant reminder of the shocking contrast in the quality of life experienced here.

Travelling from Cape Town airport to that city 4 years ago was a greater contrast. The rusty corrugated iron and the shanty towns dominated either side of the plush dual carriageway we drove down initially before a sudden change as we swung round into view of Table Mountain, and all the corrugated iron disappeared to be replaced by the electric fences and houses that denoted the class (and colour?) divide.

Only when our coach turned onto the sea front and began travelling parallel to Copacabana beach did the true majesty of Rio's scenery become apparent. Seeing it in 3 dimensions, as the mountains loom over the coastline and harbour made it so much more appetising than any picture you can see in a book.

We had about 20 minutes to get into our rooms at Hotel Leme/Lemmy :) before we were bundled back onto the coach to head straight to England's training camp at the Urca University grounds.
What we encountered upon our arrival was a truly magnificent setup - the FA have erected a purpose-built media centre inside the university grounds that leads out to a training pitch that has been grown and nurtured at huge cost to replicate the very best pitches you'll find anywhere in the world. 

The facilities inside were soon put to the test by our own Mark Saggers, who managed to smash a glass table by doing a 'play it cool Trig' move like Del Boy, leaning on it and sending the top part of the table flying! Thankfully no one was hurt as the table top shattered on contact with the tiled floor - everyone looked at me at first as potential culprit, but Saggers wisely owned up to his faux pas and the incident was quickly swept...Er...under the table...

The team emerged a little later than scheduled (story goes they left their hotel without Ross Barkley!!) as a welcoming party of a local drumming band started banging out a samba rhythm and as their lead singer started off with the vocals, it slowly became apparent that what we were hearing was a South American take on Queen's "We Are The Champions"! You could see the penny drop with members of the squad as they recognised the odd motif here and there and some looked slightly embarrassed by it all. But they were quickly out on the perfect playing surface as the band filed away to start an open training session that lasted an hour or so.

Steven Gerrard didn't participate in the full hour, his tight groin - which necessitated his substitution at half time vs Honduras at the weekend - meaning he did the shuttle runs and cardio work but moved to the sidelines when the footballs came out - nothing to worry about really. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wasn't fully involved either, of course, but the fact that he was out there jogging and even showing short bursts of sprinting too is massively encouraging for him and for Roy.

4 years ago, Fabio Capello was accused of keeping his squad too removed from the public eye (the lack of a trip to Robben Island one notable story at the time) but already, this squad have been firmly front and centre getting close to the culture of Brazil.

We took a trip to the biggest favela in Rio - a slum set into one of the mountain sides overlooking the city - to see a sporting facility built at the base of the favela and made for use by the young residents there. It's estimated that over 70,000, maybe even 100,000 people live in this tightly congested space. When you look up at the favela from ground level, you cannot see a single square inch of space between the dwellings (you can't call them houses in the traditional sense) and you just know that claustrophobic setup is a desperately uncomfortable way to live. 

There's a lot of crime up there and family killings are all too regular. And so, sporting clubs like the one Gustavo and his team have built here are an extraordinary morale boost for the children that come to play football, swim, box or perform MMA activities.

Indeed, as several of the England squad arrived on their AstroTurf pitch with Sir Trevor Brooking to hand over a donation, plus Three Lions goodie bags for some lucky locals, some of the children (accompanied by a samba backbeat once again) performed a mixture of dance and MMA called 'Capoeira' that was a joy to watch. The players - Messrs Lallana, Forster, Welbeck, Sturridge and Wilshere - clapped their hands in pretty good time with the funky syncopated rhythms & the kids even cajoled Daniel Sturridge to show off a few of his dance moves, which he was more than happy to do!

The trip back from the favela to the hotel was troublesome thanks to a sudden protest launched by teachers in Rio against the spiralling costs of the World Cup whilst their own wage demands are not being met. They chose to stand outside the FIFA building by Ipanema beach and police closed the coast road off as a result, blocking our car's route back to Copacabana. The rich/poor divide here appears as stark as it was in South Africa, if not more so. 4 years ago, it was seen as a chance for races, colours, creeds and classes to join together to welcome the world...whether that unity has lasted since in Joburg and elsewhere I'm not sure, but there is most certainly no united front here. It's now a question as to whether such protests gather momentum, or whether they peter out once the games get underway on Thursday.

Who knows if a Brazil win over Croatia that opening day will prove a unifying force that hasn't been found yet here?

Back to the hotel we crawled and eventually I practically crawled into my room, dog tired, only to remember that I needed to unpack, reconfigure my Comrex broadcast kit for South American work rather than USA stuff, get my Brazilian mobile off our boss out here, the jovial Mike Bovill (extra jovial as his clothes suitcase had finally arrived today) and last but no means least, order room service!!

Just about the best pepperoni pizza I shall ever taste I think! No rest for the wicked, though. I've got John Cross from the Mirror coming in here at 4.30am local time (8.30UK) to speak to Alan Brazil (who's just down the road) on the TalkSPORT Breakfast show!! 

Crossy? Knocking on my bedroom door in the dead of night? That won't look weird at all will it? ;)

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