There will be 18th birthday parties in Essex this weekend that have more wit and imagination than this, says Martin Samuel.
London - Is there anything more pointless than a World Cup opening ceremony? Joining the league against the march of the unstoppable Sepp Blatter perhaps? Trying to find where the money’s gone again? Putting the toothpaste back in the tube?
The Olympic flame lighting gala is part of the wonder of the event. Fortunes are spent, the biggest names are hired. Histories unfold and the Arctic Monkeys rock out.
By contrast, there will be 18th birthday parties in Essex this weekend that have more wit and imagination than this.
There were plenty of perfectly viable ways to start this World Cup- the ceremonial beheading of various disgraced Fifa executive committee members, for instance - but Brazil 2014 went for the usual. A cast of hundreds twirling colourfully but to no real purpose, representing the same old cliches that bear about as much resemblance to the true soul of Brazil as Morris dancers would cut to the heart of old England.
Still, it was good to see the spirit of Frank Sidebottom rekindled in the dancers with what appeared to be footballs for heads. They resisted the opportunity to do Frank’s own World Cup song, Three Shirts On The Line-a pulsating tale of the time his ball went over next door’s fence - but you can’t have everything.
All opening ceremonies have a central theme, though, and this was no exception. Nature, people and football - “Brazil’s greatest treasures”, according to Fifa, who would know a bit about plundering them - were the subject of this one, which included 660 dancers, floaters and others just standing for large parts of the process wondering how hot it could get inside a giant football head before a person passed out.
As ever, the action was ripe with hidden meaning.
Many had the tall folk on stilts down as representing the trees of the Amazonian rainforest, but those of a more creative bent will have instantly spotted the subtle representation of England’s back four against Germany in Bloemfontein. The same stilted sideways movement, uncannily similar pace. Maybe the trees turned quicker and had a better positional sense, but there is always a degree of artistic licence where these festivals are concerned.
Soon after dancers in national costumes old and new celebrated together, some performing somersaults and cartwheels, representing the joy that is felt among the various members of Fifa ExCo when the bloke from Qatar turns up with a sackload of readies.
More formally attired attendants represented the lawyers telling journalists they can’t make jokes like that, because nothing of this nature has been proven. And that they’re racists, probably. It really was a most heart-warming scene.
Meanwhile, extras dressed as flowers, sprouts, sprites and other stuff you pick out of a salad stood around doing, well, nothing really. Everyone was waiting for J-Lo. There is always a big ticket item at opening ceremonies and Jenny from the block was Brazil’s.
All week, stories have circled: would she turn up, if she did would she perform or mime, is there genuinely nobody in a country populated by close to 200 million that can carry a tune without having to import mundane duds from the Bronx?
And then she appeared, as Claudia Leitte murdered Ary Barroso’s wonderful Aquarela do Brasil - the only vaguely Brazilian music on offer - and was shortly joined by Pitbull to do the same to other Fifa-endorsed dirges too miserable to mention. God, it was rotten stuff, although all involved seemed very pleased with themselves.
At the end they disappeared into a hole in what appeared to be an overripe mango, which was strangely appropriate.
So what was the stadium like? Was it ready? Was if functioning? Mostly. The helicopters circling overhead told a different World Cup story, one of resentment and unrest, but nothing fell down, so by the standards of modern tournament organisation, this equates to a triumph.
The Arena Corinthians is another of those Fifa-endorsed projects that goes down so well in countries whose citizens still dwell in slums. São Paulo, the club and the city, had a perfectly passable 67 000-capacity stadium in town that needed modernisation.
Instead, Fifa insisted on a new ground and this was built to the east of the city for São Paulo’s great rivals Corinthians, huge and white, with fabulous views of the local poverty. There was bunting hanging from the houses nearby but it had seen better days.
Brazil is a hot country and material quickly fades, but even so this looked as if it had been put up some time ago in an attempt to affect enthusiasm for the project, rather than in a frenzy of anticipation as the World Cup drew near.
Maybe this will change as the competition progresses and Brazil with it, but right now the idea of football returning to its spiritual home feels like a headline more than a truth.
Those inside the stadium were noisy, enthusiastic and clearly good to go, but the rest of the country is still asking what the World Cup can do for them. They’ll hang out the bunting when they have something to bunt about.