SAO PAULO —
The eternally clogged local traffic has claimed its first World Cup victim: the scrimmage between the United States men’s national team and Belgium planned for Thursday.
On the day the 2014 FIFA World Cup is set to open across town at the Arena de Sao Paulo with a game between hosts Brazil and Croatia, the Americans and Belgium were to play a closed-door scrimmage at the USA’s base, Sao Paulo FC’s training ground in Barrafunda.
On Wednesday afternoon, US Soccer confirmed that the game had been canceled following a conversation between head coaches Jurgen Klinsmann and Marc Wilmots.
Sao Paulo’s traffic has been bogged down even more than usual by public transportation strikes and Wilmots worried that his team would suffer. He would “not take the risk to go to Sao Paulo, looking at the possibility of a strike and traffic jams,” he told the Associated Press. “I don’t want to sit in a bus for five hours.” The Belgians had been delayed upon their arrival to the Sao Paulo airport as well and have, like everybody else, spent considerable time in traffic.
The cancellation took the American camp by surprise, as the players were looking ahead to the game during media availability just an hour prior to the announcement.
It nevertheless avoids some potential awkwardness. While these two teams faced each other last May in Cleveland, a game Belgium dominated and won 4-2, there was a considerable possibility that they would face in the Round of 16 of the World Cup as well. The USA was drawn into Group G and Belgium Group H, meaning if one of the teams places first in its group and the other second, they would face off in the next round. It’s unusual to play against a team in your preparations that you might face again during the tournament.
Klinsmann had hoped to use the game as a final tune-up, following three stateside friendlies against Azerbaijan, Turkey and Nigeria, all of which were won. However, the cancellation also reduces the chance of a late injury, the sort that has marred a slew of other teams in the tournament.
Now, the USA’s first game on Brazilian soil will take place in Natal on June 16, when they face Ghana in their tournament opener.
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