EVERY World Cup is special, but from the moment Brazil was awarded the 2014 tournament seven years ago, there has been a sense that something particularly exciting is brewing.
The best international sides, featuring the world’s best players, fighting for supremacy in the nation that cherishes football above all others. How can that possibly fail to get the heart rate racing?
For all that the World Cup brand has been tarnished by the ongoing controversies about the bidding process for 2022, and for all that some might argue the Champions League has superseded international football as the pinnacle of the game, the World Cup remains the tournament that players want to win above any other.
Think of your earliest footballing memories, and there’s a fair chance they’ll involve grainy images of World Cup matches from some far-flung part of the world. By the middle of next month, a host of new heroes will have emerged to take their place in the tournament’s Hall of Fame.
Will a majority of them be Brazilian? More than 201m inhabitants of the host nation will be desperately hoping so, and while it is 2002 since the ‘Selecao’ won the fifth of their World Cup titles, they start as deserved favourites this time around.
In 22-year-old striker Neymar, they boast the poster boy of 2014, but whereas previous Brazilian sides have prioritised individual flair over a strong team ethic, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s current line-up boast organisation and commitment to go with their talent. It would be no surprise to see them celebrating in the Maracana, below right, on July 13.
Their fellow South Americans, Argentina, are likely to be one of their leading rivals, with a stellar World Cup the only thing missing from the CV of fourtime World Player of the Year Lionel Messi. With an inviting group draw, Argentina should start with a bang.
Reigning champions Spain lead the European charge, and while the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta are coming towards the end of their career, it would be foolhardy to write off arguably the strongest squad on display in the finals.
Germany might dispute that claim, while plenty are claiming that an emerging Belgium could be a team to follow. France and Portugal are unpredictable, but on their day, possess the players to impress.
Colombia, Uruguay, Chile and Ecuador will attempt to prove that Brazil and Argentina are not the only South American powerhouses, while Ivory Coast and Ghana look likely to be the strongest sides from Africa.
England? Who knows. But at least Roy Hodgson’s reliance on youth means there should be a marked improvement on the dire displays that characterised the side’s performance at the 2010 World Cup.
Whatever happens over the next four weeks, it should be a thrill to watch the drama unfold. Despite all the scare stories, Brazil is ready. Let the action begin.