Brazil and the FIFA World Cup. A country and a tournament made for each other.
Combine the world’s fifth largest nation, both in size and population, with football’s global showpiece and the stage is set for one of the marquee sporting events of 2014.
It has been a long time coming. Brazil, the most successful team in World Cup history, has waited 64 years for a second chance to host. None of its previous five World Cup wins have come on home soil.
Huge expectations accompanied a cavernous new stadium built specifically for the 1950 World Cup. But Rio’s iconic Estadio Maracana fell silent as neighbouring Uruguay spoiled the party. More than half a century later, Brazil finally has the chance to be the star of its own show.
It has everything going for it. World-class players mixed with fanatical home support promise to serve up an irresistible cocktail. Just a year ago, Brazil lived up to the hype and handled the pressure by winning the FIFA Confederations Cup in style.
It was a tantalizing glimpse of what may lie ahead. After years of relative obscurity Brazil has a new generation of young, skillful players who have the ability, speed and bravado to take on the world. Neymar, Oscar, and Hulk will lead the charge.
Spain, Germany, Argentina also title threats
The Brazilians will wear the favourites tag but they are not unbeatable. Defending champions Spain have been the world’s number one team for six years. It has the experience and ability to become the first nation since 1962 to retain its title.
Germany is a perennial World Cup contender and has matured since finishing third in 2010. German clubs have taken Europe by storm in recent years and there are high hopes the national team can win its fourth World Cup title.
There is no lack of optimism in Argentina. Inspired by the brilliant Lionel Messi, the South Americans are desperate to put on a show in neighbouring Brazil. Many thousands will cross the border to cheer on their heroes who cannot be discounted.
Protests, political unrest causing delays
Yet in a country where soccer is king, there is unrest. The honour of hosting the World Cup is not universally popular. The enormous cost of staging the month long tournament has overshadowed the build up, prompting public protests amid accusations of corruption.
Despite embarrassing stadium delays, major cost overruns, and construction site fatalities, the show will inevitably go on. It's worth too much to the Brazilian economy and FIFA to allow domestic disharmony to be a distraction. However, the presence of the international media will bring demonstrators back onto the streets to get their message across.
Thirty-two nations will compete in 12 cities across Brazil in pursuit of one glittering prize. For most, merely being a part of this football fiesta is reward in itself and while upsets will happen – ultimately the cream will rise to the top.
A global audience numbering hundreds of millions will cheer, jeer, rejoice and cry. For a limited time only, the world’s biggest emotional roller-coaster is open for business. Jump on.