3:00pm Wednesday 11th June 2014
By Fraser Watson
THE greatest show on earth.
A description undoubtedly open to debate - but one which billions of football fans will endorse over the next five weeks as the 2014 World Cup takes place in BraziI.
And sure enough, no event can trigger media frenzy, pack out pubs, and send grown men into meltdown quite like the beautiful game’s showpiece tournament.
The players and officials themselves will tread a fine line. Some will go down as heroes, creating an iconic legacy never to be forgotten. But others will be vilified, and deemed failures on the big stage for years to come.
Indeed, Geoff Hurst’s hat trick, Pele’s dummy, Maradona’s hand ball, Baggio’s penalty, and Zidane’s red card – just a minor collection of World Cup moments which fans young and old can instantly identify with.
And of course, in theory there is no better place to stage a World Cup than Brazil – whose love affair with the game has seen them lift the coveted trophy a record five times. The most notable of these came in Mexico in 1970, with arguably the greatest international side to have ever graced our game.
The country’s partiality to colourful carnivals should make for special atmospheres both at games and on the streets - as fans of 32 different countries come together for football’s biggest party.
Sadly, thus far, the reality has not been quite so romantic.
The build up in Brazil has been over shadowed by protests from civilians, at odds with the extortionate amount of money involved. And deaths of stadium construction workers, allegations of corruption, and threats of crime have all added to the anxieties of those unsure of the country’s capability of staging an event of such magnitude.
Authorities can only hope that, as in South Africa four years ago, once the tournament is underway the feel good factor it creates will overshadow off field controversy.
One scenario that would guarantee that would be a sixth World Cup win for the hosts.
They understandably start favourites, but with their home advantage will come levels of pressure and expectation that are difficult to comprehend.
Indeed, when Brazil last hosted the tournament, they were beaten 2-1 in the finale by Uruguay in front of 200,000 fans at the Maracana. Under the old group format, a draw would have been enough to see them lift the trophy.
It was a defeat that effectively sent a nation into mourning, and a defeat that those old enough to remember in Brazil still lament. Only this week, Pele himself said the ideal scenario would be for his country to beat Uruguay in the final of this World Cup, to avenge the heart break he still feels after watching the 1950 game as a boy.
But should Brazil fail to live up to expectations, the likes of Argentina, Spain, and Germany will all be ready to pounce.
Meanwhile Uruguay, Holland, Portugal, Italy, and given their draw, France, will all be considered dark horses capable of upsetting the odds and lifting the crown.
The major European nations will of course have to acclimatise to the searing heat, and overcome history with no team from our continent ever winning the tournament in South America. Both are factors that have lengthened their odds.
As for England, for once they do not enter the tournament amidst a hyperbole of hope and expectation.
Roy Hodgson has relieved pressure and picked wisely by opting for youth – and you would hope he has the strength of conviction to play an exciting young line up in Brazil.
He has the players at his disposal to qualify from the group and reach the latter rounds. But a second World Cup triumph, in all likelihood, will be way beyond them.
Personally, I feel inclined to go for Argentina. Their line up is littered with experience and quality, and history is on their side with them winning the last two World Cups in South America (Argentina 1978 and Mexico 1986). And their much heralded forward, Lionel Messi, is due to a big World Cup to cement his position as one of the all time greats. One can’t help but feel that this will be his time to shine.
But irrespective of the outcome, we can all look forward to a month where emotions, opinions, and heart break will all run high. Football will be scattered across the front pages of newspapers as well as back, strangers will hug and celebrate together, youngsters will be replicating goals on the streets and school yards – and wives and girlfriends will take comfort from the thought they only have to deal with the frenzy once every four years.
It’s time to sit back, and enjoy ‘the greatest show on earth.’
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