The history books may show that football has its origins in medial England, but it is Brazil who have come to embody the spirit of the game.
They have perfected football into a thing of beauty. They play the game the way it should be played – with flair and mesmerizing grace. They have even inspired coinage of the phrase “the Brazilian flair,” that little bit extra finesse, guile and skill pleasing to the eye.
It is impossible to imagine another country with a more credible claim to the title of ‘spiritual home of football’ than Brazil. So, this summer the beautiful game returns home and the excitement is palpable.
The South American challenge
Fittingly, the hosts go into the tournament as favourites. It is not just a sentimental tag handed to them on reputation or because they are playing at home. Brazil have an exciting squad that will not be fazed by the weight of expectation and will thrive on the pressure of playing at home. They proved it by putting down a marker during the Confederations Cup.
The hosts also boast the most experienced technical team at the tournament, old heads who have been there, done that and lifted the cup. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and his right-hand man Carlos Alberto Parreira have both guided Brazil to World Cup glory during their respective individual tenures as coaches of the Samba Boys.
So who would be the villain of the piece and deny Brazil on home turf?
Chile had an impressive qualifying campaign and have come on in leaps and bounds over the last couple of years. However, it is traditional arch-rivals Argentina who pose the biggest threat to Brazil’s ambitions. Then again, it depends on which Argentina side turns up. They can be temperamental at times, but if they can get it together, they have the squad and individual talent to upset the applecart and halt the samba dance.
An all-South American Brazil versus Argentina final is the neutral’s dream.
The European Challenge
Defending champions Spain look battle weary. They are exhibiting the tell-tale signs of a team coming to the end of a cycle of dominance. Yet it is difficult to look beyond Vicente Del Bosque’s men for the spearhead of Europe’s challenge.
Notwithstanding their impressive qualifying campaign, Netherlands are notorious for flattering to deceive.
The Germans will be typically solid, there and thereabouts without being spectacular. Italy and France lack the aura and fear-factor of previous sides.
Previous England sides promised much but delivered very little. The current squad is woefully threadbare on experience. Another abysmal World Cup campaign will not surprise anyone.
It is Belgium who could prove to be the surprise package of Europe’s challenge. With the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Vincent Kompany, Adnan Januzaj, etc, their squad boasts some of the hottest talent in Europe at the minute. But do they have the belief to upset the usual suspects and make the step up?
Every now and then World Cup tournaments produce a Cinderella story. If there is to be one in Brazil the candidate authors are likely to come from the CONCAF (USA, Costa Rica, Mexico and Honduras) and Asian (Iran, Australia, Korea Republic and Japan) blocs.
And for every Cinderella story there is almost always cannon fodder for the big boys at the tournament. A couple of teams from the abovementioned blocs could find themselves cast in the latter role.
Otherwise, realistically, success for the CONCAF and Asian teams will be measured by how many points or goals they can garner in the group stages. Reaching the knockout stages will be a bonus.