The greatest sporting spectacle of the World is finally upon us.
For sports aficionados, today’s scheduled start of the quadrennial World Cup football competition kicks off one month of mouth-watering football matches.
But the glitz and the glamour of FIFA’s showpiece event (participation at which is the dream of each of the 209 countries under FIFA’s umbrella) masks the off field nightmare of allegations of corruption in the highest echelons of the world governing body.
If there is one person who should be glad that the World Cup competition is getting underway today that person should be FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
The 78-year-old Swiss is at the moment addressing FIFA’s annual Congress and is probably drooling over the anticipated success/profits at the end of the competition while at the same time trying to sweep under the carpet the issues of corruption especially the brouhaha over the award of Qatar as host of the 2022 World Cup. Blatter will, most likely, at the end of it all, use the success (providing that it is successful) of the competition to boost his chances of a final run at the presidency come 2015.
The 20th staging of the World’s most spectacular sporting event should help followers of the beautiful game forget all their trials and tribulations in the one-month spectacle which oftentimes showcase breathtaking individual dribbling skills, superb headers and brilliant saves by goalkeepers not to mention unforgettable matches which often produce roller coaster emotions.
In Guyana, the competition could serve as a welcome diversion given all that has transpired recently including the battle for the Guyana Football Federation (GFF) presidency which preceded it although that matter has been put to bed by Blatter’s FIFA, paving the way for GFF president Chris Matthias to attend the Congress currently underway in Brazil.
Brazil, though, is an altogether different kettle of fish. It is the only nation to have participated in every World Cup competition and has won the competition a record five times in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002.
They also were runners up on two occasions 1950 and 1998 and third place finishers in 1938 and 1978.
It is against this backdrop that hundreds of thousands of fans are expected to descend on the streets of Brazil for the competition beginning with today’s match. In the lead up to the tournament there have been street and other protests for wage increases and other issues which escalated yesterday to include cyber-attacks with hackers claiming to have hacked into many of the World Cup sites.
Yesterday too, Police in Brazil reported that they feared there might be violence and street protests today when the competition is scheduled to commence at 5pm with the host country taking on Croatia.
Nonetheless, the fact that the Brazilian government has so far spent over $11b to help prepare the infrastructure necessary including the erection and refurbishing of football stadia for a successful staging of the competition, means that the government, the Local Organising Committee and diehard fans will most likely be rooting for a successful competition even as protestors strike for better working conditions and better laws.
What type of competition will Brazil produce?
Only time will tell.
There was much optimism when Brazil won the right to stage the competition in 2007. Like cricket in India, football in Brazil is considered a religion and India’s Sachin Tendulkar and Brazil’s `King’ Pele are considered Icons and revered not only at home but abroad.
Therefore, it seems appropriate that the 2014 World Cup is being held in Brazil for all of the stated reasons and more.
As hosts, Brazil qualified automatically for the tournament and while they did crash out of the 2011 Copa America competition, they did win the 2013 Confederations Cup with a 3-0 defeat of Spain. At the moment they are riding an unbeaten streak of nine matches without defeat.
No team outside South America has won the competition held in the Americas and while Brazil and Argentina are among the favourites, European teams such as Spain, France, Italy and Germany are also expected to advance to what could potentially be a European versus South American dream finale.
Since 1930 just eight different teams have won the competition and it is unlikely that this year will see a team which has never won the competition before being crowned World Cup champs.
The two teams for today’s match Croatia and Brazil have played twice before with Brazil winning one match and the other being drawn.
The Croatia squad which includes two Brazilian born players forward Eduardo Silva and midfielder Sammir and the team will be led by Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Bayern Munich striker Mario Manduzkic and Coached by Niko Kovac.
Brazil, though, boast the formidable striker Neymar who, along with teammate Fred, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, Belgian Eden Hazard, and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo (once fit) are among the favorites to win the Golden Boot or Golden Shoe award which goes to the top goal scorer.
Today’s match will be played in the city of Sao Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil and one considered to be the financial and business hub of the country. The match will be played at the Arena de Sao Paulo (Corinthians Arena) which was constructed this year and has a seating capacity of roughly 61,601.Japan’s Yuichi Nishimura is the referee with Toru Sagara and Toshiyuki Nagi his assistants.
Kickoff time is 5pm and the winner will be….