All Eyes on Brazil
for football's grand gala
he showpiece event for 'the beautiful game' is back and comes from its adopted home, Brazil. The 2014 FIFA World Cup will be held for the second time in the beautiful South American country and is scheduled to take place from June 12 to July 13. Storylines, rivalries and intense national pride will all be played out on the pitch once the tournament culminates in Rio de Janeiro.
For many, a dream World Cup tournament would be held in Brazil and won by the host country. Only half of that equation is a certainty, and it remains to be seen whether Brazil can finally win the coveted World Cup trophy on home soil having failed on their first attempt.
The Brazilians might not have their strongest squad in recent years, but they do have a team that coach Luis Felipe Scolari believes has adopted "a family atmosphere". Leading their charge is one who is among the world's best - Neymar da Silva Santos Junior. Brazil's #10 won the Golden Ball at last year's Confederations Cup after winning the final with Brazil. In defence there is captain Thiago Silva who is widely regarded as the best defender in the world today and was named to FIFA's team of the year.
With five stars above the team's crest and playing the role of hosts, Brazil are the clear favourites to reclaim a trophy they last won in 2002.
Aiming to be spoil sports are defending champions Spain. The Iberian country gained their first hold on the World Cup trophy in South Africa 2010 and has since become the first team to retain their hold on the European Championship in 2012, and the first team to conquer Europe after winning the global title. However, after losing last year's Confed Cup final, there has been a level of scepticism over Spain's ability to repeat with mostly aging players and a predictable style of play.
With that said, Spain has arguably the best group of attacking players on paper of all 32 teams while chemistry remains their best asset.
There are dark horses like Belgium who possess young stars that will be looking to crash the party and etch their names in the history books. Their biggest stars include Eden Hazard, captain Vincent Kompany and promising young goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
The tournament also presents the opportunity for the game's top two -- Lionel Messi of Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal -- to stake their claims to become all time greats. The two have underperformed somewhat at international tournaments when compared to their domestic exploits and will be desperate to cap their careers with a World Cup winner's medal to silence their doubters.
While the players present will certainly attract a lot of attention once the tournament begins, the absence of a few major names is sure to be touted as well. The likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden) missed out based on failure to qualify, but other top players like Marco Reus (Germany), Radamel Falcao (Colombia), Franck Ribery (France) and Kevin Strootman (Netherlands) have all missed out due to injury.
Several questions are being asked this summer: Can Brazil finally win on their home turf? Will there be a dream Brazil/Spain final? Will Spain repeat? Can Messi and Ronaldo lead their teams with distinction? Can Brazil host a better World Cup than South Africa?
On July 13, all questions will be answered once and for all.
-- Alexei DaCosta