Not since Italia 90 has there been a World Cup with so much riding on the hosts. For a perspective on how long ago that was, consider this: Sachin Tendulkar was not even a year old in the India team, MS Dhoni was nine and Manmohan Singh hadn’t become India’s finance minister.
France did win at home in 1998 but barring a determined group of players and a doughty coach few believed they could go all the way. Germany surprised themselves by getting to the semi-finals in 2006. For the rest of the hosts, getting out of the group stage called for celebrations.
With Brazil, it can never be that way. “I have to get Brazil to the final,” coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has said. And should they get there, here’s what defender David Luiz recalled being told after the 3-0 decimation of Spain in the Confederations Cup final: “I remember I spoke to the Spanish guys playing for Chelsea and they said when they saw the people singing the national anthem like they did at the final, they all said, ‘It’s impossible to win today.’”
Final, nothing less
Scolari, whose nephew died in a road accident on Tuesday, doesn’t mind winning ugly and has even visualised his dream final — against Argentina. For that to happen though, Lionel Messi will have to do a lot better than score just once going into his third World Cup.
With goalline technology being introduced for the first time, Brazil’s quest for a sixth World Cup title begins here on Thursday against a team that likes to play like them — Croatia. Neymar’s World Cup debut will likely see him play behind lone striker Fred. “I am sure we will lose but we did match them for most of the match in Berlin. In football you can never tell,” said Mathew Kastela, one of the many Croats who have started filling up the touristy spots here, on Tuesday.
Unlike most of the previous 19 editions, it is possible to look beyond the usual suspects who can spoil Brazil’s party. Belgium haven’t played at this level for 12 years but coach Marc Wilmots has brought a sprightly bunch who are afraid of nobody. Eleven of the 23 Belgium players are from the EPL with Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany having a major influence in how Chelsea and Manchester City respectively played. And then there is Romelu Lukaku, young Adnan Januzaj, Thibaut Courtouis, Kevin de Bruyne and Kevin Mirallas. Yes, Christian Benteke will be missed but if Belgium don’t get caught by their lack of experience, they could be the team to watch for. Or Chile, as a Croat legend Davor Suker told fifa.com.
Most of the other top countries are battling fitness issues, the obvious fallout of a gruelling European season. Germany are yet to fix a position for skipper Philipp Lahm, will miss false nine Marco Reus and are also struggling to get a number of stars fit. Injury has forced Franck Ribery to an early summer holiday and though coach Didier Deschamps has created a sense of bonding by leaving out Samir Nasri, are many betting against a failed revolution of the 2010 kind? Ditto Netherlands where Robin van Persie was recently injured.
Cristiano Ronaldo did his bit against Northern Ireland recovering from thigh and knee injuries and will be lining up against Germany on June 16. Portugal are heavily reliant on him just as Uruguay are on Luis Suarez. Though Wayne Rooney has ended a personal goal drought, England’s preparations have been uncharacteristically low-key so much so that their media aren’t talking of a repeat of 1966. Yet. And while Italy cruised through the qualifiers, they haven’t hit form thereafter.
Spain’s golden generation will attempt to emulate what Brazil did in 1958 and 1962. Brace yourself for a final flourish from players who have won everything club and international football have to offer.
For most of the other teams, it is a question of punching above their weight.
There’s a lot to be made from a World Cup, Fifa’s only profit-making event with money mostly from sale of television rights.
There are many Brazilians who wouldn’t agree with that especially after nearly $11 billion was reportedly spent making this the most expensive World Cup. But you know people are excited when cars and houses start wearing flags.
“I know it is difficult sometimes for us to set aside the situation our country is in but the world is going to be here and they deserve a real Brazilian reception,” said Brazil defender Dani Alves.