Ever since 1950, when 173,850 spectators – the largest-ever World Cup audience – crammed into Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium and watched perplexed as Uruguay snatched away the championship from Brazil at the game’s end, the country has been forced to wait for another chance to win the world title on its home ground. But is it possible?
2014 brings hope. After seven years of preparation which included upgrades to infrastructure, many South American Cup games and friendly matches, and a Confederations Cup win by the Brazilian national team, the second World Cup hosted by the world’s most famous football country is just around the corner.
World Cup fever will likely grip the country earlier when compared with years past, especially when the the 32 participating teams arrive in their host cities. In the months of June and July, tourists will mix with passionate local fans in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Cuiabá, Curitiba, Fortaleza, Porto Alegre, Recife, Manaus, Natal and Salvador.
The tournament’s national sides have already been determined, and their various groups have been decided in the game show-like atmosphere of FIFA’s Final Draw ceremony, and include every one of the seven teams besides Brazil to have ever won the Cup: Uruguay, Italy, Germany, England, Argentina, France and Spain.
Other optimistic teams include the Netherlands – which qualified easily – and Portugal (playoff winners in a tough duel against Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden), joining other major players in the tournament, but they’ll depend heavily on the striker Cristiano Ronaldo to advance.
Despite Ibrahimovic having said that a World Cup without him isn’t worth watching, there are plenty of other stars who promise to make things interesting. Lionel Messi, who has yet to do for Argentina what he can do for his club Barcelona, will lead the Brazilians’ biggest rivals. Spain comes with much of the crew that earned the team FIFA’s number-one ranking, including the masterful Andrés Iniesta and Xabi Alonso showing off their now-famous short and quick ‘Tic-Tac’ style of play. Germans Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Götze are the big names from their strong national team.
Perennial favourites Brazil can rely on the talent of Neymar and the precision of Paulinho – both returning home from their European clubs – while the ever-reliable Daniel Alves and Thiago Silva help to reinforce the team’s power. All this weaponry will be directed by coach Felipão, who’s no stranger to victory, having led Brazil to its fifth Cup championship in 2002, when he smartly bet on the then-discredited Ronaldo to shine in Japan and Korea.
The team has a long way to go to reach the final, which is set to take place in the very same spot in which Brazil suffered its historic 1950 defeat to Uruguay. A slimmed down and remodeled Maracanã will host around 78,000 fans, the majority of whom will be Brazilians praying that the football gods make July 13, 2014 a happier day than the tragic one, nearly 64 years earlier.