The FIFA World Cup got to an exciting start on June 13 with Brazil winning the first match against Croatia 3-1 as we went to press with this issue.
Twenty-year-old forward Neymar scored twice for his team and the country, which is hosting the most-widely followed game in the world.
He slotted a controversial penalty in the 71st minute to ensure three points for the home side after a nervy start. Chelsea’s Oscar added a third for Brazil in the final minute.
Croatia stunned the Brazilian crowd when defender Marcelo found his own net while trying to clear a low cross by Ivica Olic inside the area in the 11th minute.
Millions of people around the world are watching the 20th FIFA World Cup, many of them skipping work or arriving late. The craze for the game will go on until the final matches are played in Rio de Janeiro on July 14.
Thirty-two teams are competing for the biggest trophy of the football world, across 12 different venues.
Defending champions Spain face a stern test from the host country and Argentina in particular, in defending their title. Historically, European teams have not done well in South America. Playing in South America, the European teams must change their style of play. Can Spain break the hoodoo?
Spain: The Spanish play a brand of football popularly referred to as ‘The Barcelona Style’. In this style, they possess the ball for large portions of the game, moving it quickly between players, and in and out of the opponents, wearing them down with short passes.
Atletico Madrid’s 22-year-old attacking midfielder Jesus Resurreccion ‘Koke’ is the main player for Spain. An ageing squad coupled with the absence of goalkeeper Victor Valdes pose the major challenges for them.
Argentina: The two times past champions are also expected to have a good run at the event. They play an artistic form of football where individual brilliance is allowed to shine, as opposed to regimented playing styles.
Lionel Messi the team’s captain carries the hopes of the nation on his shoulders.
Critics might argue that the team, being a bit lightweight in defence, but they have a good coach in Alejandro Sabella and very promising forwards including Sergio Aguero and Messi. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero is also a safe bet in guarding the goalpost.
Brazil: The host nation is the favoured team of many to add to their kitty of five World Cups. Brazil proved in the first game with 3-1 against Croatia that it possesses a supremely talented squad with Neymar and 25-year-old winger Willian leading the pack.
In manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, they have an official with prior experience of winning the trophy. They will also have the advantage of home conditions and a strong fan base.
England: Home to the English Premier League (EPL), the biggest football league in the world, they have traditionally struggled in the World Cups. The team won the title way back in 1966, and has not advanced past the semi-final stages since 1990.
England is expected to struggle in the hot and humid conditions that Brazil presents. Much is expected of forward Wayne Rooney. His performances for England pale in comparison to his glorious career at EPL club Manchester United.
Holland has been World Cup runners up thrice but never won the trophy. The players are in a challenging group with Spain, Chile and Australia, where the top two teams advance to the next stage. Winger Arjen Robben and rising star defender Stefan de Vrij will be the players to watch out for the Dutch.
Belgium: The Belgians are an exciting prospect. They play an attractive brand of football. Manager Mark Wilmot, a former Belgium football star, has selected as many as 12 players owned by Premier League clubs in his squad of 24.
Kiwi football fans will be disappointed in the national team ‘All Whites’ not qualifying for the Cup. After a stellar performance in the last edition in South Africa where they came close to qualifying for the quarterfinals, the Kiwis gave a major fillip to the game in New Zealand. However, our Australian cousins will be in the field.
Coached by former player Ange Postecoglou, they will be optimistic with their 30-year- old captain, midfielder Michael John ‘Mile’ Jedinak.
The fifth largest country in the world and the largest in the South and Latin American region, Brazil is hosting the World Cup for the second time after 1954.
This will be the biggest sporting event that the country has hosted before the 2016 Olympics due to be held in Rio.
FIFA World Cup offers an excellent platform for Brazil to showcase to the wider world, that this rapidly developing country is taking fast strides towards becoming a world super power.
Football fans will be hoping for an exciting and entertaining month of the game with FIFA World Cup 2014. It presents a quadrennial opportunity to witness the world’s best footballers compete in a single event where heroes are made.
With evenly matched squads, the event looks too close to call but the real winner at the end of series will be football and its millions of followers.