In just over five months, 32 teams will compete for the world’s most valuable trophy for the 20th time. Has it really been four years?
Four years since Landon Donovan’s miraculous goal against Algeria sent the US into the knockout stage.
Four years since Luis Suarez’s controversial (er, brilliant) handball kept a Cinderella Uruguay team alive.
Four years since Andres Iniesta’s goal in extra time placed the Spanish name atop the rest of the world for the very first time.
Yes, the World Cup is finally in our sights. For one month, the eyes of nearly every nation in the world will be fixated on Brazil. Will we see the same drama this summer?
Can the brilliant young Neymar lead the host nation to an all-time best sixth World Cup title? Can his Barcelona teammate, Lionel Messi, the world’s best player, lead his Argentina squad to play to his club team’s level?
And can the United States possibly place atop Group G, what many consider this year’s group of death, going against the likes of favored world power’s Germany and Portugal? Not to mention Ghana, the team that sent the Americans home in the previous two World Cups.
Four years is a long, long time. The 2006 winner and runner-up in Italy and France failed to even make it out of the group stages in 2010. David Beckham has since retired, and we have already seen French legend Thierry Henry’s final World Cup appearance.
Still, much remains the same. Seemingly every highlight from Portugal will once again be accompanied by some fancy move or, at the very least, a cheeky smile from Cristiano Ronaldo. England still has Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard, Frank Ribery remains the best player in France, Spain still has most of its World Cup winning core intact, and Germany is as tough as ever.
2010 Golden Boot winner Diego Forlan is looking to make his mark once more, but with teammates Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani performing at world-class levels, Uruguay’s goalscoring may be a bit more spread out this time around. Didier Drogba is back for a strong Ivory Coast team, Landon Donovan has returned to the US after a short hiatus, and even Miroslav Klose, at the age of 36, will be in Brazil for Germany as he tries to break the all-time World Cup goals record.
And then, there are the new guys. Neymar and Oscar, who will each only be 22 years old when June comes around, are the new faces of Brazilian soccer. Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi power an exciting young French midfield, and Mario Balotelli has established himself as a world-class striker as he leads Italy into a difficult Group D.
Just like in any sport, any team can win on any given day; this is perhaps true in soccer more so than in any other sport. In the end, though, the best teams will find themselves on top more often than not.
It’s not just the individual brilliance of the world’s best players that is going to get them to the top. None of the perennial Ballon D’or candidates in Messi, Ronaldo and Ribery made very deep runs in South Africa. This is why teams like Spain and Germany, who lack a top-five world superstar, are so good. They define the game as a team sport.
While the short span from June to July will be a career and life-defining time for many players, it isn’t just for them. Fans of soccer, the best fans in the world, enjoy this time more than anybody. This is the “World” Cup. We all get to bask in its glory
When your country’s team scores a goal, so does the entire nation. While the Olympics may have more athletes, events, and medals, there is simply nothing that compares to the grand pinnacle of the world’s most popular sport.
That’s not to say that these are the happiest times for everybody involved. The burden of hosting the World Cup has been difficult for Brazil’s bleeding economy to handle, and, of course, increased nationalism can turn into ugly racism and violence. Disappointing performances by national teams leads to death threats after every important international tournament it seems.
When what we call the “beautiful game” is on display, though, nothing else matters. For one month, we get to lose ourselves on the pitch and forget all the troubles of our lives. We get to see the world’s very best going after each other with all they’ve got. It is simply Heaven for true fans of the sport.
There are so many storylines, so many possible fairy-tale endings, but what makes this trophy so special is the simple fact that there can only be one winner. Only one team will climb to the very top, beating out all others on its path to world glory. Only one team will not spend the rest of 2014 despairing over the chances that it had and let slip through its fingers.
For the next five months, we’ll dissect every group and go over all the big storylines, from Chicharito and Mexico, to van Persie and Holland, to Falcao and Columbia. Which teams have injuries, which teams are on their way down, and which teams have the best shot at winning it all. Stay tuned next week for more.
Question of the Week – What is your prediction for the World Cup Final, and which underdog has the best chance at shocking the world? Comment below
My prediction – Winner: Germany over Brazil. Dark horse: Columbia
Next week’s topic – Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon