Hear that? Yep, it’s the sound of the clock gears slowly winding inexorably toward another World Cup showdown. The best teams on the planet are set to meet this June in the gladiatorial stadiums of Brazil to compete for football’s greatest prize. Expect the hype to reach stratospheric levels as time approaches kick off on Thursday June 12, when home team and favourites Brazil take on Croatia.
Anyone with the slightest interest in football knows that when World Cup fever hits it hits hard. Branded beer coolers, straw boaters, vuvuzelas, sticker books, mugs, shirts and underpants are bought on a whim and paraded with pride. Normal folk plunder their funds to buy footie merchandise from the high street, ebay.co.uk, street vendors and that guy who flogs socks and t-shirts in the car park at lunchtime. We back our team in every conceivable way.
As far as the national squads go the mind games have begun already. Roy Hodgson has pre-empted critics ahead of England’s match with Italy in the humidity of Manaus by telling his players to pump up the optimism, says The Guardian’s Owen Gibson. Under the austere management of former manager Fabio Capello the team flopped in South Africa, so Hodgson wants to dodge criticism for a dour display by the England team.
Brazil are keen to iron out the wrinkles too and manager Felipe ‘Big Phil’ Scolari has been swift to name most of his 23-strong squad. Surprises are few, but the fact that the talented Kaka is unlikely to make it may mean he has played his last in serious competition. Zenit’s Hulk is also under question, says ESPN’s Fernando Duarte, after Gerson, veteran of the Brazil ’70 team, backed Liverpool’s Phillipe Coutinho on the left.
With all that to ponder, lets ramp up the atmosphere another notch with five cast iron reasons to stay glued to the World Cup action this summer.
1 Real home of football
Brazil and the South American teams are renowned for playing a brand of skillful football that relies as much on the rhythm of the samba as it does physical strength and grace. Teams from Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil suck opponents in and dance around them to score. The beautiful game may have originated in England but Brazil has more often than not set the competition on fire with its skill, athleticisim and sheer trickery, winning the competition five times. This may be a case of football coming to its spiritual home.
2 Group of death
Watch favourites tumble in the so-called ‘group of death’. No-one actually dies, though the stress of watching your team struggle against the odds to qualify feels like it could squeeze the life out of you sometimes. Neutrals and fanatics alike love to watch the big names pitted against each other and any group with two or three big footballing nations competing head to head gets the label. You could argue that England’s Group D has that feel about it – Italy, former winners Uruguay and unknown quantities Costa Rica.
3 Dark horses charging the field
Another one for the neutrals or those who like to adopt a second team – just in case theirs is knocked out – is the dark horse. This mythical creature finds its true nature in the often unspectacular team that is just tough to beat, a team with surprising flair and one or two extraordinary players who cut through the favourites like a filleting knife through mackerel. Your team could get done up like a kipper by these boys.
4 Wonder goals
Like Dennis Bergkamp trapping a ball punted over his right shoulder from 50 yards and firing past a prostrate Argentinian, the wonder goal is what we all live for. Outrageous skill that ends in the net bulging outwards and a player wheeling away into World Cup history is always welcome. Think a young Michael Owen against Argentina or Ronaldinho out-foxing David Seaman. This time around watch two of the world’s best, Lionel Messi and Ronaldo, for goals of pure quality.
5 Spectacle unleashed
It might be a cliché but it is part of what makes this competition so special. The spectacle of the cup, colour and excitement, dancing hysterical crowds and Mexican waves. In the tropical heat of Brazil’s summer expect to sweat with the humidity soaked up from a carnival atmosphere half a world away and experience some serious footballing exotica. Bask in reflected glory and drink a few caipirinha cocktails to get in the swing.