Imagine, come July 13, the world is watching a thrilling climax to a World Cup that is being trumpeted as the best tournament ever, with hosts Brazil going on to win the final in a style that evokes memories of their unforgettable 1970 triumph.
Imagine, too, a picture of the World Cup limping through to a final, played by two teams with a negative approach and settled by a single penalty after a tournament that has been racked by widespread protests, hopeless organisation, travel chaos and disappointing football played on poor pitches.
The reality, of course, is that the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will probably turn out to be somewhere in between: perhaps the best we can hope for is a glorious hodge-podge, where once the tournament starts, the Brazilian love for football and fun will see a festival atmosphere supersede the groundswell of cynicism and understandable grievances that have arisen.
It is hardly surprising, however, that expectations are low. Look at the facts:
Venues have been afflicted by serious delays to the extent that the flagship Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, above, which will host the opening game of theWorld Cup, will have part of its roof missing.
A worker was electrocuted to death on May 8 installing a telecommunications network at Cuiaba's stadium - the eighth World Cup worker killed in an accident in Brazil.
A multi-storey "media centre" in Curitiba never made it beyond the drawing board and is being replaced by tents.
Many new public transport projects promised for the World Cup never got off the ground.
Private finance for venues promised seven years ago never materialised: instead £6.5 billion ($13.65b) of public money has been shelled out, forcing urban regeneration programmes to be scrapped or delayed leading to huge public anger.
It sounds overwhelming, but organisers and Fifa know that, once the football starts, all that may be forgotten.
If the football is exciting, if the protests die down, if the country becomes beset by World Cup fever, then all those problems will be put to one side.
Instead of memories of half-finished stadiums and barricades of burning tyres, we will think back only of those fervent fans, the wonderful matches and of a month when the World Cup finally came back to its spiritual home amid a glorious carnival.
This article was first published on June 10, 2014.
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