World Cup 2014 (June 12 - July 13): The big kick-off
Brazil is the spiritual home of the Beautiful Game. The best Brazilian of them all said as much. Pele has won three World Cups himself (two more than England) so he should know. But there are reasons to be cheerful that the World Cup is on the road to Rio and just as many to be sceptical. Here's why...
Big is beautiful
Brazil will host matches in 12 different cities, more than any other Finals on record.
From north to south, Manaus, Fortaleza, Natal, Recife, Salvador, Cuiaba, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Curitiba and Porto Alegre are all serving as hosts.
In the group stages, every nation will play in three different cities, adding to the variety and avoiding accusations of bias levelled at the 1966 World Cup Finals where England somehow managed to play every game at Wembley.
Using the Three Lions as an example, they play their opener against Italy in the humid Amazonian rainforest of Manaus.
Uruguay will be met in the multicultural swinging centre of Sao Paulo. And the decider with Costa Rica will be staged in Belo Horizonte, famous for its pub culture. England fans will not want to leave.
And the Maracana Stadium hosts the final. What more needs to be said?
History must be made
South America is hosting the tournament for the fifth time, but the first time since 1978.
All five were won by South American nations. Spain are reigning European and world champions.
They either break the spell of the South Americans or the South Americans break the Spaniards.
Something must give.
Brazil last hosted the tournament in 1950, but lost to Uruguay in the final; a shock result that prompted national humiliation, an identity crisis and a change of kit colour as the proud nation plunged into mourning.
They vowed to avenge the shame.
And they did in 1958, 1962 and 1970. So the narrative promises to be captivating. History will be made in Brazil in 2014. But it cannot be repeated.
Barry Manilow was right
South Africa certainly had the proud, sombre sense of a nation resurrected; an acknowledgement of a warring country trying to heal itself, even if it was only temporary.
Germany had the beer, the bratwurst and the Wags of Baden Baden. But Brazil has got the Copacabana, carnivals and locals in bikinis playing beach volleyball.
Or to put it another way, the dour, organised, methodical, regimented Franz Beckenbauer was on the Fifa organising committee for Germany 2006.
Do you know who sits on Brazil's organising committee? The plump, partying Ronaldo. The retired striker who was once discovered with three transvestite prostitutes in a Rio nightclub is tasked with organising the World Cup party.
This could only happen in Brazil, where the locals like to play beach volleyball in their bikinis, apparently.
Sport and politics don't mix
In the middle of last month, anti-World Cup protests were held across 12 cities.
The Brazilian government continues to struggle with strikes and public unease at a perceived waste of public funds at a time when the economic gap between rich and poor is wider than ever.
No one will say so publicly of course, but Fifa organisers are extremely nervous. Such nationwide outrage on the eve of the World Cup is unprecedented in the tournament's history.
Coordinated demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte - along with a military police strike - were worrying not only for the timing, but also for the promise of them happening again during the tournament.
Banners declaring "Nao vai ter copa!" (There will be no cup) have been prominent in recent weeks.
Police used tear gas and rubber bullets against demonstrators in Sao Paulo.
Even Zico admitted the mood was subdued in his homeland.
The Selecao's sustained success is critical, if only to act as a Band Aid.
Authorities need all the help they can get.
In the middle of last month, anti-World Cup protests were held across 12 cities.
Brazilians are famous for their nightlife. They are less famous for their daily life, where a little work can be made to go a very long way.
The Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo that is staging the opening game between Brazil and Croatia is still not finished.
Even Ronaldo felt compelled to apologise for the national embarrassment, admitting that no more than 30 per cent of the proposed improvements to stadia, airports and other transport infrastructure had been completed.
Of course, viewers watching this on TV will not see any of this.
Time waits for no Singaporean
In the group stages, the games are midnight, 3am, 4am or 6am. Mostly they are 4am.
The Group C clash between Ivory Coast and Japan is at 9am, which at least means you'll be able to watch it in the office while you pretend to work.
Once the tournament reaches the knock-out stages, every game will be at 4am. Fortunately, you can read all about the games in The New Paper. Or you can stay awake until mid-July.
AND THE UGLY
The first Qatar is the deepest
The Qatar debacle will loom large over the tournament.
With Brazil already suffering for allegedly over-spending and claims of rampant corruption, Fifa will be struggling to put out fires all summer long.
The flames are being fanned by Fifa's apparent refusal to examine millions of documents, e-mail and accounts linked to former Fifa vice-president Mohamed Hammam (above) of Qatar.
Demands are growing to strip Qatar of the 2022 World Cup amid allegations that Hammam used a US$5 million ($6.25m) slush fund to aid the bid.
Fifa's chief ethics investigator Michael Garcia claims there is no time to examine the files in his initial phase of the probe. He will wait until after the World Cup. But the world may not wait for him.
By the time the World Cup party ends, Qatar might have had their 2022 bash taken away.
For any country, organising a cup is like playing a game, sweating and often suffering, with the possibility of extra-time and penalty kicks. But the final result and celebration are worth the effort.
- Brazil's President Dilma Roussef
We at Fifa, we are confident, it will be a celebration. After the tournament kicks off I think there will be a better mood.
- Fifa president Sepp Blatter
Catch Neil Humphreys in print and on screen every day with The New Paper.
From England's first game to the final in Rio de Janeiro on July 14 (Singapore time), our man in Brazil will be offering insightful, quirky and funny news from Brazil across more platforms than ever before. And his coverage will be guided by you, the reader. Here's what you can look out for from Neil (above) and how you can get involved.
1. Following the Three Lions
Neil will be with Roy Hodgson's men all the way, giving the latest news and analysis from inside the England camp for both the morning and Noon editions.
2. Postcards from Brazil
In his inimitable style, he will take the reader to the streets of Rio and the beaches of Brazil, getting up close with the people, sampling the samba and, preferably some unisex beach volleyball.
3. Ask Neil - An interactive Q&A video
Every day, Neil will be answering your questions in video blogs. Just tweet or e-mail your questions and he'll pick the best ones to discuss in his exclusive daily videos on the road.
4. Pick a winner - Daily punters' video guide
Ahead of all the big games, Neil will give his scientific, cast-iron score predictions by using the daftest means at his disposal. He welcomes your input on this one.
5. Gone in 60 seconds with... - A video interview
Neil grabs celebrities, footballers, managers and random strangers to get their thoughts on the World Cup - in less than 60 seconds.
6. Wish you were here - City snippets on video
From Manaus to Sao Paulo, he shoots offbeat videos from the cities he visits, discovering Copacabana and Sepp Blatter's top breakfast place (maybe not).
● Whether it's submitting questions or coming up with video ideas, Neil wants to hear from you every day on his World Cup odyssey. So download The New Paper app and follow him at@NeilHumphreys on Twitter and help him navigate his journey around Brazil.
This article was first published on June 12, 2014.
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