Brazil v Croatia. 5pm local time. São Paulo.
What a relief it will be when the first ball is kicked. When the world is reminded what the fuss is about. That there’s historic football to be played. We hope and expect it will bring great joy to hundreds of millions because we’ve become all too familiar with the negatives. Oh those negatives.
The riots, the protests, the huge political and social concerns over the money spent, the serious construction problems, the infrastructure and transport problems, the lack of assurances over safety and the technical issues of delivering the World Cup to its global audience
With this backdrop it’s not unreasonable to fear there will be stories made off the pitch around the opening game.
Is the guarantee of a huge worldwide audience irresistible to those still angry, still worried, still affected by funds being used on a football tournament that might have found there way to housing and healthcare?
Will protests then be met by heavy police resistance. Security around the opening game will be at an extreme level and if and when the tear gas is used….?
Just how insufficient will the technology be in and around the stadium? It’s extraordinary to think FIFA and the organisers have had to admit things won’t be perfect. For an event of this magnitude? Wow. That’s what the youngsters might call an ‘epic fail’, particularly the generation that treat 3g and 4g like oxygen.
And how is the game going to be ‘marked’ across Brazil. The proverbial carnival atmosphere from Brasilia to Belo Horizonte or further protest?
That said you may not need the cheerful disposition of Mary Poppins to be positive about the effect the Brazilian team winning could have on the national mood.
Ultimately this is likely to become about whether Brazil win or not. Really it will. The ‘tragedy’ of defeat on home soil in 1950 is well documented, including here in this column. Imagine the pain of losing a final to Uruguay again. Or Argentina. Or indeed losing to anyone.
But Brazil has an outstanding chance of lifting the trophy. My gut feeling has been for years that Argentina could be party poopers, that Messi would have his defining tournament. But Brazil have become clear and justified favourites, not just through their host status.
The Confederations Cup triumph was quietly impressive. I say quietly as the tournament was overshadowed by the protests. But right through to defeating world and European champions 3-0 in the final, Brazil looked a team going in the right direction.
They are solid enough. They have enough flair. They have enough options. No they are not the glorious side of 1982. But we all know what happened to them. Name the winning team from 1994? Not easy is it – but that unheralded team in America might have more in common with the class of 2014 on paper.
They seem to have the right manager too in Luiz Felipe Scolari. When the pressure is this big and the stakes are so high you need someone who has seen and done it all before. Fine-tuning a team from the amount of talent and options Brazil has is a far harder task than it seems and he seems to have settled on a team.
And the host factor is huge. When a top football nation has host status it can sometimes be downplayed. Effectively Brazil will play seven ‘home’ games if they lift the trophy.
By my reckoning eleven times nations have hosted a World Cup with a realistic chance of winning it. As in they are one of the world’s best teams. Six times they’ve actually done it. That’s quite a strike rate.
And at least the Brazilian love of football will inevitably lead to instant support of the team. When I covered France ’98 there was genuinely a coolness amongst some of the French public, the non-football fans. Until the semi-final. By which time I was caught in a frenzied celebration of hundreds and thousands of delirious people in the Champs-Elysees.
But for now we can only speculate on how the football will unfold at the 2014 tournament. Another man relieved it’s about to kick-off will be the excellent Al Jazeera Brazil Correspondent Gabriel Elizondo. If you haven’t already check out his work online. He has been kept insanely busy for months by the daily diet of pre-World Cup news, alongside other Brazilian news. The politics, the preparations, the protests. it’s been intense. And we are not yet at day one.
Day one for me covering the tournament in Brazil for Al Jazeera is approaching. The first World Cup I watched was also in South America. Argentina ’78. The ticker-tape, the sound, the kits, the goals. The memories are incredible, to have been watching Gemmill’s wonder-goal as it happened was a blessing.
But when we look back to that tournament, to do so without questioning the hosts would be wrong. To call the political situation in Argentina in 1978 unsatisfactory would be a gross understatement. Just ask Johan Cruyff. Was the win just for the people, or the junta who had seized power? Both would claim it.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could look back on 2014 and acclaim it for the football. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the Brazilian people wanted to regard it as a success. Speaking to Gabriel, and other Brazilian contacts they know there’s a genuine chance this could go very right. Let’s hope and pray it does.
Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport