The wait is over! Thirty-two top teams from around the world have assembled in arguably the craziest football nation of them all to contest the most coveted cup of them all. The trophy truly represents a global competition given that football — unlike, say, cricket or even field hockey — is played by just about every country in the world. Of course, the run-up to arguably sport’s most keenly-followed event has not been easy for hosts Brazil which has been beset with not only infrastructural delays but also widespread social unrest linked to its hosting of the World Cup. Protests from locals have also marred the occasion, some even turning violent with economic concerns arising out of the colossal expenditure incurred in preparation for the mega event.
But, hopefully, the action on the field, breathtaking goals, incisive moves, dribbles and jaw-dropping goal-keeping will overshadow the build-up woes over the course of the next one month. Hosts Brazil are being tipped as favourites by experts and bookmakers of the game as the record-breaking five-time champions have the firepower to go all the way with young sensation Neymar expected to remain the pivot for the South Americans. Defending champions Spain, former winners Argentina and Germany are also expected to make a huge impact on the playing fields across Brazil. Four-time champions Italy are as always a potent force with their dogged and traditionally defensive play set to suit them.
Uruguay, three time runner-ups the Netherlands and England are teams that are also expected to cause a fright or two to the leading contenders. Another team in the mix is Belgium; the Europeans have some of the most enterprising young talent in the game, including star striker Eden Hazard. The squad comprising 12 players from leading English clubs has been given the dark horse tag by experts. Millions of football crazy fans across Pakistan will remain glued to their TV screens during the tournament and they would feel a sense of belonging since the balls in play in Brazil were manufactured in Sialkot. Hopefully there will be goals galore.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2014.