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By far the most famous football playing nation, and for very good reason, Brazil invites the rest of the world to its sumptuously presented extravaganza. When the curtain lifts at Sao Paulo on Thursday 12th June at 5pm local time the football world will hang with bated breath, wondering if the show will play out solely on the fields or whether it becomes a victim of social unrest. The biggest FIFA World Cup Tournament has for months been gestating under a cloud of discontent among a population cross-section of this great country – millions apparently seeking to discredit the idea of extravagant resources lavished on the tournament preparations, feeling strong resentment that a preoccupation with World Cup 2014 poses a distraction away from critical economic issues besetting the largest country in South America. Staging the tournament runs into billions of dollars. This is against background of unattended poverty among many.

Brazilians love their football and I became acutely aware of this when cinema goers were treated to a documentary film in the early sixties showing young Brazilian boys taking advantage of the full moon to play night football. Each time the moon was hidden by a cloud the players simply froze the action and restored it as soon as the moonlight came back. Of course, as an aid to visibility the ball was white in colour and play tended to feature very close ball control and ball passing restricted by highly condensed spaces.

Religious soccer fervour of this kind has certainly had its counterpart in Brazil's national football. Brazil is the only nation to have made it to each one of the 20 World Cup Tournament final stages. It is an unbroken journey starting in the year 1930 when FIFA organized the first tournament which took place in Uruguay. One of the reasons presented for establishing the World Cup is given as making provision for professional footballers in view of the Olympic Games then restricting admission solely to amateur footballers in the Games of 1928.

Brazil has captured the World Cup on us less than five occasions: 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002 — a near monopoly spanning 44 years during which the game has experienced changes upon changes; some of them in the rules of play and others associated with the spirit of performance.

Fellow Latin Americans Uruguay won the World Cup at its inaugural point in 1930, winning as the host country in Montevideo. Italy followed suit in 1934 and became first back–to-back champions in 1938 when France were the hosts. World War II interrupted staging of the tournament in 1942 and 1946, leaving Brazil to serve as hosts in 1950, whereupon Uruguay once more seized the Jules Rimet Trophy symbolizing international football supremacy for a second time.

Thereafter the World Cup as a spectacle gained in size and significance, with advent of television and mass promotion of its appeal. Come 1954, it was time for self assertion of German technology, Germany emerging victors in Switzerland.

Soon it was time for emergence of one of the greatest of football phenomenons: Edson Arantes de Nascimento, better known to the world as Pélé. The "Black Pearl" showed up in a Brazil football shirt at the age of 17 and scored two goals in his country's 5-2 triumph over Sweden in the Stockholm final in 1958, and a legend was born, christened and crowned as the king of football. Pélé helped Brazil retain the trophy in 1962 and take it again in 1970 in Chile and Mexico respectively.

Often the argument arises as to who is the greatest footballer the world has known. Of late some are inclined to advance claims for Argentina's Diego Maradonna and more recently Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal and Lionel Messi of Argentina, all noted for good scoring and match winning exploits. Pélé's answer is simple when interviewed on the matter. Let them win three World Cups and score 1,000 goals in first class football, he says, and then the debate can begin in earnest! One may say, too, the most famous (or in-famous) of World Cup goals scored by Maradonna (against England) was clearly shown to be a product of the little Argentinian using his hand to bring the ball down from well above his head! Maradonna was instrumental in winning two World Cups whereas neither Ronaldo nor Messi have yet featured in a World Cup champion team.

FIFA's pre World Cup rankings place Spain in the No 1 spot followed by Germany, Portugal, Brazil , Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, England, Belgium, Chile, USA, Netherlands, France, Ukraine, Russia, Mexico and Croatia as the top 20 football nations.

This prestigious list highlights all of the eight countries to have won the World Cup in Spain, Germany, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Italy, England and France. Rankings, however, can only be a guide and can never be full-proof. Of the 32 teams making it to this year's finals the accorded places are four to Asiatic areas in Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea; five places to African Countries: Algeria, America and the Caribbean in Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and USA. Six South American teams are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay. Europe gets the biggest share comprised of Belgium, Bosnia -Herzegovina, Croatia, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, and Switzerland (13 in all for Europe).

Whatever transpires in Brazil, assuming the event goes off as scheduled; there should be an inevitable clash of football philosophies. Latin American artistry and innovativeness is more than likely to seek to overcome European style militaristic intransigence and discipline. It ought to be a monumental struggle – provided of course, a sufficient triumph is first secured by Brazilian authorities in placating the forces of social unrest to allow the world's biggest team tournament to escape undue disruption.

Early matches scheduled are: Group "A" Brazil v/s Croatia and Mexico v/s Cameroon on 12th June;

Group "B" Spain v/s Netherlands and Chile v/s Australia on 13th June;

Group "C" Colombia v/s Greece and Ivory Coast v/s Japan on 14th June;

Group "D" Uruguay v/s Costa Rica and England v/s Italy on 14th June;

Group " E" Switzerland v/s Ecuador and France v/s Honduras on 15th June;

Group "F" Argentina v/s Bosnia-Herzegovia and Iran v/s Nigeria on 16th June;

Group "G" Portugal v/s Germany and Ghana v/s USA on16th June;

Group "H" Belgium v/s Algeria and Russia v/s South Korea on June 17th

One thing, only Brazil has managed to win the World Cup outside its hemisphere (1958 In Sweden, 2002 in Japan and South Korea).


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