This weekend sees the final of the quadrennial football extravaganza known as the Fifa World Cup. It’s your last chance to get in on the action by reading our World Cup Guide…
After the success of Africa’s debut hosting the tournament four years ago, the sporting spectacle has returned to South American for the first time in 36 years, with the world’s best footballers reuniting in the soccer-mad nation of Brazil. Here are just some of the things we’ve seen over the last four weeks…
A Carnival of Samba and Soccer
England may be the birthplace of Association Football, but Brazil is the nation that taught the world how to enjoy it. Whether on the beach, in the favelas or on the pitch, this is a country where everyone is a freestyling footballer, no matter their age, gender or class. It’s also a country known for its Samba, cocktails and carnival, so don’t expect the host nation to restrict its moves to the football pitch. Expect the month-long tournament to coincide with an all-singing, all-dancing, party event among the country’s 200m inhabitants. At least as long as they win…
Get involved: The Caipirinha is Brazil’s national cocktail. Learn how to make it with Leblon Cachaca: lebloncachaca.com/the-caipirinha
A team of talents to inspire a nation
Not only does its national team play with verve and panache the envy of the world, they also do it effectively, combining substance with style to the tune of five World Cup victories, more than any other team in history. But with civil unrest caused by perceived Government economic failings threatening to bubble over during the tournament, Brazil’s footballers have more than just the usual sporting expectations on their shoulders. The further they advance in the tournament, the more chance of uniting a troubled nation.
Get involved: Buy a Neymar Brazil shirt: football-shirts.co.uk/neymarshirts
The weight of history
But Brazil have never won the World Cup on home soil, and while the outside world views the Maracana – the 80,000-capacity stadium set to host the final – as a symbol of Brazilian excellence, many locals still see it as an icon of failure. This is because of their infamous loss here in the 1950 World Cup final to Uruguay, a defeat that caused such a shockwave it coined a term in Brazil, “Maracanazo”, which now stands for any sporting upset. Sixty-four years later and Brazil’s current team, managed by Luiz Felipe Scolari, have a chance to make up for what is genuinely considered an historical national tragedy. No pressure then.
Get involved: For the official history of Brazil at the World Cup, get the ‘Boys from Brazil’ on DVD: amazon.co.uk/Boys-From-Brazil-Brazilian-1930-1986
While World Cups have a tendency to herald fresh stars and new champions, they also bring with them new work from the rule-markers and creative thinkers too. This year is no different. Goal line technology will make its World Cup debut with the hope of preventing incidents like this, while referees will use a shaving foam-like vanishing spray to keep encroaching walls the required ten yards away at free kicks. And of course there is a new ball. After the controversy of the swerving Jabulani in South Africa four years ago, adidas claim that deeper seams and 50,000 tiny bumps give the Brazuca a more predictable flight and trajectory.
Get involved: Buy the official World Cup ball, the Brazuca: jdsports.co.uk/product/adidas-brazuca-official-fifa-2014-world-cup-ball
The world’s two best footballers
Few football fans disagree that Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina) and Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid and Portugal) are the two best footballers of their generation. Their goalscoring records are in a different class to the rest of the competition, while their pace, power and dribbling skills are enough to win games almost single-handedly. But can either be considered the greatest ever? For many, that tag comes only with a World Cup title, just like Pele and Maradona. Approaching their late twenties, this may be their last chance to do so.
Get involved: Buy the official World Cup 2014 EA Sports game for Xbox or PS3:
South American surprises
The Americas have hosted seven World Cups in total, and each one has been won by a South American side (Uruguay twice, Argentina twice and Brazil three times). It’s less to do with any European curse, and more down to temperature, humidity, grass length and the resulting pace of the game. So if you’re looking for unexpected successes, cast a keen eye on the likes of Chile, Colombia and Uruguay – three sides boasting world class talent who will feel right at home in Brazil, potentially at the expense of some more renowned European heavyweights.
Get involved: Colombia have arguably the best kit at the tournament, get your hands on a shirt: adidas.co.uk/colombia-home-jersey
No one is quite sure how the story of Paul the Psychic German Octopus came about four years ago in South Africa, but it didn’t half grab the world’s attention. But now that our tentacled-friend has left this mortal coil, expect a swathe of copycat animals, attempting to step into Paul’s eight shoes. Roo the psychic bulldog anyone?
Get involved: Remember only the original, buy a Paul the Octopus tshirt: zazzle.co.uk/paul+the+octopus+tshirts
Post Cup pay day
Every World Cup makes and breaks some of the game’s wonderkids, and with all eyes on the likes of France’s Paul Pogba, Brazil’s Bernard, England duo Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling, and Belgium’s Adnan Januzaj, their impact (or lack of) on a tournament can set the tone for a career. Make a name for yourself on the big stage and it’ll mean a very lucrative summer ahead – either picking and choosing from the world’s top clubs, or securing a pay rise from your current employers.
Get involved: Get a good grasp of all the players in Brazil and enjoy some old schoolyard nostalgia with the official Panini World Cup sticker album: