It is a festival like no other. When the ball starts rolling in Brazil tonight, the eyes of the world will be riveted on this South American country of stark contrasts and vivid colours.
Reflected in this month-long fiesta will be the entire gamut of human emotions, making it compulsive viewing from Rio to Riyadh and from Moscow to Melbourne. Indeed, it is that feeling and passion generated by this game that unite varied cultures and nations under one umbrella, striking a common chord between the poorest of the poor in their shanty towns and the mega-rich in their mansions.The 20th edition of the World Cup, though, has had a bumpy build-up, with protests against its massive costs rocking Brazil for months on end.
People clamouring for better living and infrastructure have been constantly sniping at the organisers as well as the Brazilian government, raising fears that the big party may not be the smooth. The protests have surprised the fans worldwide, for no other country is more passionate about the game, and no other nation has enthralled the spectators on a football field more than Brazil. A culture that gave the game its greatest player -- Pele -- also conjured the rhythm that made the world sway to its beats, with five trophy triumphs standing testimony to the craft, skills and genius of its sons. But the ground realities are different these days, and the public as a whole hasn’t embraced the festive spirit yet.
As the hosts take on Croatia in the opening match at Sao Paulo, apprehensions remain, security is the buzzword and tension is mounting on several fronts. Anti-World Cup protests are not the only cause for concern. Brazil’s readiness to host the event too is a worrying point, with construction activity missing many deadlines and stretching right till the eleventh hour. Despite the problems in the background, excitement is on the rise as the 32 participating nations apply finishing touches to their preparations for the quadrennial quest to claim football’s holy grail.
For those anxiously waiting for action to begin there is plenty and more for the next one month, with the brightest of talents readying themselves to seize centrestage. Brazilian superstar Neymar and Argentine talisman Lionel Messi head the South American charts while Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, fitness permitting, is on top of the heap among European challengers. Throw in the array of talent from champions Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany, and you have an assembly fit to entertain the sporting gods. Let the party begin!