Let the World Cup games begin

2014-06-08 15:01

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This is the moment the world has been waiting for!

After months of protests and pessimism, Brazilians have finally started to enjoy what promises to be a memorable World Cup. The kick-off on Thursday against Croatia in São Paulo will be watched by virtually the whole country (and billions across the world).

But with only a few days to go, Brazilian authorities are bracing themselves for renewed waves of protests. On Thursday, thousands of homeless Brazilians marched on the Arena Corinthians stadium in São Paulo, where the opening game will be played. They were protesting the cost of staging the event.

But despite these protests, organisers said it was all systems go as participating teams started arriving in the land of samba.

First to touch down was Australia, followed by Croatia, Italy and Netherlands. Ivory Coast were the first African nation to get to Brazil.

After thumping Panama 4-0 and narrowly beating Serbia 1-0 on Friday, commentators think Brazil have a good chance of winning the tournament for the sixth time.

But they are also worried about a syndrome rarely seen in past versions of the Seleção: it all depends on one player.

That player is Neymar.

Not only does he score often, but he is the creative hub of the team. Seldom is there is a goal that does not involve him, at least in some part, be it by scoring, assisting a team-mate or winning a penalty.

He is also the natural choice for free kicks near the box and has increasingly become one of the leaders of the team, even though he is just 22. Boasting such a great asset is a big advantage for the team and the source of much optimism. But it has a downside: should he suffer an injury or a slump in form (as happened at Barcelona), Brazil will have to quickly reinvent itself. And it will not be easy.

It is a new phenomenon. Not even Pelé was a lone star: in 1958, he had Garrincha, Didi, Zagallo and Nílton Santos at his side. Four years later, he was injured in the early stages of the Chile World Cup, but the team recovered and went on to win it anyway.

In 1970, Pelé was supported by Rivelino, Gerson, Tostão and Jairzinho, in what is considered to be the greatest squad in history.

In 1982, the wonderful Seleção team that amazed the world was a constellation: it had Zico, Falcão, Sócrates and Cerezo. When Brazil won its fourth trophy in 1994, Romário and Bebeto were equals. And in 2002, Ronaldo had Rivaldo as his partner. And let’s not forget Ronaldinho.

Now, even though Brazil has excellent players like Fred, Dani Alves and David Luiz, no one comes close to dominating the team as Neymar has done. It is a sign of the times that the current crop of Brazilian footballers is considered average by historical standards.

Neymar’s emotional state will also be a factor. His transfer to Barcelona is being investigated by Spanish authorities under suspicion of tax fraud. He has also been criticised for spending too much time doing TV adverts and has had a turbulent romance with a famous soapie actress.

Some fear he lacks the maturity to carry Brazil to a sixth trophy. But then again, he might once more prove his genius.

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