The most popular sporting event on Earth begins on June 12. It is the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The 2010 tournament in South Africa reached a record 2.3 billion people, including over one billion viewers for the final match. Now that we are three months from kick-off, let’s break down the three places where this year’s tournament will really be played out.
On The World Stage
The World Cup generates considerable prestige for the host nation. What better place to hold the tournament than Brazil? It is a five-time World Cup winner; the fifth largest country in the world by geographic area and population; and, one of the world’s key emerging economies. Hosting the tournament for the first time since 1950 will allow Brazil to showcase both its footballing prowess and its status as a global player.
Interestingly, the biggest World Cup drama of all may not take place on the pitch, but in international boardrooms. Ukrainian and American authorities have asked that Russia be banned from the tournament due to its role in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Whether Russia will be excluded and what effect such a ban could have on the 2018 World Cup in – you guessed it – Russia, are key points to watch as kickoff approaches.
On The Streets
Despite the prestige of hosting the World Cup, the eyes of the world have also been fixed on the recent mass protests in Brazil. In June and July 2013, while the country was preparing to host the Confederations Cup – a World Cup warm-up tournament – hundreds of thousands of citizens took to the streets. It began as a protest about the rising cost of public transportation, but went on to include other public programs, as well as concerns regarding government corruption.
Before long, questions appeared about the logic of spending billions on an international football tournament while more pressing socio-economic problems remain unresolved. Popular support for hosting the World Cup has hit an all-time low in Brazil, standing at only 52% according to polls conducted in February 2014.
Similar protests have recently occurred in countries such as Turkey, Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Peru, and Ukraine, each under different circumstances and with very different results. It will be interesting to observe whether large-scale protests will occur again during the World Cup and how Brazil will deal with them.
On The Pitch
When it comes to football itself, things look to be all smiles for the hosts. Brazil has home field advantage and an endless talent pool. Also they won the 2013 Confederations Cup with a convincing thumping of Spain in the final. The Seleção are the clear favourites to take the big prize for the first time since 2002. We would be crazy to bet against them, right?
Not if you ask the legendary Uruguayan team of 1950. They walked into the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro and defeated Brazil 2-1 in front of 200,000 people to win their second world title. Today, Uruguay are the reigning South American Champions and also reached the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup. Their southern neighbours, two-time tournament winners Argentina, also have a talented team that finished first in South America in qualifying.
On the other hand, no European team has ever won a World Cup on the seven previous occasions that it was held in the Americas. Still, reigning World and two-time European Champions Spain surely have something left in the tank, and may be considered the greatest team of all time if they win their fourth consecutive major tournament. The always reliable Germany has re-emerged as a club football powerhouse in recent years and will be looking for another efficient performance after finishing third in each of the past two World Cups. And we can never discount Italy, a team that tends to start tournaments slowly, but possesses an iron-clad defense and unstoppable counter-attack when clicking.
Check back with Mindthis for more World Cup analysis as June draws near and we have some of our own people on the ground. Until then, keep your eyes on the world stage, the streets and the pitch!