Opinion, by Robbie Blakeley
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – It is finally upon us. Tomorrow (Thursday), the most watched sporting event on the planet – the FIFA World Cup – kicks off in the land of its most successful entrant. The path to the World Cup kick-off, between Brazil and Croatia at the brand new Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, has been rocky.
Since the riots that spread headlines around the globe, bringing the political plight of the masses to global attention, preparations for what was supposed to be a celebration of football returning to its spiritual home, has turned into into something akin to a telenovela.
The anger sections of Brazilian society have felt at the enormous amounts of public money spent on the World Cup has been well documented and is easy to understand. There have been extensive preparations by the police and army on how to deal with expected protests during the upcoming tournament, with further demonstrations expected over the coming football festival.
But when the ball rolls, who knows what will actually happen? Will political gripes be left at the door when eleven players in that iconic yellow shirt take to the field?
Football unites this gargantuan land like no other event, and Neymar & Co. could do just that, starting tomorrow. In pursuit of a sixth World Cup crown, and a first on home soil, it is entirely feasible anger and frustration will be left at the door, for the time being at least.
There is enormous pressure on the players to win the World Cup, and now not only for sporting reasons. They are quite literally playing to unite what has become a horribly divided nation.
Brazil came racing out of the blocks in their Confederations Cup opener against Japan, Neymar opening the scoring with a rocket of a shot after only three minutes. The same again tomorrow and it is hard to imagine any murmurings of discontent anywhere.
In that sporting sense, the signs are encouraging for Luiz Felipe Scolari and his men. The side have lost just once in the last twelve months, a meaningless friendly against Switzerland immediately after the euphoria of lifting the Confederations Cup.
The Seleção have won their last eight games and, most importantly, Felipão has had his starting XI confirmed for months, something which has facilitated the side’s preparations immeasurably. Last week, in their final warm-up friendlies, there were 4-0 and 1-0 wins over Panama and Serbia respectively.
Surely, if there is a time for support and not division, that time is upon us. Brazil has serious social issues, the most prominent of which are health, safety, pubic transport and education, but for the next month there is a band of troops flying the flag for what this country is most proud of; futebol.
But this is not only about Brazil. 32 nations competing, with 736 players living the dream of experiencing what so many can only dream of.
Celebrate the fundamental message the World Cup can bring, that for the next thirty days a mere game will dominate the planet’s agenda. Let the games begin.