It’s the biggest party on the planet, with millions of fans from across the globe travelling to Brazil to take part. The 2014 FIFA World Cup is upon us and, with an estimated TV audience of one billion expected to tune into the opening match, it’s kind of a big deal.
The eyes of the world will be fixed firmly on the Arena de Sao Paulo when host nation Brazil kicks off its World Cup campaign against Croatia on Friday morning (Australian time), with Brazil’s beloved national football team the Selecao under immense pressure to win the tournament on home soil.
The other 31 nations involved in the world’s most-watched sporting event will be hell-bent on preventing them from doing so – including, of course, Australia. The Socceroos may be the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, but that doesn’t mean they’ve travelled to Brazil to work on their tans.
By just about every measure imaginable, the football World Cup dwarfs every other sporting event on the planet. A total of 203 countries entered the qualification phase for this year’s finals, with that number eventually whittled down to the 32 teams who will proudly represent their respective nations in Brazil.
Those who qualified for the four-week festival of football will be well supported, with more than 500,000 international visitors descending on Brazil. That includes the 15,000 Australian fans who’ve made the 15,000-kilometre trip halfway across the world to see if the Socceroos can spring an upset against highly-fancied Chile, European heavyweights The Netherlands and defending world champions Spain.
Those Australian fans lucky enough to secure tickets had better hope they’ve packed light, because the Socceroos have been handed a group-stage draw best described as gruelling. Australia kicks off its campaign against highly-fancied Chile at the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, before heading south to take on The Netherlands in Porto Alegre. And if that’s not daunting enough, Australia’s final group-stage game is against 2010 World Cup winners Spain in Curitiba.
The insides of bleary eyes and airports will be something Australian fans will just have to get used to, as it’s part and parcel of hosting a tournament in the world’s fifth-largest country. A total of 12 cities will host Brazil’s World Cup fixtures, ranging from Manaus in the steamy Amazon Basin to Porto Alegre on the coast and capital Brasilia – not to mention football hotbeds Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
If you thought Australia’s draw was tough, spare a thought for the host nation. Brazil may boast one of the best football teams on the planet, but they’re weighed down by the memories of one of world sport’s most famous upsets. On July 16, 1950 an estimated crowd of some 200,000 packed into the Maracana in Rio to witness what many expected to be Brazil’s triumphant emergence on the world stage.
Instead, Uruguay came from a goal down to beat their neighbours 2-1 in perhaps the most famous World Cup decider in history – plunging Brazil into a deep and prolonged state of mourning. Some 64 years later, the Selecao are expected to exorcise the ghosts of what many Brazilians still refer to as a ‘national tragedy,’ but whether the Brazilians can handle the heavy burden of history remains to be seen.
Bigger Than Sport
Much more than just a football tournament, the World Cup is a veritable celebration of culture. Essentially the world’s largest travel exposition, once the full-time whistle blows it’s time to party, with fans from every corner of the world coming together to celebrate victory or drown sorrows in defeat.
And with sights like Christ The Redeemer and Copacabana Beach in Rio, Paulista Avenue and the Theatro Municipal in Sao Paulo, the Amazon Basin in the north and the European-flavoured cities of the south to explore, it’s no wonder so many visitors have flocked to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.