The greatest show on earth
- Credit: Archant
The World Cup. Surely the greatest show on earth.
The Olympics may lay claim to that title, but football aficionados will point out that the World Cup qualifiers sort the wheat from the chaff, if you like, meaning only the very best are able to dine at the top table. The Olympics, once you get past national qualification times, throw up the occasional Eddie The Eagle and Eric The Eel.
There have been 19 World Cup finals, won by eight different national teams. This year's hosts, Brazil, have won it five times – they are also the only team to have played in every tournament. Italy have won it four times, West Germany three times, Argentina and inaugural winners Uruguay twice and England, France, and Spain once each.
There are a few others facts and figures which show just what an absolutely enormous tournament it is:
• The 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands in South Africa was watched by 3.2bn people. That's 46.4pc of the world
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• It was shown on 245 different TV channels
• A staggering 18,449 volunteers worked at the 2010 World Cup
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• The latest figures suggest the Brazilian government will have spent at least US$11bn to host the 64 games – that's almost three times what South Africa spent four years ago
• If you live in Brazil, tickets start at US$15. If you don't, the starting prices for group games is US$90
• The game's world governing body, Fifa has allocated three million tickets – some of which are now in the hands of third party entrepreneurs
• The starting price for the final? Say US$6,000
These are big, big figures, and over the next few weeks we will all take a sharp intake of breath, absorb what the greatest game on earth has to deliver and then, finally, exhale.
Whichever country you live in, small pockets of expats will emerge to fly the colours of their national team. Red top newspapers will deliver statistics on how many work days are lost to industry by people staying at home to watch their team's progress. The more racy will ensure they have sufficiently big scarves and shirts to cover up scantily clad models who profess their admiration for whichever footballer's colours they are asked to wear. More coffee will be drunk, because the tournament is in Brazil. Samba classes will be all the rage for the same reason – and TV stations will have us believing that only the beautiful people are allowed intro the ground to watch matches.
In essence, whether you like it or not, the World Cup changes our lives from first kick to last – and longer.
So what do you get for your buck? As you will see over the following pages, the world's very best players are on show. There was a scare over Luis Suarez, but the Uruguayan will make it to Rio. Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Eden Hazard, Robin van Persie. They are the tip of the footballing iceberg. Star-studded doesn't begin to describe it.
Predicting who does what is a potential disaster area: don't go there. North Korea beating Italy in 1966, South beating Italy in 2002, Cameroon beating Argentina in 1980, Northern Ireland beating Spain in 1982, the US beating England in 1950.
That's the magic of the World Cup; shocks are always on the cards.
Behind the football there will be the politics. Brazil's readiness for the tournament has been seriously questioned, at home and abroad, and Fifa president Sepp Blatter himself is never more than a long throw-in away from controversy.
Blatter himself is confident Brazil will emerge with flying colours.
'It will be the most successful of all time,' he told Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff.
'It is my 10th World Cup, and I can tell you I have never seen a World Cup that everything is ready, completely ready before the kick-off.
'Football, with more than 300 million active participants, more than one billion fans, they are now waiting for this World Cup.
'It is in Brazil, it is a country where football has been, let's say the best footballers of the world are from.
'It will be a great tournament. Be optimistic as we are optimistic, football is optimistic. Football is giving emotions to the world today in this perturbed world we are living in.'
Blatter and Uefa are based in Switzerland, the land of cuckoo clocks. Sometimes it appears they live up to the jokes that can prompt.
In this case, the sincere hope is that Sepp Blatter has got it right, that World Cup 2014 lives up to the hype, that the players produce their best and that we enjoy it for what it is: the greatest show on earth.