Neymar, Messi & Ronaldo, samba & controversy? What can we expect from Brazil World Cup

The hosts open the 2014 finals against Croatia in Sao Paulo and will be hoping to stage a memorable tournament that sees them crowned world champions for a sixth time
By Richard Jolly

When England hosted Euro 96, one chorus seemed to sum up the euphoric mood. "Football's coming home," taken from David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and the Lightning Seeds' anthem 'Three Lions', was eventually appropriated by the victorious Germans, to the extent that captain Jurgen Klinsmann sang it on a Frankfurt balcony as they paraded the trophy.

Now, however, there really is the feeling that football is coming home. The global game may have been invented in Britain but it was perfected in Brazil. The country of Pele and Garrincha, or Jairzinho and Zico, of Rivelino and Rivaldo and Romario and Ronaldo and Ronaldinho has won the World Cup five times since it last staged the finals. A 64-year wait is over: Brazil, whose status is so elevated that there were no other candidates to stage the tournament, will play host to the planet's greatest players.

The stereotype of Brazilian football is not always correct but the image is seductive enough, of extravagantly gifted children playing their way out of poverty with an inventive array of flicks and tricks, of a national team with a constant supply of fantasistas, of an endless attraction to flair.

They do not always personify the beautiful game – and Luiz Felipe Scolari is one of their more pragmatic managers around – but there is a widespread willingness to believe in Brazil. Factor in a proven fondness for staging a party and it fosters hopes that this will be one of the great World Cups.

That invites questions such as: what makes a wonderful World Cup? To English eyes, 1966 and 1990 stand out. Yet South Americans may not concur about the former, when Brazil were kicked out of the tournament as Europeans prevailed, and the latter featured the lowest goals-per-game rate in World Cup history. Fond memories, in other words, can derive directly from success.

It is not just Scolari and his squad who have reasons to hope that Brazil are brilliant, both as a team and as hosts. The government and football's governing bodies could both benefit from a footballing feast to distract from off-field matters.

Stadia have cost an excessive amount, other infrastructure projects are still not complete and last summer's Confederations Cup was notable for public protests. In the broader context, it may be indefensible for impoverished countries to spend so much on a football tournament, especially when millions go on grounds like Cuiaba's which, in effect, has been built for four games and four games only. The next month could be about strikes, not strikers, about civil unrest or about national unity.

Fifa will emerge with its usual huge profit but could cast a shadow over proceedings. The decision to award Qatar the 2022 tournament, ever more controversial, illustrates the greed and unsuitability of its senior executives, past and present. The campaign to prevent Sepp Blatter from securing another term as president highlights the corrosion caused by corruption in the corridors of power. Fifa's top brass, too, have to hope that the players divert attention from the suits in the stands, the five-star hotels and the executive lanes so that they get whisked into and out of grounds.

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From November, when Cristiano Ronaldo eliminated Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a virtuoso display of brilliance, reducing a team game to a mano-a-mano contest, to June, when Franck Ribery, Marco Reus and Radamel Falcao were ruled out, the World Cup has lost stars.

Yet so many remain: Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, each looking for a career-defining achievement on the international stage; Neymar, seeking entrance to Brazil's pantheon of greats; Luis Suarez, looking to fashion history in inimitable manner; Mario Balotelli, forever threatening to straddle the divide between genius and idiocy.

A galaxy of talent – Andrea Pirlo, Xavi, Steven Gerrard, Robin van Persie, Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Diego Forlan, Samuel Eto'o – know that this will be their last chance on this stage. A youthful group – Marco Verratti, Paul Pogba, Raheem Sterling, Mario Gotze, Eden Hazard, Mateo Kovacic, Thibaut Courtois – will be looking to cement a reputation at a tender age. There will be a wild card, a villain, a twist to the tale, a story of glaring underachievement and one of unexpected progress.

And there is the grand quest. Spain won the 2010 tournament without scoring many goals. They prospered in Euro 2012 without always bothering to field a striker. Secure a fourth successive major tournament win, and back-to-back World Cups, and their claim to be the finest national team of all time would be rubber-stamped.

At the moment, many would argue that that accolade belongs to Brazil's class of 1970. Their blend of magical individuals and collective class, their capacity to score goals in quantity and of quality and their commitment to attacking football means they remain unrivalled. Thanks to Brazil, 1970 was a great World Cup. Now their aim is to create another.