Posted: Thursday 12th June 2014 at 6:06 am

Biggest soccer fiesta kicks off today


All is set for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which opens later Thursday at the 65,807-seater Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo, in Brazil.

It’s been long in coming since Brazil first hosted the World Cup 64 years ago, football’s biggest global tournament returning to the country which has made the ‘Beautiful Game’ its home and given the world some of the sport’s finest ambassadors such as Pele, Garrincha, Zico, Ronaldo and Neymar Jnr. Brazil 2014 is going to be a festival of gigantic proportions not only in the 12 stadia but also in the streets, fun parks and beaches.

Despite the negative publicity occasioned by massive demonstration by Brazilians against the massive investment in the tournament, delays in meeting deadlines for completion of stadia and other organisational challenges, there is little doubt that the elaborately-planned opening ceremony will usher in four weeks of global celebration among people who will converge on Brazil from far flung places, including visitors from non-participating nations.

With 32 nations chasing one golden prize the coveted  5kg, 18-carat gold trophy which is the symbol of world football authority over four weeks, Brazil will naturally turn into the world’s capital with global media focusing on football and related issues.

For a nation noted for throwing the most spectacular carnivals, today’s opening ceremony is expected to be unusually brief, compared to the elaborate spectacle four years ago in Johannesburg when the World Cup was hosted on African soil for the first time.

American pop diva Jennifer Lopez (J-Lo) will highlight a 25-minute display starting at 6.15p.m. (Ghana time). J-Lo will sing the official FIFA song, ‘We Are One (Ole Ola)’ alongside rapper Pitbull and Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte.

The ceremony will take place in daytime, so there will be no fireworks, but the ‘capoeira’ (a Brazilian martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics and music) will be performed, while Brazil’s ‘treasures’ are to be represented in the show by characters and props.

More than 600 dancers, gymnasts, trampolinists and stilt walkers will perform alongside a ‘living’ LED ball at the ceremony to be watched by scores of high-profile dignitaries led by Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff and world football chief Joseph Sepp Blatter who will jointly declare the tournament open.

The ceremony will be the prelude to the much-anticipated opening match of the tourney. As the world’s most successful team with five World Cup wins, the Seleção are expected to set the tournament alive with a win against Croatia in the opening match this evening.

Brazilians are determined to  banish the ghost of the 1950 World Cup when they were defeated by regional rivals, Uruguay, in a tournament they were widely tipped to win as hosts.

However, they may draw comfort from World Cup history as no host nation has ever lost the opening match.

Nonetheless, Felipe Scolari’s men take to the pitch carrying the burden of expectation of 201 million Brazilians who always expect the five-times world champion to steamroll over their opponents like a juggernaut, particularly on home soil.

With posterboy Neymar Jnr carrying the country’s hopes, it is important that the Brazilians score first to ease the pressure on the team and ride on the wave of partisan support, as the talented Croatians could suffer from the absence of suspended Mario Mandzukic, who was red-carded in the play-off game against Iceland last November.

The star-studded Seleção start as favourites with an impressive build-up, having averaged 2.58 goals per game (scoring two or more goals in 84 per cent of those matches).

In their only World Cup clash, Brazil run away with a lone goal victory over Croatia in a Group F encounter at the Olympiastadion in Berlin eight years ago. And their only other clash came nine years ago when the two sides drew 1-1 in an international friendly in Split, Croatia.

Scolari is expected to start familiar faces which won the Confederations Cup last year, with players such as Hulk, Willian and Fred playing alongside Neymar.

However, Croatia boss Niko Kovac has no such luxuries. Danijel Pranjic is unlikely to start after he picked up a nasty ankle injury in the final warm-up fixture against Australia in Salvador at the weekend.

The Panathinaikos defender joins fellow left-back Ivan Strinic on the sidelines.

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