England may have invented football, but Brazil perfected it – even at World Cups where they weren’t successful, the five-time winners were still better to watch than most.
They play the game with a beautiful flair, blessed technically and artistically – the sporting equivalent of John Coltrane.
But what should be a match made in heaven has proven to be a PR minefield, with the stink of FIFA’s wealth and corruption wafting over the impoverished masses like a red rag to a bull.
In the past week the Homeless Workers Movement marched to the Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo, where the tournament’s first match is to be staged, while transport workers in the city went on strike on Monday.
World Cup bonanza
The party line may be that Brazil is football mad, but the majority of the population (according to a Pew Research Poll) is just plain old mad.
Sixty-one per cent of Brazilians would rather see the money spent on stadia and infrastructure used for schools and hospitals, while at least eight workers have been killed at World Cup-related building endeavours.
FIFA, and boss Sepp Blatter, are on the nose more than any other time in their history. Still, you probably won’t see those images on your telly, unless it’s on the SBS World News, and most of the globe is just gearing up for some breathtaking football.
Why let a little thing like social injustice bring down the party? It’s the FIFA way.
Australia’s World Cup
Game 1: Australia v Chile
Saturday 14 June, 8:00am Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba
One of these countries lives for football. One of these countries lists football as a religion, with all pregnant women implanted with a special amniotic football at 30 weeks so foeti can hone their juggling skills. One of these countries has played in nine World Cups, finishing third in 1962, and is rated a good chance to do some damage in this one.
We are not that country.
Prediction: Australia 0 Chile 3
Game 2: Australia v Netherlands
Thursday 19 June, 2:00am Estadio Jose Pinheiro Borba, Beira-Rio
The Dutch aren’t quite the side they were four years ago, but still have plenty of quality across the park. The Orange terminators of yesteryear (Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten) have been replaced by faster, stronger models (Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie) but the squad is probably a bit long in the tooth to be active in the final week.
Prediction: Australia 1 Netherlands 5
Game 3: Australia v Spain
Tuesday June 24, 2:00am, Estadio Joaquim Americo Guimaraes, Curitiba
Melbourne City’s own David Villa could be prevalent here. Unfortunately he’s playing for the other mob. Spain are a really, really good team, and we’re not. Mile Jedinak and Tim Cahill will have to be at their very best, and then morph into Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, if we want to keep it close.
Prediction: Australia 0 Spain 6
Who are the Socceroos?
It is the misfortune of this Australian squad to be defined by what it is not. In short, it is not part of the so-called Golden Generation (think Kewell, Viduka, Schwarzer, Neill et al) who helped Australia qualify for successive World Cups in 2006 and 2010.
Actually, there are a couple of refugees from that era (Cahill, Bresciano), but most of the names will be new to all but diehard football fans.
The skipper is Mile Jedinak, a stout midfielder and solid citizen who plays for Crystal Palace in England.
Tim Cahill remains the closest thing to a star, but he no longer plays in a top league, having switched from Everton in England to the New York Red Bulls.
The goalkeeper is Mat Ryan, who is actually darn good and has just been voted the best shot-stopper in the Belgian league.
The old warhorse is 34-year-old Mark Bresciano, a veteran of the German and South African campaigns (no, that does not mean he fought in both the Boer and Great Wars) but he has been battling fitness concerns and a protracted transfer saga has kept him largely inactive this year.
In general, the squad reflects the emergence of the A-League as a decent competition and breeding ground for Generation Next. Watch out for names like Ivan Franjic, Mark Milligan, James Troisi and Adam Taggart.
And the coach …
After two Dutchmen and a German, Australia has picked a home grown national coach for the first time since Frank Farina departed in 2005 (Graham Arnold briefly held the position in a caretaker capacity).
Ange Postecoglou is not a man who’ll be focusing on damage limitation, if his Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory sides are anything to go by. He’ll want his team to not only press and be physical, but also play some football. Whether they have the tools to do so against some very formidable opposition is doubtful, but there is a quiet determination and steel about the 48-year-old that fills you with … no, it’s not quite confidence, or hope, but … less dread?
The fact he’ll be without two of his more promising talents in the injured Tom Rogic and Robbie Kruse doesn’t help his cause.
The rest of the team will be free to play – nobody expects anything, so the pressure will be well and truly off.
Will Australia do a Jim Higgs?
In 1975, Australian Test cricketer Jim Higgs famously toured England without making a run. Not a measly single.
Can the Socceroos ’do a Higgs’ in Brazil? Plenty are saying so, ABC commentator Gerard Whately suggesting that an aggregate scoreline of 0-10 from the three matches is par.
It has happened once before, when Australia failed to score in the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, although it managed a 0-0 draw with Chile in that tournament.
We asked our experts how many goals Australia would score:
• Francis Leach: 1
• Steven Talevski: 3
• Greig Johnston: 1
• Brazil: $3.90
• Argentina: $5.00
• Germany: $7.00
• Spain: $7.50
• Belgium: $20.00
• France: $23.00
• Italy: $23.00
• England: $26.00
• Netherlands: $34.00
• Chile: $36.00
As far as World Cup mascots go, Brazil has knocked it out of the park with ‘Fuleco’, a three-banded armadillo, an endangered species native to the country.
According to Fuleco’s Wikipedia page: “research has revealed that he is seen as an appealing character widely thought to represent the words, ‘Brazil’, ‘Nature’, ‘Friendly’ and ‘Passion for Football’.”
However, we feel the overriding criteria on which a World Cup mascot should be judged is its sheer naffness, and Fuleco has that box checked.
Not since England 1966’s Willie the World Cup lion (A lion dressed in a union jack jumper) or Pique (Mexico 1986’s shoddily dressed jalapeno pepper) have we seen a World Cup mascot so dripping in sheer naffness.
France 1998’s Footix had a natty little Asterix reference which lent it too much cred, and Zakumi the leopard from South Africa last time out was pretty cool too.
Fuleco is designed to raise awareness of Brazil’s biodiversity. And how.
Will the World Cup make you fat?
In short: yes. Late nights/early mornings in front of the television, constantly snacking to quell your nerves and barely leaving the couch, will stack on the kilos faster than Gareth Bale jinks past a cumbersome defender.
Unless you’re willing to put some effort in. And you should really put some effort in because you’re going to be seeing Ronaldo’s abs. A lot.
In ad breaks, force yourself to do 20 push-ups or 20 crunches.
When the urge comes to get up and cheer, do it! It will help loosen up your muscles.
Finally, substitute chips, soft drink, pies, sausage rolls and sugary sweets with some healthier snacks. Options include:
• Celery with all-natural peanut butter
• Kale chips
• Frozen yoghurt
• Edamame beans
• Popcorn (without the butter and salt)
Then again, there’s also the low-calorie option of drinking your enemies tears when they lose.
And, let’s face it, we’d rather be able to juggle a ball like this bloke than have Ronaldo’s abs anyway.