So this what they mean when they call it The World Game.
Even here in Cuiaba, a small town in the geographical heart of the South American continent (you can even visit the monument that marks the spot), the World Cup has arrived. Literally.
Cuiaba is the southern gateway to the Amazon, a ramshackle old mining town that is now the main centre for the gauchos who work the land.
It’s in this exotic setting that many travel-weary Australian fans will taste the World Cup for the first time, when Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos open their campaign against Chile Saturday morning at 8am (EST).
At home, there will be an army of people who are readying for weeks of sleep deprivation, coffee consumption and low productivity at work as they begin a nocturnal TV vigil and immerse themselves in a festival of football.
The World Cup finals are an unwieldy beast. It’s difficult to get your head around, even for aficionados who bang on about offside traps and diamond formations in midfield.
So to help all you sleep deprived couch zombies camped in your lounge rooms oceans away, here are five things to look out for as the games get under way.
SOCCEROOS – MISSION IMPOSSIBLE?
On arriving in Cuiaba our kind tour hosts at the airport provided visiting fans with a map, tour brochures and a small booklet with Gospel according to John.
My suspicion is they were handing these out to Socceroos fans in the belief that Postecoglou’s team didn’t have a prayer and we might like to find them one.
In the grand tradition of Australian expeditions abroad, the Socceroos have shipped out across the oceans to hostile and unforgiving territory to face a well-prepared adversary against overwhelming odds.
So we should feel right at home then.
Facing three of the top 15 teams in the world – Chile, Spain and the Netherlands – expectations are low, yet hope, that most beguiling of mistresses, remains high.
Realistically, scoring a goal or two or jagging a draw along the way would be success. If the Socceroos were to keep a clean sheet or two in the tournament it would represent a mighty achievement.
And a win?
Well, just because we’re not supposed to we just might. Ok, that was the hope talking…
This golden age of Spanish football has delivered both a World and European Cup, a dream that once seemed out of reach for a team that for so long was crippled by the religious, political and cultural issues that divided the nation.
Spain arrive here attempting to do what no European team has done before – winning the World Cup in South America. A successful title defence would elevate them to the realm of the football gods.
The diminutive Argentine is unquestionably the world’s finest player (don’t tell Cristiano Ronaldo that, he might die of shock).
At FC Barcelona he is what Michael Jordan was to the Chicago Bulls – the reason for the show.
Yet, for country, Messi has yet to shine. In 276 games for FC Barcelona he has provided 243 goals,a ridiculously prodigious return. For Argentina it is 38 goals in 86 games.
He is judged harshly against his own standard, yet to become the football immortal that seems his birthright, he needs to put his stamp on a World Cup.
His moment has arrived.
Our debt of gratitude to England for giving us the games we love is enormous.
Yet, as ancient and friendly adversaries, we are allowed to indulge in a bottle of schadenfreude every time England’s football team plays at the World Cup finals, aren’t we?
How will the end come this time?
A heartbreaking penalty shootout? (inevitably to The Germans)
An unjust red card as Suarez takes a dive from the 10-metre platform and wins a penalty?
A ‘keeping calamity that will make the football funnies show reel for years to come?
BOYS FROM BRAZIL
Keith Miller once quipped that there was no pressure playing cricket.
“Pressure is a Messerschmitt up you arse,” he would say.
But playing for Brazil, in the World Cup at home, that’s pressure as well.
It may not be do or die in the same way an aerial dogfight is, but for a nation on the edge of a nervous breakdown over hosting the World Cup, the only thing standing between the people and insurrection is the performance of the Selecao.
If Brazil depart the tournament early, this becomes a very different World Cup – for everybody.