We are less than a day away from the start of the 2010 Fifa World Cup! The red and white of St. George has taken over the streets of England as the nation suffers its latest bout of football fever. The flags are on the cars, houses, shops and are painted on the pub windows, the majority of adverts on television are now football themed and you can even here the Lightning Seeds football anthem being played in the pubs and clubs (if only in some of the less reputable establishments).
Is it foolishly optimistic to dare to think that we could actually end the 44 year wait to get our hands on the World Cup once again. I do not think so. We are not, of course, favourites for the tournaments but neither are we huge outsiders. Capello and his men are genuine contenders in the competition and I think the small poll on this blog, as predicted, shows just how divided opinion is on who will come out victorious on the 11th July.
Spain are rightly the favourites. They have the strongest squad and showed in Euro 2008 that those individuals can play as a cohesive unit. Brazil and Argentina are going to be likely challengers as they are every four years. The European teams are perhaps weaker than usual. Italy, France, Germany and Portugal are all attracting far less attention than has come to be expected in the build up to the World Cup. The Netherlands are quietly being touted as dark outsiders while England seem to float in between somewhere. The African teams meanwhile, Ivory Coast in particular, have been given a far greater chance of success over the next month.
Each of the main contenders has a squad littered with World Class players and thus it is not difficult to imagine any country going all the way. A bit of luck, a bit of magic, a controversial refereeing decision or the dreaded penalties can be all the stands between a team and the most prestigious sporting trophy of them all.
Ultimately, it is somewhat futile to attempt predictions for the tournament at this stage. Little can be said that is not already known. It is very likely that there will be shocks a long the way as teams such as Uruguay, Mexico, Serbia or even the hosts could exceed expectations at the cost of one or two or the bigger sides. That is the joy of the tournament and it seems that attempting to predict the fate of each team or the result of every game would be as inaccurate as it would pointless.
This is not to say that I do not have an opinion on who I think will do well or poorly or that I have not put money on the outcome of the tournament because I do and I have. I happen to think Brazil will lift the Cup and England will only get as far as the quarter-finals. Chances are I will be wrong but who cares. For me, all that matters is that for next 31 days the world's best players compete against one another in the greatest tournament of them all. You wait for four years as a football fan for this month and it has finally arrived.
England's progression through the tournament may be mine and most people's primary concern but aside from this there is still the enjoyment of watching football of the highest calibre. Whether it be the underdogs earning the most unlikely of victories, the contagiously nail-biting tension of extra-time and penalties (regardless of who is playing) or the ridiculous goals that will be scored and skill that will be on display, this is the pinnacle of the sport and it never fails to deliver.
Putting into words why everyone is so excited about the World Cup is extremely difficult. It differs for everyone. For some it is because England have a realistic chance to go far in the competition. Some only watch football at this time every four years just because it is almost impossible to avoid it. But for football enthusiasts it is the opportunity to not only support your country but also the sheer enjoyment of watching the best footballers on the planet going head-to-head. All that there is left to do is sit back, get comfortable and enjoy... except for when England play which will inevitably consist largely of you being perched on the edge of your seat shouting furiously at the television.
Thoughts, comments and opinions please...