14 July 2014 06:07
The FIFA World Cup’s most successful sides will take centre stage when football’s biggest tournament arrives in Russia four years from now.
With five and four triumphs respectively, Brazil and Germany continue to lead the way when the world’s eyes turn to football every four years.
Yet it is for different reasons they will be scrutinised in Russia.
Germany’s task will be simple: end the hoodoo that has engulfed recent champions and become the first side to defend their crown since Brazil in 1962.
And their triumph in Brazil has certainly suggested a repeat is possible, with the likes of Toni Kroos, Mats Hummels, Mesut Ozil and final match-winner Mario Gotze all likely to be in their prime when 2018 rolls around.
Brazil, by contrast, will be aiming to show their confidence on the biggest stage has not been permanently shattered by an already-infamous exit on home soil.
In an unprecedented result for a host nation, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men were on the wrong end of a 7-1 hammering in the semi-finals – a result sure to go down in the sport’s folklore.
That their tournament then ended with the whimper of a 3-0 third-place play-off loss to Netherlands only serves to solidify theories that the mental scars from their campaign, which began with such hope, will take some time to disappear.
Although results on the pitch did not materialise how the South American nation desired, they did – as expected – serve up a football carnival; one that will be a tall order for a country with little footballing prestige to match.
Brazil’s efforts certainly convinced FIFA president Sepp Blatter, whose organisation continues to come under fire as allegations of corruption in the voting system for staging rights provided an unwelcome sideshow.
Ahead of the final at the iconic Maracana, he said: “I am a very happy man. It is a success of the country, of this game.
“I would like to address my compliments to the people of Brazil. They accepted this World Cup.”
Yet what Russia lacks in history, it will be aiming to make up for in organisation.
Protests from Brazil’s many impoverished citizens, unprepared stadiums, a poor surface in Manaus and the decision to build an arena in the jungle left plenty of question marks.
And, of course, the tragedy that took place in Belo Horizonte – when the collapse of a bridge killed two people – meant that at times a dark cloud hung over World Cup 2014.
But even in the midst of such a devastating incident, history is likely to look back upon Brazil’s second World Cup staging positively.
The famous Copacabana beach; the Maracana… All of the pieces were already in place.
Similar cannot be said for Russia, although South Korea/Japan and South Africa have recently shown that those issues can be overcome.
And, beyond that, the success of the recent Sochi Winter Olympics – even amid the backdrop of international protests against the country’s stance on gay rights – at least suggests Russia is ready for the challenge.
With racism also coming under the microscope in the country earlier this year, it is clear that social issues also present a challenge, especially in an era when the rest of the world continues to leave Russia behind with growing acceptance.
On the field, the 2018 hosts are are unlikely to challenge for overall glory – even if a result like the one suffered by those in yellow suggests anything is possible.
If all else fails, however, it seems a safe bet that in four years time defending champions Germany will once again be flying the European flag with verve.