All eyes on Brazil and Germany
Coach Loew introduces Götze into the SWC final (AFP)
Johannesburg - There will be much expectation when five-time world champions Brazil, who are currently ranked second by Fifa, open their World Cup campaign against Switzerland at the Rostov Arena this evening.
The Seleção, who are also known as the Canarinho, or Little Canary, should still be smarting from a 7-1 pasting handed to them by Germany on July 8 2014 in their own backyard, the Estádio, in the last event they hosted.
This uncharacteristic result for a nation that has won what started as the Jules Rimet trophy an unprecedented five times, still haunts the only South American nation that has Portuguese as their official language.
So, as the likes of Neymar Jr (Paris Saint-Germain), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool), and FC Barcelona team-mates Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho troop on to the field, they will know exactly how heavy a load they carry on their shoulders.
In Brazil, football is not just a game – it is a religion, and the country’s football followers are more like a cult. Just as happens in some churches and traditional healers’ gatherings, Brazilian fans go into some sort of trance once a match involving their national team starts, accompanied by the Samba dance and the incessant beating of drums.
While Neymar has been the star of the current squad for some time, some experts have predicted that Jesus might eclipse him at this tournament, or even finish as the top goal scorer.
But all that will depend on how they negotiate their way through the games, starting with their first hurdle, Switzerland, today.
A country of 8.5 million people, Switzerland’s best finish at the World Cup was in 1954, when they bombed out in the last eight.
Despite being consistently in the top 10 within the Fifa rankings – they are currently a surprising sixth – Switzerland has not gone past the last 16 stage since the 1966 World Cup in England.
Vladimir Petkovic’s side that have lost just one of their last 12 matches going into today’s encounter, and they heavily rely on Xherdan Shaqiri, who is known as “The Alpine Messi” and has scored 20 times in 69 games for the national team.
Other stars in the team are Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka, Schalke 04 forward Breel Embolo and Benfica forward Haris Seferovic.
Before this fixture, though, football followers’ appetites will be whetted by the 14:00 clash between Costa Rica and Serbia at the Cosmos Arena.
This will be followed by the big one between World Cup defending champs Germany against Mexico at the Luzhniki Stadium at 17:00.
This will be a chance for Joachim Loew’s charges to find out if they have what it takes to successfully defend the globe’s top honour in the sport.
From goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to defenders Matthias Ginter and Jérôme Boateng, up to strikers Thomas Müller, Ilkay Gündogan and Mario Gómez, Die Mannschaft boasts some of the world’s best talent.
Juan Carlos Osorio’s team, with Héctor Herrera, Javier Hernández and Rafael Márquez, will have their work cut out for them in this game.