So, tonight’s the night. After all the talk and extensive media coverage, the action is about to begin on the field.
32 teams, 736 players, 64 games, 32 days and the world’s single biggest trophy to play for.
Excitement and anticipation is all around. Conversations are focused on the same topic wherever you turn. At work, at home, in the pub, on the train.
Every 4 years I have a similar feeling, not knowing quite how the upcoming tournament will unfold, but knowing that it will provide yet another package of memories, indelibly stamped on my brain, this time neatly filed under the category ‘World Cup 2014’.
My own World Cup memory bank is crammed full of moments and names from tournaments gone by – Maradonna, Cruyff, Beckenbauer, Zico, Rossi, Kempes, Platini, Gascoigne…the list is endless.
Who will follow them into history over the next month? Ronaldo? Messi? Neymar? Or maybe someone unexpected. Time will tell.
My World Cup experiences whilst living in Australia were always there, but were often more muted, partly due to Australia’s historical inability to qualify and partly due to the often punishing time differences, making live viewing something of an ordeal.
That said, I regard my visit to Sydney’s Olympic stadium, along with 82,697 others, to witness Australia’s qualifier with Uruguay in 2005 (won by penalty shoot-out to qualify for the first time since 1974) as one of my favourite memories from my time down under.
Now I’m back living in England again, I am getting to experience the hopes and fears of my home at close quarters, seeing how the most minor team issues became elevated to assume disproportionate levels of importance.
Will Rooney start? Will Roy play the youngsters? When will the Ox be back? How will they cope with the temperatures in the jungle? How do we stop Pirlo?
But unlike some previous competitions, when the hopes of a nation were carried on the shoulders of the so-called ‘golden generation’, this time round hopes do seem to be tempered with a healthy sense of realism.
We’re well behind some other countries and not expected to do particularly well.
My hope is that, unburdened by the crushing yoke of expectation, the team can play with an unfamiliar sense of freedom and, who knows, maybe even surprise a few people. We shall see.
For me, watching this World Cup ‘back home’, brings with it a couple of extra bonuses.
Firstly I get to watch it from within rather than observing from afar (probably in the middle of the night).
And secondly, I get to see the competition through the eyes of my eldest son who is now about the same age that I was when watching the first World Cup I can remember. I wonder if his memories of Brazil 2014 will be as vivid in years to come.
But for now, it’s time to settle back, remote control in one hand, beer in the other, with one of the many World Cup guides by my side, ready to see Brazil tackle Croatia and thereby begin my TV watching extravaganza.