Temper optimism Brazilian optimism must , however, be tempered in the reality that Brazil enters almost all major tournaments as favourites. The hope will be that this tournament will provide a pay-back opportunity for the embarrassing implosion that took place on home soil in the 2014 semi-final where they went down 7-1 to the Germans. While the Brazilian fortunes maintain a near umbilical connection to the health and form of star forward Neymar Jr, there are no such complications in the German camp, where there is a history of the epitomising of team and system play. That philosophy has been strategically upgraded with migrant creativity and athleticism added to the already historically tough German mettle. It would be bordering on disrespectful to not to mention a possible World Cup explosion to life by the best player of the modern era, Lionel Messi. Entering his fourth World Cup at the age of 31, Messi could very well thrive in the current low- expectation environment with himself and his Argentina team. Maybe the little genius will finally rise to the occasion and do what the entire football world knows he needs to do: win the ultimate prize in his game. I am not holding my breath, though. One of France, Spain, Belgium, or even England could very well prove all my theories and analyses wrong by emerging to hold the World Cup trophy aloft on the night of July 15 in Moscow. I doubt very much it will happen. The champions will be either Germany or Brazil, with Germany still the team to beat and Brazil the team to beat them. The pontificating will soon be over and the speculations will soon be put to rest. We are now three days away from the opening game of the 21st renewal of the FIFA World Cup finals. There is good reason it’s called the greatest show on earth – it is. Football is the simple game, the people’s game, and it remains the beautiful game. The idea of the World Cup finals, as conceptualised by then FIFA President Jules Rimet for its first staging in 1930, has evolved into the ultimate single-sport wonder. It is symbolised by the unparalleled prestige and value placed on being crowned FIFA World Cup champions. Only eight of the 211 official affiliate nations have had the distinction of lifting the prestigious symbol of worldwide football supremacy. Brazil has five titles, Germany and Italy have four each, and Uruguay and Argentina boast two each, with single triumphs for England, France and Spain. With one former champion in Italy failing to qualify for the big dance, it is perhaps safe to say that one of the remaining seven former champions will add to their World Cup title tally. My football sixth sense tells me that reigning champions Germany will be the team to beat. This is by no means a rushed conclusion. It was indeed during the Germans’ rampant charge towards the 2014 title in Brazil that it struck home that the core of that brilliant tournament-savvy team would return from earning the distinction of becoming the first European team to win the World Cup on South American soil in 2014, and in 2018 move into a European space where, conversely, no non-European team has won the title since Brazil, when a young PelÈ conquered home team Sweden in the 1958 final 60 years and 14 tournaments ago. Importantly, nine key players from the 2014 championship team, including Mesut Ozil, Thomas M¸ller, Toni Kroos and star goalkeeper Manuel Neuer will return, added to the technical sharpness of battle-tested maestro Joachim Low. Factor in the Germans’ uncanny ability to produce their best form at big moments during big tournaments, all objective analyses should have the Germans as clear favourites for the title. In terms of individual player quality, perhaps the Brazilians are slightly ahead of the champions, especially with superstar Neymar Jr returning to an offensive line already boasting Phillipe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus and Willian, to be supported by a rock-solid and well-organised defensive cadre. The Brazilians are absolutely more than worthy contenders.