Bated breath as FIFA World Cup 2018 beckons

Saturday, June 09, 2018

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Football lovers the world over live for this magical time which comes every four years: the FIFA World Cup, now less than a week away.

For Jamaicans who are old enough, there is always nostalgia — memories of 20 years ago when the Reggae Boyz were among the chosen number at the World Cup Finals tournament in France.

Yet the pain of not qualifying for the 2018 version in Russia has long faded for most Jamaicans, replaced by hope that come 2022 their team will be among the chosen in Qatar.

And now, as the football fever picks up ahead of next Thursday's start of the 2018 version, Jamaicans are busy picking a winner. Over the next few weeks productivity may well fall a wee bit. Hopefully, as occurred in 1998, even criminals may find reason to slow down.

The flags and shirts are out and the debate rages in the bars, on street corners and every nook and cranny as to who will win the FIFA World Cup 2018.

As always, Brazil are the sentimental favourites for most Jamaicans. It's a love affair that has existed since 1958 when stylish, multi-racial Brazil unveiled Mr Edson Arantes do Nascimento, called Pele, the 'Black Pearl', the greatest footballer of his generation and arguably of all time.

For Brazil and their hundreds of millions of fans the world over, the expectation is that the South Americans will not only redeem themselves following their humiliating 1-7 defeat on home soil at the semi-final stage by eventual champions Germany four years ago, but that they will lift the World Cup for a sixth time.

The evidence suggests that the Brazilians do possess the all-round talent and strength to pull it off.

Again, the Germans are being perceived as their main threat. Magnificently prepared and very efficient, the German team of 2014 also possessed an abundance of skill and verve. Expectations are they will be just as strong this time around.

Yet, such is the levelling off of football globally, that every team, including Iceland with a population of just over 334,000 people, will be perceived as a threat, regardless of opponent, on a game-by-game basis.

Much fascinated attention will be focused on Argentina with 30-year-old Mr Lionel Messi and Portugal with Mr Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro, now 33. Can either of those great players finally taste ultimate success on the global stage against the backdrop that time waits for no one? Mr Messi, it will be remembered, went all the way to the final in 2014 only for Argentina to fall to Germany.

From a regional point of view, Mexico, Costa Rica and first-timers Panama will carry the flag for CONCACAF. Let's not forget that in 2014, little-thought-of Costa Rica went all the way to the quarter-finals.

Finally, what an achievement it would be if at long last a nation outside of Europe and South America were to win the World Cup!

In terms of organisation, word out of Russia is that the hosts are well prepared for this tournament. “One week before kick-off, I think we can say that Russia is 100 per cent ready,” an upbeat FIFA President Mr Gianni Infantino said earlier this week.

Jamaica and the world can hardly wait.

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