Every four years, the world goes a little crazy. Whether soccer fan or not, it is impossible not to be caught up in the frenzy as another World Cup kicks off, this time in Brazil, which makes this edition special. Brazil is the spiritual home of soccer, and for neutral fans like in India, they will always be the favourite team to back. No one can, or wants to, miss out on the biggest sporting spectacle in the world. This World Cup is likely to eclipse the 3.6 billion-strong audience of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Indeed, only the Olympics comes close in terms of audience, length of tournament, financial outlay, prestige, nation-against-nation and the world’s best athletes competing against each other. The Olympics is predominantly for amateurs while the World Cup showcases highly-paid professionals, many of them global superstars. Kolkata went ballistic when Argentina’s Lionel Messi visited for an international friendly. Even outside of West Bengal and Goa, India has warmed up to the Beautiful Game. Over 60 million Indians currently tune in to the English Premier League, roughly the same as Britain’s entire population.
No event of this size and financial scale can be a purely sporting one. A damaging controversy swirls over the winning World Cup bid by Qatar for 2022. Over the years, politics, economics, social issues and local grievances have intruded. Brazil has spent more than $11 billion to host the World Cup which, even with its passion for fútbol, has been seen as excessive by many in the country. That has led to anti-government demonstrations, strikes and poverty activists taking their message to social media. Hopefully, now the tournament has begun, attention can turn to football and the 32 nations competing. It is a tournament that has been dominated by European and South American teams. FIFA, the governing body, has tweaked the rules to allow more teams from Africa, Asia and North America to take part, another indication that politics plays as big a role as a Messi, a Ronaldo or Brazilian superstar, Neymar. Brazil have won five times, and are the only team to have played in every tournament. Other World Cup winners are Italy (four times), West Germany (three); Argentina and Uruguay (twice) and England, France and Spain, with one title each. Spain are defending champions. Teams from other regions have been making progress. Mexico, Cameroon, Korea, Senegal, USA and Ghana have all