Despite all the controversy, the FIFA World Cup is finally ready to begin. The hosts, Brazil, are many people's favorites to lift the cup. But other teams from South America and Europe are also in with a chance.
Finally, the twentieth edition of the World Cup in Brazil is due to start. Over 60,000 fans are expected in the Itaquerao stadium in Sao Paulo for the first match, most of them local fans. The game will see the Selecao, Brazil's national team, take on Croatia in the first game of Group A.
Ahead of the match FIFA-President Sepp Blatter will open the tournament, most probably to the deafening tone of thousands of whistles. The controversial FIFA boss and his organization has many critics in Brazil.
Although a large number of fans in Brazil are looking forward to the tournament, many are also critical of the World Cup and its associated costs. They are demanding an improvement to social support networks in the country, as well as higher salaries and affordable housing.
"Nao vai ter Copa!" say the protesters, which translates to "There will be no World Cup." Things probably won't get that far, but rallies and demonstrations are to be expected and strikes could also paralyze parts of the country.
Expectations and concerns
Of all the big name teams involved in the tournament, the pressure on the Brazilian side is arguably the greatest. The last World Cup in Brazil took place in 1950. The Selecao made it to the final back then and started the match full of confidence against the underdog, Uruguay. But the favorites lost the game 2-1, a failure that eats away at Brazil's football soul even today.
For that reason, and many others, most local fans will be expecting a win from their team this time around. The Brazilian stars, led by Barcelona's Neymar, are the bookkeepers' favorites.
A win would be Brazil's sixth at a World Cup. In addition to the hosts, a number of other South American teams are considered as boasting a good chance to lift the famous trophy.
Both Argentina, with star player Lionel Messi, and Uruguay with players like Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan und Luis Suarez, are seen as potential contenders.
From Europe, Spain and Italy are considered to be in the mix. In addition, the German team - currently ranked number two in the world - can never be discounted.
Ready right on time?
The German team and coach Joachim Löw would have been happy last December when they were drawn in Group G. With their late start in the tournament, the German players have had a few extra days to rest after their European seasons came to a close in May.
Captain Philipp Lahm and midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, as well as goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, are amongst those players who are under injury clouds. The German keeper is still struggling with his fitness after injuring his shoulder in the German Cup final.
In the group stage, Germany will be up against Portugal (16.06.2014), Ghana (21.06.2014) and the USA (26.06.2014). In the quarter-finals, Belgium, Russia, South Korea and Algeria await as potential opposition.
"We all believe we'll get to the final," said Oliver Bierhoff, German team manager, shortly after arriving at Germany's Brazilian headquarters in Santo Andre. "We don't want to think about anything else."
If Bierhoff's prediction proves to be correct, the German national team will be involved in the action until July 13, when the final takes place in Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.