On 5th of June 2001, just over twelve years ago, Niall Quinn flicked the ball into the path of the unrushing Robbie Keane who slammed it past Oliver Kahn in the Germany net in the last minute of the game. Mick McCarthys Ireland team drew 1-1 with the mighty Germans. Me along with my classmates cladden in green white and orange flags hats and scarfs, jumped around our classroom as Robbie Keane celebrated with his now trademark cartwheel celebration at the Kashima Stadium. Only nine years old but what a day it was. Unfortunately Ireland hasn't been in the World Cup since, but with Brazil's kick off against Croatia just hours away I cannot contain my excitement as the festival of football returns.
Who will win the World Cup? Will Neymar and carry the nations hopes and fire Brazil to a sixth World Cup on July 13th in the Maracana? Can Messi rise to the occassion and deliver the trophy back to Argentina for the first time since 1986? The prospect of a Brazil-Argentina final will have the mouths of football purists watering. But reigning champions Spain with their tika-taka football will want to regain their crown. The powerful and solid Germans will also want to have a big say in where the biggest prize of football goes. Then theres the dark horses, Belgium, Portugal,Columbia, can any of them defy the odds and lift the famous trophy for the first time?
And what about Englands chances? Wayne Rooney needs to deliver. Roy Hodgson has an abundance of attacking talents at his disposal like Everton's Ross Barkley and Liverpool's Raheem Sterling, but I reckon Roy will be pragmatic as always in his approach, and a boring no score draw is on the cards for me when England kick off v Italy on Satuday night in Manaus. Although they might negotiate through the group stages with two draws against Italy and Uruguay and a win against Costa Rica I expect them to go no further than the last sixteen. Anyhow, lets get back to talking about possible winners.
No team from Europe has ever won the World Cup in South America, and I expect that trend to continue. Most bookmakers have an South American team to win the cup at odds-on at 4/6. With Brazil slight favorites in the betting at 11/4 ahead of the Argentines, who can be backed at 4/1. My moneys on the Argentines, although the stage is set for Brazil to win on their own patch, the weight of expectation will be too much and a Lionel Messi inspired Argentina will hold aloft the trophy come July. (I hope)
Whatever happens, we are spoiled with football over the next few weeks so sit back and enjoy the greatest show on earth.