The guest list is complete. Uruguay’s play-off victory over Jordan last night sealed their place as the 31st and final team to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Add the hosts, Brazil, to the mix and we have quite a party to look forward to.
Spain will be looking to win their fourth major international title in a row to further secure their position on the pantheon of the greatest teams of all time. But who can challenge them?
As hosts, Brazil will be desperate to win a first World Cup on home soil to add to the five they have picked up abroad. Having failed to get beyond the quarter-final stage of the last two World Cups, the Selecao will never have felt such enormous pressure from an expectant public. Can head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and his troops deliver?
While the club scene in Europe has been dominated by German teams over the last 12 months, the national team will be hoping to shake their tag as perennial nearly men. Joachim Low will be aiming to lead his side into a first World Cup final since 2002.
Argentina will be sweating on the fitness and form of one Lionel Messi, who has thus far failed to replicate his phenomenal Barcelona exploits for his national side. The Albiceleste would love nothing more than to pick up their third World Cup in the homeland of their great rivals.
The Netherlands and France will both be praying that their multi-talented squads can click just at the right time. Italy and Uruguay should be looking at reaching the latter stages at the very least.
One must also be careful not to discount the Portuguese either, captained by the exceptional Cristiano Ronaldo. Not since Diego Maradona led Argentina to glory in 1986 have the expectations of a nation fallen so heavily on the shoulders of one man.
Then there is England. If Roy Hodgson’s side intend to return home to anything resembling a heroes’ reception, they must first overcome arguably their greatest opponent. Their own crippling self-doubt.
The draw for the group stages is to be made on December 6th. Some, such as World Cup first-timers, Bosnia Herzegovina, may be content just to have been invited. Others will view this date as a time to start plotting routes to the final.
The world awaits.