30 Reasons to Be Excited About the 2014 FIFA World Cup
With the 2014 World Cup now only two weeks away, I set out this week to highlight 30 reasons to be excited for the upcoming tournament.
I'll be in Brazil providing coverage, and I couldn't be more excited about going. Narrowing the reasons down to 30 proved a lot easier than I thought it might have been.
Hopefully this slideshow will get you in the mood for what promises to be an incredible spectacle this summer in Brazil.
1. A Fit Wayne Rooney
Injuries have blighted Wayne Rooney at major tournaments since he exploded onto the scene at Euro 2004.
There will be no excuses this time around. England have a fully fit Rooney at their disposal, and the man himself is seemingly in the mood to finally deliver on his potential at a World Cup.
2. The Brazilian National Anthem
The Brazilian national anthem was truly something to behold at the Confederations Cup. It galvanised players and fans alike, and it was filled with pure emotion.
I can't wait to hear it played before Brazil's first game against Croatia.
3. How Italy Cope in the Heat
Italy play all three of their group matches in the north or northeast of Brazil, where temperatures will range from 80 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and bodies will be pushed to their limits.
How they cope will be fascinating to watch. We should expect to see them slow things down as much as possible.
Chile are my dark horses for a deep run at the World Cup. They have sharp attackers in Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas and the likes of Arturo Vidal in midfield.
We saw how they played at Wembley against England, winning 2-0, and they will not be overawed at the World Cup.
5. Messi vs. Ronaldo
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will look to take centre stage at the World Cup and prove why they are the greatest player on the planet.
I predict Messi and Argentina will have a strong run. Ronaldo, however, could be out in the group stage; I see Ghana pipping Portugal to second spot in Group G behind Germany.
6. How Klinsmann Copes Without Donovan
USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann got it badly wrong with his decision to omit Landon Donovan from his World Cup squad.
Donovan's experience could have been invaluable, especially with the U.S. in the group of death alongside Germany, Portugal and Ghana.
His attacking influence will also be missed. Can we really expect Jozy Altidore to turn around his abysmal club form and have a stormer at the World Cup? I don't think so.
But Klinsmann clearly has a plan to prove me—and many others—wrong.
7. Belgium's Golden Generation
So much has been written and said about this current crop of Belgian players. Such is the hype around this team, I'm not sure we can call them "dark horses" anymore.
Seeing how Belgium cope with a new level of expectancy will be fascinating to watch.
We won't truly get a measure of their capabilities until they're put under pressure, which will happen soon enough in Brazil.
I started my career as a broadcaster covering non-league teams in low-key FA Cup ties. Ten years on, I'll be up near the Amazon rainforest covering England in the tropical climbs of Manaus.
The World Cup will have a unique feel at the Amazonia Arena. I can't wait to experience the atmosphere and the climate and see how they affect the teams playing there.
9. Sergio Aguero
The battle for the World Cup Golden Boot comes down to two players for me.
The first is Argentina's Sergio Aguero, who returned from injury towards the end of the season and should be at full throttle for the World Cup.
Aguero will playing on his home continent, and he has no shortage of midfield talent to provide a supply line.
Brazil's Fred will be Aguero's competition for the Golden Boot. He could be the player to earn himself a huge summer transfer on the back of a starring performance at the World Cup.
With the likes of Neymar to tee him up, Fred could have a prolific tournament for the host nation.
11. Spain to Defy History?
If Spain make history by winning their fourth successive major tournament (following Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012), they will become the first non-South American team to win the World Cup in the Americas.
Can they do it? Based on the extravagant riches in their squad, I think they'll come very close but ultimately fall at the final hurdle.
12. Copacabana Parties
The world's best party destination. The world's biggest sport. The greatest event of them all.
The parties are going to be spectacular.
13. Luis Suarez vs. England
Genius or sinner? Luis Suarez will naturally be the focus when Uruguay take on England, in what will be a pivotal match in the group stage.
Imagine the reaction in England if he dives and wins a decisive penalty in the last minute. How would Liverpool fans react to that?
Equally, we could be treated to a performance for the ages from one of the game's most devastating attacking talents at the peak of his powers.
14. The Socceroos
Australia won't have it easy with Chile, Netherlands and Spain in their group.
The question is not whether they can advance; it's whether the Socceroos can pick up a single point.
I say no.
Drummers in the stands set the rhythm for how Brazil play. You'll hear the beat slow down when Brazil are trying to keep possession, then quicken when they advance to the final third.
The samba beat will be the sound of the World Cup.
16. The Emergence of Lallana and Sterling
In Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling, England have two exciting young wide players who can potentially drive the team forward.
Lallana should start in Roy Hodgson's team, while I expect Sterling's impact to come off the substitutes' bench.
17. Ecuador vs. Honduras
France will win Group E, but the battle for second place could come down to Ecuador and Honduras.
The two teams meet in the second round of matches, with the outcome potentially decisive.
We'll get a glimpse of both of these teams in upcoming friendlies against England, so it will be fascinating to see which nation turns it on in Brazil.
18. Mario Balotelli
Mario Balotelli will either tear up the World Cup or be anonymous.
If he sparks, Balotelli could compete for the Golden Boot. That said, he could just as easily be sent off in the opening match and not be seen again.
My prediction is for Italy to go out at the group stage, with England and Uruguay taking the top two spots at their expense.
19. Edin Dzeko's Bosnia and Herzegovina
Edin Dzeko was in red-hot form for Manchester City toward the end of the season, and his goals helped drive them to the Premier League title.
He's very capable of giving Iran, Nigeria and even Argentina a good deal to worry about in the group stages.
20. Louis Van Gaal's Tactics
Louis van Gaal's tactics will be monitored very closely by Manchester United fans at the World Cup, as they look for signs of how he'll set their team up next season.
Will Van Gaal keep things tight and pack his midfield? Or will he send the Dutch out to entertain and lean on the attacking talents of his United charge Robin van Persie and Co.?
21. Battle for the Golden Glove
There will be a good number of world-class goalkeepers to watch in Brazil, including Germany's Manuel Neuer, Thibaut Cortois of Belgium and Spain's Iker Casillas.
I can see the Golden Glove battle coming down to Casillas and Argentina's keeper, Sergio Romero.
22. Will the Black Stars Shine?
Per FIFA.com, Ghana's Michael Essien believes the Black Stars are capable of going as far as the World Cup final this summer.
They're undoubtedly the strongest African team right now, but Ghana face a big task in coming out of a group that includes Germany and Portugal.
I'm picking them to make it happen, however, with Portugal the team to miss out.
23. England Fans
England fans, as ever, will be at the World Cup in large numbers. We'll see flags representing their teams and they'll be making noise everywhere they go.
I don't expect any trouble from them, either. I think the England contingent will add a huge amount to the atmosphere at the World Cup and prove they have some of the best fans in the world.
24. Costa Rica
Costa Rica should not be underestimated.
With the likes of Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell leading their attack, they are capable of hurting England, Uruguay and Italy in Group D.
I don't think they'll advance, but they will certainly ruffle some feathers.
25. Germany or Italy: Who'll Go Further?
Here we have two traditional European powerhouses: one over the hill; the other ready to peak at the World Cup.
Will Italy be shown to be past their best? Will Germany finally deliver on the potential we saw at Euro 2012?
Both teams are always a threat, but my prediction is for Italy to go at the group stage and Germany to mount a strong challenge.
There has been one question in particular asked of Neymar at Barcelona this season: Is he a man for the big occasion, or is he guilty of going missing when it matters?
Brazilians expect him to lead their team to glory, and I expect Neymar to be playing in the World Cup final.
27. France or Netherlands: Which Team Will Implode?
France and the Netherlands both have players who can start a fight in an empty room.
Can they maintain their focus and make a run in Brazil? I say yes to France, but the Dutch will go out in the group stage.
28. Roy the Brave?
Will we see England manager Roy Hodgson go bold at the World Cup or play pragmatist?
Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana? Or Danny Welbeck and James Milner?
One can hope for the bold option, but history tells us Roy will play safe.
There was a lot of negative press around the World Cup in South Africa. The same was true at Euro 2012 in Ukraine and Poland.
Brazil will hopefully buck that trend. We're travelling to the new home of football—England was the old home—and there should be a carnival atmosphere throughout the tournament.
30. A Maracana Final
My prediction for the final is a battle of the titans: Brazil vs. Spain.
When those two teams take the field at the historic Maracana in Rio, it's going to be a match for the ages.
Brazil to win it.