Football is made up of magic moments and matches—contests that capture the imagination and become ingrained into footballing folklore.
The last moments of the 1999 Champions League final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich, as well as Steven Gerrard’s rasping drive in the dying minutes of Liverpool v Olympiakos in the 2005 Champions League, both strike a chord way beyond the supporters of the respective clubs.
But the most glorious stories are saved for the most memorable occasions. The FIFA World Cup, the grandest football stage of all, can write a new chapter this summer.
Brazil are hosting the tournament for the second time and are determined to recompense for the demons that seem to have haunted the country since 1950.
Brazil lost the final at the brand new Maracana to minnows Uruguay, were denied an inaugural world title and were forced to wait a further eight years for the title that eluded them on home soil.
Despite boasting two of the planet’s most lethal strikers in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, the Uruguayans are not generally considered one of the contenders to lift this World Cup, which would be their third and the first since that match which Brazilians dub “The Fateful Final.”
But a real threat is the host country’s greatest rival, Argentina. The two-time world champions have a potent attacking force whose strength in depth is unparalleled.
The likes of Carlos Tevez, who would walk into the Brazil line-up ahead of the likes of Fred, Jo and Leandro Damiao, is likely to miss out on the tournament completely.
A showdown between the pair, in the World Cup final at a renovated Maracana, would be a storyline brimming with plot lines that would capture the imagination of the most apathetic football fan. A world tournament, hosted in South America, contested by the continent’s two most dominant forces.
Whilst it has always been a lazy stereotype that South American teams are tactically naïve, gung-ho marauders, the two national sides boast some of the most exciting players in the world.
Lionel Messi, a four-time World Player of the Year, against Thiago Silva, arguably the finest defender in the world currently, would make a fascinating duel.
The weak spot in Argentina’s unit remains the defence. The creative forces at work in Brazil’s attack, notably Neymar and Oscar, constantly probing would be akin to the big bad wolf attempting to blow down the house of the three little pigs.
European teams have dominated the last two World Cups. Spain and Holland contested the 2010 final, Italy and France the 2006 edition, with only one South American nation managing to reach the semi-finals—Uruguay in 2010. And even that achievement was thanks to some inspired Luis Suarez goalkeeping against Ghana.
Brazil versus Argentina, played in arguably the most iconic stage in the sport, would see a return to form of two sleeping giants and a battle between Barcelona's two darlings, their established star and the new kid on the block.
The first time Lionel Messi and Neymar squared off was horribly one-sided. The setting was the final of the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup. Barcelona humbled Santos 4-0 in an embarrassing mismatch of force and technical quality.
Now, three and a half years down the line and with a year at one of Europe’s giants under his belt, Neymar is far better equipped in his quest to match the world’s best player.
But the overriding factor, for Brazilians at least, remains righting their wrongs of 1950. Even after over 60 years, the Maracana is still seen as the scene of the country’s most famous failure.
This year the country’s plot is to change the tune and turn the concrete bowl into the symbol of success it was always designed to be, to lift a World Cup at what became the symbol of Brazilian progress during the latter half of the 20th century.
But if there is one country desperate to stop them, it will be their pesky neighbours, who would glory in the task of stopping Brazil in their own backyard, inflicting a second humiliation upon the bully boys of South America.
And that is a subplot and a half.