Welcome to the world's biggest party
Brazil ready to samba but party-poopers waiting to gatecrash show
The World Cup stands alone. There is nothing like it. Little else comes close. The International Olympic Committee might argue otherwise, but their members are in the minority.
Only the World Cup does what it says on the trophy. It's a tournament for the world, a party for the entire planet. Everyone has a ticket. Everyone is invited.
The games, all 64 of them, are blind to race, colour, creed or culture. The doors are open to all. The special relationship is a reciprocal one. They provide the entertainment. You bring the dreams.
From the children of the Rio favelas to the kids on a Queenstown void deck, everyone participates. No one is excluded. The World Cup is a stage where there is truly a part for all.
From now until July 13, events will dictate the true owners of the game.
The World Cup will not belong to Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini or even shadowy Brazilian businessmen. It will belong to the starry-eyed kid from Bedok believing he's Lionel Messi just as much as it belongs to Messi himself.
The tournament is sporting democracy in its purest form. The games are shared by all. Only the ambition is unique intellectual property.
Your World Cup dreams are yours and yours alone.
Parties come and go, but the most memorable are always those where the outcome is unlikely, inexplicable; unforgettable.
The World Cup 2014 promises to take us down a similarly unfamiliar, uncertain road to Rio.
Spain are the current kings of their castles, but their castles are all back in Europe. Their wars were waged on the more agreeable terrains of Austria and Switzerland, South Africa and Poland and Ukraine.
In Game of Thrones terms, they are heading beyond the wall into the great unknown. They proudly bare the banners of their Euro 2008 and Euro 2012 triumphs along with their global crown from 2010, but they march into a world of wildlings.
South Americans have stood firm on their territory since the tournament began in 1930. They dance exclusively to the Samba beat and the Europeans have always been awkwardly out of step.
Spain arrive as the undisputed champions. Brazil and Argentina swagger into town as continental cousins and favoured fancies.
Something has got to give.
Brazil's main man Neymar laboured with a trophyless Barcelona last season, but Luiz Felipe Scolari has taken a punt on the relative youth of both Neymar and Oscar. The perception remains that there are too many boys among men.
Their extra man will be the singing, dancing, chanting, partying, hedonistic hosts. They are expected to drown out opponents and shout down any shortcomings.
At Euro 2004, Scolari played The Godfather, pulling the strings of the partisan home crowd to carry Portugal all the way to the final in Lisbon. He is a master manipulator of people, both on the pitch and in the crowd. In Lisbon, he fell short. In Rio, he is expected to go one step beyond.
But Brazil's sworn enemies are waiting to ruin the party.
Five consecutive failures sting the psyche. Five finals have passed without Argentina's presence. There is a sixth sense that this might be the Albiceleste's tournament.
Messi remains shackled to that malignant asterisk. He's the greatest player never to win the World Cup.
The company is undoubtedly impressive. The George boys of Best and Weah, Ryan Giggs and even Alfredo di Stefano share the accolade, but they always waved the obvious get-of-jail card. They never qualified.
Messi has qualified, but often played like a learner, as if applying for a provisional World Cup licence.
Like Cristiano Ronaldo, his legacy can be rubberstamped at this tournament. Ronaldo has the better form. But Messi has the better country.
Their reputations are unlikely to be irreparably damaged in Brazil. But they can be cast in stone.
As Ronaldo's Brazilian namesake learned in 2002, what the game's leading gladiators achieve in the World Cup will echo in eternity.
Messi and Ronaldo hear the scribbling of history books waiting to be written.
Wayne Rooney hears a clock ticking.
Time is against the England striker to make amends for years of disappointment and dejection. He is the highest paid player at his club. He has yet to score in the World Cup Finals for his country.
Ironically, his hopes rest on the boldness of England's most conservative manager since Graham Taylor.
If Roy Hodgson allows youth to rule the team-sheet, there is a slim chance Rooney's Three Lions could win the day - and at least qualify for the knockout stages.
At the other end of the coaching philosophy spectrum stands Marc Wilmots. The man who scored Belgium's last World Cup goal is now tasked with leading his dark horses to unexpected glory.
His attacking, comparatively youthful 4-3-3 is blessed with Axel Witsel, Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelo Lukaku, with Thibaut Courtois and Vincent Kompany tidying up at the back.
As the tournament creeps closer, these thoroughbreds are stepping into the light; their dark horses' tag perhaps being quietly passed to France, where Didier Deschamps is building an obdurate side around Blaise Matuidi.
Holland and Italy may also feel worthy of contender status.
And then there's Germany. There's always Germany. Those unstoppable automatons do not respect form, pressure, geography or penalty shootouts. They understand only winning.
Just as in Asia, there's always Japan.
Australia, Iran and South Korea make up our continent's numbers, but Alberto Zaccheroni's men are blessed with the experience, the easiest group and a wily coach.
They also have Keisuke Honda making a mockery of his own name. He's more than just reliable and cost-effective. He's the Rolls-Royce of Asian football. If he purrs, he reigns in Group C.
There're also the Africans, the Central Americans and the United States, who are still waging their increasingly successful battle through Major League Soccer to prove that not all team sports must be four hours long with interminable tactical delays.
Every team have something to prove in Brazil. Every player and manager has an agenda. Everyone has a stake. More than 700 million people are tipped to watch the final in Rio. Not one of them will be a casual viewer. Not one of them will have just a cursory interest.
This isn't a knitting circle at the local community club. This is the World Cup. This is the mafia. Just when you think you're out, they pull you back in four years later.
Membership is lifelong and non-refundable. So settle in and rest later.
You can sleep when you're dead.
Welcome to the world's greatest party.