Neil Humphreys: Why Brazil will win
Who will claim the crown come July 15? TNP columnists and the local football fraternity pick their favourites
The Brazilians are the World Cup. The World Cup is Brazil. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two.
One can survive without the other, but they cannot thrive.
A World Cup without the sexy Selecao is Wimbledon without Roger Federer, a Marvel movie without Iron Man and rock 'n' roll without Elvis.
They complete each other. The World Cup without Brazil feels like an awkward break-up. It's just not the same.
Four years ago, Brazil had the hosting rights, but not the team. Football never came home. The Germans napalmed the party.
The Brazilians had the spiritual connection, the samba beats coursing through their veins and the majestic Maracana, but they also had Fred and Hulk playing up front.
Too many beasts spoiled the beautiful setting.
Now, they have the players, if not quite the right history. Brazil boast the greatest forward line at the tournament.
Pick any six from Casemiro, Paulinho, Fernandinho, Willian, Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino and the heir to the Selecao throne, Neymar.
Two swashbuckling samba boys will still be left on the bench, two luxury items that'd be the envy of most of their rivals, two optional extras that are indicative of a depth of talent that Brazil haven't had for years.
Coach Tite resurrected his nation's hopes, illuminating a brighter future by returning to the past. He reminded them of their pedigree, their heritage and the symbolic significance of that yellow jersey.
Tite allowed the boys to play. His dour predecessor, Dunga, obsessed over stopping opponents from playing.
Tite has embraced the Brazilian spirit of '58, '70, '82 and '02. Win, lose or draw, never bore. Pele, Rivelino and Jairzinho, Zico and Falcao, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Ronaldo led the way. Tite has urged his flamboyant men to take the same path.
The journey has obstacles. The attack-first philosophy often leads to an identity crisis among fullbacks. Danilo and Marcelo, in particular, can forget to read the small print in their job description.
They don't defend as well as they counter. Sometimes, they don't track back. Fernandinho and Casemiro will run their legs off in Russia, covering lost land.
The Brazilians are also blessed with a welcome goalkeeping selection headache to rival Germany, an unusual position of privilege for a South American nation.
Alisson and Ederson are both comfortable between the sticks and with the ball at their feet.
For Tite's Brazil, it is history that represents the biggest stumbling block.
They haven't travelled particularly well in the past. Of their five previous World Cup trophies, only one was lifted in the chillier climes of Europe.
A teenage Pele danced his way to global supremacy in Sweden, back in 1958 and Brazil saw off the Italians, via a penalty shoot-out, in the California sunshine in 1994. Only Ronaldo's heroics in Japan feel like a modern anomaly.
But the well-travelled multi-millionaires of the current line-up live and work in different times. The front six mentioned above all play in Europe, along with Marcelo, Danilo and pretty much every other half-decent squad member.
The weather won't be a problem. It's Neymar's ankle that needs a sunny outlook.
Injury ruined his World Cup homecoming in 2014. Keeping the Paris Saint-Germain forward fit in Russia could be the difference between another early exit and winning a sixth title.
As Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo reluctantly drift toward the twilight of their careers, Neymar knows his peak is fast approaching. He's 26.
Opening fixtures against Switzerland and Costa Rica in Group E should allow Neymar and Co to ease their way into the competition, before facing Serbia's potential banana skins.
If the Brazilians can top the group, there's an outside chance of eventually facing England in the quarter-finals. The last time that happened, Brazil went on to lift the trophy in 2002.
And that's the kind of history that the Selecao won't mind repeating.