Pretoria - Five-time world champions Brazil have been tipped to win their sixth Fifa World Cup title in their backyard.
The World Cup, which kicks off on Thursday night, is set to be highly contested, with Spain, Germany and Netherlands expected to set the scene alight.
Several local football experts have picked Brazil as the nation to emerge victorious from the month-long tournament.
Former Mamelodi Sundowns captain Mike Ntombela, his ex-teammate Zane Moosa, University of Pretoria coach Steve Barker and SuperSport United captain Thabo September all believe the men coached by Louis Filipe Scolari will shrug off opposition to erase the agony of the 1950 World Cup, when they lost to Uruguay in the final on home soil.
“The World Cup trophy will remain in Brazil. They showed during the Confederations Cup that they are a quality team. They have matured and I think the home support and pressure will push them. They have good players in Neymar, Hulk, Fred, Oscar and others who are match winners,” said Moosa.
That Brazil are playing in front of their own fans is likely to spur them in their quest to live up to the favourites tag.
Ntombela, who played behind Moosa at left back for Sundowns, feels the Selacao will make the grade.
“I would like to see Brazil win the World Cup. They are playing at home and I think it will work in their favour. They have a great team and Neymar may have a great tournament,” said Ntombela, who is in Brazil with a Sundowns delegation.
There’s a feeling that teams from South America will be strong contenders for the prestigious cup won by Spain in South Africa four years ago. “Brazil and Argentina will be strong. I am positive that Brazil will win it. They are playing really well. They have a quality team,” said Barker.
September, though his money is on Brazil, warns that Spain could put up a fight in their title defence.
“Brazil have a vibrant and young team. They beat the world champions Spain during the Confederations Cup. I think that has done their confidence a world of good. They will do well but you can’t write off Spain.”
Usually it’s big stars that make a tournament a hit. Though players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gareth Bale and Franck Ribery will be missing, there are still a number of stars that can delight the masses in what is expected to be an explosive tournament.
Moosa, the erstwhile left-footed midfield genius, says Portuguese playmaker Cristiano Ronaldo and his Argentinian counterpart Lionel Messi will rise to the occasion on the biggest football stage in the world.
“Ronaldo has been troubled by injuries but I think he will do well. Messi will also do the same since he didn’t impress in 2010,” said Moosa.
The World Cup is also a platform for some youngsters to announce their arrival. In 2010 German midfielder Mesut Ozil and his compatriot Thomas Muller grabbed world attention with great displays.
Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, 21, of France, is tipped to shine this time around.
“Pogba is good and I think he will make things happen for the French,” said September.
Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Algeria will have many Africans crossing their fingers with the hope that they will make the continent proud.