One of the great joys of any World Cup is that the closer you get to the tournament, the more your natural cynicism about FIFA and all those overpaid divas seems to evaporate. People old enough to know better suddenly start whistling the theme tune to Argentina '78 and recalling a special night in a bar during Italia '90. Fully grown adults sneakily buy Panini stickers and download a World Cup wallchart as the excitement mounts
If you've ever had such a wallchart yourself, you'll remember the game of Predict The Final. That's what we're going to do today, starting (just because...) with England, and seeing which teams are likely to meet on the road to the Maracana. Here we go...
England are drawn in Group D with Uruguay, Costa Rica and Italy; potentially a pretty tough group, but it could have been worse. Much depends on whether they manage a point against the Azzurri – if that happens and they beat Costa Rica, the likelihood will be that they go through to the next round in second place. However, remember that CR are a good side; in qualification, they beat the USA and Mexico.
Making it through in second place would see England facing the winners of Group C, which will be Colombia, Ivory Coast, Greece or Japan. Group C is a little tricky to pick a winner from, but Colombia look very strong, having qualified just behind Argentina. There's also a geographical advantage, and the bookies agree at the moment that Colombia should top the group with Ivory Coast second.
So we have England v Colombia playing in Rio on 28th June in the Round of 16! At this point even the most avid England supporter must admit the possibility that South American fervour (and football skills) will win the day, and we'll predict a victory for Los Cafeteros.
Now, consulting our wallchart, we have Colombia playing the winner of Match 49 – Group A's winner v Group B's runner-up. That's likely to be Brazil v Netherlands, though Spain might easily replace the Dutch. Either way, you'd have to go with Brazil for obvious reasons.
Now we have a quarter-final on our hands; Brazil v Colombia in Fortaleza on July 4th.
That's going to be one hell of a noisy crowd. The winners will play four days later in Belo Horizonte, against... now we have to look at the wallchart again. Let's say Nigeria beat France on June 30th. Germany beat Russia on the same day in Porto Alegre. So Nigeria face the Germans in Rio... and it's a draw! Penalties ensue, and of course Germany win.
There's our semi-final; Brazil v Germany. By an even more tortuous set of predictions based on our wallchart, the other semi is... Uruguay v Belgium! This requires a quite stunning performance by the Belgians against Argentina on 5th July in Brasilia, but just go with it for now.
We have a final: Belgium have destroyed a tired Uruguay, and Brazil ride the wave of home support to reach the Maracana. Put all your money on it; Belgium to just nick it from a tired Brazil and lift the trophy on July 13th!
(Images courtesy of foxnews.com, football365.com, zimbio.com, zimbio.com)