Like sunshine and happiness or Lennon and McCartney, football and Brazil go together, each making the other better. So the first World Cup in Brazil in 64 years is bound to be special. Having cracked open a new continent four years ago in South Africa, the planet's most popular sport now returns to its spiritual home, the country which more than any other has put the wow factor into football.
Football and Brazil will both win if the four-week feast of 64 matches fulfills expectations for a samba-fuelled carnival of goals and fun, a showcase for the game's stars to prove their worth or see their thunder stolen by exciting new talents. But South America's largest country and the sport that many of its 200 million people treat as a quasi-religion will emerge as losers with damaged reputations if the 20th World Cup goes wrong, which it could.
Brazil squandered too much precious time in the seven years it was given to prepare. Construction deadlines were repeatedly missed. Many promised transport improvements were scrapped or will not be ready for the June-July influx of fans from around the world. The runaway $3.5 billion spending (triple Brazil's initial estimates) on 12 stadiums (four more than World Cup organizer FIFA actually needed) infuriated Brazilians.