As the entire footballing word turns its attention to Costa do Sauipe this Friday to learn who will be playing who in the group stages of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, the fate of the 32 participants will rest in the hands of eight men with one major thing in common. They are not just respected and celebrated football icons, they also represent the eight nations that have won the most prestigious title awarded in the world’s most popular sport.
Cafu (Brazil) and Alcides Ghiggia (Uruguay), as well as Mario Kempes (Argentina), Sir Geoff Hurst (England), Lothar Matthaus (Germany), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy), Zinedine Zidane (France) and Fernando Hierro (Spain) will stand in the spotlight on the vast stage alongside FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke. These seven world champions, along with Hierro, who helped mastermind Spain’s 2010 triumph in his role as sporting director of the Spanish FA (RFEF), will reach into the draw pots, watched with fevered anticipation by football fans in all corners of the globe.
One of the idols tasked with this responsibility stands out. Ghiggia is the only surviving world champion from 1950, when his goal sealed a 2-1 win for Uruguay over Brazil in Rio de Janeiro and, with it, his place in footballing history. The 86-year-old and his team-mates silenced a packed Maracana, when denying the hosts the chance to win the World Cup on home soil.
“The FIFA World Cup in Brazil brings back many memories from 1950,” said one of the Celeste’s heroes of the match, dubbed the Maracanazo. “Next year’s finals in Brazil will be wonderful!”
I think the World Cup is the most important event in the world, something exceptional, a moment when the world comes together.
England’s Geoff Hurst can also hardly wait for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ to begin. “It will be a fantastic World Cup because the location is fantastic,” said the 71-year-old, adding. “I can really feel the huge enthusiasm and interest shown by the [Brazilian] people.”
The 1966 world champion is a big fan of Brazil and even offered some travel tips: “Brazil is an interesting country for visitors. Fans shouldn’t just come to see a football match but should take a look at Ipanema and some of Brazil’s other world-famous locations too.”
Italy's Germany 2006-winning captain Cannavaro, meanwhile, is in no doubt that next year’s World Cup will captivate everyone. “I think the World Cup is the most important event in the world, something exceptional, a moment when the world comes together. All those involved, the fans and the players should count themselves lucky to come together in one place and play for the world’s most important trophy. There’s nothing like it,” enthused the former Italian icon.
“Brazil is definitely a special place for anyone who has ever played football. When someone mentions Brazil, you immediately think of football and then celebration. Brazilians learn to play football in a completely different way to anyone else.”
One player who knows all about that is Cafu. The 43-year-old won the World Cup twice with the Seleção in 1994 and 2002, and was first to lift the Trophy when captaining the team in Korea and Japan. “There is no better feeling than lifting that trophy into the air and saying: ‘I’m the champion of the world’. That’s why I say to everyone coming to Brazil next year: There is no greater desire… than to become a world champion!”
Cafu is looking forward to the Final Draw on Friday 6 December at 13:00 local time (17:00 CET) with great anticipation and immense pride. As a Brazilian, he has the closest emotional links of the eight illustrious draw assistants to a 2014 FIFA World Cup that already promises great excitement.
“The World Cup comes at a brilliant time for us, as our country is experiencing a boom,” said Cafu. “We will show the world that Brazil is an incredible country that can welcome people from every corner of the globe and give them an amazing experience.”
Football fans across the globe are looking forward to the first big highlight on the route to Brazil 2014 with excitement and anticipation, and eight of the biggest names in the world game can hardly wait to play their part either.