One of the beauties of sport is the pleasure one can derive from poring over the advance material leading up to an event. Unfortunately, perception too often proves to far outweigh reality, and sometimes, it's wise not to overindulge.
Take the World Cup, which began in Brazil June 12, for example. If you weren't careful and simply read everything put out about the 32-nation showdown, you might be thinking, who cares about this worldwide ripoff that will devastate the home country even if it wins the tournament?
By now, just about everyone knows what a horrible deal it can be serving as host for the one of these extravaganzas. The host of the previous World Cup, South Africa, hasn't found any use yet for the stadiums it built in 2010.
Even worse is any Olympic Games, summer or winter. It reportedly cost $50 billion to stage the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
In 2007, when it was announced that Brazil would host the 2014 World Cup, public opinion polls showed that 79 percent of respondents supported the idea. A couple of months ago, that number was down to 48 percent.
For years, Brazil had more than its share of problems. Then, things got much better, and the future looked bright. Now, the populace has reacted with demonstrations all across the country, including protests against the Confederation Cup, a forerunner to the World Cup, in 2013.
The Summer Olympics are coming to Rio de Janeiro in 2016. And the $11 billion budget for the World Cup will prove to be a drop in the bucket next to the amount for the Olympics.
The thing is, Brazil does not have the money (nor the credit) to play this game, especially when education and health care are so bad. Imagine Brazilians, typically known as the fiercest soccer fans on the planet, holding up signs saying, "We don't need the World Cup, and we need money for hospitals and education."
Somewhat surprisingly, the masses got backing from some of the country's playing heroes, led by star Romario, who has criticized FIFA. For the World Cup, FIFA takes all the television revenue, all the ticket revenue and everything else it can lay its greedy hands on.
It probably does no good to list the problems that exist with the action on the fields. Tunnels for a new metro line to serve thousands of visitors to Rio were still being constructed at the end of May. A bullet train between Rio and Sao Paulo, expected to be ready for the Cup, is now projected for 2020.
As expected, the number of security personnel has been pushed to 100,000 in the 12 cities hosting preliminary games, especially with a United Nations report revealing that there were at least 50,000 reported homicides in Brazil in 2012 -- and this is no misprint. Wow, Brazil beat the United States? A recently published tip sheet for tourists cautioned, "Do not react, scream or argue [with robbers]." It was probably meant to be humorous.
Despite all this bad stuff, the competition figures to be glorious. Spain is the defending champion and has been the team of the year the last six years. It is the co-favorite with Brazil and Germany, while Portugal, Argentina, Switzerland, Uruguay, Columbia, Italy, England and Belgium are close behind.
The U.S., Greece, Chile, Netherlands, Ukraine and France are next up, according to FIFA's world rankings. It might be a good idea to tune in to the first U.S. game, against Ghana June 16, because that could prove to be the only chance for a group victory. The other teams the U.S. will have to face are Germany and Portugal, and their world rankings are second and fourth, respectively.
By now, even casual soccer fans must know about Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, probably the two best players on the planet, and no doubt these scoring machines will be on the TV every time their teams play. Everyone complains there is not enough scoring in soccer, but you can't blame these guys, because both score a minimum of one goal on average.
Ronaldo, incidentally, will play against the U.S. for the first time June 22. The Americans will face Germany June 26, and, if the experts advancing the tournament know what they're talking about, the Germans have a superior player at every field position. With that in mind, picking the U.S. to win and/or advance is a long-shot proposition.
A side story sure to interest viewers will be about France, long one of the best teams in the world. The French players went completely bonkers four years ago and boycotted practice mid-tournament in support of a player who was feuding with the coach. Sounds like something out of a Grade B movie, doesn't it?