Alex Chick

The World Cup is here – be happy

Alex Chick

"Happy, happy, happy, happy / Happy, happy, happy happy / Happy, happy, happy, happy."

Pharrell Williams's ode to joy was never going to trouble Bob Dylan for lyrical complexity, but it does have a habit of getting lodged immovably in your brain.

Never more so than in the last two days, when my mental soundtrack has consisted of Pharrell's backing singers' mantra on repeat.

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It doesn't take Freud to work out why - and it's not because football creaks with irritating one-word chants.

No, the World Cup is here. Ahead of us, untouched like virgin snow, lie 64 matches. There are heroes to be made, villains to transgress. A month of drama, controversy, delight and recrimination.

[World Cup - Opening Day: LIVE]

You'd need a heart of stone not to feel a thrill at the sheer possibility of what might happen in Brazil.

Football's return to its spiritual home has been overshadowed by a dismal build-up.

[Brazil 360: Mixed emotions about World Cup some never wanted]

Concerns over Brazil's readiness, alarm at the country's growing inequality and resultant public unrest, and of course the growing farce that is FIFA have clouded the landscape.

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A passerby looks at a poster with a caricature of FIFA President Sepp Blatter in Brasilia

Sepp Blatter increasingly resembles a medieval Pope - proclaiming moral superiority while simultaneously presiding over an institution that is cynical, rotten and devoid of integrity.

And yet - nobody dares risk excommunication from Sepp's club.

Because if we lop a word off the 'FIFA World Cup' and restore it to its real name, the World Cup is still the best thing in sport.

So put negativity to one side - not forget the issues or sweep them under the carpet because they are serious.

But let's not be puritanical - we can have misgivings over the tournament's organisation and thoroughly enjoy it at the same time.

England enter with a strange sort of freedom afforded them by rock-bottom expectations.

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An Ipsos poll showed only 3% of English people thought their country would win the World Cup. That makes us less confident than the Australians (4%) and Japanese (4%).

It's not so long since we counted ourselves among the very favourites - up with countries where over half the population think their team will win the whole shooting match - Spain (51%), Argentina (57%) and Brazil (68%).

[World Cup: Every Team Profiled]

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England's Raheem Sterling

We used to dread the idea of going out on penalties. If it happens this time it will mean we got past the group stage - happy days!

It will be hard, but there is reason to believe England can negotiate a group featuring an Italy side in shocking form, and Uruguay who are probably not quite the force everyone thinks.

Either way, we can hope Roy Hodgson can give us a few memories to treasure by unleashing the thrillingly reckless Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling.

The world is waiting for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to assert themselves in their national colours, but the real heroes are the ones we probably haven't even heard of yet. Who will be the next Toto Schillaci, Saeed Al-Owairan, Ahn Jung-Hwan or Siphiwe Tshabalala?

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Who will rise to stardom from nowhere? Who will exit in disgrace? And how many times will Twitter give Adrian Chiles an absolute shoeing over some minor pronunciation error?

Some players will disappoint, some teams will fail to show up, and some nights you'll fall asleep in front of a god-awful nil-nil draw.

[Blatter: Today The World, Tomorrow The Universe]

On Wednesday Blatter talked about expanding the tournament to other planets. It's not totally clear if he was joking. But for now the World Cup remains earth's greatest sporting festival.

It starts today. Be happy.

[The 50 Players who will rock the World Cup]

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