So here we go then. A month of unadulterated footballing drama is upon us and I don't mind admitting I've got half a dafty on just thinking about it.
I actually thought about having a mooch over to Brazil this summer until I discovered that in some bars the price of a pint would work out at £21. Not much chance of ending up in a Sao Paulo favela doing naked press ups at those prices is there?
And then there's the malaria-carrying mosquitoes. And the murder rate. And the STD rate. No, I am happy to watch the action on the box in good old Blighty thank you very much, drinking and punting furiously as the nation gets carried away on a wave of jingoism and false hope.
England are a top price 28/1 to end 48 years of hurt but surely only UKIP voters will be daft enough to take the bait at said odds? I mean f*ck me can you actually believe that we were 6/1 second favourites in places to win four years ago?
One of the more tasty 'England Specials' is Daniel Sturridge to be top England scorer at 3/1. Wayne Rooney heads the market but his record in World Cups is lamentable and Wazza is almost certainly going to be asked to play in a withdrawn role by Roy Hodgson.
I applaud Hodgson for being bold in his squad selection and 'da yoot' could well surprise a few but it's more likely that they fail to get to grips with the climate and the opposition before losing in the group phase.
Professor Stephen Hawking (Britain's brainiest bloke - according to my Uncle Harry) reckons England will have their best chance if they play 4-3-3 and play in red. What a load of old sh*te. I don't care if he has solved some of the greatest mysteries of the cosmos, I just don't envisage England winning the thing even if they are allowed to play 4-4-3. The Three Lions are 6/4 to be eliminated in the group stage and I make that the knocking bet of the entire tournament. Don't be fooled by media hyperbole. As Bruce Spingsteen once mused: 'Blind faith in your leaders, or in anything, will get you killed'.
So if not England then who? Brazil are event jollies and rightfully so. No side has the pedigree of the Samba Boys, who have won five World Cups. They are also the only nation to appear in every tournament. The stadiums might not be ready and the natives may have been running around in grass skirts aiming bows and arrows at the Feds as public anger at spending and corruption reached fever pitch a while back, but only a fool would overlook them on home soil.
Technically they will again draw the "oohhs" and "aahhs" from the purists but my gut feeling is they look a little light up top. Neymar is unquestionably the jewel in their crown but he has endured an indifferent season for Barcelona and I am not sure he is the type of character whose shoulders can carry the hopes of a nation. Besides all that, Brazil have a naughty draw too with a potential second round clash with either Spain, Holland or Chile looming on the horizon. All things considered, they look a bit short at threes despite their illustrious history.
Spain will have their backers and you can't argue that they know how to win stuff. The World, European, Champions League and Europa League winners are all currently Spanish so the Iberians are clearly doing something right. Can they Tika-Taka their way to another World Cup win? The bookies are not ruling it out and they are current 13/2 fourth favourites.
However it is an aging Spanish squad and I am not convinced that Diego Costa is going to be fit given what's happened in the past few weeks. His ill-fated, horse placenta-ridden attempts to see out the season must have taken something out of him and there is no way, surely, he'll be 100 per cent by June 12?
The French (22/1 at time of writing) could be worth a speculative punt (with a view to laying them off on the exchanges later on for a free bet) and any side with the likes of Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba in their ranks deserves to be kept onside.
In terms of a dark horse, I reckon Belgium could shock a few. Their squad does not have the necessary strength in depth to win the thing but if they steer clear of injuries and suspensions they have the capacity to make some noise in Brazil. Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Adnan Januzaj are all 'proper' ballers and I expect them to p*ss a group also containing Russia, Algeria and South Korea. This is a 'Golden Generation' for Belgium and the squad has the right mix of youth and experience to make it to the last eight (at least) this summer.
I also wouldn't mind Uruguay cutting loose given I have them in the office sweep and considering I've got my house on England bombing, I hope to sweet Jesus that Luis Suarez is fit.
Let's cut to the chase though. The winners of the 2014 World Cup will be... Argentina.
This is the stage Leo Messi has been waiting for. The jury is out after last season as to whether Ronaldo or Messi is the best of their generation. However should either of them put their stamp on a major tournament such as this they will almost certainly be heralded as top dog.
At 26, Messi is in his absolute prime and I honestly believe he can do what his countryman Diego Armando Maradona did in 1986 and drag the Argies to glory.
The first player in history to scoop four Ballon d'Or titles (which he won consecutively), the little maestro has done it all at club level. It's time for him to step up to the plate in terms of his country and there is no bigger stage than this. He's been involved in 2006 and 2010 but he will be judged on how he performs here in Brazil. At his best he is simply unplayable, a pocket dynamo who can win matches on his own. He's had a quiet season (by his own high standards) for Barca but I fancy him to come alive during these next few weeks.
I fancy the Argies to get a bagful in their group. They are a shoo-in for Group F and could run up a cricket score against Iran while they won't be losing any sleep at the thought of facing the likes of Nigeria and Bosnia. I think Messi will be the talisman but I have a hunch that Sergio Aguero could be their main gun-slinger in terms of goals and current 33/1 quotes for him to finish the tournament and top scorer and Argentina to win have to be snapped up.
Betting: Argentina to win the World Cup at 4/1 (Sky Bet)
Betting: Argentina/Aguero - team/top goalscorer double at 33/1 (Coral)
Betting: England stage of elimination - Group Stage at 5/4 (Paddy Power)
Betting: England top scorer - Sturridge at 3/1 (Ladbrokes)
Joining the Argentina bandwagon but opted for Higuain for the golden boot over Messi. Probably gets more game time if Aguero isn't fully fit and I think benefits from the service of Messi. Couldn't ignore the 22/1 I got. Other than that a treble of England 4-5 group pts, Spain 6+ and France 6+ at 12/1 is another punt which is akin to finding money in the street. Enjoy.- mrgrill