It’s finally here.

Four years of waiting.  We had to go through a disastrous Copa America, a mistake-laden Olympic final, a bizarre love affair with Andre Santos, and almost three years of Mano Menezes to get here, but we made it.

How far have we come?  Well, remember this?

Early Mano Era

Before the kickoff, let’s all take a moment and reflect.  Once upon a time, I was writing articles about how beating Gabon was a positive sign.  Once upon a time, I had serious doubts that we would even be competitive in this World Cup.   Once upon a time, I felt like tearing my hair out almost every time I watched the Seleção play.

I don’t know what this World Cup holds for Brazil.  But whatever happens, I’m just grateful to have a team I can take pride in once again.  I’m grateful to have a team I can feel confident in.  I’m grateful to have a manager who has a clear vision and the will to execute it.  I’m grateful that I probably won’t sleep well tonight because I’m too excited for tomorrow.  I’m grateful that, for a little while at least, I can feel like a kid again, watching wide-eyed as the world’s greatest sporting event kicks off.

All of us have our nagging doubts, our quiet suspicions.  We all have things we would do a little differently.  I’m no exception, heaven knows.  But starting tomorrow, none of that matters .  All that matters is that Brazil, this team that so many of us  love, have a truly genuine chance at winning this:

World Cup trophyEr, ahem.  Sorry to get all dewy-eyed.  Let’s talk about the match.

I’ll spare you the tactical breakdown.  Croatia have a more technical midfield; Brazil are more talented everywhere else.   Okay?  Okay.  The tactics have been discussed, both here and on plenty of other sites.  So, tactics aside, here’s the single most important thing I think Brazil can do tomorrow:

Remember where they’re playing and who they’re playing for.

Rewind back to the opening kickoff of the Confederations Cup.  Before the official blew his whistle, Fred and Neymar were standing in the center circle.  As both teams waited, Fred leaned in to say something in Neymar’s ear.  What he said, I’ll never know.  But it looked intense, it looked meaningful.  I remember thinking, “Something’s about to happen.”

And something did.  Forget Neymar’s wonder strike for a moment.  Sixty seconds into that match, Brazil were Brazil again, in a way they hadn’t been for a long time, even after Scolari was appointed.  I’m not talking about samba football or semi-mythical jogo bonito or what have you.  I’m talking about Brazil playing with an intensity, with a purpose, with a drive reminiscent of Vincente Feola’s famous instructions before Brazil took on the USSR in 1958: “Remember, the first ball goes to Garrincha.”  Brazil were Brazil, playing in Brazil.  They attacked.  Their energy level was incredible.  They were committed, authoritative.  The way Neymar scored his goal was surprising, but the fact that he scored, in retrospect, was not.  Re-watching that game, an early goal seems almost inevitable.

That’s the Brazil I want to see tomorrow.  I don’t want to see them feel out their opponent cautiously, timidly, afraid of making a mistake.  I want to see them belting out the national anthem, the full national anthem.  I want them motioning for the fans to stand up every time they win a corner kick.     Croatia is a good team with several great players, a team to be respected.  They may well spoil the party tomorrow, and  Scolari and company should go into the match acknowledging the possibility.  But fearing it?

Never.

The World Cup is finally here, so let’s all enjoy it.  And remember…

The first ball goes to Neymar.