Its very name is a synonym for football excellence and its players are world renowned for their talent and flair, but for Brazil the World Cup is about a lot more than the game.
Brazilians enjoy a party as much as they revere football, and World Cup years allow them to combine their two national pastimes. People who couldn't tell Kaka from Grafite enter into the spirit of things when the Copa do Mundo comes around.
"World Cup year is wonderful as this is the country of football and everyone takes an interest," said Ricardo Bartoli, the president of the Sao Paulo office of the Brazilian Bars and Restaurants Association. "It's the same for men and women. They want to meet up to watch the games and socialize."
Brazil may be one of the great hopes of an anemic global economy, but the country of 192 million people will grind to a halt when the national team kicks off its campaign with a match against North Korea on June 15. Schools will suspend classes, factories will go quiet and office workers will switch off their computers. Some companies and schools will show the games live on big screens; others will declare half-day holidays.
Still, the Cup is a boon for business. More staff will be hired in bars and restaurants, where takings are projected to increase by between 15 and 20%, according to Bartoli. Those staying at home will stock up with drinks and snacks, and World Cup years are always good for retailers of domestic appliances sales of refrigerators are expected to increase 10% and televisions twice that.
Up to 60% of TV sales in non-World Cup years take place in the second half of the year, but that situation will again be reversed this year as consumers snap up new sets to watch the matches, said Lourival Kiçula, president of a trade group that represents makers of domestic appliances.
"Everyone stops to watch the game on television and when people invite friends around it is always good to have a new TV, especially if it's a modern one," Kiçula said. "This year, for the first time, LCD and flat screens are going to outsell conventional models."
Expectations are always high in a nation that has won the World Cup more time than any other, but unlike some years, Brazilians are supporting coach Dunga's team in South Africa out of patriotism rather than because they love the squad he has selected.
Brazilian football earned its global reputation through the breathtaking displays of attacking skill and verve associated with the likes of Pele, Jairzinho, Socrates and Zico, but coach Dunga the combative midfielder who captained the 1994 World Cup winners has refashioned the national team in his own defensive image, preferring players who are loyal and hardworking rather than exciting.
"Everyone knows that Dunga is conservative, a man that values commitment, dedication and patriotism more than a talent for playing football. His choices reflect that," Jose Geraldo Couto, a columnist with the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, wrote in a comment that summed up the feeling of many fans. "Brazil might be champion but it's difficult to see it winning with gloss or exuberance."
Of the 23 players Dunga will take to South Africa, seven are not even regular starters for their club sides, prompting jokes about Brazil reserving an early ticket home and doubts about the expected performance of second string players.
Even though he features prominently in the blockbuster Nike commercial for the event, AC Milan's Ronaldinho failed to make Dunga's cut, and the coach further frustrated fans by resisting pressure to select Ganso or Neymar, the two home-based youngsters whose outstanding performances helped Santos win the Paulista state championship last month. Instead, most of the responsibility to create chances will fall to Kaka, whose first season at Real Madrid was a poor one by his standards.
However, should Kaka fail, or be injured, Brazil could struggle. And that will mean less beer, less fun, a lot of angry TV viewers, and a nationwide call for Dunga's head. Let the show begin!