Brazil triumph would be bad for the game
Before a ball was kicked in this World Cup, I expected that on Sunday July 13, Brazilian captain Thiago Silva would be triumphantly lifting the trophy above his head.
Events over the past 10 days suggest I was wrong. Brazil look ordinary. They certainly bear no resemblance to the gods of the game who donned the famous yellow jersey in years past.
Even after two matches, there is ample evidence to suggest the current team is Brazilian only in name – and really we shouldn't be surprised.
Each week we see the capabilities of David Luiz, Oscar, Ramires, Paulinho and Willian as they ply their trade in London. Goalkeeper Julio Cesar spent time with QPR while defenders Dani Alves, Marcello and Silva are well known to students of the Champions League.
They are names that aren't without merit, but ones that aren't exactly associated with greatness.
Up front, Neymar has tried his utmost to inspire those around him and while his efforts have been commendable, he hasn't the ability to compensate for the deficiencies of Fred and Co. Mediocrity, it would appear, is their destiny.
There is a substantial body of evidence to suggest events could never be any other way, but my pre-tournament thinking wasn't logical.
I succumbed to irrational fantasies, seduced by the romantic images of Brazilian football of generations past. Images of great World Cup-winning teams perpetuate the notion all Brazilian teams are destined to entertain and be champions.
Sadly, such theories are no longer credible. Arguably they haven't been for a long time. Something has changed. The individual brilliance – the moments of magic – are becoming almost impossible to identify.
I wonder is the timing coincidental with over a third of the starting team based with Premier League clubs?
The British game is about results. Players are valued on effectiveness. Flair and imagination become luxuries if results aren't favourable. In many respects, the current Brazilian team possess numerous hallmarks we have come to associate with a Premier League outfit.
Regrettably, the characteristics of the British game were too easily identifiable in both Brazilian performances to date. Those we look to for entertainment now occupy a different space.
A victory for the home nation would undoubtedly spark incredible scenes in Brazil, but for the sake of the game, for the legacy of the tournament, I hope the hosts find at least one team too good.
If such ordinariness is to win the day, the game is in a far worse state than could ever have been imagined. It would be an indictment with far-reaching consequences for the current state of the game and more importantly for future generations – the stars of tomorrow.
If football's greatest images are to be framed around those currently in possession of a Brazil jersey, it will be the ultimate crowning of a stereotype that is the game's biggest enemy.
In some geographies it has already become the gospel; lovers of the beautiful game can only hope the adoration doesn't become universal.
And while the genius of Andrea Pirlo inhabits a football field there is always hope. His masterclass against England was my highlight of the tournament thus far. He is a special player, a rarity.
England had been warned, they knew what was coming but they were powerless to prevent Pirlo's class dictating their fortunes in Manaus. Jordan Henderson chased shadows as his opponent was operating on a different plain.
Pirlo's imagination and vision brought the midfield battle to a sphere where the tools for survival can't be coached. Roy Hodgson's troops weren't born with the gifts of the Italian maestro and in those circumstances, suffering is an inevitability.
It was to be England's fate too. In those final 30 minutes, the English players were running on fumes, the efforts of the previous hour spent chasing Italian players so good at keeping possession proving an obstacle they hadn't the physical capacity to overcome.
In those closing stages, while England enjoyed considerable possession, fatigue had blunted any cutting edge beyond repair.
As Pirlo had orchestrated an Italian masterclass, England had received another lesson in the perils of not being capable of keeping possession of the football. It's a lesson they have received many times previously yet they appear no closer to passing the exam.
The evidence of Thursday's clash with Uruguay was even more damning from an English perspective. Aside from their glaring inability to play a game that requires a certain level of technical ability, they were out-fought by their South American opponents. Perhaps the pampered, highly-paid names of the Premier League are in a space where pride is no longer high on the list of priorities.
Their attitude in a dogfight suggests life has become too easy. And the one world-class player who gave his all for the cause was a man the press and sections of the public chose to vilify over the past few weeks.
Wayne Rooney's critics might be better served looking elsewhere when they feel the urge to undermine someone in an England shirt.
Now that Costa Rica's victory over Italy ensured there would be no miracle qualification, Hodgson and his men will head home after playing Costa Rica. It will represent a massive failure for a team proclaimed to have had a flawless preparation.
Excuses are thin on the ground, while ramifications will be plentiful. Just as they will be in Spain. In a society currently facing many extraordinary issues, the demise of their national side signals the untimely end for a great team of the modern era.
At their best, Spain played a game beyond the capabilities of everyone else. A game with style, a game based on quick thinking and movement.
Much like the wonderful Barcelona team of recent years, the Spanish had a method that left you wanting more. A beautiful approach with devastating effectiveness. But trees don't grow to the sky and after two European Championships and a World Cup success, the desire of the Spanish players has clearly waned. They have nothing left to prove. And like all great teams, when the end arrives it often resembles a complete collapse.
The signs emanating from the Spanish camp were ominous in their first-round match with the Netherlands and defeat to Chile confirmed the extent of their troubles.
The game and the 2014 World Cup is all the poorer for their exit, but just as defeat drives competitors to new heights, success isn't without effect and for the Spanish this was one tournament too far.
They will be remembered as a wonderful ball-playing team who never betrayed their principles or beliefs regardless of the situation they faced.
Their philosophy and their methods never became misaligned, their actions at one with their thoughts and words. In many respects, they were the team I hoped Brazil could be in this World Cup. A team we could acclaim, players who would become idols.
If such a team now remains in the tournament, I suspect they don't play in yellow jerseys. And with Spain now heading home, new champions lie in wait.
We can only hope they will follow in the example of their predecessors, who never let us forget just how beautiful this great game can be.