Everything stops for the World Cup. Work, life and even, at times, hearts.
Here is the most important thing to know about the World Cup: only seven countries have ever won it.
Of those seven, two are heavily favored this time around: Brazil and Argentina. The difference between these two might best be delineated by the difference between their two coaches.Special Section: 2010 World Cup
Brazil's coach, Dunga is like an entrée that consists of only mashed potato. It's not exciting, but it's reliable.
He knows what it is to lose the World Cup and to win it. In 1994, he captained the winning Brazil team in the U.S.
He spent most of that tournament screaming at the more skillful Brazilians such as Bebeto and Romario. They spent most of the tournament ignoring him.
Any Brazil team that wins the World Cup on penalties after a goalless draw, as that one did, is a conflicted one. However, that team's left back, Branco, has helpfully revealed that it was sex and alcohol that finally helped them pull through.
No Brazil team is devoid of skill. That is a cultural impossibility.
However, it would not be surprising to see Dunga rein in the team, in order to play more of a counter-attacking game.
He can rely on some of the world's best defenders, such as Lucio and Maicon of Inter-Milan and Thiago Silva of AC Milan, who will have holding players in front of them such as Gilberto Silva ready to soak up pressure.
One thing that, perhaps, has never been said of a Brazil team is that it is weak in attack. Yet it is a brave man who relies on Robinho, whose last stay in Europe with Manchester City was about as memorable as an elementary school sandwich.
If Dunga is excessively professional, Argentina coach Diego Maradona is simply excessive.
He recently ran over a reporter's foot and used choice and heartfelt expletives in an attempt to soothe the reporter's pain.
He has promised to run naked through the streets of Buenos Aires, a sight one would not encourage children to enjoy, if the team wins the World Cup.
Worse, there are those who believe he may even harbor a peculiar envy of the world's best player, Lionel Messi.
However, Maradona does have one thing is his favor. He has the players.
Not merely does he have Messi, but there's also Carlos Tevez of Manchester City, who has few teeth, but many fine skills. He has Inter-Milan Diego Milito, who scored both goals in his team's Champions League final win.
He even has his son-in-law. Sergio Aguero, who plays for Atletico Madrid, and is a blisteringly exciting player.
However, defensively, where Argentina has a fine history of colorful brutality, Maradona has made curious selections. He will certainly have a problem at full-back. Simply because he hasn't picked any.
Instead, he has a vast array of large central defenders who might or might not be quick enough to survive. His midfield, too, offers an array of subjectivity. Will he really play ageing former Manchester United and Chelsea midfielder Juan Veron?
Still, Argentina cannot be discounted.
If your heart worked in concert with your head, you might choose a new country to join the World Cup winners' table: Spain.
Full of verve, style and passion, the Spaniards finally got over the pesky notion that they couldn't win anything when they won the European Championship two years ago.
Andres Iniesta, Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas and Xavi are some of the most exciting players you could ever wish to spend a couple of hours with.
The problem is that no Spanish team is ever really comfortable defending for long periods. Spaniards find it slightly offensive.
What glory can there possibly be gained from defending? Which means that keeping the ball for long periods and decisive striking will be the only way forward. As well as ensuring that so many of their best players, many of whom are coming back from injury, can stay healthy.
THE REST OF EUROPE
Sometimes, teams come along to the World Cup as if under cover of darkness, and surprise beyond one's wildest imaginings.
Turkey performed this role perfectly in 2002, taking third place, feat managed by Croatia in 1998.
But are there teams that can rise beyond their less-favored status?
Never discard the French. Their coach, Raymond Domenech seems to wear spectacles better than criticism, yet with players such as Franck Ribery, Florent Malouda, Patrice Evra and Nicolas Anelka, you know that the French have experience and talent.
Now if the Dutch could only stop arguing with each other. Holland has contributed so much good to world football. Artistry and tactical innovation for example. And it's often been said that the players know best.
The trouble is that each player thinks he knows better than every other player. Which has often caused internal strife, just when there ought to be harmony.
Though defensively suspect, Holland still has Wesley Sneijder and Robin Van Persie, who can have great impact.
However, the dark horse might be the team from the country with a truly dark sense of humor- Serbia. The Serbs defend with intent, Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic being especially unfriendly. There are only two questions. Can they score? And can they get past Germany and Ghana to progress?
As for Germany itself. Oh, it'll be good. But somehow, the Germans, traditionally the most venal and clinical of teams, have become nice in recent years.
At the last World Cup in Berlin, a taxi driver told a reporter she was glad the team had lost. She felt it would have been impolite to have hosted the tournament and won.
England is also playing. England will always make for mesmerizing theater. England will not go beyond its traditional place in the quarter-finals.
THE REST BESIDES EUROPE
When Cameroon embarrassed Argentina at the World Cup in 1990, platitudes were offered about how an African country would soon win the World Cup.
It hasn't happened. It is unlikely to happen in South Africa, though the hosts, coached by Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira will try to do for South Africa just what famed Dutch coach Guus Hiddink did for South Korea in 2002. (They reached the semi-finals)
Home team advantage can do curious things for a team. Expect South Africa to reach round 2.
Cameroon, Nigeria, and the Ivory Coast have all been hit by injuries or internal strife. None seems to offer sufficient cohesion to progress too far.
Perhaps Ghana might surprise, but the loss of Chelsea's Michael Essien is enormous.
At least, that's what logic tells you. Let's decide that Africa will finally make a larger statement during this World Cup. I hope it does.
From the Americas, Chile, the US, Mexico and Paraguay seem to have the best chance of advancement. But Mexico has a difficult group. Can one truly see any of these in the semi-finals? Oh, anything's possible. Even unlikely things.
We'll fall in love with some teams that we didn't expect. Honduras, perhaps. Or North Korea. Wouldn't it be a delightful day if North Korea somehow qualified onward and met South Korea? That would be television at its finest.
Emerging from the group stages, I might imagine seeing-- oh, who am I kidding?-- I would like to see:
GROUP A: SOUTH AFRICA AND FRANCE
GROUP B: ARGENTINA AND SOUTH KOREA
GROUP C: ENGLAND AND THE USA
GROUP D: GHANA AND SERBIA
GROUP E: NETHERLANDS AND CAMEROON
GROUP F: PARAGUAY AND SLOVAKIA
GROUP G; BRAZIL AND IVORY COAST
GROUP H: SPAIN AND CHILE
It is hard to see beyond Brazil, Argentina and Spain.
However, let's be strange and go for these semi-finalists: Brazil, Spain, France and South Africa.
With Spain winning it all.