Is it about time for Brazil to really think that they have got the best chance to win a record-extending sixth Word Cup title in Russia? Or will it be a tournament that will produce a new champion? The numbers game suggests that their might be new champions. Brazil won their first title in 1958. Since then the number eight in a World Cup year followed a definitive trend -- Argentina won their first title in 1978, France their first in 1998.
So, 2018 is a year that can be very interesting. Russia 2018 is already on a roller-coaster ride. Holders Germany have been eliminated from the first round, Argentina and Spain followed suit in the round of 16.
We are now left with eight teams, four of which won the World Cup before -- Brazil, Uruguay, France and England. Among the other four team hosts Russia, Croatia and Belgium made it to the semifinals before while Sweden finished runners up behind Brazil in 1958.
If we look at the quarterfinal line-up, an England defeat against Sweden will allow one of the four teams who have not won the World Cup -- an exclusive property of eight teams -- to go all the way to the final.
We can have a final of two teams who have never won the World Cup before only if Belgium beat Brazil on Friday and then overcome either the French orthe Uruguayan challenge in the semifinal.
The 21st edition of the World Cup is roaming around in a country where proletarianism is revered. Therefore it is fitting that this is also a World Cup where quality, collective effort and depth in the team have prevailed over individual brilliance or anything to do with luck.
Among the eight teams, hosts Russia appeared solid as a collective unit, Croatia provided the best midfield, England a sharp shooter in Harry Kane, Belgium the tenacity to overcome odds, Uruguay the balance, Sweden the strongest mentality and France the quality and speed of a talented young lineup.
However, Brazil are the only team that has provided everything so far. After starting their campaign with a disappointing 1-1 draw against Switzerland, they showed the consistency in an upward trend against four quality sides. They showed the tenacity and hunger for success against Cost Rica by scoring both their goals after 90 minutes.
Against a tough Serbian side, they upped their game a notch higher in yet another 2-0 win. Against a feisty Mexico in the round of 16, the Selecao not only presented a defence that any team would envy, but also showed how to score when the going gets tough. More importantly, they controlled the last three game and never were in a position to relinquish a lead.
The biggest facet of Brazil so far is that they were not reliant on Neymar's brilliance to win games. The Paris Saint-Germain star scored two goals but had to share the spotlight with Barcelona forward Philippe Coutinho. Brazil played like a pack of wolves and their defensive solidity allowed the concession of only one goal. Thiago Silva and Miranda may not be as fast as Marquinho, who is still warming the reserve bench, but their experience has lent the security in a back four where Fagnar and Filipe Luis offer that thrust in counter-attack. Casemiro will miss the Belgium game as he was handed a second yellow card in the Mexico game.
But the depth in Brazil's reserve bench is enviable. The absence of Marcelo, who missed the last two games due to back spasms, could have been a big blow for any other team, but Luis did a tremendous job in the left-back position. So did Fagnar in the absence of Danilo and don't forget Dani Alves was forced to pull out of the World Cup due to a late injury. Striker Firmino is yet to play a full game and Fernandinho appeared as a second-half substitute. Willan had a wonderful second half against Mexico, but he feels the rivalry in the bench with Douglas Costa declared fit to return.
Most importantly, Brazil have got a magnificent tactician on the touchline in Tite. The Professor not only turned these quality athletes into a cohesive unit, but also provided the ambience that is important to win a title.
Brazil's next game against Belgium will be tough -- every game in the knock out stage is tough. But they can look beyond the Belgium game to a potential semifinal clash against France. Win against France, and Brazil can start celebrating hexa unless the number eight has anything to do with history.