It's also well-known that being the host country means almost nothing, as last year's host country, South Africa, was eliminated in the group stages. In case you didn't know, the World Cup is being played in Brazil this year. And in case you didn't know, the new face of Brazil football is Forward Neymar Jr,.
The 2010 World Cup was a bad campaign for the Brazilians. They lost in the Round of 16, their worst World Cup finish in recent memory. Some of the leaders of that squad, Midfielder Kakà and Defender Maicon, were noticeably left off this year's World Cup squad. They also got rid of their coach, Douga.
Kakà wore #10. Neymar wears #10. Kaká was the face of Brazil soccer, now that role has been shifted over to 23-year old Neymar. He'll need to produce quickly on the world's biggest stage, or he'll be demoted to solid rotation-player.
Most top-tier Brazil soccer players never get a chance to be The Guy. Star Ronaldo (not to be confused with Cristiano Ronaldo) was the hero for Brazil in the 2002 World Cup. In the next World Cup, that role was handed over to Ronaldhino. Then to Kaká in the 2010 World Cup. And now, to the young Neymar.
It's not as if he's not used to playing in big games. He signed with FC Barcelona, one of the world's best clubs, last year and helped them earn 2nd place in the highly-competitive La Liga. But he was not the leader of that team, or even the best player. He was simply the magnificent sidekick to Lionel Messi.
Now, he not only is required to be a leader, but he must step up and play like his team's best player. Plus, there is an enormous amount of added pressure when you put on that jersey, and realize that you are representing your country at the biggest sports event in the world. Especially being the best player on a team that expects you to win it all.
Because of all the pressure that is on powerhouse teams such as Brazil, Spain, and Germany, I would not at all be surprised if a dark-horse team such as Belgium, Mexico, or Ghana made a run at the Cup and maybe even win it. It is much like College Basketball, where teams like Kentucky, Kansas, and Duke are expected to be in title-contention every year, and they lose all their stars every year to the NBA.
But teams like Wichita State, Creighton, and Butler keep their stars for all four years and are able to sneak up on inexperienced powerhouse teams. Just like in College Basketball, powerhouses are expected to produce immediately, and if they don't, new, and inexperienced players are brought in. But the Belgiums and Ghanas have the same players for a longer stretch of time, because their fans don't expect so much out of them.
There is an enormous amount of pressure on Neymar to lead Brazil to World Cup victory, we'll find out soon enough if he can handle it.