Under the brightest lights imaginable and with the eyes of the world square upon them, perennial juggernauts Germany and Argentina are set to square off in a mouthwatering World Cup Final at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
Here are the five major story lines coming out of Brazil ahead of the game:
1. The setting is perfect
Although it is widely accepted that soccer -- in its modern form -- was cultivated in the UK, there is little debate among fans across that globe that Brazil is the sport's spiritual home. While Tuesday's ruthless dismissal of the Brazilian national team has somewhat quieted the pride and vibrancy of locals throughout the country, Brazil still remains the ideal venue for a World Cup Final. As a country, Brazil brought the world jogo bonito, or "the beautiful game," and there is perhaps no more iconic image in soccer than the Christ the Redeemer statue looking ethereally out over Rio de Janeiro, where the next generation of greats juggle balls in the streets and on the beaches.
At the heart of Rio lies the Maracana stadium, the game's grandest cathedral. Built for the 1950 World Cup -- in which almost 200,000 fans packed the stadium for the tournament's final between Brazil and Uruguay -- the Maracana has since become hallowed ground, hosting sermons from Pope John Paul II and having borne witness to some of the greatest soccer players of all time in Pele, Garrincha, Zico, Romario and Ronaldo.
2. Two great powers collide
Germany and Argentina are teams rich in history and success. While only eight countries in the world can claim to have won a World Cup, Germany and Argentina own a combined five trophies. Germany raised the trophy in 1954 and 1974 and then defeated Argentina at Italia 1990 to claim their third world championship. For Argentina, Sunday will mark their fifth trip to a World Cup Final, having won the tournament as hosts in 1978 and then again, courtesy of Diego Maradona's dazzling exploits, at the 1986 tournament in Mexico, where they beat... who else? Germany.
3. A European team has never won in South America
One of the strongest narratives coming out of Brazil prior to the tournament was chatter about the impossibility of European teams having success in Brazil. Pundits everywhere pointed to the extreme weather conditions and exotic surrounding as being harbingers of doom for UEFA teams. However, Germany -- and the Netherlands to some extent -- has put the chatter to rest through some terrific performances against some of South America's best (none more notable than Germany's humiliating 7-1 semi-final thrashing of Brazil).
The expectations of failure were not without precedent, though, as a European team has never experienced World Cup glory in South America. Czechoslovakia was denied by Brazil in 1962, while the Dutch were second-best to Argentina in 1978.
4. Lionel Messi's chance for international glory
Lionel Messi's place in the history of the game is already secure. He is viewed widely as a genius; one of the greatest to ever play the game. Yet despite all his plaudits, trophies and individual brilliance, Messi has endured a strangely uneasy relationship with Argentinian fans. Unlike the man he is constantly compared to, Diego Maradona, Messi left his home country at the age of 12 to join Barcelona, where today he enjoys hero status. While Maradona built his reputation playing in Argentina with clubs like Argentinos Juniors and Boca Juniors, Messi instead chose to ply his trade in Catalan, a move that definitively changed how he was perceived in not just his hometown of Rosario, but by the country as a whole. Also playing a role in this perceived estrangement has been the notion amongst Argentinian supporters that Messi has not always played his best while wearing the national team jersey. While his displays in Brazil -- in which he has sometimes singlehandedly carried his team to victory -- have seemed to thaw the relationship, raising the World Cup trophy on Sunday would immediately put to rest the tension and unease.
For Lionel Messi, Sunday's match represents an opportunity for World Cup immortality, yet perhaps even more importantly, it represents an opportunity for acceptance.
5. Can Germany save Brazil's blushes?
Argentina and Brazil are fierce rivals. With that being said, the only thing that could make Brazilians feel worse about their collapse against the Germans would be to watch their regional antagonists claim the trophy they thought would be theirs -- in their home stadium, nonetheless. It would be a brutal pill to swallow for supporters of A Selecção, who, for one day at least, will all be cheering on the Germans.