Thursday marks the beginning of the end of a World Cup journey that began three years ago worldwide.
"The end?" the casual fan might ask. "This thing hasn't even started yet, Larson."
Tell that to the 11,500 Canadians who showed up at BMO Field in 2011 to watch Canada dominate lowly St. Lucia in a World Cup qualifier.
Tell that to the 171 nations that didn't book a place at this month's World Cup finals in Brazil.
Tell that to the Panamanians, who were minutes -- seconds even -- away from qualification before Mexico stole their place last summer.
"Panama?" a fan might scoff. "This tournament is about big teams with big players, Larson."
My response: This tournament is bigger than words, bigger than "the big teams."
It transcends what we know and love about competition.
At times, it doesn't make sense. Because, in a way, the game doesn't make sense.
Inexplicable, at times, other than to say a moment of brilliance produced a result.
In that way, the World Cup is unforgiving.
Since this tournament expanded to 32 teams in 1998, just four countries have progressed beyond the group stage after losing their opening matches.
As a result, most countries are, uh, one and done. Three and out, if you will.
They, like us, know they can't win this thing.
But set aside for a second the fact hosts Brazil will almost certainly reign supreme when it's all said and done.
Remember, it has been a slog just to get to this point.
For sides such as Australia, Iran and Costa Rica, success is measured on another level at this event.
It's like the NCAA's March Madness: While I'm looking forward to being in the press box for Spain-Netherlands on Friday, I'm a sucker for upsets.
Can a strong Bosnian side hang with Argentina on Sunday? Can Honduras hold the fort against France?
For the purist, this tournament isn't just about "the big teams."
It's about the process.
It's about individual nations setting achievable goals. It's about the atmosphere, the environment.
Can Honduras score its first goal at a finals? Can an African team finally make a deep run?
Will the tropical heat give certain teams a massive advantage over their European counterparts?
Finally, will the world's top players -- Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Yaya Toure and Neymar -- solidify themselves among the best to ever play the sport?
For Brazil to win this thing on home soil, they'll need Neymar, among others, to do what he did this time last year at the Confederations Cup: A dominating performance that saw the hosts stun World Cup holders Spain in convincing fashion, an early warning shot ahead of a potential second-round meeting between the two sides.
In saying that, there are questions as to whether Brazil has already lost.
Massive -- on the brink of violent -- will fill Brazil's busiest streets throughout this tournament as citizens petition the government to provide social programs instead of stadiums.
Who could blame them? Like most South American nations, Brazil's income inequality is among the largest in the world, with the wealthiest 10% in the country controlling close to 50% of the wealth.
From the tropical city of Manaus to the northeast coastal cities of Fortaleza, Natal and Recife, the Sun is sending your's truly on what seems like a mission to the moon -- more than 25,500 kilometres in total between more than a dozen games.
Or, in Canadian terms, the distance between Toronto and Yellowknife five times during 37 days of daily coverage, ending with the World Cup final between Brazil and Argentina in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.
See what I did there?
A final between two South American giants feels like it's in the cards, especially when you consider European teams don't win in difficult environments.
Further to that point, a Brazilian win might be the only thing that helps bring a divided populace together, if only for a weekend.
After all, the problems in this country, like most countries in the southern hemisphere, are, well, bigger than words. And only a tournament of this magnitude has the ability to render every viewer speechless.