JOHANNESBURG -- From the top of his head to the tip of his toes, he is all Brazil; from the national flag he is wearing as a cape, to the green-and-gold facepaint thickly caked on his face, to the Kaka jersey he is showcasing to any passers-by who care.
It is still five hours before his beloved Brazilians take to the Ellis Park Stadium pitch on a brisk Johannesburg evening and this cat already is cranked. It is World Cup 2010, after all, a time for fans and fanatics alike to strut their stuff in front of the world.
"Hey!" he yells out at a couple of Canadian reporters on their way to the media centre. "You want to see what is going to happen when the final comes around?"
We are mildly intrigued so we stop to investigate. Mr. Brazil pulls out a doll. A voodoo doll. One decked out in the famous powder-blue-and-white stripes of Argentina. It's kind of pudgy. Kind of like Diego Maradona.
"This is what we will do to Argentina!" the fan growls, thrusting about five pins deep into the stuffing of the doll.
Tough crowd. Think there is some animosity here?
Welcome to South Africa 2010. Sure, the tournament's been going on for three weeks already. But that was just the preliminaries, a few appetizers to nibble on.
Now comes the delicious entree. The Final Eight. A dish served with hatred, national pride and rivalries that penetrate far beyond the sporting world. And none oozes more bitterness than the battle of South American superpowers, Argentina and Brazil.
While these two have never locked horns in a World Cup title match before, the stage has been set for both teams to grind their way through to the championship game at the giant bronzed pot known as Soccer City on July 11.
To this point, it could be argued that these two team have been the class of the tournament, combining for a record of 7-0-1.
Of course, European giants Germany, Spain and the Netherlands will have something to say about that when all is said and done. So, too, will Ghana, which carries the support of the entire African continent with it. And let's not forget Uruguay and Paraguay, whose fans back home would go "el loco" with joy to see their heroes upset their big bad South American cousins from Brazil and Argentina.
Here's a brief rundown of the Elite Eight, with their FIFA ranking in parentheses.
- BRAZIL (1): Will the real Kaka please stand up? The alleged superstar has spent more time collecting yellow cards than goals. Good thing striker Luis Fabiano has been great.
- SPAIN (2): The 1974 German team was the only defending Euro champion to go on to win a World Cup, a feat Spain is attempting to repeat. Striker David Villa has been brilliant.
- THE NETHERLANDS (4): The Orange Crush used to be all flash, but now there seems to be some defensive meat here. The return of star Arjen Robben from injury is huge.
- GERMANY (6): No Michael Ballack? No problem. The youngest German team since 1934 has thrived under the spotlight, thanks to the kids such as Mesut Ozil and Thomas Mueller.
- ARGENTINA (7): The most impressive team in the tournament thus far, both in terms of play and quotes from Maradona's press conferences.
- URUGUAY (16): Any team that has allowed just one goal in four matches is a force to be reckoned with.
- PARAGUAY (31): Not the most exciting side. But they're here, aren't they?
- GHANA (32): Hey Africa ... who needs Bafana Bafana when you have Ghana?
The semifinals kick off Friday when Brazil meets the Netherlands and Ghana uses its home continent advantage versus Uruguay. Saturday sees Argentina go up against Germany while Paraguay faces Spain.
Get your voodoo dolls ready, people!