The FIFA World Cup in Russia is almost here.
In less than a week, Russia will face Saudi Arabia in what will surely be one of the dullest World Cup opening games in history. And yet, we can't wait.
To discuss, predict and fire through some of the hottest takes on the World Cup, we've gathered the Herald's football crazy writers to preview the biggest competition in sport.
MICHAEL BURGESS: The final whistle in the New Zealand's match against Italy at the 2010 World Cup. The All Whites had held the reigning World Champions to a draw, and the Azzuri needed a dodgy penalty as well. It was a match of remarkable drama that featured an incredible defensive effort from New Zealand, though Ivan Vicelich and Chris Wood both had late chances to snatch a winner. Coming a few days after the drama of Winston Reid's equaliser versus Slovakia a few days earlier, this was nirvana for local fans. It also put – for a few days anyway – New Zealand football on the map.
JASON PINE: I was lucky enough to be at Rustenburg in 2010 when Winston Reid scored that late, late goal to earn the All Whites a 1-1 draw with Slovakia and their first ever World Cup point. It'd be hard to top that. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
CHRIS RATTUE: Taking my press seat at the All Whites' opening game against Slovakia in South Africa, 2010. I looked down and saw Phil Warbrick – we had been friends since primary school – on the field in his role as All Whites manager on what turned into a historic day thanks to Winston Reid's last gasp equaliser. A surreal, spine-tingling experience in too many ways to explain here.
CAMERON MCMILLAN: Without sounding like a fanatic, the Shane Smeltz goal is the obvious answer. The All Whites were leading the defending champions at a World Cup for 22 glorious minutes! You expected the Italian goals to continue following the dodgy equaliser but somehow we held on. I admit I was misty-eyed in utter disbelief at fulltime.
DAVID LEGGAT: In 1970 at the Mexico tournament, when Pele attempted to score against Czechoslovakia in their semifinal, from halfway. He looked up, spotted the Czech goalkeeper off his line and whack. It flew past a post with the keeper scrambling. These days they're a dime a dozen. But 48 years ago, no one had the sheer audacity to attempt it. It was, then, stunning and still resonates today. A true gasp and awe moment.
CHRISTOPHER REIVE: Winston Reid gave us the beginning of a great underdog story in 2010, with his 90th minute equaliser against Slovakia getting a point on the board for the All Whites. Sure, they didn't get out of the group, but they didn't lose a game either.
NIALL ANDERSON: Luis Suarez' deliberate handball against Ghana in the 2010 quarterfinal. A refresher: The game was tied at 1-1 in the 120th minute, and Ghana created a goalmouth scramble in injury time. Dominic Adiyiah's header was going in, but Suarez punched it clear. He was sent off, Ghana missed the resulting penalty with the last kick of extra time, and Uruguay then won on penalties as Suarez celebrated on the sideline. I took inspiration from his antics/hijinks, and "did a Suarez" (the handball, not the biting) in a school game later that year. I did it better, and somehow avoided getting red carded. You may say that a Year 10 fourth division game isn't quite at the level of a World Cup quarterfinal, but I beg to differ.
JOEL KULASINGHAM: One of my earliest football memories: When Ronaldinho lobbed David Seaman from 40 yards. Iconic, and probably a fluke.
Burgess: There can be only one. Azteca Stadium, Mexico City. June 22nd, 1986. Argentina versus England. Diego Maradona. Given the circumstances, the situation and the skill involved, there has never been a goal like it before or since, as he dribbled from halfway, beating five English defenders in the process. "Cosmic Kite - which planet did you come from", screamed one Argentine football commentator, which probably summed up the feelings of the millions of viewers around the globe. Watching at home on our PYE television set – I think I missed school that day – the moment probably cemented my love for football.
Pine: Iordan Letchkov for Bulgaria against Germany in 1994. Not only was it a superb diving header to win Bulgaria the game 2-1 after they'd been 1-0 down, he also has about the same amount of hair as me.
Rattue: Geoff Hurst, the controversial one in the Wembley final against West Germany in 1966. A fine line, a moment, is talked over and analysed forever – the majesty, mystery and absurdity of sport.
McMillan: Michael Owen v Argentina (1998). There are better goals (see Bergkamp '98 for best touch, James '16 for best strike, and Cambiasso '06 for best team effort) but Owen's goal in the second round defeat to Argentina had a lasting impression on a fellow teen striker scoffing down Weet Bix from his Hawke's Bay home before having to push record and head to school. Just seconds after the VHS began recording, Owen latched onto a David Beckham pass, cut through two defenders before firing past Carlos Roa to put England up 2-1.
Leggat: Marco Tardelli for Italy in the 1982 final against the then West Germany in Spain. It put the Italians in front 2-0 and effectively won the cup. As for the why, just look at his wide-eyed celebration and run off followed by teammates. Sheer joy, and disbelief from the tough-tackling defensive midfielder. It was an exquisite, powerful drive from the edge of the penalty box. Magic.
Reive: Winston Reid!
Anderson: A 90th minute winner in a World Cup quarterfinal is always special, but more so when you do in this exquisite style. The commentary makes it even better in historical terms – one of Dennis Bergkamp's many legendary goals. My dad was such a fan of the Non-Flying Dutchman that he briefly considering naming me "Dennis". (Thank god he didn't.)
Kulasingham: Robin van Persie's diving header against Spain – also known as the goal that killed tiki taka. It's not only one of the best headed goals ever, it also symbolised a major shift in the footballing landscape. The Dutch's power, pace and pragmatism made the seemingly unbeatable Spain look old and outdated. Van Persie's acrobatics was the first in a five-goal demolition, a loss that Spain and their possession-based style would never recover from.
Golden ball winner
Burgess: Neymar. It's his time.
Pine: Antoine Griezmann. France should go deep into the tournament and this bloke is a superb player.
Rattue: Kevin De Bruyne – Belgium midfield maestro sees angles invisible to others.
Leggat: It tends to be an attack-minded player so let's buck the trend. Mats Hummels – the Germany defensive organiser. Top class and in a team among the more favoured. A good combination that.
Reive: Kevin de Bruyne. If Belgium are going to go as far as I've tipped them to, the Man City midfielder will likely play a big part in that.
Dennis Anderson: Andres Iniesta. If Spain go all the way, which – SPOILER ALERT – I think they may well do, FIFA will be dying to recognise the soon-to-retire midfielder, regardless of whether he was the best player or not.
Kulasingham: Kevin de Bruyne. I think he could thrive in Roberto Martinez's expansive system.
Golden boot winner
Burgess: Lionel Messi. Argentina should make at least the quarterfinals, and Messi could make hay against the likes of Nigeria and Iceland before that. For more of an outsider, check out Robert Lewandowski. Poland are unlikely to go much beyond the round of 16, but that might be enough for Lewandowski.
Pine: Francisco Alarcón ('Isco') from Spain. They don't have an out-and-out striker who will score 5-6 goals (apart from perhaps Diego Costa) so I fancy this guy to get a few from midfield. Just quietly, he scored a hat-trick against Argentina in March, too.
Rattue: Gabriel Jesus – Brazil are looking likely but kingpin Neymar could be fragile.
McMillan: Germany's Timo Werner. I wanted to pick a German so I'll take the RB Leipzig striker who I know very little about. Turns out he won the Fritz Walter Medal in 2013 - sounds good to me.
Leggat: Lionel Messi of Argentina. Eats goals for breakfast. Plenty of bacon and eggs, young man.
Reive: I'm taking a bit of a smokey here and going with Uruguay's Edinson Cavani. Uruguay should blitz home in their group which should give the forward a nice head start.
Anderson: Gabriel Jesus. Brazil scored a ton of goals in qualifying, and they are odds-on to score the most goals in the group stage. Neymar will draw most of the attention out wide, leaving plenty of space for his strike partners, and Jesus is brilliant at getting on the end of crosses.
Kulasingham: Lionel Messi will have a great tournament and cement his status as the GOAT.
Best hot take
Burgess: 38-year-old Tim Cahill will work his magic one more time, becoming just the fourth player in history to find the net at four World Cups.
Pine: Mohammed Salah recovers in time to help earn Egypt second place in their group and feed them into a round of 16 match against Spain. Once there, Salah gains revenge on Sergio Ramos for injuring him in the Champions League final by running rings around him, scoring a hat-trick and dumping Spain out! #destiny
Rattue: Narcissistic Ronaldo scores with a bicycle kick for Portugal after practicing like mad since Real Madrid teammate Gareth Bale won the Champions League final limelight.
McMillan: England will finish top of group G and will then be knocked out by Japan in the round of 16.
Leggat: Argies stuff England in quarter-final — again. #Hand it to Diego.
Reive: Prepare yourself for upsets in the round of 16 – I'm tipping neither England or Portugal make it past this point.
Anderson: England and Portugal crash out in the group stage as Tunisia and Morocco represent for Northern Africa. Uruguay go on a run on the back of more Suarez controversy to make the semifinals, where they are eventually conquered by Brazil.
Kulasingham: Russia beats Spain 1-0 in the round of 16. Russia gets an early goal then parks the bus, leaving Spain to regret not taking their only true No 9 Alvaro Morata.
Finalists and winner
Burgess: Germany versus Brazil, with the South Americans to prevail. France or Spain are the only others that could upset that party. Why Brazil? Germany are deserved favourites, but aren't the unstoppable force they were in 2014. There are a few, albeit tiny, chinks in their armour, while Brazil haven't arrived at a World Cup in such good shape for years. And, given the respective contribution to world football, it wouldn't seem right that Germany equal the Selecao's record of five tournament victories.
Pine: I've got Germany and France meeting in the final. France probably has the most exciting attacking squad on paper and if manager Didier Deschamps can get them moulded into a cohesive unit, they'll be very hard to stop. But Germany are… well, Germany. They always win at football.
Rattue: Brazil to beat Belgium. More in hope maybe – the beautiful game meets a fairy tale.
McMillan: Brazil over Germany (but won't be 7-1).
Leggat: England to win it. Just kidding. France and Germany. The heart would say the French but when pragmatism rules, Hummels and co have the drop on most nations any day of the week.
Reive: I've got Germany to beat Belgium in the final. Germany are always strong and again have potentially the best squad. I mean, if you can leave Leroy Sane out you have to be pretty confident. Belgium are erratic and inconsistent, but they have a lot of goals in them and I think they'll live up to their potential this time around.
Anderson: Brazil make it to the final, but any hope of a classic Germany/Brazil rematch are dashed when Spain tip over the defending champions in the other semifinal. Spain then edge Brazil 1-0 in the finale to claim their second World Cup.
Kulasingham: The Belgian golden generation will fall short at the final hurdle to a German side that will probably dominate international football for the next decade.