It is impossible to overstate the importance of football to Brazil in terms of its identity and national pride. British players and officials may have first ratified its rules, but Brazilian players developed the flair to show you could entertain and express yourself while striving to win.

And Brazil has consistently won – no other national side has won the World Cup five times – while players from Pele through Ronaldo and now the current hope Neymar are seen as heroes around the world. Yet while hosting this competition, the country seeks to wipe out one horrible memory – Uruguay “stealing” the trophy in a final with Brazil as World Cup host nation in 1950. “When we lost that game to Uruguay there were almost 200,000 people sitting in the stadium crying,” the CBF’s president Jose Maria Marin says.

Football is so important because it helped unite a disparate nation and give it a common identity, something the minister of sports, Aldo Rebelo, notes, especially when the national side won its first World Cup in 1958. “When Pele was world champion, he didn’t just help show Brazil to the world, he helped Brazilians discover Brazil as well,” the politician from Alagoas state says. “Where I come from, many people became more aware of the country as a whole – not just geographically, but culturally as well.”

For a nation that faces huge extremes of wealth and poverty, football especially gives hope to the poor. Top players show anyone can succeed, no matter what their background. This is especially the case since players began earning huge sums and becoming celebrities, Marin explains. “Being an athlete is now better understood as a valid career,” he says. “Neymar, for example, is a brilliant kid, an excellent player, but above all – and despite his fame and fortune – he remains as humble as he was in the beginning.”

These stars of Brazilian football succeed by honing the flair that ensures the national team remains a firm favourite for fans around the world.

Football: the UK’s gift to Brazil

British expatriates brought football to Brazil in the late 19th century. Experts believe a Scottish dye worker, Thomas Donohue, organised the first match in 1894, while the first club was formed by Englishman Charles Miller, inspired by Corinthians, a side from his homeland. Another Sao Paulo side took that name, forming connections that continue today.