BRADENTON -- Kids around the world grow up envisioning themselves playing in the FIFA World Cup.
That dream has become a reality for lucky elite players who have been on qualifying national teams.
IMG Academy soccer coach Marcelo Carrera took time to discuss various topics of the 2014 edition, which kicks off Thursday in Brazil.
Carerra is a decorated former player, having competed in the U19 World Cup with Argentina, played with legend Diego Maradona as a 15-year-old and served as a ball boy when Argentina won its first World Cup in 1978 on home soil. He also won the Copa Libertadores (South America's version of the UEFA Champions League) with Argentian giants Independiente.
Q: The World Cup is a monthlong party, celebrating the sport. Just how big is that?
A: "Everybody around the world is celebrating the most important sport in the world. And soccer is No. 1. Everybody waits every four years like you wait for the Olympic Games. In football, in soccer, everybody waits those four years to go really fast and have the country represent them in that month. Everybody is so excited."
Q: The World Cup was last played in South America in 1978 when Argentina hosted. So how big is this year's event with Brazil hosting?
A: "I think Brazil is, everybody knows, one of the most prolific countries in soccer. They won the most World Cups in the history of the game. The passion and the way they celebrate, the way they take every day in this game, is going to be unbelievable for anybody that
has the chance to go there or to watch it on TV. On the other hand, there are a lot of things going on because a lot of people there are not happy. ... Brazil is having a lot of problems with poverty and those people are against (it)."
Q: What makes the South America's soccer style so different than the European powers and elsewhere in the world?
A: "The style of Brazil, Argentina and Colombia play, you see it on the street. It's a lot of street soccer still down there, and it's where those kids that don't have anything. They play soccer, and the only way out of poverty for those kids is to make it to the top level and playing in Europe. ... I think that's the difference."
Q: What was it like playing alongside Diego Maradona?
A: "The first time I played with him, I was 15 years old. He was 17. And he was amazing at that time, and we became really good friends."
Q: Do the two players widely considered the best in the world, Argentina's Lionel Messi and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, really have to win the World Cup to cement their legend status as the best ever alongside Maradona and Pele?
A: "No. To me, the answer is we've got to enjoy every player at the moment. Pele was the best player in the world at his moment. Diego Maradona was the best player in the world at his moment. Now we've got to enjoy Cristiano Ronaldo (and) Messi, because they are the best, most unbelievable players we can watch. And I hope one of them wins the World Cup one day. ... I think everybody in his time was the best player. You cannot compare anybody, because when Pele played, soccer was not so physical. When Maradona played, it was really physical. And now it's super physical and fast."
Q: How far do you see the United States making it this year?
A: "They have a good possibility to get out (of the group), even though nobody believes it."