Midfield maestros will wow at World Cup: Steven Davis column
There is always something special about the World Cup finals. Every four years it is the biggest event of the summer for football fans all over the globe.
As a professional, to play for your country in the World Cup must be amazing. With Northern Ireland I have experienced the Euro finals and that was incredible, but the World Cup is even bigger.
Unfortunately we aren't in Russia but I'll still be keeping a close eye on the games, the players and how the big teams cope with the pressure the tournament brings.
It can be tough to predict who will come out on top because there are so many nations with an abundance of talent out there, in particular France and Argentina, but at this moment in time with the big kick-off tonight I can't see past Brazil and Germany.
The Germans, as they showed by winning the 2014 World Cup, are capable of rising to the occasion, and having seen them up close in our World Cup qualifying group they are such a well drilled side with great quality on top of that, so they'll be hard to beat.
You can look at all their individual world class players but what impresses me most is that they all know their roles and responsibilities in the set-up and carry them out to the letter.
They are like a machine.
Having played against them three times in the last two years, including at the Euro 2016 finals, you always feel that at some stage you will figure out how to stop them but they continually ask questions of you and control the game.
They have players regularly playing in massive matches, so they are used to that stage and have the mentality going into tournaments believing they will win, and then back it up with their performances.
You look at a player like Toni Kroos in the Champions League and you wonder how come an opposition player does not get a bit closer to him.
When you are up close against him though you see how intelligent a player he is with the positions he takes up and the great awareness he has of players around him. He also has fantastic technical ability, be it with one touch or to take time on the ball.
He starts a lot of attacks for the German team and sets the pace, yet he never seems to break stride when he's playing. You rarely see him sprinting about the pitch.
Then there is Brazil. I always enjoy watching them in a World Cup. I think everyone does.
They have unbelievable talent in their team and in their forwards Neymar, Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus they have players that will cause any team problems.
They also have Philippe Coutinho, who is such a brilliant player and got a big move from Liverpool to Barcelona earlier this year.
Before that when we played against him for Southampton he was so dangerous. You would always expect him to pick the ball up on the left side and cut in and have a shot but, even though you knew he was going to do it, it's not that easy to stop. He has great ability shooting from distance and will be a key figure for Brazil in this World Cup.
As I said earlier, unfortunately Northern Ireland aren't in Russia.
I have to admit it took me a long time to get over losing the World Cup play-off to Switzerland in November. It was definitely the worst I've ever felt coming off a pitch.
It was difficult for a few weeks, no doubt about that, especially with how the tie swung on a controversial refereeing decision, though we didn't do ourselves justice in the first leg against Switzerland at Windsor Park.
Obviously with the finals about to start, the memories come back. We would love to be in Russia and it may have been the last opportunity for a lot of the squad to play in a World Cup finals. It was a really sore one to take.
It would be brilliant to be looking forward right now to playing in the tournament and it's a massive blow not to be there but we need to pick ourselves up and go again.
We have to use that disappointment and pain to try and qualify for the next Euro finals and the next World Cup.
Any experience can prove to be a good experience over time. We can use the experience that we gained and hopefully it can stand us in good stead in the future.