We haven't even seen the first kick of the 2014 World Cup and yet there are some things that we know to be true. Iain Macintosh tells us what to expect this summer.
By the end of this tournament, we will all be in love with squirty foam. We will slap our foreheads as one and wonder how on earth we ever coped without it. For the price of a small can of frothy magic, encroachment on set pieces will be a thing of the past. With just a little added weight to their Batman utility belt, the officials will forever eliminate the nefarious practice of stealing yards on set pieces. These are less than auspicious times for the power brokers at FIFA, but credit where credit is due. This is the best thing they've done since the back pass rule was changed over 20 yars ago.
Thirty-two men in new suits will lead their nations into this World Cup. How many will still be in charge six weeks from now? How many will get to do this again? Of the 32 coaches from 2010, only Vicente del Bosque, Ottmar Hitzfeld, Oscar Tabarez, Joachim Loew and Morten Olsen remain in position. The World Cup is the culmination of a four-year cycle of international football and it will, in all likelihood, be the end for at least half of the managers present. By July, the employment market is going to look rather crowded.
Ever since they secured qualification at a canter, Belgium have been this summer's designated "dark horses," but this will soon change. For a horse to be truly dark, you see, they have to be a surprise package, and so many people have tipped Belgium as dark horses that the only thing that will surprise anyone is if they go out in the group stage. This week, expect the likes of Croatia, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Japan and South Korea to all be handed nosebags and told that, if everything goes well, they've got a decent chance of making the quarterfinals.
NO GOALIE GROANS
Ordinarily, it wouldn't matter if the new tournament ball was as pure as a mountain stream and flew as true as an eagle upon a spring zephyr, goalkeepers would always find a reason to whine about it. However, given that 2010's woeful Jabulani was as pure as a chemical leak and flew as true as a cheap firework, this summer will be very different. Startlingly, the Brazuca has been specifically designed not to veer off course like a taxi driver who's suddenly remembered a short cut, and even the notoriously pugnacious goalkeepers' union won't be able to find fault with that.
FIFA announced back in March that there would be no speeches at the opening ceremony of the World Cup, a response to the ferocious booing and jeering that greeted Sepp Blatter at the Confederations Cup in 2013. Yet this won't be enough to protect him. At some point, during either the ceremony or the opening match itself, his face is bound to appear on the big screen. And then the boo-gates will open. Not that Sepp will mind too much. "Stars are always booed," he said after being jeered in 2012. "So I'm a star, you have to take it that way."
Right now, as you read these words, one of the world's greatest footballers is happily minding his own business, entirely unaware that in a month his reputation will be toast. In every tournament, one player always crashes from hero to zero. In 2002, Rivaldo collapsed clutching his face when he was hit on the leg by the ball. In 2006, Zinedine Zidane butted Marco Materazzi and saw red. In 2010, striker Luis Suarez's superb one-handed save went entirely unappreciated by the nation of Ghana. Who will it be this year?