World Cup 100 days out: 10 Questions
Following the World Cup draw in December, a panel of ESPN FC writers asked -- and answered -- 10 big questions six months out from the tournament.
Now, with 100 days until kick off, it’s time to examine a new set of questions.
Gab Marcotti: Will climate and infrastructure ruin the World Cup?
Short answer: no. This is the greatest sporting event in the universe and it would take a heck of a lot to ruin it. That said, it’s reasonable to expect some things to run less than smoothly.
The stadium in Curitiba, for starters, isn’t finished yet. Organizers say it will be handed over to FIFA 31 days before the World Cup as promised, but even if it isn’t, it won’t stop the show. There will still be 11 venues, just as there were in South Africa in 2010.
As for traffic snarls, lost luggage, creepy crawlies in the bathtub and the other inconveniences that folks traveling to the World Cup -- more so journalists than fans, to be fair -- like to complain about -- sure, stuff will happen.
However, you get the sense, particularly with the Rio Olympics two years away, the country will do everything possible to pull this off with as few glitches as possible.
Of course, what will not be controllable is making places like Fortaleza or Manaus or Recife milder and less humid. That will be a test; we saw at the Confederations Cup when Italy and Japan ran themselves silly in Recife.
FIFA’s water breaks will help, and hopefully medical staff in attendance will do their part, too. Just because you can play in extreme conditions doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do so, or that it’s fun to watch.
That said, teams will have to prepare, and they have the resources to do so: It’s time for the sports science guys to earn their keep.
If anything, whoever wins it all likely will have had to succeed both in the hothouse of the north and the sometime chill down south. In that sense, it will be the truest of tests.
Fernando Duarte: Will Brazil be ready on the pitch?
It has been a funny couple of months for Luiz Felipe Scolari's men. Although the Selecao have lost only two games since the 2002 World Cup-winning manager returned to the hot seat in November 2012, the team has problems in some key positions, and time is not on their side.
The main source of concern is the lack of a No. 9 firing on all cylinders. Fred, Scolari’s first choice, has barely played in the past few months for club or country. Jo, his regular deputy, has been inconsistent, and the scarcity of options has even made the manager toy with the idea of ditching his obsession of using a classic centre-forward.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s first-choice goalkeeper, Julio Cesar, has joined Toronto FC after having played just one competitive match for Queen's Park Rangers in nine months. Neither of the alternatives (Botafogo's Jefferson and Fluminense's Diego Cavalieri) seem to inspire too much confidence.
That means Neymar will be required more than ever to rescue Brazil in case the team struggles for the desired balance. The Barcelona man might still be finding his feet in Catalonia but, as he show when scoring four goals at the Confederations Cup last year, he has proved to be inspirational for the Selecao. That may need to continue if he host nation to lift the trophy.
Sid Lowe: Who will miss Spain’s plane to Brazil?
Before the World Cup, the question everyone asks is obvious: Who will the manager include on his squad? In Spain, though, it's more like: Who will the manager leave out?
It's not just that there are a lot of good players -- after all, most of the strongest national teams could say the same -- it's that so many of them share characteristics that have come to define the Spanish style. The problem is that only 23 can be taken.
Spain has such an abundance of talented, skillful, creative attacking midfielders and forwards that Vicente del Bosque will have difficult decisions to make, starting with the basic conception of a squad. Does he just take the “best” players and as many of them as possible? Or does he instead seek a certain variety, believing there's little point in having many players of a similar style, only for them to sit on the bench?
Does he foresee different solutions for different games, or would he like substitutions to be more a case of the same style, but fresher? Deep down, does he wish he had fewer creative talents and more defenders? And when it comes to choosing, what will the criteria be? Trajectory? Form? Fitness? Opponents?
Who, in short, will del Bosque not take? One thing is for sure: There will be great players watching on TV. Juan Mata, David Silva, Santi Cazorla, Andres Iniesta, Isco, Thiago Alcântara, Jese, Jesus Navas, Cesc Fabregas, Pedro . . . they can't all go.
John Brewin: Is Daniel Sturridge England’s leading man?
Could Brazil 2014 be the World Cup that England finally find a decent foil for Wayne Rooney? Daniel Sturridge might just be the one.
Rooney has been the main man for his country since breaking through in 2003, but he has rarely been a decent strike partner. What England require is a player capable of doing his thing, but also used to playing alongside a star who wants things his own way. Given that, Sturridge’s experiences playing with Luis Suarez could be useful.
There was a time when Rooney was expected to be a relentless, Suarez-type player, but not now. For England, as at Manchester United, he often drops into midfield. Therefore, England need someone to play off the shoulder of defenders if, as expected, Roy Hodgson opts for a counterattacking strategy.
Hodgson needs Sturridge to convert his irresistible club form to the greatest stage. He has just two England goals to his name, and one of those was against San Marino. England love a wild card. Can Sturridge be the man to play it?
Roger Bennett: Will Julian Green be part of the U.S. squad?
Though yet to earn a Bundesliga start for Pep Guardiola, the coveted attacker has been part of Bayern’s senior squad for the past eight months and has represented both the Germans and the United States at the youth level.
Would the young German-American be an upgrade? The question remains hypothetical, as Green has yet to commit, but that has not stopped American fans from hyperventilating, still tortured as they are by the twin torments of “unsettling late additions to World Cup rosters past” (see David Regis, 1998) and the agonizing roster of “young dual nationals that got away” (see Giuseppe Rossi, Neven Subotic and Vedad Ibisevic).
Despite his inexperience, the young attacker has received accolades from the likes of Thomas Mueller and Matthias Sammer but for Jurgen Klinsmann, his most significant contribution may come off the field.
The U.S. coach has made no secret of his preference for talent forged in the crucible of elite European play, urging his players to “push themselves out of their comfort zone” and reminding them to drive “to the next level,” yet he finds himself preparing for Brazil while key components of his squad are electing to return to MLS.
Adding Green as a wild card would not only tie a terrific prospect to the U.S., but it would also send a message to the rest of his current squad that no one -- not even the biggest American names -- can rest on their laurels and afford to take their place on the World Cup roster for granted.
Raphael Honigstein: Will Philipp Lahm play in midfield for Germany?
The Bayern Munich and Germany captain has been “promoted” to a central midfield role by Guardiola at club level. Meanwhile, Joachim Loew has not yet confirmed that he will follow suit, but that’s the way things seem to be going at the moment. Or is it?
Lahm the midfielder has few peers right now. Ílkay Gündogan and Sami Khedira have been out for most of the season with long-term injuries and are both increasingly doubtful as far as making the trip to Brazil is concerned.
Meanwhile, the Bender brothers, Lars and Sven, have been solid, rather than spectacular, this season, and neither offers as much experience and technical expertise as the 30-year-old.
If the first tournament game against Portugal were tomorrow, Lahm would probably line up next to teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger in midfield, with either Toni Kroos or Mesut Özil ahead of them in the No.10 position.
Loew’s problem, however, is the knock-on effect. Without Lahm on defence, there are even fewer options for the two full-back positions. Germany’s Achilles' heel is out wide on either defensive flank, and Loew will have to weigh carefully whether he can afford to weaken the back even more to accommodate the wishes of his captain.
Tim Vickery: Can Argentina take advantage of the luck of the draw?
Brazilian football insiders describe afternoon kickoffs in the northeast of the country, particularly 1 p.m. starts, as inhumane. The intense heat will be difficult to play in and will have a draining effect on the players as the competition wears on.
There is no need, though, for Argentina to worry about this. They have been lucky with the draw three times over. Group opponents Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria do not look especially threatening, and neither do the likely second round rivals.
Plus, all of Argentina’s games are relatively close to home, allowing its fans to pour across the border; and whether they finish first or second in the group, they will go through the entire competition without once having to deal with extreme heat (none of their games will take them higher up the country than Brasilia).
Argentina’s past two World Cup campaigns have been brought to an end by Germany. Should they meet again this time, Lionel Messi and company can feel confident of revenge.
In their group matches, the Germans will get no respite from the fierce sun. Argentina will certainly be fresher, and the luck of the draw, together with their attacking genius, make them a good bet to reach the final.
Tom Marshall: What role will Chicharito play for Mexico?
At just 25, Javier Hernández is already within touching distance of becoming Mexico’s all-time leading goal scorer. However, while “Chicharito” has 35 goals in 57 games for El Tri -- 11 behind Jared Borgetti – his place in the Mexico team is not assured.
A combination of new coach Miguel Herrera, who took charge in November, and the striker’s lack of minutes at Manchester United this season -- he last started a Premier League game on Dec. 28 -- means Hernández’s position is in doubt.
Herrera has stressed he needs players to be featuring regularly for their club sides to be considered, and while the manager also has defended Hernández’s work rate and personality, Olympic gold-medal hero Oribe Peralta seems to be ahead in the current pecking order.
Goals and playing time for his club before the end of the season would help Hernández’s case immeasurably, but it just doesn’t look like it's happening under David Moyes.
The reality is that Chicharito will be reduced to the substitute role for El Tri that he assumes at Old Trafford, something that was unthinkable until very recently.
John Duerden: Can Son shine for South Korea?
The World Cup can be a great place for a striker to make his name. Hit a streak of form at the right time and you’re suddenly a global star. For example, four years after Gary Lineker scored for fun, Toto Schillaci came from nowhere in 1990 to shoot Italy to within sight of glory.
No Asian striker has yet to make such an impact, though. Ahn Jung-hwan perhaps came closest in 2002, but while his two goals were vital in helping co-hosts South Korea reach the last four, they were not really enough. That could change this summer and many South Koreans will be hoping that Son Heung-Min is the one to do it.
The explosive Bayer Leverkusen attacker is not yet the most consistent of goal scorers -- he has 10 in all competitions this season -- but when he is in the groove, he can be hard to stop and is capable of running from deep to fire shots from distance.
An exciting talent, Son, 21, has the talent to become a star, and he could become the first Asian striker to really make his mark on the sport’s biggest stage.
Colin Udoh: Is Cameroon's search the way to go?
Axel Ngando, Samuel Umtiti, Jean-Christophe Bahebeck and Paul-Georges Ntep de Madiba were all born in France, and all but Madiba were part of that country’s FIFA under-20 World Cup win in Turkey last year.
Despite that, the Cameroon FA hopes their eligibility means they can be persuaded to switch their allegiance to Cameroon in time for the World Cup.
Each of the quartet is under 22, so the squad’s average age would be reduced, should they be included. Furthermore, it is believed fresh faces would help alleviate any lingering squabbles and divisions within the squad.
In 2010, German-born Joel Matip and Jean-Eric Choupo Moting were persuaded to make the switch to the Indomitable Lions, and both have grown to become stalwarts.
Despite the precedent, though, there are some who consider this courtship disrespectful to the players who got Cameroon to the World Cup in the first place.
The topic will continue to be debated, but one thing seems clear: if these youngsters can be persuaded and they turn out as well as did Matip and Moting, Cameroon could well see their chances improve considerably.