Some will view as a dream come true, simply because of the many wonderful things that have been mentioned about this vast piece of land space in South America, the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ being held in Brazil.
Brazilian song and dance, the samba and bossa nova, mixed nicely with the dazzling feet of some of the world’s most fantastic footballers, will create that enchanting atmosphere, oozing with entertainment, coupled with heavenly sand and the sea, for the most exciting display of football, in a country that has been the victor of the prestigious FIFA World Cup™ on six previous occasions.
There’s a guarantee of a memorable holiday, and trips to the numerous attractive cities in this vast country will no doubt involve football lovers speculating as to which team will walk away the winner, with 32 of the world’s leading countries having qualified to meet and battle.
The ability to make a prediction may not be as difficult as winning the mega lottery in the United States, but the challenge on this occasion seems a daunting task. The differences amongst teams are huge and there are variables, which will come heavily into focus, even before the first whistle is blown.
My experiences in 1978 in Argentina lead me to believe that South America is not half as predictable as the other venues where previous World Cups were held. The cold weather of Buenos Aires, which varied from zero degrees to the mid-twenties, all within the same period of June to July, favoured a few European qualifiers, more familiar with those playing conditions. Those teams that preferred dry grounds and heat fared less well, as soggy surfaces did not allow for the conventional short passing possession approach.
Similarly, in 2014, we’re in for some changeable whether. Brazil has selected cities on the Atlantic coastline to host a number of matches. This locale presents rainfall amidst humidity; and consideration should be made for the wind factor affecting each venue. But, wait a minute! There is also Manaus, the hottest city in South America with a constant temperature of 40+ degrees Celsius and winds that rush from the Amazon River.
There is no doubt that countries like England, Croatia, Switzerland, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, USA and Australia would relate better to a certain amount of moisture, a soft surface with lush green grass and a wind factor that will not change their clinical long passes in midair from the intended direction.
But there are the super scientists of World Football—Germany, the game planners; Italy, the strategy adjusters; Netherlands; and the versatile, but temperamental French—all of whom will be well prepared to adjust to the necessary atmospheric conditions within short time periods.
However, my friends, the absolute similarity weather-wise between South American countries and certain African countries (Cameroun, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana), give talented and now experienced ball artists from Africa an opportunity to shine. Despite inconsistencies in past performances, when one takes a look at players like Yaya Toure, Drogba, Eboue, Gervinho and company, playing in conditions with which they are accustomed, there’s reason to believe the Africans will provide the quality of opposition this time around.
Improved performances are expected of Columbia, Ecuador, Chile, and Uruguay, who have acquired the technical and tactical qualities to match any opponent in the tournament. The Columbians have literally begged the services of the former Argentinian coach José Pekerman who, in Germany 2006, produced a quality of play that brought great joy to the football world. The Chileans with Sanchez and company have developed a game filled with exquisite skill and short, sharp sprints which can expose heavy legged defenders. Uruguay continues to raise the level of their game under Óscar Washington Tabárez, a technocrat whose ability to read the mentality of his countrymen and drive his players into a mode of positivity, has now been recognized as tremendous expertise.
There’s no doubt that countries such as the USA, Japan, South Korea, Australia and Switzerland will epitomize the art of teamwork and force every opponent to play their best or be beaten. Admittedly, one recognizes the stereotype of game played by these countries, where the star player is not as obvious as in the more matured countries. The desire to run at top speed and chase their opponents before they can settle into any organized formation, may appear to be appropriate, until South America, or Spain, or Portugal with their super star Cristiano Ronaldo, introduce their ‘ole’ style of play in the heat.
So long as we all understand that it will take seven good performances to win the World Cup, we could immediately be conscious of teams that build their game around constant running and at high speeds all the time.
The Brazilian fans have no choice but to believe that the host has a great chance to win the Cup. One should note the outstanding Confederations Cup displays against all comers, including the World Champions, Spain. Their member performances can boggle the mind of even the ultimate patriots of the visiting teams: think Alves, Rafael, David Luiz, Fernandinho, Ramires, Oscar, Lucas, Killian, Coutinho, and of course the brilliant Neymar Jr.
The Brazilians have given to their national squad, two of the finest exponents of technical direction for any football team: Luiz Felipe Scolari and Carlos Alberto Parreira (both winners of World Cup tournaments). Carlos learnt his trade from Mario Zagallo in the seventies and worked closely with Scolari in Korea/Japan in 2002. Scientifically, Carlos stands along with Zagallo, Rinus Michels, Joachim LÖw, Ernst Happel, Franz Beckenbauer and Dr. Carlos Bilardo of Argentina as one of the masterminds of the world’s greatest game.
The World Cup will be built around these football scientists where every move will be studied carefully and players will be attuned to the point that it will reflect in the performances of their teams.
On the Spanish front, maestro Señor Del Bosque may have found himself working with a team that is in transition. Players such as Puyol, Busquets, Zavi Alfonso, Piqué, and Ramos have not kept their competence over the four-year period and the search for replacements could be Spain’s major problem.
Finally, it’s not wise to bypass Iran simply because history does not paint a brilliant picture of their past. One should recall their performances in France of 1998. In more recent times, the Iranians have shown resilience in their efforts and are certainly able to apply the fitness that Brazilian weather can exact from the participating teams.
Be mindful, the superficial analysis of these teams can easily change if their opponents in the various groups, especially those who can handle the first two or three games well, spring surprises. It is not too far away when “FULECO” will be the magic word through all cities of great South America.