6 thoughts on the 2014 World Cup
The party may be raging in Spain for quite some time; but for the rest of us, the focus shifts from South Africa to Brazil, where the 20th edition of the World Cup will take place in 2014.
The fact that four years is a lifetime in soccer means that making any predictions about the next World Cup is a fool's errand. But plenty of questions have already emerged about the next incarnation of FIFA's biggest event.
1. Will the hosts be ready?
FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke set alarm bells jangling two months ago when he expressed concern over the lack of progress Brazil had made in improving stadiums and revamping the country's transportation infrastructure. Just last week, Brazilian Football Confederation president Ricardo Teixeira attempted to channel Chip Diller of "Animal House" fame by essentially saying "Remain calm. All is well!"
Teixeira insisted that progress has already been made on several stadiums, although concern remains over what role Brazil's biggest city, Sao Paulo, will play given that Morumbi Stadium has been taken off the list of proposed venues. Teixeira did admit that the country's airports need extensive renovation, meaning the concerns over Brazil's readiness won't abate any time soon.
2. What about the home team?
Consecutive appearances in the quarterfinals would be cause for celebration in some countries. Not in Brazil, where getting bounced in the final eight in both 2006 and 2010 is considered abject failure.
Given the talent the Seleção possesses, there's reason for such an assessment, but just as big a concern is the kind of team they've become. Spain has replaced Brazil as the keepers of the beautiful game, while Brazil has become a counterattacking side. Granted, it was a style Brazil implemented quite effectively during much of the just-completed World Cup cycle, but there is mounting sentiment that the team should return to its roots and seek to carry the initiative to its opponents.
Another concern is how sharp the team will be in 2014, given that, as hosts, it will not have to go through qualification. It's a difficult task for whoever replaces deposed head coach Dunga. Former World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari has taken himself out of the running, at least for the moment, leaving Corinthians manager Mano Menezes, Fluminense head coach Muricy Ramalho, and former AC Milan head coach Leonardo among the remaining candidates.
3. Can Spain repeat?
Despite its undeniable talent, the odds of Spain claiming the 2014 crown are slim. One need only look at how 2006 champion Italy struggled in this tournament to see that remaining on top of soccer's summit is notoriously difficult. Not since Brazil in 1962 has there been a repeat champion, and the Seleção is also the only team in modern times to come close, reaching the final in 1998 after prevailing in 1994.
So how is Spain stacking up going into the next cycle? There remains an impressive core of young players around which to build. Defenders Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos, along with midfielders Cesc Fabregas and David Silva are all currently under the age of 25. World Cup final hero Andrés Iniesta is only 26, as is forward Fernando Torres.
Some turnover will inevitably occur, however, with Carles Puyol, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, and David Villa all likely to be replaced. Fortunately for Spain, qualifying for Euro 2012 is set to begin in August, meaning La Furia Roja will have plenty of time to break in new players.
4. Whither Diego?
Say what you will about the Argentine's tactical acumen and overall lack of coaching experience. Clearly the World Cup would be a much duller place without Maradona around. And the national team job seems a perfect fit for the former World Cup-winner's hyperkinetic personality.
But Maradona is mulling over whether he should return. Even if he does decide to carry on, the death march that is COMNEBOL qualifying, even without Brazil, means there's no guarantee that he'll remain in charge for the entire World Cup cycle.
Much will depend on next year's Copa America. If Argentina performs well, Maradona will likely be on the sidelines in Brazil. If not, he could very easily see his support evaporate. Here's hoping that Maradona -- and his eccentric press conferences -- stick around for four more years.
5. Can Europe's recent World Cup stranglehold be broken?
For the first time in World Cup history, a European side triumphed outside of its continent. And in the last two tournaments, seven of the eight semifinalists have come from Europe. Granted, part of this is down to sheer weight of numbers; UEFA has more than twice as many representatives as the next biggest confederation. Europe didn't have it all its own way either, as all five of South America's representatives reached the knockout stages. But with a respectful nod to Uruguay, there's also no doubting that the Netherlands, Spain, and Germany played the best soccer in the tournament.
So will a non-European team prevail in 2014? Such hopes rest primarily on South American sides, which will have the home-continent advantage. That said, Africa proved this time around that playing at home is not a guarantee of success.
6. Will FIFA finally adopt goal-line technology?
Much like that renowned seer, the Magic Eight Ball, might say, "Signs point to yes," Valcke told Sky Sports News that there was "a real chance" that a system could be in place by the 2014 tournament. While this won't happen soon enough to placate England fans still bitter over Frank Lampard's disallowed goal against Germany, it will at least reduce the odds of it happening again.
And while FIFA is at it, the organization could be proactive for once and remove the utterly ridiculous "drawing of lots" as one of the tiebreakers for progressing from group play. It doesn't matter what criteria it decides to use, be it corners, Fair Play standings, or a specially arranged penalty shootout (think of the ratings). As long as it has something to do with that happened on the field, fans will be okay with it.
There was a time during this World Cup when it looked like the "drawing of lots" tiebreaker might be necessary. And while it remains the case that it has never been needed at the finals, keeping it around seems to be tempting the soccer gods too much, allowing for the possibility that FIFA's most prized asset would turn into a farce.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of "Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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