The countdown’s on for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil and there’s a queasy mix of excitement and trepidation kicking around. Luis Suarez needing to recover from knee surgery might give England a boost in progressing from their group even though Suarez’s mum has said he’ll be ready in time. Wayne Rooney has said he’s in the best condition to play and will have no excuses if he doesn’t perform well, and he’s said he believes that England can win – a big call but is it possible? All the nervous chatter is about the young talent in the England team.
England Captain Steven Gerrard describes England’s young World Cup talent as ‘scary’. He mentions three players; Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw to impress in Brazil and “Hopefully they have that no-fear factor and they can go there and enjoy themselves”.
We spoke to Jack Pitt-Brook, SJA young sportswriter of the year 2013, about the star players for England, their chances for progressing from their group, the state of the other teams, players to watch, and who he thinks might win the World Cup in 2014.
Who will be England’s star player?
He will probably be the youngest member of the squad but the stage is set for Raheem Sterling to out-shine all of his team-mates. At Liverpool this season he has shown not just brilliant technical ability and athleticism but tactical intelligence, playing on both wings and as a No 10. With Theo Walcott out and Wayne Rooney struggling for form and fitness, Sterling, who only has two full England caps, could well be their most dangerous player. Adam Lallana is probably less likely to start but as an authentic intelligent creative midfielder he will give England an option they have lacked in the last few tournaments.
How far will England get?
It is very difficult to call whether England will progress from the group or not. They should be marginal underdogs against both Italy and Uruguay, and will probably need to win one of those two games to get through. Italy are the more beatable side, still in transition between two generations, whereas Uruguay are an established unit with two of the world’s most dangerous strikers in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. But if England do get through they will face a team from Group C – probably Colombia or Ivory Coast – which would be more winnable.
What match are you looking forward to the most?
The stand-out tie of the group stages are Spain v Holland – a repeat of the 2010 final – in Salvador on Friday 13 June. Some of the older Dutch players – Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder – will be desperate for revenge. The opening game of Group G will be almost as good, as Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo tries to do to Germany what he did so effectively to Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Who’s your tip for the Golden boot?
The obvious answer is Lionel Messi ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi plays for a better team, and Argentina have the easiest group in the competition, drawn with Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia. He could be out of sight by the end of the group stages. Beyond Messi, look for Spain’s Diego Costa, the ferocious star of Atletico Madrid this season. And then Karim Benzema, enjoying the form of his life at Real Madrid, could do serious damage in France’s group, against Switzerlad, Ecuador and Honduras.
Tips for a dark horse or most surprising team?
Belgium are almost too good to be dark horses now, with a team full of familiar talents – Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Christian Benteke, Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and the rest. They must be favourites to win Group H and probably reach the quarter-finals. Beyond Belgium, Chile could surprise Holland in Group B with their intense, explosive game, and the brilliant Alexis Sanchez up front.
Who do you fancy to win it?
I would make Brazil narrow favourites. They have quality players, home advantage, and Luiz Felipe Scolari has re-instilled the belief and unity they had been missing since he last left the job. The way they demolished Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup last year shows that they can beat the best. That also showed up Spain’s problem, that they might be running out of steam. They are only as good as Xavi and Andres Iniesta, their two-chambered heart, but with those two tiring they might lack that creative spark. Germany are very popular, and they have quality but maybe not as much character as they used to. Argentina are probably the most likely to challenge Brazil.
Any advice for England fans?
Brazil is a famously friendly country and will be full of football fans. But if they plan well, learn a few words of Portuguese and always travel with friends they should have a great time. And don’t get too down-hearted if England lose!
As travelling can introduce unexpected dangers through exposure to new experiences, we recommend people keep their wits about them. For example, don’t become intoxicated in public as you’ll be less likely to make the right decisions should you find yourself in a difficult situation. Many hotels are tripling their prices during the Cup so you may consider staying in a favela; just remember that whether in a favela or not, as you move around the cities, violence can occur at any time.
The Huffington Post has reported that muggings on Rio’s public bus system have doubled over the last year and at least half of the 12 World Cup host cities have experienced a recent rise in violent crime. There are ongoing issues that can occur in public spaces as Brazilians continue to protest over the costs of the World Cup on the economy. Pele has spoken out saying that although he sympathises with the protestors, he doesn’t want tourists to be turned off visiting or for football to suffer due to the actions of corrupt politicians.
Structurally there are a few hiccups. The airport in Manaus, where England are playing their first match, recently suffered a collapsed roof due to heavy rain, and some stadiums won’t be completed on time like the new ground in Sao Paulo, although the matches there are still going ahead.
If you’re going, it’ll be a holiday to remember and hopefully England can overcome the intense heat of lunchtime matches. Keep safe, take precautions in public, get travel insurance and enjoy cheering for England!