Italy: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
Italy have always taken pride in furbo, or smart and sly football. Inured to controversies in major tournaments, especially when a trophy of high-calibre is at stake, they have a reputation for ignominies and shameful conducts on and off the pitch inundated with diving tactics, apathetic and cagey approaches in the early stages of the competition. But not any more. Coach Cesare Prandelli wants a departure from the past.
Prandelli is determined to change the complexion of Italian football and has implemented a strict code of conduct for all players. Prandellis message is quite straightforward: players with poor disciplinary record and lack of commitment will not be taken to Brazil. And those travelling will have to ensure they stay away from the temptations of outside world and remain focussed on the task at hand.
For a team that is never far away from a controversy, it should be hardly surprising that Prandelli has taken such a stern step. And not surprisingly, it has stirred up a controversy in his homeland. But for Prandelli, theres no backtracking on his philosophy. Weve the quality; the players are all very good. All we lack is discipline and I will ensure they behave like good boys, he had said.
The Azzurri are expected to be playing in heavy humidity during the tournament, particularly during their opening match against England, which is set to take place on the edge of the Amazon rainforest in Manaus.
And theyve tried to reproduce the conditions of not just Manaus, but also of Recife and Natal. Inside a hut at their training base, the temperature is set around 32-33 degrees Centigrade, with a humidity level of around 70 per cent. The players are made to work on treadmills and exercise bicycles and their cardiac levels monitored.
There will also be an organised approach to preventing mosquito bites, while there could also be vaccinations for the likes of malaria and dengue fever. Clearly, perfectionist Prandelli is leaving nothing to chance.
The term WAGs (wives and girlfriends)...truly came into its own at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Based out of the spa town of Baden Baden, the WAGS glammed up the stadiums and provided copious fodder for the gossip columnists with their wild antics, couture clothes and shopping sprees.
Costa Rica: Group of Death, long live La Sele
To survive, nay, welcome the Group of Death as Group D is known, teams are doing all they can to be prepared. Italy hit the saunas, England donned sweat jackets, Uruguay sent their star Suarez for a quickie of an operation and Costa Rica are hedging their bets on immortality.
What about Costa Rica, also called La Sele (the selection), you ask Correos de Costa Rica, the company that runs the postal service of Costa Rica, has decided to issue commemorative stamps to mark the teams odessey in Brazil, a local newspaper the Tico Times says.
The limited-edition stamps they are printing only 30,000 cost $1 and $1.3. The not-very-creatively named series, called FIFA World Cup 2014, has Costa Ricas national team, the current World Cup trophy and the official mascot. Unfortunately for fans, the stamps are as yet only available at the companys headquarters in San Jose, so a long trek is in order if you live anywhere else.
World Cup stamps, much like World Cup cards, have been treasued in the countries of their issue, often having no value in the international market unless something spectacular is associated with the team in question.
Costa Ricas team will be thankful for their national postal company immortalising their foray into Brazil as not many expect them to escape the vicious clutches of the group they find themselves in. England, Italy and Uruguay should prove tough opponents to get past but Costa Rica already know their legacy has been secured on paper. Whether or not they make it out of the group, the selection or the select few, have already given themselves a shot at immortality.
Uruguay: The stark divide
One thing that truly stands out for the two-time World Cup winners is the quality of their strike force. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani strike fear in opposition defence and on days when either of two fail, Oscar Tabarez has the option to call on Diego Forlan the 2010 Golden Ball winner (the award is given to the best player at the tournament) to shore up the attack. But the player, who puts in the hard yards, so that the stars do their trickery up front, is little known midfielder Arevalo Rios. Rios is one of the first names that is put on the team list by Tabarez. He played all the matches during the 2010 World Cup and as well as during the Copa America win in 2011 and it was his assist that won Uruguay, the record-leveling 15 th title with Argentina. He was perhaps the only one from the 2010 team that finished third who wasnt signed by any of the bigger clubs in Europe despite playing a stellar role. Staying under the radar isnt knew to a player, who famously rode a bus to the training venue in 2006, when he was called up to the national team for the first time. After playing the central role as his teams (Penarol) to the final of the Clausura, premier division final, Rios had announced: I am not on emails, computers and books. Well he couldnt afford one, much like a car.
Ever since they won the World Cup in 1966, subsequent English sides have always faced the burden of living up to the expectations created by Bobby Moores side. The same was the case with the 2006 outfit, which went out in the quarterfinals. In the dissection of the sides performance, it was decided that one factor was the cause of the sides exit WAGs.
The term WAGs (wives and girlfriends) had first been recorded in 2002 (mentioned as Wag but also about the England football team) but it truly came into its own at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Based out of the sleepy Black forest spa town of Baden Baden, the WAGS glammed up the stadiums and provided copious fodder for the gossip columnists with their wild antics, couture clothes and column-inch worthy shopping sprees. They managed to squeeze in a few games as well.
The queen of the WAGs as one newspaper called her was Victoria Beckham wife of captain David Beckham. Battling for supremacy was Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Cole (ne Tweedy), who would later marry (reported under the headline WAG weds) Ashley Cole. Alex Gerrard, wife of Steve Gerrard, was named the uber WAG. A rising star was Coleen Rooney, (ne Mcloughlin) who would be termed a super WAG. Carly Cole, wife of Joe Cole, was titled the newest WAG on the block.
While Englands campaign ended in disappointment, several WAGs would capitalise on their fame. When John Slade , father of Melanie Slade (girlfriend of Theo Walcott) was made mayor of Southampton, he was introduced as about the most famous mayor this city has had in 790 years ... He is the father of the girlfriend of a footballer. Indeed the perfectly coiffed hair, massive sunglasses and large Birkin bags that made up the WAG look proved to be a significant fashion trend of the year although ridiculed by some. When Coleen Rooney launched a line of beauty products, one magazine unkindly termed the perfume as eau de WAG.
The WAGs phenomenon has since gone global and the term is now used in other countries and for other sports as well. The England coaching establishment, however, has not been very keen on the WAG concept. In 2010, Fabio Capello laid down the law and restricted WAG visits to the training camp. The incumbent Roy Hodgson, however, has been a bit more understanding and WAGS will once again be making a comeback at the World Cup after an eight-year gap.
The 2014 edition sees a brand new English squad, and with it a new look WAG contingent. Of the Baden-Baden clique of 2006, only Coleen Rooney and Alex Gerrard would have packed their Louis Vuitton bags with their Jimmy Choos and Louboutins. However, this squad also features a catwalk model, reality TV star, glamour model, and even a psychologist. So while England may struggle to get out of perhaps the toughest group of the tournament, one can be assured the gattas belissimas (Portuguese equivalent of WAGs) will at least be making the headlines in Brazil.
Mihir Vasavda, Hormazd, Vinayak Padmadeo, Jonathan Selvaraj contributed to the story.