KEIR RADNEDGE in COSTA DO SAUIPE: A consensus among the old World Cup heroes assisting at the 2014 finals draw here – miles from anywhere – is that no team should seek excuses in climate or distances and that a tough first-round group is the best option.
The eight are Mario Kempes (Argentina), Cafu and Ronaldo (Brazil), Sir Geoff Hurst (England), Zinedine Zidane (France), Lothar Matthaus (Germany), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy), Fernando Hierro (Spain) and Alcides Ghiggia (Uruguay).
Concerns have been expressed about the hosting system which can see teams flying thousands of miles between matches and between wildly varied climatic conditions.
But Ronaldo, a World Cup Final winner in 2002 and loser in 1998, considered the such worries overstated.
He said: “I don’t think the climate issues can change anything. It didn’t change anything in previous World Cups. We’ve all had to play under hot conditions and we train to be in a position to face any sort of climate.
“When a football player joins the national team he should be ready for all of that. In previous World Cups we had to travel three hours or more. There’s not much of a novelty here in that regard.”
Ronaldo’s analysis was echoed by Lothar Matthaus, captain of the West German team who beat Argentina in the 1990 Final in Italy. It was a victory which avenged events in 1986 when Matthaus was in the German team beaten in the final in Mexico City by Diego Maradona & Co.
On the issue of thorough preparations, he said: “You prepare for all of that. It’s why you also have a medical staff and team who choose the base camp carefully. Every team may find it difficult to deal with all these vagaries but respomsible people in the federation do their utmost to create the best conditions, be it for the South American countries or the teams coming to South America.
“The most important aspect to ensure every piece falls into place to create the best possible conditions for the team when they step on to the pitch.”
Former Spain captain Fernando Hierro emphasised the importance of a suitable training camp and played down concerns over distances and climate.
He said: “Obvously the distances here aren’t short but they are the same for everyone. For me the most important thing is to choose a good HQ. The one we had in South Africa was outstanding. We had a camp that was brilliant so the staff and players were very happy and from there it easy to build our momentum. Every team needs to make it a priority to choose a good base camp. That’s an extraordinarily important decision.”
After that, what matters is a tough draw, according to Kempes.
He was top scorer when Argentina both hosted and won the finals in 1978: Argentina finished runners-up in their opening group behind Italy and ahead of France and Hungary.
With that memory still bright, Kempes said: “It isn’t easy to reach the final. the best thing is to start in a group with challening teams. That way you don’t rest on your laurels right from the beginning because you can never afford to believe that some teams are easier opponents than others.”