Will Radamel Falcao recover from his injury in time?
On the eve of every World Cup, the soccer world waits with bated breath as some superstar or other races to get back from a serious injury. This time around, it’s Colombia’s ace striker Radamel Falcao, whose knee ligament damage may or not may not keep him out of the cup. If he makes it, Colombia are outsiders; if he doesn’t, they’re not.
AFP/Getty ImagesMIGUEL RIOPA
How much effect will the travel and the weather have?
Brazil is a very big country. Very, very big. And from the south to the north, and the coast to the jungle-clogged heartland, the climate differs immensely. Many teams will be shuttling back and forth between those climates, at airports unused to such traffic, adding to the strain of an already draining tournament.
Getty Images,Shaun Botterill
Could Russia be banned on political grounds?
As the Russian-Ukrainian conflict continues to flare up, the Ukrainian ambassador to the European Union told the BBC his country would push for Russia to be expelled on political grounds. There is precedent for this: Germany was banned from the tournament in 1950 following World War II. South Africa was banned from 1966 through 1990 over its Apartheid policy.
Can Brazil handle the pressure from its own people?
Brazil hasn’t won the World Cup since 2002, and for the record five-time champions, that’s a pretty long time.A fairly young and internationally inexperienced side is expected to overturn the great trauma of 1950, when they lost the World Cup final on their home soil. No other outcome will be tolerated. That’s a lot of pressure.
Getty ImagesJasper Juinen
Are Mexico's struggles behind them?
No other team to make it to Brazil struggled so mightily in qualifying as Mexico did, winning just two of their 10 games in the final round. They made it anyway, thanks to the forgiving nature of the CONCACAF region and a dead-simple playoff against New Zealand. But are their ailments cured?
AFP/Getty ImagesMARTY MELVILLE
Can the USA survive the group of death?
That mediocre countries are slaves to the draw they get was in ample evidence from the despair United States soccer fans were plunged into when they saw their nation get grouped with Ghana, Portugal and Germany. The USA faces two powerhouses -- and the African giants who bounced them out of the last two tournaments. It’s a big ask for Team USA.
Can Lionel Messi’s Argentina finally put it together?
The knock on the mesmerizing little dribbler is that he has “never won anything” with his home country. (That’s also untrue: he won the 2008 Olympics and 2005 under-20 World Cup.) Teams always have an advantage when playing on their home continent, and surrounded by superior attacking talent, he is expected to be able to force a breakthrough.
LatinContent/Getty ImagesLuis Vera/STR
Will the tournament be disrupted by demonstrations?
The 2013 Confederations Cup, a dress rehearsal or sorts for the World Cup, was marred by demonstrations as tear gas wafted into the stadiums. The discontent amongst Brazilians with their government is immense. The billions going to the construction of otherwise needless stadiums only exacerbates it and gives it a venue. Will millions take to the streets again? The already-active protest movement leaders say yes.
AFP/Getty ImagesNELSON ALMEIDA
Can Spain repeat and win a fourth consecutive major tournament?
Before Spain won Euro ’08 and ’12 and the 2010 World Cup, no team had ever won three consecutive major tournaments. In fact, just a pair of them had won two: West Germany, taking Euro ’72 and the ’74 World Cup; and France, ’98 World Cup and Euro 2000. Can Spain’s players slog through yet another summer on the back of a grueling season?
AFP/Getty ImagesJAVIER SORIANO
Will Brazil be ready?
No host country has ever cut the preparations as close as Brazil has. At the time of writing, several stadiums aren’t finished yet and a whole host of infrastructure upgrades probably won’t be done until after the tournament.