With the countdown to kickoff in Russia for the World Cup ticking down under 100 days, major questions remain in the leadup to the biggest sporting event in the world.
Is VAR going to be ready?
The biggest question will be if the biggest stage of world soccer gets some new technology. The video assistant referee system got the green light International Football Association Board on March 6, paving the way for use at the World Cup.
VAR has been used in a number of competitions in the last few years but is still in its early stages. Critics are quick to point out issues. Reviewed calls often take too long and there is little explanation given to fans about what is going on.
Premier League manager Mauricio Pochettino is the latest team boss to call out the system after his side, Tottenham, defeated third-tier Rochdale last month.
“I think we have the best referees in Europe or the world but I don’t know if this system will help them or cause more confusion,” said Pochettino, according to Reuters. “It is a game of emotion. If we are going to kill this emotion I think we are going to change the game.”
FIFA still needs to give the go-ahead and will make a final decision on March 16.
Is England still going?
Yes, the team is, and so are some fans, unless you are Boris Johnson.
The UK’s foreign secretary was speaking to the House of Commons about the alleged poisoning of a former spy when he had stern words if it was the Russians who played a part in the issue.
“For my own part, thinking ahead to the World Cup this summer, I think it will be very difficult to imagine that UK representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way. We would certainly have to consider that,” said Johnson via Goal.
As for fan participation, at this moment it seems low for England. Just 57,957 applications for tickets have come so far from England, which is less than the applications from the Netherlands, who will not be playing in Russia.
Any other off-field issues?
The biggest issue facing the World Cup will be hooliganism. Russian fans got into it two years ago during the Euros with English fans that saw days of violence in Marseille, France.
More recently, fans of Spartak Moscow clashed with Athletic Bilbao in Spain ahead of a Europa League match.
In domestic league games this year in Russia, there has been a significant security presence to keep everyone in line. That level is expected to increase going into the tournament this summer.
As for the on-field action
Pick a storyline.
Is this going to be Lionel Messi’s last chance at a World Cup? It might be as he will be 31 at the end of the tournament. The Argentina defense will need some strengthening if they are to win.
Can the Germans repeat as champions? The team is stacked and will be heavy favorites to win this summer.
Can the other European powers make it a fight? A young England squad will get their chance. Spain has an embarrassment of riches. Belgium’s golden generation gets another shot. France will need to find a balance to make a deep run. Italy may tap into the emotion from the passing of Davide Astori, who died suddenly last weekend.
But the big question, how will the U.S. show?