By Mario Sarmento
The 2014 Sony Open Tennis Tournament may be the focus of the ATP players for the moment, but it’s another event in a different sport that is drawing more and more of their attention as the days go by. June 12 marks the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, a month-long soccer extravaganza that is traditionally the biggest sports tournament in the world. And if you think the ATP players don’t know it, then you don’t know Lionel Messi from Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Yeah, the players obviously talk about it a lot; a lot of the players love football (soccer),” said Sony Open defending champion Andy Murray. “I’m sure as it gets a bit closer we will discuss it a little bit more. About 18 months ago I told Juan Monaco that Belgium were my outsiders for the tournament, and he laughed at me. Yeah, they are doing pretty well now. They’ve got a good group.” Belgium is considered one of the tournament dark horses, and will play in Group H with Algeria, Russia and South Korea.
“It’s always big for us, for any nation who makes the World Cup,” said Roger Federer, of Switzerland and the rest of the teams set to play in Brazil this summer.
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal is an avid soccer fan and one of his uncles, Miguel Angel Nadal, played for the national team for over a decade as well as Spanish league giants FC Barcelona. His passion for the sport includes rooting for Barcelona’s rivals, Real Madrid, and he is friends with many professional soccer players. He will, of course, be tuned in during the World Cup and can see Spain fighting to win a second straight World Cup.
“I expect a good tournament, like always. And as one of the (favorites) it wouldn’t surprise me to see them make a good (tournament),” Nadal said. As for a potential matchup with host Brazil, Rafa said he welcomed the challenge for the national team. “I expect the same (as always); an even match. A real tough match and it wouldn’t surprise me that the team that goes in (with a little) more confidence, more motivated, will win.”
Another team that looks to play spoiler is a traditional soccer power that had to go the playoff route to reach the World Cup, 1998 world champion France. His country may have taken a difficult road just to qualify, but Jo-Wilfried Tsonga likes France’s chances just the same. “You know we always expect the best for our country, so we want to put another star on the jersey,” he said. “But anyway, it’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be a good month of sport I think.”
Seventeen-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer will also be following the Cup closely, as his national team, Switzerland, once again qualified for the event. “Well, we’re happy first of all to be qualified for the World Cup,” he said.
Switzerland is in Group E with Ecuador, France and Honduras, and Federer is confident of their chances to advance. “I think the group is doable,” he said. “You know, I’m sure nobody is going to underestimate anybody in the group. But I feel like everybody can beat everybody, so it’s going to be a very interesting group to follow. I think we have a great coach who I know personally, and I know some of the players. Seems we have a good, young dynamic team that has got the key experienced player which you need for the World Cup, and I hope that mix is going to be successful for us.”
Croatia has an excellent chance to advance to the knockout stage, and Marin Cilic has already started calculating their chances to advance. “Croatia is in the group with Brazil, Ecuador and Cameroon (in Group A),” Cilic said. “So it’s on one hand a tough group, but on the other hand, we can do well. The toughest one we have is with the Brazilians, because Croatia is playing the first game with Brazil (June 12) so there’s going to be big fun, and really nice to see as the opening match. I mean, Brazil is the favorite playing at home, but for sure, we’re going to support Croatia this year, and we’re going to hope for a nice result.”