Hugo Sánchez, Gheorghe Hagi, George Weah and Wynton Rufer all have one thing in common – they are members of the FIFA Football Committee. All four were star players in their day, but they have differing ideas about the upcoming FIFA World Cup™ . However, they do agree on one thing – representing your country at the FIFA World Cup™ is the greatest honour for any footballer.
"I envy the players who will get to play in Korea and Japan. You cannot describe the feeling of playing in a FIFA World Cup™. Millions around the world are watching your every move, celebrating your goals. In some respects, anybody who has played in a FIFA World Cup™ is immortalised, even more so if he has scored a goal. I was fortunate enough to play in more than one FIFA World Cup™, scoring goals along the way. It makes my hair stand on end just thinking about it. This FIFA World Cup™ in Korea and Japan will be an attractive one. Technically gifted players such as Figo and Zidane will make sure of that. There will be many, many fantastic players in Asia, which should guarantee fantastic matches.
I see France as the favourites. England could also do well, as they have made great progress recently. The dangerous outsiders will be Ecuador, but I think there could be many surprises in store. I am looking forward to watching the African teams, as I think that one day, a team from Africa will do very, very well indeed."
"I would love to see a great spectacle in Asia and a tournament blessed with many goals, although I hope it is not blighted by violence – whether on the pitch, in the stands, or outside of the stadiums. Unfortunately, I fear that we are about to witness a tournament full of conservative, safety-first football, with teams, especially in the group games, putting emphasis on the result rather than the performance. Nobody will want to lose or be knocked out in the early stages as too much is riding on this tournament. I believe that the teams will look to secure what they have, which means that offensive and attacking football will sadly be at a premium. This will not be a World Cup in which talented attacking players shine.
Having said that, there will be great anticipation with the fans in Korea and Japan certainly looking forward to the tournament, which will be one big party. After all, the FIFA World Cup™ is the biggest single-sport event in the world. I played in three World Cups, but with a little more luck it could have been six. In an ideal world, I would have retired from international football after the last FIFA World Cup™ in France. I wanted to play just one more minute for my country, but the trainer in 1998 would not hear of it. That made me very sad.
This time around, I will be commentating for a Mexican television channel – but in Mexico! I will not be travelling to Asia because my wife is expecting twins in early June. My dream is to see Mexico become world champions, but I don’t think that is realistic. I think Argentina and France are the favourites, maybe even Spain, but I also think that a team from Asia or Africa could surprise many by going a long way in this FIFA World Cup™."
"This FIFA World Cup™ will be a resounding success. It will be a tournament full of surprises, as many so-called "weaker" teams have made great progress in recent years. I am quite sure that an outsider will shock one of the "favourites" and that the tournament will see many exciting matches and a lot of goals.
For many years now, fans across the world have been hoping to see an African team progress to the latter stages of a FIFA World Cup™. Can an African team become world champions in Korea/Japan? Can an African team even reach the semi-finals? It will be difficult, very difficult in fact. Although FIFA has been striving to help develop football in Africa, our national associations are still run in an unprofessional manner. For an African team to finally triumph at a FIFA World Cup™, Africa must see radical changes. We have the players, and Africa will change, but it will take time. In terms of the mental and physical fitness required for a successful FIFA World Cup™, African teams are still far behind their European and South American rivals.
I never had the honour of playing in the finals of a FIFA World Cup™, although I very nearly made it this year with my fellow Liberians. I was very sad when we did not qualify, but we should still be proud of what we achieved. As a team, Liberia played some great football, even at the recent African Cup of Nations in Mali. Our team receives no financial support, and there has not been a domestic league championship in Liberia for the last two or three years because of the civil war. I have fought long and hard on behalf of football in Liberia, which is why, after the African Cup of Nations in February, I announced my retirement from international football.
"This FIFA World Cup™ will certainly not be easy for the players. I will be interested to see how the players cope with the travel involved – whether travelling solely within one of the host nations, or from one country to the other. I think the travel factor could have a negative effect on the performance of the teams. It should also not be forgotten that most of the stars will have had a long, hard season in Europe. Although they should be fresh and raring to go, many players will understandably be tired by the time they arrive in Asia. But I still think that we will be treated to a fantastic tournament, with many great games and a glut of goals. I also hope that Ronaldo will have recovered from his devastating injuries, as he is without doubt one of the top attractions in world football. I am also looking forward to watching other great players, such as Thierry Henry and Gabriel Batistuta, for example. But for me, the favourites have to be Argentina, Brazil and France.
From a personal point of view, I hope that this will be the last FIFA World Cup™ in which Oceania does not have a guaranteed place. Of the 32 places available in future FIFA World Cups™, Oceania simply must have one fixed place, starting in 2006. I would be very surprised if that were not the case.
I played in one FIFA World Cup™, in Spain in 1982. Although we lost all three of our group games, I still regard it as a great experience, particularly the game against Brazil, which we lost 4-0. Forget how your team plays. Even forget how you play. The simple fact of the matter is there is nothing in football to compare with the honour of playing in a FIFA World Cup™.