World Cup Daily: Thursday

Posted by ESPN staff

On June 12, the world’s eyes turn to Brazil for the start of the 20th FIFA World Cup, but the planet’s biggest football tournament will have plenty of news and views in the months leading up to it. ESPN FC’s World Cup Daily blog is the place to be:

TOP STORIES:

•  Everyone wants to talk about the referees. Nigeria have none, the Turks have a first representative in 40 years, Howard Webb is England's, while the U.S. have Mark Geiger, a 39-year-old high school math teacher from Beachwood, N.J. It's the first time since 2002 that an American has officiated at a World Cup and none has refereed beyond the group stage. Challenge set. Read more

•  Laureus says its World Sports Awards will not be held in Rio de Janeiro this year, another setback for Brazil as it attempts to organize the World Cup and the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. The Laureus Awards, dubbed the Oscars of sports, were given to Rio for 2013 and 2014. Last March, Usain Bolt and Jessica Ennis received the biggest individual prizes. Read more

•  Friendly games are being booked by the handful as World Cup teams look to make sure they are in top shape for the tournament. Colombia and Ghana will face off against each other, so that should be a good show. Read more at Ghanasoccernet.

Hans-Dieter Flick, the assistant coach of the Germany side, says the door is open to any young player trying to get into the squad ahead of the summer and spoke specifically about Arsenal's Serge Gnabry. “His development is impressive. He started against Villa recently and had a very good game. It was intensive, very quick, and very fast. He put himself into the middle of the game," he said. "He is an important player for our under-19s, and you’ll see the rest. We’ve got a very well-staffed first team, our quality is high on all positions. Also in the right midfield, where he usually plays. But the door is not closed -– and not only for him. Should someone play an outstanding second half of the season and we have a vacancy on that position, there is indeed a chance.” Read more at the DfB.

INTERNATIONAL BIRTHDAYS: Emanuel Pogatetz (1983), Nicklas Bendtner (1988), Pablo Zabaleta (1985)

DID YOU KNOW?

Norman Whiteside was 17 when he played in the 1982 FIFA World Cup making him the youngest player to feature in the tournament's history. He broke Pele's record when he debuted for Northern Ireland aged 17 years and 41 days -- despite having played just two competitive games at club level for Manchester United.

SNAPSHOT:

Norman WhitesideAPNorthern Ireland forward Norman Whiteside, left, dribbles the ball past Velimir Zajec of Yugoslavia, during their World Cup match, in Zaragoza, Spain, on June 17, 1982.

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