Brazil is one of the clear favorites to win the final match – many would say the top favorite. Home field advantage is not the only power factor working for the Cariocas, as they are in a fantastic playing shape at the moment, having crushed everything in their way lately, with the only notable exceptions being a couple of friendlies. Tradition, too, designates Brazil as the favorite: they have won the most Cups – 5 and their playing style has always been spectacular and consistently strong, a feat which no rival can boast.
The Verde-Amarela roster will be quite invincible, with Neymar and Hulk delivering deadly blows to the opponents, joined by the attacking midfielders Oscar and Willian. The midfield will be further strengthened by Ramires, Paulinho and Lucas Leiva, while the defense will become an impenetrable fortress thanks to Thiago Silva, Dante and David Luis. As to goalkeeping, the Brazilian fans hope to see Julio Cesar recover by the next summer, but if that won’t happen, Victor will get his chance to shine.
Spain is poised to unleash the Red Fury this time around as well, currently fortified by the Golden Generation which won the Cup in 2010. Besides that, they are the 2008 and 2012 European champions, a team more than likely to give the Brazilians goose bumps should a direct confrontation occur. Negredo and David Villa will be merciless against any goalkeeper, Xabi Alonso and Iniesta will assist them in midfield and Sergio Ramos will solidify the defense together with Pique. Finally, Spain’s net will be very hard to hit, defended by the legendary Iker Casillas.
Germany’s national football team goes to Brazil with one thing in mind: emulating Bayern’s latest performance of being undefeated and coming out on top in any possible match. It won’t be too hard, since many of their players hail from the Bavarian club. Mario Gotze, Tony Kroos and Thomas Muller will be intimidating their opponents at the World Cup just like they do in the Bundesliga and Champions League, while their Dortmund rivals Sven Bender, Marco Reus and Marcel Shmeltzer will join forces with them in order to power the German winning machine on yet another quest for the world title.
Italy is a serious favorite as well, its star-studded roster featuring valuable Serie A players and a few ones playing in other top-profile leagues. Mario Balotelli stands ready to wreak havoc in the opponents’ defense, while veteran midfielder Andrea Pirlo will be helped by Motta and Diamanti. Everyone knows how tough the Italian defenders are – Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Christian Maggio will all but confirm it. Gianluigi Buffon is expected to play, but in case his shape won’t be as good as it once was, Lazio’s Federico Marchetti will be defending the Azzuri’s goal.
Portugal, despite lacking the general strength which characterizes the above-mentioned teams and having qualified only after a win in the playoffs, has Cristiano Ronaldo on its roster, a player of incontestable value and charisma, bound to lead his nation at least toward a third place finish.
Argentina comes back with high hopes, looking forward to Lionel Messi recovering by February and being able to play in full swing by June. The mega-star will be aided by such talents as Sergio Romero, Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Aguero, among others, forming a veritable powerhouse able to break their contenders’ fans’ hearts anytime.
Let’s take a look at the other CONMEBOL qualified teams:
Colombia finished two points behind Argentina, the leader, in the qualification group and seems to have regained its once serious contender status. Chile ended up in third, four points behind Argentina, and this time around they hope it won’t be Brazil they’ll have to contend with should they advance to the Round of 16. Indeed, the hosting nation was the Chileans nemesis in both 2010 and 1998 – the last two tournaments where Chile was present.
Ecuador and Uruguay both amassed 25 points, but the latter had to go through the playoffs due to Ecuador’s better goal difference. That they did, humiliating Jordan with a 5-0 score while away and cruise-controlling in Montevideo at 0-0. At any rate, both Ecuador and Uruguay are expected to make it to the Round of 16, but it all depends on who they’ll get to meet in the group stage.
UEFA nations are always highly esteemed due to the difficulty of qualifying out of that region. Here are the other European teams that made it to WC 2014:
France will be guided by 1998 champion Didier Deschamps from the sidelines, a coach who managed to turn the tables in the second leg of the playoffs and send Ukraine’s rest-assured attitude up in smoke. This is in fact the most unpredictable team and one that can make bookmakers sigh anytime – no one knows – will they be magnificent as in 1998 and 2006 or mediocre as in 2002 and 2010. All that can be ascertained is that they have some very valuable players, but it’s up to them to create the much-needed chemistry and make France great again.
The Netherlands are looking forward to shaking off the huge Euro 2012 disappointment, where they lost all three matches in the group of death that also featured Germany, Portugal and Denmark. Still, the Clockwork Orange was very close to winning the 2010 Cup, losing to Spain by 0-1 in extra time. Just like France, this team can produce the greatest surprise, be it positive or negative.
Switzerland is currently in the Top 10 according to FIFA, a roster manned by young talents and coached by the great Otmar Hitzfeld. Anyone can expect them to repeat the 2006 performance, when they reached the Round of 16 and placed tenth overall.
England’s team is full of valuable players, as it was always the case, but the ever-persisting problem is getting them to work well together and carry the Three Lions past the quarter finals, a stage which seems like an impregnable wall, with the only notable exception being the 1966 World Cup, the only championship won by the English.
Belgium is back after a two-tournament hiatus and can indeed put up a performance comparable to that of 1986, when they ended up in fourth place. How about being currently ranked fifth by FIFA and being in an incredible playing shape? The Belgians might upset any big team’s plans by sending them home early.
Russia is yet another squad on the rise, directed by the one and only Fabio Capello and featuring many players from the Russian League – an increasingly strong championship as a result of the huge late investments put into it. Plus, they will try to provide their fans with a reason to celebrate, something that hasn’t occurred in a long time as far as World Cups or European Championships are concerned.
Greece made it to the final tournament by winning the first playoff game against Romania and tying the second one; however, it is a highly-ranked nation by FIFA, eleventh. Despite an overall disappointing World Cup record, they are the 2004 European champions and the 2012 quarter finalists in the same tough (many argue that it is tougher than the World Cup) competition.
Bosnia and Herzegovina will make its first appearance at a final tournament and will do its best to advance to the Round of 16. Croatia, another former Yugoslav nation, has a much richer history – in 1998 they placed third; at the European level, The Blazers were quarter finalists twice.
Now that we have all European and South American teams covered, let’s take a look at the rest of the world. The first thing that comes to mind is the CONCACAF, a region which has experienced significant developments in the last couple of decades. That is especially true when one refers to the USA, a team credited with very low chances even in ’94, when America hosted the World Cup. Nowadays it’s a completely different picture – they are in fact expected to make it to the quarter finals. Aided by Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, two seasoned players who have plenty of WC experience and led by Jurgen Klinsmann, it would come as no surprise if they do in fact advance that far – The Yanks might even be semi finalists in 2014.
Mexico is another CONCACAF powerhouse, despite having to go through the playoffs this time around, which they did by trashing New Zealand: 5-1 at home and 4-2 away. El Tricolor was present in the Round of 16 at every tournament since 1994 – the question is whether the standard will be carried past that stage in Brazil.
Honduras only played at two other World Cups, in 1982 and 2010 and never won a match, a trend it hopes to reverse the next summer. Costa Rica had three previous appearances, the most notable being the one in 1990, when Los Ticos went to the Round of 16.
The African national teams are also a force to be reckoned with, having overturned the odds against powerful squads on numerous occasions. CAF will be represented by five countries at the upcoming WC.
Nigeria was impressive in the ’90s and is looking forward to being that way again, after a decade of lackluster performance at the Cup. The Ivory Coast is the highest ranked among the five and played decently in both 2006 and 2010. Ghana, however, was a quarter-finalist in 2010 after eliminating Team USA in the Round of 16 – will they make it that far in 2014 as well?
Cameroon, just like Nigeria, hopes to recreate its onetime greatness, however tough a task it may be when confronted with top European and South American squads. Algeria, on the other hand, would like to attain such a level for the first time, having never gotten past the group stage.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) will be sending four representatives to Brazil, each standing a real chance at generating surprise results, at least in the groups:
Australia is making its third World Cup appearance in a row and if things work the same way they did in 2006, the Socceroos will be once again contending to play in the quarter finals. South Korea, aka the Taegeuk Warriors, have been present in every tournament since 1986 and in 2002 they placed fourth, utilizing the home field advantage at the max. Japan, a co-hosting nation, only got a taste of the Round of 16 back then, a stage that was also reached in 2010, denoting a good playing shape. Iran participated in 1978, 1998 and 2006, eliminated in the group stage all three times.