It is not long until the greatest sporting spectacle in the world kicks off, World Cup 2014. But which teams should we take seriously?
In this short piece, I will take an unbiased look at some of the nations that I feel pose a genuine threat. Sorry Mr. Hodgson, but England will not be classified as either “dark horses” or genuine contenders. Currently mirroring their nation’s cuisine, the England National Team’s style of play is far too predictable and absolutely lacklustre.
While a couple of the following nations may have about as much chance of lifting the World Cup as I have of marrying Scarlett Johansson, they do possess the ability to cause some major upsets in Brazil.
Argentina: Genuine Contenders
The Albicelestes have an embarrassment of riches that would make any nation envious, with big names such as Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero (Man City), Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli), Javier Mascherano (Barca), Ezequiel Lavezzi (PSG) and of course Lionel Messi (Barca) to name just a few. Argentina are definite World Cup contenders, considering they know the unforgiving Brazilian climate better than most, which is a massive advantage even before a ball is even kicked. Alejandro Sabella has proven to be quite an applaudable manager since joining the national side after winning the Argentine Primera Division title with Estudiantes in 2011.
The captain is one of the greatest footballers ever. Lionel Messi, winner of four Ballons d’Or, struggled with injury in the latter part of 2013, but has already proved his sharpness and mind-boggling talent is still present since his return.
Former West Ham United and Liverpool midfield enforcer Javier Mascherano, currently operating as a central defender for Barcelona, is used in his preferred midfield position for Argentina. A dogged and tenacious player, Mascherano’s sole objective is to regain possession of the ball so Messi and Co. can create chaos. With the attacking threat of the magical Messi and the precision finishing of Higuain, Argentina pose a legitimate threat. Honestly, if 2014 is not their year they might as well wait another generation before calling themselves contenders again? Right now, they possess talent which rivals the squad that experienced such glory back in the 80’s. It is a startling prospect to note that by the time the tournament arrives in Brazil, none of Argentina’s rousing attacking players such as Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, and Angelo Di Maria will be older than 27. Let the rest of the world be on guard, this could very well be the year Argentinean football reigns supreme on the biggest stage of them all.
Belgium: Dark Horse
Belgium possess the ability to cause an upset or two. Granted, only the real romantics (or the delusional) expect Belgium to emerge as the World Cup champions, but for a country with a population of just over 11 million, they possess exceptional quality. Known for their luxurious chocolate and horrendous national anthem (The Brabanconne), the Belgians can also add football’s elite to this list. With names such as Thibaut Courtois (on loan at Atletico Madrid from Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, Nacer Chadli (Tottenham), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg), Kevin Mirallas, Romelu Lukaku (Everton), and Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), this squad should be enough to make any opposing team extremely uneasy.
Their greatest World Cup achievement came in 1986, a year in which they finished fourth. The golden moment came courtesy of a Leo van der Elst penalty kick that ensured the elimination of Spain, an upset not many saw coming. Their coach is Marc Wilmots, a midfield dynamo of the 1990s. After serving three years as assistant, the national hero has been in charge since 2012. Interestingly, Wilmots was also a politician who most notably spent two years in the country’s Senate.
Vincent Kompany is Belgium’s skipper. The Manchester City powerhouse has proved his credentials as a top defender and is the foundation upon which Belgium’s defence is built. Along with Yaya Toure, Kompany has been City’s most consistent and influential figure for many a season. Still to find his feet at United, Marouane Fellaini usually produces the goods at national level. Possessing a remarkable hairstyle and 6’4″ tall frame, the burly midfielder will be central to Belgium’s push for Brazilian glory. An international star in the making at Chelsea, Romelu Lukaku has been hailed as the new Didier Drogba by everyone except the enigmatic Jose Mourinho. If Lukaku keeps banging in the goals as he has for Everton the Belgians become extremely dangerous in the tournament.
Chile: Dark Horses
The neutral’s favourite from the World Cup four years ago, you may also remember Chile outplaying England back in 2013. Yes, I know, it was only a friendly, however, both teams desperately wanted to impress, but there was only one team that actually left the expectant Wembley crowd speechless, and it was not The Three Lions.
When you consider their strong performance back in 2010, Chile should be even better placed to thrill the world in 2014, especially now that Alexis Sanchez has developed into the player that we all knew he eventually would. Barcelona paid £23 million to sign the extraordinarily strong winger from Udinese. A versatile architect, he can play on either wing or even as a central striker. Boasting an international ratio of a goal every three games, Sanchez oozes class.
The bulky magician is not their only star, though. Matias Fernández, Mauricio Isla, Gary Medal and Arturo Vidal are all young and exceptionally talented. Mendal, currently playing brilliantly for Vincent Tan’s Cardiff City, is a mighty midfielder, a man who possesses a tenacity that is as impressive as it is daunting. Many see Chile as the dark horses for World Cup glory and I tend to agree, as they could very well be ready to peak when the tournament kicks off in South America. The maturity gained since the 2010 tournament might even see Chile’s men develop the aptitude to add that finishing touch to all that exhilarating build-up play.
Uruguay: Dark Horse
Many believe that Uruguay’s fourth place finish in South Africa will be the peak of the current side’s World Cup achievements. But let us not forget that youth played a vital role in Uruguay’s 2010 accomplishments. With two of the hottest strikers in world football, Uruguay can look to Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani for inspiration. The duo are now in their professional prime and are currently playing exceptionally well for Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain, respectively.
In 2010, Cavani’s ex-club Palermo signed an 18-year-old Uruguayan striker by the name of Abel Hernandez. The potent finisher, now 22, has gone on to become quite an impressive player, scoring some incredible goals against clubs such as Juventus and AC Milan. Uruguay’s defence also looks to be in solid shape. Jorge Fucile, Martin Caceres and Diego Godin are all excellent players. Dependability is something that each of these players possess in abundance. I expect the Uruguayans’ to beat England. Why? Well, simply because they seem to be a more cohesive unit, whereas England always play like a bunch of talented individuals thrown together.
Spain: Genuine Contenders
This Spain team is built on luminosity. They will travel to Brazil looking to defend their world title from 2010.
Stars of the previous World Cup like Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, David Villa, and Xabi Alonso are preparing to give way to the next generation of stars hoping to prolong Spain’s world dominance.
Will Barca’s Cesc Fabregas finally get the opportunity to become Spain’s midfield maestro? The exciting Javi Martinez is another competitor for the much coveted midfield slot worth watching. Spain are hardly short of replacements/partners for Villa, a man who has recently rediscovered his form at Atletico Madrid. Striker Emilio Nsue looks to be a promising young star; he previously caught my eye at the youth level. In footballing terms, Fernando Torres looks dead and buried; however he does have an impressive goal scoring record for the national team. Whether or not he actually makes the squad for Brazil is highly debateable. With the likes of Pedro, Alba, Mata, Isco, Iniesta and more, don’t count on Spain relinquishing their title without a fight this summer.
Germany: Genuine Contenders
If you thought the 2010 German team was high-quality, wait until this squad arrives in South America. Germany’s third place finish in South Africa was a highly respectable achievement, but many expect to them to at least reach the final this time. Featuring a host of stars that won the 2009 Under-21 World Cup, the Germans are a powerful force. With Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Jerome Boateng, the kings of European football have strength in every area.
Let’s not forget 2010’s Young Player of the Tournament, Thomas Muller and the exciting 20-year-old Toni Kroos, of whom we saw brief glimpses four years ago. Having followed Kroos closely since the previous tournament, his development has been truly impressive. For such a young player, the Bayern Munich midfielder already has more than 40 international caps and looks like he’s maturing just in time to take the World Cup by the scruff of the neck.
Germany’s youth development has been breeding winners for the past fifteen years. Even the current team’s veteran stars like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lucas Podolski are only in their late 20s. In my opinion, Germany, Spain, Argentina and Brazil are the four teams that could realistically emerge triumphant this summer.
Joachim Low is an astute coach. Appointed as assistant by Jurgen Klinsmann after Euro 2004, Low stepped into the shoes of Klinsmann two years later and has produced a pulsating side that plays in a style true to the traditions of a proud nation.
Philipp Lahm is one of the most respected names in football, he also happens to wear the captaincy armband for his country. The long-serving Bayern Munich full back has well over 10o caps for Germany. Additionally, he was named in the FIFA Team of the Tournament after both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
Along with the aforementioned Muller, Mesut Ozil has an eye for precision passing. Interestingly, Arsenal’s record buy made more assists than any other European player in his time at Madrid, so it is easy to see why so many fans were furious and bewildered when he was sold.
Brazil: Genuine Contenders
Let’s face it. Brazil expect to win the World Cup every time they qualify. They are the only nation to have never missed a World Cup. So, considering this fact, a World Cup on home soil suddenly becomes a must-win to put it lightly.
The Brazilians are under enormous pressure to capture their sixth world title. This is an unenviable prospect even when you recognize the fact that Brazil posses a plethora of talented young stars ready to don the renowned gold jersey.
In 2010, so many Brazilians were irritated when the 18-year-old Santos striker Neymar Junior was not included in Dunga’s roster, especially after the silky striker hit 14 goals in his debut season. Four years later, the young man is hitting top form for Barcelona, and his nation will look to him to spearhead their hunt for silverware. Barca paid almost £50 million to sign the deceptive striker (and it may have been even more if recent allegations are true). Remarkably, he was only 19 when he was named South American Footballer of the Year. One of the hottest names in world football, Neymar does not turn 22 until March. Impulsively compared with Pele, the young man already has 46 caps and 27 goals under his international belt.
Expect him and his partner in crime, dynamic attacking midfielder Ganso, Kaka’s natural successor, to terrorize defences come this summer.
In 2009, Brazil finished runners-up at the Under-20 World Cup, losing narrowly on penalties to Ghana. Many of these players will feature for Brazil in six months time. Alex Teixeira, a winger who can produce incredible trickery, finished second in the Golden Ball award, while tricky striker Walter was Brazil’s top scorer. He managed to bag an impressive five goals and went on to make a big money move to FC Porto.
Luiz Felipe Scolari, the mastermind behind the 2002 World Cup triumph, was brought back a couple of years ago. He was given one “simple” instruction – win the World Cup trophy on home soil. Immensely experienced and successful, Big Phil has an infectious charisma, and is one of the most respected managers in the game.
Thiago Silva will captain this self-righteous nation. He is a magnificent centre back and has won major silverware with AC Milan and Paris Saint Germain. Approaching 30, Silva is quite likely to earn his 50th cap at the start of the tournament.
P.S…… Watch out for Ghana. The African outfit are an extremely impressive unit. With players such as Essien and Asamoah, the Black Stars are a force to be reckoned with.
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