The anticipation is almost over with the World Cup in Brazil just around the corner. Coaches are busy finalizing their squads and fans across the world are debating who will be crowned world champions in Rio de Janeiro on 13 July. For some teams, simply qualifying from the initial group phase to the knock-out stages of the competition will be a significant success. Others though harbour serious hopes of lifting the trophy.
First and foremost are the hosts Brazil who have won the World Cup on a record five occasions. They will be under enormous pressure to deliver a sixth trophy on home soil. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari led Brazil to the title in 2002 and has built a team this time round with an effective mixture of youth and experience. The likes of Julio Cesar and Robinho are wise old heads but if Brazil are to win then young superstar Neymar will need to produce. The Barcelona forward is enormously talented and showed plenty of maturity at last year’s Confederations Cup.
Brazil’s arch-rivals Argentina will also have realistic ambitions of becoming world champions for the first time since 1986. Alejandro Sabella will be concerned about his side’s defensive record, but frailties at the back are more than compensated for in attack. Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero are a tough prospect for any opposing defence. Add to that the one and only Lionel Messi, the best player of a generation and you can see why many fancy Argentina to spoil the Brazilian party.
No European team has ever won the World Cup in South America. If that record is to be broken this summer, then look no further than reigning champions Spain and perennial success story Germany. Spain will look to pick up where they left off in 2010 and at Euro 2012. The core of their outrageously successful side is still firmly in place and there is still probably not a better midfield combination in the world than Barcelona pair Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Spain’s only real worry will be the lack of a proven international goal scorer. A quick glance at the fixtures for the World Cup 2014 shows an early mouth-watering match-up with Spain facing Holland in the opening fixture of Group B.
Meanwhile, Germany are another side poised to do extremely well in Brazil. A young German side impressed hugely in 2010 and now have the benefit of four more years of international football under their collective belt. There is strength across Joachim Loew’s side and he has an abundance of world-class attacking midfielders to choose from, including Mesut Ozil, Mario Goetze and Thomas Muller. The only real question for Loew is whether Sami Khedira will be fit to partner Bastian Schweinsteiger in the centre of the park.
Away from the four favourites, there are some less-fancied sides which could still spring a surprise and go all the way. Colombia qualified impressively for the World Cup although much will depend on the fitness of star striker Radamel Falcao, one of the most feared goal scorers in world football. Another name on many pundits’ lips is Belgium. Although they don’t have a great recent World Cup record, coach Marc Wilmots oversees a group of outstanding youngsters who are maturing at just the right time. The likes of Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku will take some stopping this summer.