Club football season in Europe is over, which means it’s time to completely focus on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil that kicks off on June 12 and concludes on July 13. The hosts are one of the biggest if not the biggest favorites to win the tournament, joined by Argentina, Germany and Spain as the most likely of winners.
It’s worth mentioning that the preparation tournament of the 2013 Confederations Cup had two of these teams – Brazil and Spain, reach the final, in which Spain once again dominated possession but lost 3-0, as Brazil looked like the best team throughout the tournament, beating Italy and Uruguay along the way to show that after so many friendly matches and a failed bit to win the Olympics, using the same lineup regardless of the club form seems to be working.
Brazil – Aiming for a Sixth
The Confederations Cup was an excellent example of what Scholari means on the sidelines. There’s order, discipline, hierarchy. This isn’t a Selecao team that plays extraordinary football, but it has enough flair on top of possibly the best defense in the world to provide enough moments of wow to the home fans and those who have grown on the myth of Joga Bonito.
Neymar is the team’s star, despite a so-so season in Barcelona. However, this isn’t all about him, with Hulk and Fred sharing the load on attack, and the presence of some excellent defensive midfielders and four defensive players who can all score and prove to be a menace offensively helping take the pressure off of him.
This isn’t a typical, classic Brazilan side, but one that is adapted to European football yet keeping in touch with their roots of attractive football. It’s very difficult beating a Brazilian side on home soil as Italy, Uruguay and Spain discovered last summer.
Argentina – Messi in Maradona’s footsteps
Club football is bigger than international football except for one month once every four years. Lionel Messi didn’t score a single goal in the previous World Cup but played well until Argentina met Germany in the quarterfinals, ending in humiliation. This time, as the Argentinians have perfected the system around the Barcelona star during the successful qualifiers, things are supposed to be different.
Argentina failed to win the Copa America in 2011 with Messi not handling the pressure all too well. Iron shackles on his feet. This season was different. Less matches for the club because of an injury, and possibly taking it easy during the last month of the season, saving his strength for the World Cup.
Messi shouldn’t be compared to Diego Maradona or disregarded in the talks of the G.O.A.T because of not winning the World Cup. However, he has never been in a better situation to win one: South American soil, with Angel di Maria and a dream offense next to him, which hopefully for this side will make up for not having a world class goalkeeper and players in some defensive positions.
Germany – Talent Needs to be Enough
For the last eight years, Germany have had the talent across the board to walk away as champions – be it the World Cup or the European championships. In 2006, Italian defense stood in the way. In 2008, Spain were in the final to halt them. In 2010, Spain in the semifinal with a very similar match developing. In 2012, Italy stunned Germany with Mario Balotelli’s biggest moment.
A team that has given up on strikers except for Miroslav Klose who has the chance to become the top scorer in World Cup history and for the national team, but has the biggest stock of young, talented attacking midfielders. There’s a goalkeeper, defense and on paper, this is the best and most complete team heading into Brazil 2014.
The question? Is pragmatism going to be combined and will egos that have grown over the years not get in the way. There are also injury problems to key players like Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, but if they do play, only that old naivety which no one would associate with the West Germany teams of the past can stand in their way.
Spain – Doing the Unbelievable, Again
2008 & 2012 European champions, 2010 World champions. Is there more? There’s is no nation in the world with such a deep talent pool of technically gifted midfielders in a team that is pretty much a combination of Real Madrid and Barcelona only without Messi & Ronaldo, although there is a bigger Atletico Madrid contingency than in the past.
The world has grown tired of praising the passing game and has become bored when it sees it happening. However, Spain aren’t going to play much differently than the way that brought them the World Cup. It didn’t get them the Confederations title, but in 2009 they didn’t win it and nothing bad happened a year later in South Africa.
Some key players are at the end of their usefulness, and it remains to be seen how many minutes actual strikers will get, if Diego Costa makes the team and heals from his injury that was probably worsened by Diego Simeone. It’s very hard to bet against a team that has done so well for nearly a decade, but it will defy logic to see a declining squad lift the trophy again, won’t it?