Yes, there are four clear favorites to win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and it will be quite a surprise if one of them doesn’t come out with their hands on the trophy. However, there are a few more national sides worth considering when thinking about the winner – Belgium, France, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and Uruguay.
European bias? Maybe a bit, but it’s hard to argue that the European sides seem stronger heading into the tournament, with all due respect to Chile and Colombia. Mexico are at the weakest they’ve been in quite some time, while Brazil and Argentina no matter what squad they’ll arrive with will be considered favorites.
Belgium – By the Power of the Premier League
The squad Belgium send under Marc Wilmots to the World Cup will be trimmed down a bit in the next few days, but either way, it’s going to be heavy in Premier League players: 11 to be exact, including the side’s captain, Vincent Kompany, and a player who has a shot to finish as the tournament’s top scorer, the red hot Romelu Lukaku.
Belgium have risen and finally arrived. The talent bred in the nation over the last six years has finally turned into a national side that seems to be just as good as any of the big names in Europe, only lacking some international experience. Their goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, just might be the best in the world, and there seems to be the right combination of skill, talent and toughness to a team that finished ahead of Croatia in the group qualifiers.
There’s some weakness when it comes to full backs and their defensive midfield, but considering their group Belgium should make their way to the second round and there, assuming they come together during the tournament from the experience, anything can happen.
France – Overcoming Demons of the Past
As always, from goalkeeper through defense to midfield and attack, the talent is there. Hugo Lloris is a very good goalkeeper and while their defense isn’t filled with the world’s best player at the position, it is solid enough and looking good heading into the tournament. Creativity – there’s no lack of, and players like Cabaye, Matuidi and Pogba provide toughness and physicality as well.
Franck Ribery isn’t completely fit, but he’ll be there to try and relive those great moments he had in 2006, when he burst onto the scene. Karim Benzema is the team’s top player up front, but having Olivier Giroud and Loic Remy behind him isn’t too bad. In short – there’s plenty to choose from for Deschamps, and inner turmoil so far hasn’t been an issue, and hopefully won’t be at all.
Italy – Never Count Them Out
Despite not making it out of the group stage in 2010, never sleep on Italy. Andrea Pirlo is the best set piece taker in the world and heading in healthy to this tournament, and defense, which Italy do pretty well, is always the first key to advancing in a World Cup according to recent tournaments.
Mario Balotelli is a head case but usually doesn’t disrupt the general atmosphere when he plays for the national team. Italy have plenty of central midfielders that can feed him the ball but as always are short on creativity and wing play, which means more strikers playing like wingers when necessary, and hopefully the lack of world class forwards except for Balotelli on his good days won’t stop them from feeling like it’s 2006 all over again.
Netherlands – Youth, Speed & Bad Defense
Always the Dutch. This isn’t the team from 2010 that depressed everyone with their football and assaulted Spain in the final and almost got away with it. Under Van Gaal, who already has a new job lined up, the football is more attractive and fun. The question is – will it be enough? In Euro 2012 it failed completely, and the Dutch usually shift from brilliant to outright awful in a very short time.
Robin van Persie up front offers them an excellent outlet for goals, while Arjen Robben is a super player and close to unstoppable on his good days. The rest? Young, untested and filled with questions, especially in the defense, where no player has more than 22 caps, while their most experiences goalkeeper, Michel Vorm, has played only 14 times for the national team. It might click and be truly beautiful to watch, but there are other, worse options as well.
Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest doesn’t matter
Portugal have excellent full backs and a solid defense. There’s a nice blend of talent and experience in the midfield. They don’t have a striker, but who cares when you have Cristiano Ronaldo?
As good as Ronaldo is, it’s never quite enough with the national team to make it big. He is used as a central player which hurts and curbs his abilities while playing for Os Navegadores, but can he carry them on his back with goals through an entire tournament against at least one or two superior teams? It can happen, but he’ll need plenty of help to make it happen.
Uruguay – The Fighting Spirit
It’s a tough group that Uruguay have been drawn into, but they’re a tough outing for anyone. Luis Suarez should be fit when the first ball is kicked, and with him, Uruguay have the best striker in the tournament. Combine that with a defense that includes Diego Godin and Maxi Pereira that will get plenty of help from the ultra defensive and tough midfield, and things start to look good.
No team has the striking duo Uruguay have, and Suarez and Cavani don’t mind doing a lot more than just waiting up front for balls to come their way. What they lack in creativity they make up for in cohesion and fighting spirit, which often is enough to make a lot of noise in big tournaments.