The 2014 World Cup in Brazil isn’t that far away – only five months to go, so it’s a good time to start checking out who is who and what is what, including the early favorites to win the competition. Three teams seem to be somewhat ahead of the rest: Brazil, the hosts and confederation cup winners; Spain, the defending World and European champions; and Germany, with probably the most talented squad heading into the tournament.
What about Argentina? France? The Netherlands? We’ll give these teams their due time and space, but they don’t belong with the major favorites, and it’ll be slightly surprising if any of the big three we mentioned in the first paragraph don’t come away with the trophy.
History: Brazil are five time world cup winners, the last of which in 2002. They’ve also won the Copa America 8 times, the last coming in 2007.
Biggest Star: Neymar seems to be one cut above the rest. Not just in ability, but he’s probably one of the three-four biggest names in football today, proving himself to be a worthy leader before the age of 21. Leading Brazil to a World Cup on home soil will turn him into a legend.
Why Them: Home field advantage is plenty to count on as the Confederations Cup showed us, but it’s important to be hot on the year of the World Cup, not before. Brazil do have talent up front, but both Italy in 2006 and Spain in 2010 showed everyone that a very strong defense and a solid midfield might be even more important than the ability to create magic up front. Dante, David Luiz, Thiago Silva. It’s hard to ask for a better centre back trio, and even though Julio Cesar isn’t where he used to be on club level, he’s doing just fine for the national team.
History: World Cup winners in 2010. European Champions in 2012, 2008 and 1964.
Biggest Star: Spain have always been something of a star-less team. Something like Barcelona, just without the Messi, and with some additions from Real Madrid. However, the biggest name has to be Andres Iniesta, the scorer of the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup and the team’s best player during their triumph in Euro 2012. All eyes will be on him to anchor a declining team while Xavi probably plays in his last major tournament.
Why Them: We’ve heard about Spain’s decline before. The truth is that over the last five years, in big tournament they step up, adjust and evolve. From being a super-attacking team in 2008 with David Villa and Fernando Torres playing in front of a dynamic and creative midfield foursome, they’ve become a slightly boring team to watch, but very efficient, experienced and confident that they have what it takes to win it. It’s hard to argue with their results.
History: Three World Cups (as West Germany) in 1954, 1974 and 1990. They’ve won the Euro three times – 1972, 1980 (West Germany) and 1996.
Biggest Star: Like Spain, there isn’t one name that’s ahead of the rest. However, in terms of star-power, Mesut Ozil is probably the biggest name on the list. Germany are filled with talented attacking midfielders. Ozil might not be the best of them, especially because Mario Gotze and Marco Reus have proven over the last couple of years to be better than him.
Why Them: It’s about time. But seriously, this side has made it to semifinals or final of every major tournament since 2006, missing out due to matchup problem each time. Their defense (centre back situation) isn’t perfect, but not team in the world, including Spain, has the combination of full backs, central and attacking midfielders Germany has. After being too young or too naive in the past, Brazil is where it all comes together.