The World’s most eagerly anticipated sports tournament kicks off in just under 30 days, and is all set to be a fantastic festival of football, with some utterly brilliant ‘Group of Death’ matches, before the cup comes into it’s own in the knock-out stages. But who will win it?
With the weather and climate being what it is in Brazil (though it admittedly varies from city to city), and the fact that no European side has ever triumphed in South America, you would have to say that the hot favourites to win it are Brazil and Argentina.
In last year’s pre-tournament test event, Brazil ended up at the victors, and romped home with a 3-0 win in the Confederations Cup final. Under Scolari, Brazil have turned from flights of fancy, with dazzling skills but little support at the back, into a solid unit. We’ll miss the sight of Lucio gambolling through the middle of the park with the ball from his central defence position – he has been instead replaced with pragmatism and caution. That said, Dani Alves doubles up as a midfielder at times, so don’t go expecting Brazil to be keeping clean sheets in each and every match they partake.
Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon should make for entertaining warm-up matches for them in the group stages, whilst they will also benefit from home support. Clear favourites then.
With Lionel Messi starting to play as well for Argentina as he has for Barcelona in recent years, this could be the time he makes a statement and proves himself worthy of being named the ‘next Maradona’. Whilst he has yet to drag a game along by the scruff of the neck a la Diego, he has the game-changing ability in him to be a match-winner in each game they play. Nigeria, Bosnia and Iran offer little threat in the opening stages, so it will be interesting to see how they get on against the likes of France or Switzerland who they are likely to face in the first knock-out stages.
Whilst much has been made about how difficult it will be to get acclimatised, Spain did a pretty good job at it last year, when they made their way through to the final of the Confed Cup. Admittedly they were shown up by the pace and stamina of their South American counterparts once they got there, but they will have learnt some important lessons on the way, and have a better idea than most as to what it will feel like playing over there. They have the players, and in Diego Costa they have a striker who is desperate to prove himself, which should make for a cracking side. They will have longer to get their act together this time around, given that they face Australia, Chile and the Netherlands, so should be pretty muh 100% come the Semis and Final.
Italy were also here last year, and lost out to Spain on penalties, so should be considered a dark horse. Germany have class. Bizzarely, Belgium are considered twice as likely as England (at 16-1 and 32-1 respectively) to win, but that might well be because of the names in the Belgium squad rather than past performances.