Although South Africa feels like it was just yesterday, today marks one year until the opening game of World Cup 2014. Brazil is gearing up to host the 20th FIFA World Cup, with the first game in Sao Paulo on 12th June 2014, and qualifiers have been taking place around the world this last week as the road to the finals heats up. Let’s take a quick look at some of the teams who’ll be there, some who are out already, the bookmaker’s early favourites to lift the trophy and any dark horses listed as outsiders you might wish to get on early.
The obvious favourites
Naturally Brazil qualify as tournament hosts, and they will be welcoming the football world into their back garden for the second time. The last time the Seleçao hosted a World Cup was in 1950. It didn’t end well, thanks to Uruguay and the famous Maracanazo which still haunts Brazilians to this day. Unsurprisingly Brazil are currently favourites to win World Cup 2014, with bookmakers bwin sports pricing them at 7/2 favourites alongside Germany.
Despite this, Brazil are not in the best of shape at the moment. An indifferent run of form led to the sacking of former manager Mano Menezes and a tumble down the FIFA world rankings to 22nd – below Ghana, Denmark and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Luiz Felipe Scolari replaced Menezes, and his task is to decide on a first choice eleven and find some continuity and balance, particularly in midfield where Brazil have experimented without success.
It comes as some surprise to see Germany joint favourites and not Spain, who are currently fourth favourites also behind Argentina. No team in history has won four straight major international tournaments – Spain’s current run of two European Championships and a World Cup is already historic – so Vicente Del Bosque faces a challenge to keep Spain at the top of international football’s food chain.
Germany have looked imperious in qualifying with 5 wins and 1 draw from 6 games but Spain are stuttering through a tricky group that includes France and are by no means guaranteed automatic qualification. Belarus, Georgia and Finland stand in their way though, so you wouldn’t expect them to fail. Remember though, no European team has ever won a World Cup on South American soil.
Argentina, at 5/1, are a team that have impressed me. Alejandro Sabella won the Copa Libertadores with Estudiantes and has tweaked the side into one that only lost to Brazil since he took over in 2011.
Sabella’s tactics mean Lionel Messi is becoming increasingly influential while those around him – Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and co – aren’t half bad either. Question marks in defence remain but thus far Argentina have pretty much cruised through qualifying.
Behind the obvious above four, bwin have Belgium as fifth favourites to win the 2014 World Cup at 16/1. Les Diables Rouges are a rising star of international football with a plethora of quality players. Belgium were ranked 59th at the time of the last World Cup and haven’t been to a major tournament since 2002. A key 2-1 win over Serbia last week keeps them top of their qualifying group and if young stars like Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois continue to develop in the next 12 months they could do some serious damage in Brazil.
Japan were the first team to qualify for the World Cup and are priced at 100/1. Manager Alberto Zaccheroni has some wonderful players at his disposal – the likes of Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Atsuto Uchida among others – and the Italian coach now wants his team to play the best international sides around in the build-up to 2014, highlighting that as a fundamental way to boost confidence and learn how to handle tough opponents.
Colombia, France, Italy, England and the Netherlands are also considered reasonable outsiders at this early stage according to the bookmakers, England’s place looking the most dubious of the five at present with Ukraine and Montenegro making their group a real dog fight.
Of course, even though there is still one year remaining and qualifiers are ongoing, the hopes and dreams of some died long before a ball is kicked in Brazil. Allow me to finish, then, with a roll call for some of those who won’t be dancing on the beaches of Ipanema this time next year.
Farewell, dear friends of San Marino, the Faroe Islands, China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Qatar, Lebanon, Iraq, Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Canada, New Caledonia, Tahiti, Central African Republic, Botswana, Cape Verde, Gambia, Lesotho, Sudan, Niger, Kenya, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Scotland.
You will all be missed, but remember, the road to Russia begins sooner than you think…
(photo via Soccer by Ives)