World Cup 2014: Teams to beat
With the World Cup less than a year away, we take a look at five of the favourites for 2014 success
With less than a year to go until the World Cup gets underway in Brazil, lets take a look at some of the leading contenders to take the trophy next summer.
There are only five nations currently guaranteed a place at the World Cup finals, so there is an element of guesswork about who will line up in Brazil with some big names chances of qualification currently far from a certainty.
However, I have looked at who I consider to be the five realistic challengers for that coveted Jules Rimet trophy.
Based on very recent history, Spain are the obvious favourites for the title. Having blown away all opposition in a golden era since 2008; with two European Championships and of course the last World Cup in South Africa, the tika-taka style of the classy Spaniards is still widely considered the best around on the international stage.
The talent pool shows no signs of drying up with the likes of Isco and Thiago Alcantara waiting in the wings, the depth that they possess is absolutely frightening. Maybe the only chink in the armour is the lack of a top class frontman - Torres not the player of four years ago, Villa ageing and Soldado a handy player but not even guaranteed a place in the squad.
My feeling is that with the great Carles Puyol on his last legs and even the legendary playmaker Xavi Hernandez starting to feel a chronic achilles problem, this one might be one trophy beyond this remarkable group of players.
The hosts, with unimaginable pressure on their shoulders from an expectant nation. Forget where they are in the world rankings, this is a team that are finally beginning to grow up and show their worth under 'Big Phil' Scolari. Neymar is the trump card.
Judged as a show-pony by so many in England for failing to perform in two games against Roy Hodgson's men this year, a big-money move to Barcelona could be the making of him and he was the star of the recent Confederations Cup.
Brazil are by no means the real deal as things stand, but this young and supremely talented team are beginning to gel and with home advantage, will not be far away next summer.
Brazil's greatest rivals are impressively navigating their way through the difficult South American qualifying process, and given the calibre of players that they seem to always have at their disposal, can never be written off when it comes to the World Cup.
They also happen to have the greatest footballer on the planet, who with a starring role next summer to lead his country to ultimate glory would surely take his place at the top of the pantheon of legends that this sport has produced.
The signs are there that Lionel Messi is starting to replicate his staggering Barcelona form at international level, and with a supporting cast including Aguero, Di Maria, Higuain & Lavezzi, Argentina are a rather formidable threat for any team to come up against. Scoring goals will not be a problem, but keeping them out at the other end and finding a balance to accommodate all of their wonderful attacking players might be.
If they can find that balance in the next 12 months and allow Messi the platform to star, I would not want to bet against Argentina winning the World Cup in the back yard of their greatest rivals.
They will have gone 18 years without a major international honour by the time Brazil 2014 comes around, and now is the time to change that.
With a series of near misses over the last few years, especially against their nemesis Spain, the boom in the German game seen this season with the dominance of Bayern and Dortmund in Europe can surely propel this great footballing nation to sit at the head of world football again.
It is difficult to find a weakness in their make-up, and given how both Bayern and Dortmund terrorised both Spanish giants in the Champions League semi-finals with their high tempo pressing game, now is surely the point at which Germany can break their recent hoodoo against the current kings of international football. As is seemingly always the case, ze Germans will be contenders again next summer.
The Azzurri impressed many and perhaps surprised a few as they reached the Euro 2012 final before falling victims to the imperious Spaniards, and this is a side that arguably have their best years ahead of them.
With old heads Pirlo and De Rossi still oozing class in the centre of the park, there is an impressive collection of young stars around them who make Italy a very obvious contender at any major tournament. The core of back-to-back Serie A champions Juventus makes them a very solid unit, and the mercurial Mario Balotelli is showing very real signs of maturity since his move away from Manchester in January.
If he for one can maintain his consistency since his move, then the Italians may have the fire power to shoot them to World Cup glory.
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