In the first edition of this article, we focused on three unfancied teams that booked their places for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil - Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Switzerland and thus were deserving of honourable mention.
In part two, we now glaze through three other teams who impressed on route to
qualifying for the global showpiece.
The Dutch, as is quickly becoming the norm, were absolutely imperious in their qualifying group, sealing a spot in Rio with two games to spare.
Granted, Group D did not comprise of what you would even remotely regard as European heavyweights, with all due respect, but it still presented some tricky opposition. Romania and Turkey are nations that have contested the World Cup in the past while Hungary and Estonia have shown to be no pushovers.
However, the Dutch were just too strong for everyone really.
From the opening match, they looked galaxies away from their competitors. Changing manager and a mini squad-overhaul after the disastrous Euro 2012 campaign turned out to be a tonic for the side as the newfound freshness, hunger, unity and order has translated in brilliant, ruthless and efficient performances on the pitch.
The Dutch look like a side reborn, with Louis van Gaal and Patrick Kluivert at the
helm providing a solid coaching partnership and the blend of youth and experience forming a potentially explosive cocktail. Robin van Persie eclipsed Kluivert’s record and is now the all-time leading goal-scorer for his country, Arjen Robben is finally hitting the kind of form that has belied his potential for so long and in Wesley Sneijder, they have a player genuinely capable of being the trequartista, much like he was in 2010.
Netherlands have not looked in better shape since their ultimately disappointing finale at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Perennial under-achievers they have been, touted as the best team to never win a World Cup, they will surely be among the favourites for the 30 pound gold-plated trophy next summer.
Germany will always be there or thereabouts when it comes to major tournaments.
That is as accurate a statement as 1+1 = 2. Germany has been an almost ever-present at continental and global competition.
They have qualified for every FIFA World Cup finals, with two exceptions, doing
so automatically as hosts or holders five times.
Just to paint a picture of how much of a qualifying juggernaut Germany are; in their twelve FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns, they have lost just twice, a 1-0 reverse to Portugal in 1995 and a thumping 5-1 defeat to England in Munich in 2001. Wait, it gets better, they have never lost away from home in qualifying…scary and
unbelievable yes? Exactly.
The current crop under Joachim Low served notice of its status as a member of the footballing elite with the runners-up spot at Euro 2008 and third place at the 2010 World Cup. They finished top-scorers in both the 2006 and 2010 editions of the World Cup and outscored everyone in their qualifying Group C, wrapping up qualifying with a game to spare.
Sophistication, flair, discipline and their traditional virtues of efficiency are ingrained within the current framework as was evident when, already qualified and trailing by two goals away to Sweden, they roared back to win impressively by five goals to three.
Simply put, Germany do not like to lose, since the days of Gerd Muller and Franz Beckenbauer , Lothar Matthaus and that mentality has held true until now.
It must be said that that the current squad ranks among the very best that Germany has had to offer. Manuel Neur is still young but already being heralded as good enough to be a legend like Oliver Khan, fullback Phillip Lahm, midfield general Bastian Schweinsteiger and striker Lukas Podolski earned their stripes long ago; each with 80 caps or more but still very much the right side of 30.
With schemer Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos, two unbelievably gifted creative minds vying for the number 10 role and others like Mario Gomez and Julian Draxler waiting on the wings, Germany have an embarrassment of riches in a department that is so problematic even for the greatest of footballing nations.
Players like Thomas Muller offer efficiency and ruthlessness in abundance, one only needs to watch his performances at the last World Cup where he won the Golden Boot and was named Best Young Player- a tournament that featured Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Their dismantling of Sweden was a final warning shot to everyone else heading to or hoping to feature in Rio next year.
The current holders of both the European and World Cups head into Brazil as the team everyone wants to beat.
Brazil already did it at the Confederations Cup in the recent past and if for nothing else, the manner of that defeat may well have given many other nations a glimmer of hope and a blueprint of how to finally be able to get the better of a La Roja side that had become ultra-dominant for the better part of half a decade.
However the hallmark of all great teams is the ability to bounce back after such adversity and one thing is for sure, this Spanish team is indeed a great one. They won the World Cup after an impeccable qualifying campaign having kept faith with the core of the squad that triumphed at the Euros two years earlier. They had won all ten of their qualifying matches, score the most goals in the European Zone and only conceded five times.
They got over their ‘quarter-final jinx’ to go on and win the tournament and then
proceeded to successfully defend their European crown two years later, making
history in the process.
Tried, tested and proven coach Vicente del Bosque has continued to look for fresh new talents to boost his squad for the challenges ahead, particularly since the nucleus of the all-conquering squad will be approaching or will have hit their 30s by the time they take to the pitch in Rio.
However, one thing is certain not to change, their enviable dressing-room harmony and staying true, having full faith in their tiki-taka brand of playing.
Spain, while not being particularly eye-catching, have been efficient and quietly went about their business to top Group I, beating France into second spot.
They will head into the World Cup with a point to prove and a score to settle with the hosts after their capitulation in the Confederations Cup.
That being said, lesson learned has been one should never under-estimate La Roja. With the likes of Casillas, Ramos, Pique, Jordi Alba, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Fabregas, Pedro, Silva, Mata, Negredo and young stars Thiago, Koke, the magnificent Isco and Alvaro Morata, they certainly have enough to defend their crown and return to the land of the King as World Champions.
Two time champions Argentina qualified somewhat easily for the World Cup, topping the ten-team round-robin pool and booking their place with a game to spare. Their place was rather guaranteed, what with Brazil qualifying by default as hosts, but they still had to negotiate the toughest and most rigorous FIFA qualifying zone, CONMEBOL.
La Albiceleste lost only twice, obviously one being in the final fixture having already qualified and fielding a weakened team at Uruguay and even then, it took a controversial penalty to help the hosts to a win.
Argentina’s journey through the World Cup editions has been bitter-sweet, most of the time full of promise and potential, but other than those two triumphs, in 1978 and 1986, inspired by Mario Kempes and a certain Diego Maradona respectively, they have not gone past the quarter-finals.
Argentina has experienced more heart-break than success at the grandest stage.There has been a plethora of truly outstanding players over the years since Diego though, the likes of Gabriel ‘batigol’ Batistuta, Ariel Ortega, Hernan Crespo, Javier Zanetti, Juan Roman Riquelme, Carlos Tevez and now Lionel Messi.
Argentina now possesses one of the most fearsome forward lines in world football. The quartet of Gonzalo Higuain, Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero is almost unmatched by any other in terms of sheer firepower. Alejandro Sabella, brought in to replace Sergio Batista after the ill-fated Copa America campaign of 2011 which they hosted, has turned the Argentines into a more solid unit compared to recent sides.
They have improved vastly defensively and there has been more emphasis on teamwork rather than reliance on Lionel ‘ La Pulga’ Messi and his individual talent.
Third on the FIFA rankings, the Selleccion have transformed into a force to really be reckoned with. Recent friendly victories against Brazil, Germany, Sweden and Portugal have gone some way into illustrating just how far they have come in the journey back to the top of the footballing pyramid.
If they can tighten up better defensively and have their maestro, Lionel Messi
pull a Diego Maradona in ’86, they may just go all the way this time round.
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