The World Cup, as the world’s grandest sporting event, commands a lot of attention from fans and TV pundits alike, drawing them into never ending debates about which players will shine and why, and which teams have the greatest chances of making it out their groups.
For the most part, fans all around the world, despite differences in opinions over who will win sport’s most coveted team prize, agree over the select few nations that stand the best chance of walking home victors at the end of the summer tournament.
Brazil, football’s most decorated nation and whose national identity is inseparable from the sport itself is always at the forefront of the majority’s list of favourites to triumph. Other countries fans will agree are favourites in Brazil, are Spain, who have dominated world football over the last 6 years, Germany, who always have probably the most promising group of talent but fail to kick in overdrive when they really need to, and Argentina, who on paper own by far the most potent attack in world football but who in reality have a tendency to fall apart when facing the sterner challenges brought on by the knockout stages of the tournament.
For the most part, much of the hype and anticipation behind the World Cup involves an intense sense of nationalism, and a keenness to gauge who the ultimate favorite is among the World Cup favorites. However, in reality, much of the entertainment that the World Cup generates comes from minnows that rise up to the occasion and defy the odds to put their nation in the limelight.
The David vs. Goliath subplots lend greatly to defining moments in the World Cup. It is a force that seconds only nationalism in this tournament, as most people find themselves rooting for that minnow that has shown determination and grit and proven that they can rise to the challenge.
That was Uruguay in South Africa 2010 inspired by the national legend and Golden Ball winner Diego Forlán. This year promises to introduce two new minnow dark horse teams to the fold with the ability to captivate the attention of fans with brilliant football. Over the last few years in the World Cup qualifiers, Chile and Belgium have flown much under the radar, but have shown some form and talent that could pose a massive threat to more established World Cup nations with more pedigree.
Chile had a bad start to their CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying campaign which saw them fire their old coach. However, under the tutelage of Jorge Sampaoli, they ended up finishing third in the South American qualifying group that included the likes of Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia and Ecuador. Spearheaded by Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez, and Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal, Chile play a devastating brand of counter attacking football, that is complimented by their heavy handed defensive approach.
They may not have many superstars on their roster, but much like Atletico Madrid who dominated Europe this season, they play with heart, and play as a unit, and can match and overpower any team on their day, as England unfortunately found out back in November. Even though they have been pooled into Group B with Spain, Netherlands, and Australia in the group of death, do not write Chile out just yet. They will be one of the more exciting teams to watch.
Belgium on the other hand, is very unlike Chile because they have it all. Their squad has a wonderful blend of experience, youthfulness, and game-changers. Belgium boasts arguably the finest keeper in the world in Thibaut Courtois, and even his backup, Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet is a fine keeper in his own right. In defence, star names such as Manchester City and Arsenal captains Vincent Kompany, and Thomas Vermaelen respectively and highly sought after Jan Vertonghen, will be charged with protecting a goal already fortified by the giant that is Courtois.
In midfield and forward, Belgium have some of the very finest talent the world has to offer and they will be beyond eager to increase their stock in this showpiece tournament. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard has arguably been the world’s finest youngster in Europe this season, and will be charged with marshalling the creativity of the Belgian team, with the help of Manchester United’s duo Adnan Januzaj, and Marouane Fellaini and Wolfsburg’s Kevin De Bruyne, and up top, Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku, and Napoli’s Dries Mertens will be tasked with tormenting opposition keepers.
This is something many people have failed to realize, but Belgium has arguably one of the top two defences on paper heading into the World Cup, and a midfield that only a handful of teams can boasts to have better. Add all these factors, and the fact that Belgium is in a relatively easy group H with Algeria, Russia and Korea Republic, and potentially faces off against the 2nd placed team in Group G (most likely Portugal or U.S.A) should they win their group, Belgium has a relatively easy path to the quarter finals, where their youthful talent could help them trump a heavy hitter to get into the semis.
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