Top 20 Championship Candidates For 2014 FIFA World Cup
Top 20 Championship Candidates for the 2014 FIFA World Cup
There is a good probability the United States soccer fans will be seeing the Stars and Stripes reach the semifinals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup next summer at Brazil. The USA had an excellent qualifying tournament and dominated their CONCACAF counterparts. The 32 teams participating in next year’s World Cup will be participating in the greatest sporting event on the planet, but will also be exposed to the most feared home-court advantage of any sport.
The FIFA World Cup is an international competition that dates back to 1930 when Uruguay emerged victorious as they defeated Argentina and lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy on Uruguayan soil. It was in the first FIFA tournament that the United States finished third place, an honor that is seldom talked about. The most precious statistic about the World Cup dating back to 1958 has been that the champion on any given continent is also a member of that continent, except in the competitions held in Korea and Japan 2002 and South Africa 2010.
Many soccer aficionados are still not aware of the fact that there has never been a European champion in the American continent and vice versa. In my opinion, dating back to 1958, this is probably the longest standing home advantage in any sport, one that clearly states: "A soccer world champion is always going to emerge victorious when playing with the continental advantage.”
Brazil is a spectacular location and host for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and there is no doubt the tradition of the home-court advantage shall prevail.
20. Costa Rica
¨La Sele¨ has plenty of World Cup experience and the squad is loaded with international talent. Experienced players such as Bryan Ruiz, Keylor Navas and Joel Campbell are capable of producing world class plays to defeat any team. This year, ¨La Sele¨ played World Champion Spain in a friendly that resulted in a 2-2 draw. They qualified second in the CONCACAF anda are ready to go up against the best of the best.
Mexico makes my list of the top 10 simply because they meet all the requirements for a World Cup held in the American continent: a strong fan base, elite players and tradition add to the TRI when they line up against any country. Regardless of the poor showing the Mexican squad demonstrated during the qualifying stages, the FIFA World Cup is a different scenario.
18. South Korea
South Korea is always a tough team to beat in the World Cup. Group H is a relatively easy group and in my opinion the quality of the players and speed shall see them beat Algeria and Russia to advance to the next round. Keep an eye on Bayer Leverkusen´s young striker Heung-Min Son who shall see his stock value increase after a solid World Cup performance.
Group A will not be an easy task for Croatia if they are to advance to the next phase. The genius in Luka Modric and Darijo Srna´s leadership can give the Croats a small advantage to advance from the group stage. Keep in mind that Mexico and Cameroon can spoil the party during World Cup matches and Croatia will have to play to win; one draw or a loss against any of these teams will complicate the Croats.
Belgium is a very young team and loaded with individual talent, unfortunately they lack World Cup experience and will have to adapt quickly to the ¨Big Stage¨ if they are to advance from the group stage. Keep an eye on future stars Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel and Romelu Lukaku who can explode at any given moment. Belgium has not had a squad like this since the great Eric Gerets led the team to glory in the 1980´s.
Japan is the Asian powerhouse of the 2014 World Cup. The collective effort from Manchester United´s attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa, CSKA Moscow´s midfielder Keisuke Honda and Inter Milan´s left fullback Yuto Nagatomo will see the Japanese advance second from group C.
On paper, Portugal is the weakest team of Group G; the so called ¨Death Group.¨ Unfortunately, they were one of the last teams to qualify to the World Cup because they couldn´t take care of business. Group G is the toughest and what separates Portugal apart from the rest is that their team chemistry has not clicked yet. There is one person who can rewrite the history books of the Portuguese squad in the World Cup; Real Madrid´s attacking midfielder Cristiano Ronaldo. CR7 is playing the best soccer of his career and will more than likely win the Golden Ball Award; does he have what it takes to help Portugal survive the ¨Death Group?¨
The ¨Black Stars¨ are the toughest and most experienced African team in the World Cup. They nearly pulled off a semi-final appearance at South Africa and lost on the penalty round. Keep an eye on AC Milan´s playmaker Sulley Muntari who owns the Black Stars´ midfield and is lethal from long range.
¨La Tri¨ could be one of the surprises of the World Cup. They are in Group E and will have to play against Honduras, Switzerland and France; they control their destiny as they have too much power for any of these teams. Be on the lookout for Manchester United´s winger Antonio Valencia and Lokomotiv Moscow´s striker Felipe Caicedo who are playing fantastic soccer for ¨La Tri.¨
The ¨Charrua¨ had a tremendous showing during the last World Cup in South Africa and they too had some problems during the qualifying stage at CONMEBOL. Their strong showing since the last world championship has lacked chemistry, but don't count them out. Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez will arrive in the prime of their careers as one of the most lethal pair of strikers in the tournament. Group D shall see Uruguay and Italy advance from the group stage according to my predictions.
The "Clockwork Orange" is another European favorite and runner-up in South Africa 2010. Who can forget Iker Casillas' memorable stop on Arjen Robben? Robben and his team are still hungry for a title, and that is the reason why they make this list.
"Les Blues" are now a younger, more disciplined squad and with tremendous offensive quality. Led by veteran winger Franck Ribery, they will have a strong showing -- they must. Their exit from the South Africa 2010 World Cup is not a pretty sight to remember and it was all attributed to lack of discipline and commitment. Even though, they had a hard time qualifying to the cup, I predict the French to advance past the first round of the draw.
The defensive specialists led by the genius of Andrea Pirlo and veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon look to make a run and become the first European champion in the Americas. The "Azzurri" know what it takes to win the FIFA World Cup.
¨Los Cafeteros¨ are one of best offensive teams in the tournament. Monaco´s striker Radamel Falcao and Oporto´s striker Jackson Martinez create a deadly combination; they shall have no problems advancing from group C.
Germany is, in my opinion, the most disciplined and consistent squad in the tournament. Philip Lahm and company are always a top-four choice; they wear one of the most feared jerseys in the tournament. I think they will have to fight harder next summer in Brazil if they are to upset a team from the Americas.
Make no mistake, ¨La Roja¨ is one of the strongest and most creative teams in CONMEBOL. Group B presents a very complicated scenario and they have what it takes to defeat the Netherlands or Spain to advance from the group stage. Barcelona´s gifted striker Alexis Sanchez, Juventus´ midfielder Arturo Vidal and home-court advantage are key to Chile´s success. I´m picking Chile and Spain to advance to the next round.
"La Roja" allowed just one goal during the last World Cup and operated fantastically. Vicente Del Bosque will have a shot at a repeat, and the squad has already added new faces such as Brazilian-Spanish striker Diego Costa, currently La Liga's top scorer.
3. The United States of America
Ever since they hosted the 1994 World Cup, the ¨Stars and Stripes¨ are my surprise pick to be the next World Cup Champion. Discipline and consistency have prepared them for the road to glory. In South Africa 2010, they had such a great run in the tournament and were eliminated by Ghana in the 93rd minute, forcing overtime. Ghana went on to lose against third-place Uruguay in a match where the United States would have had a stronger showing. The U.S.A plays great team soccer and they will advance second from group G; the 2010 tournament outcome has helped the United States achieve a level of maturity required to be a contender.
Lionel Messi and company are a first-class team and are hungry to win a championship since their last glory in the Mexico 1986 World Cup with Diego Maradona in command. Messi is the best player in the world, but has received much criticism that he lacks commitment when playing with the Argentine National squad. Will he he finally light the sacred flame in the tournament and lead his squad to glory?
My pick for the next World Cup Champion is Brazil. The host country led by Neymar is playing at a superb level and have too much quality. They walked away with the last edition of the Confederations Cup, humiliating Spain -- the current world champions. I believe Brazil will keep this momentum going and will benefit from the home-court advantage. Look for Brazil's Neymar to be the tournament MVP.