Who Are The Favorites, Challengers, and Sleepers in Every 2014 World Cup Group?
2014 World Cup: Favorites, Challengers, and Sleepers In Each Group
We’ve already seen our first impressions of the 2014 World Cup groupings, but now that we’ve all had a good 24 hours to process everything that happened during the draw and let the groups sink in, it’s time to start exploring each group a little deeper. It’s inevitable that everyone will start to pick out their favorite teams and their surprise teams in each group and predict the teams that will advance to the knockout stage.
Ultimately, each team ends up playing a role in each group. There’s a favorite, a challenger, a sleeper, and someone that gets left out without much of a chance of advancing. That’s exactly how we’ll try to categorize every team in each group. The favorite will obviously be expected to win the group, advance to the next round, and have a chance to go deep into the tournament. The challenger will be expected to push the favorite for first place and likely settle for second place in the group and a spot in the knockout stage. The sleeper will be the team that’s looking to surprise everybody, pull off an upset, and somehow advance to the second round. Of course, there will also be a team that’s left out with no chance of advancing and finishes at the bottom of the group.
Assigning distinct roles isn’t an easy thing to do for every group, as some of the groups are incredibly competitive and could end up finishing any number of ways. But a day after the draw, here is our best crack at deciphering the favorites, challengers, and sleepers in each group of the 2014 World Cup.
Favorite: Brazil. This is obvious. The Brazilians are the host nation and one of the top favorites in the tournament. There's a lot of pressure on them playing in front of their home crowd, but this isn't a tough group, which should allow them to ease into the tournament.
Challenger: Mexico. The Mexicans barely qualified for the tournament, and they've had a lot of head coaches in a short period of time, but they also have plenty of talent. Mexico is the only team in this group that has a chance to compete with Brazil, and if they can put their qualifying struggles behind them, they should advance to the second round.
Sleeper: Croatia. This isn't the Croatia team of the late 90's, but they do have some great attacking players and should be able to put the ball in the back of the net. If Mexico stumbles, the Croatians are more than capable of taking advantage and stealing second place in the group.
Left out: Cameroon. They have some strengths, and obviously Samuel Eto'o is a world-class player, but three matches against these three teams seems like too much for Cameroon.
Favorite: Spain. The reigning world champions are one of the leading favorites in the entire tournament, as they still have a huge collection of talented players that are still in their prime, and should give them the top spot in Group B.
Challenger: The Netherlands. Holland will meet Spain to open up group play, and then we'll see if they might be able challenge the Spaniards. After finishing second at the last world cup, it'd be a surprise to see the Dutch not advance to the knockout stage this time around.
Sleeper: Chile. This is one of the most dangerous sleepers in the tournament. Chile will be playing relatively close to home against two European sides, and they can put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses and score a lot of goals. They should be a tough challenge for both Spain and the Netherlands.
Left out: Australia. This was a tough draw for the Socceroos, who may have been able to make some noise in some other groups behind the efforts of Tim Cahill. But in this group, it'll be difficult for them to get any kind of result in three games.
Favorite: Colombia. They are the favorite more by default than anything else in what should be an even and competitive group. Despite a history of failing to live up to expectations, the Colombians will be on South American soil, and that's enough to make them the favorite in Group A.
Challenger: Ivory Coast. Like Colombia, the Ivory Coast has a history of under performing at world cups, but they have a wealth of world-class talent that should enable them to challenge for the top spot in the group if they can finally put it all together at a major tournament.
Sleeper: Japan. They don't have flashy talent, but they are a strong and solid team that has experience playing in big tournaments and won't be intimidated by the big stage. In a wide open group like this, Japan could surprise a lot of people.
Left out: Greece. The Greeks do have a chance to make some noise in this group, but they nearly a decade removed from their triumph at the 2004 European Championships and their world cup history isn't great, which makes them the last team you'd expect to advance from this group.
Favorite: Italy. The Italians weren't seeded, but that doesn't stop them from being the favorites in this group. The Azzurra are no doubt embarrassed after their failure at the 2010 World Cup, but they've moved on from that and are still one of the top teams in Europe, especially after finishing second at the 2012 European Championships and third in the 2013 Confederations Cup.
Challenger: Uruguay. This team finished fourth in the last World Cup and fourth at last summer's Confederations Cup, and they're ready to do some damage right across the border in Brazil. Italy might as well be 1 and Uruguay 1A in this group, because there's not much to distinguish between the two sides.
Sleeper: England. It seems odd to think that England won't be a favorite to advance, but that's the way it is in this group. They're still a team to keep an eye on, but after an underwhelming qualifying campaign, there isn't a whole lot of optimism following the draw.
Left out: Costa Rica. The Ticos are definitely in over their heads in this group. It will be interesting to see if a Latin American team can do something in Latin America against a pair of traditional European powers, but it will surely be an uphill battle for Costa Rica.
Favorite: France. Everyone should be shocked to see France listed as a group favorite, but that's the way it is in arguably the weakest group in this tournament. Les Bleus have been quite disappointing in recent tournaments, but that can change in a hurry, especially in a group like this that they should be able to win.
Challenger: Switzerland. This is one of the better Swiss teams we've seen in quite a while, but they still have a lot to prove on the big stage, which is why they remain the challengers to France and not the favorites, despite being a seeded team.
Sleeper: Ecuador. Having a home field in Quito allows Ecuador to qualify for world cups, but once they get there, they haven't done well. Staying on the South American continent should help, but they shouldn't be expected to advance, which is why they're the sleepers of the group.
Left out: Honduras. If Honduras ever had a chance to make some noise in a world cup, it's now. But whether the Hondurans have the quality to score goals at this level remains a huge question, and they'll need to score goals if they have any hope of surprising everyone and getting out of the group.
Favorite: Argentina. No one in this group should come close to competing with Argentina. They have incredible talent and may not even break a sweat until the quarterfinals.
Challenger: Nigeria. By default, Nigeria is the challenger in this group. They do have talent, but their play can be inconsistent, and they need to make sure they start fast so they don't rely on getting a result against Argentina to push them through to the second round.
Sleeper: Bosnia. This is definitely one of the more intriguing teams in the tournament, as they show signs of being a team on the rise, but it's also hard to expect much in their first World Cup. If they can survive their opening match against Argentina, they'll have a chance to trip up Nigeria in their second match and possibly position themselves to advance.
Left out: Iran. Even in an unpredictable and somewhat weak group, Iran shouldn't feel good about its chances. They may be a powerful side in Asia, but making it out of the group stage at a world cup is something that should remain out of their reach.
Favorite: Germany. Even in the "Group of Death" the Germans are likely to survive and finish first. They will be challenged more than some of the other tournament favorites will be during the group stage, but Germany should be able to handle this group and come out on top.
Challenger: Ghana. This may be a bit of a surprise, but Ghana has phenomenal talent and athleticism. They have exceptional midfielders that can control the game, in addition to some dangerous attacking players. They were not far from getting to the semi-finals of the last world cup, and they should be considered a dangerous team in this one as well. If there's anybody in this group that can give Germany fits, it's Ghana.
Sleeper: United States. The Americans didn't get the draw they wanted, but they should be considered sleepers in this group. They had a great 2013, and they look ready to compete in a group like this. The U.S. is also better playing the role of the underdog, so Germany and Ghana should look out.
Left out: Portugal. Don't count out Portugal just yet, but it's too easy to think of them as a one-man team, and in a group like this one player isn't going to be enough, which means they could get left behind.
Favorite: Belgium. With a little luck during the draw, Belgium are the clear favorites in this group. They are probably sleepers in the tournament as a whole, but in this group they should be able to finish at the top of the table.
Challenger: South Korea. In a group like this, the Koreans have a real chance to convince. They've got some world cup experience and have plenty of players that play their club ball all over Europe, and they should come to Brazil ready to make it to the knockout stage for the third time in four world cups.
Sleeper: Russia. Fabio Capello leads a team that could be ready to surprise some people. They are strong in the midfield and could have some capable goal scorers up top, so they may have the personnel to advance out of a relatively weak group.
Left out: Algeria. They do have some experience from the last world cup, but they are one of the weakest sides in the tournament, and even in a fairly wide open group, they will struggle to advance.