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FIFA World Cup 2014 - The Challengers
This article is showing who the main contender's are for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in my opinion, and I have underlined my reasons behind the choices in each section. I am basing my views on current International situations, and should teams somehow spectacularly fail to even qualify, I will re-evaluate the list in due course.
5 Times Winners - 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002
Brazil automatically qualify for the competition, as they are hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup, meaning they will be heavily expectant to win, due to pressure that the Brazilian public put on the National side. Brazil are the most successful team in the history of the renowned event, having won it an impressive 5 times. Some of the best and most memorable players have been Brazilian and many of the 'Greatest' World Cup teams are still remembered fondly today.
Now let's talk about the current breed. Now coached again by Felipão , Felipe 'Big Phil' Scolari, the last successful World Cup manager for Brazil, when he led them to victory in 2002. He has a current squad of young raw talent, but has a couple experienced heads in the mix also. There will be immense pressure on the youngster, and if the can overcome the nerves that will inevitably come with great expectations, they could provide cause for Carnival to erupt!
Style of Play
Since Brazil's last World Cup win, in between Scolari's reigns, they have had three different coaches. The longest serving of the three, Dunga, had Brazil play a more defensive game, unlike any Brazil team of the past. This did not go down well at all, and fans were glad a change was made. However, his successor Mano Menezes could not impress either. Now that Scolari is back in charge, the Brazilian care-free samba style is slowly creeping back in, however, defensive frailties are apparent to see. They have quality centre-backs, such as Thiago Silva of PSG and Bayern München's Dante, but they currently seem to not get enough protection from their midfielders, the kind of protection the 2002 defence received from ex-Arsenal star Gilberto Silva, for example. They still have flair going forward, due to players like Neymar, and the addition of former two-time-in-a-row FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldinho, since Scolari returned, therefore giving something for opposition defenders to worry about, not knowing what will happen next.
To start, I think Brazil see Neymar as their star man. He has been a quality performer for Santos in Brazil, and if you are a fan of YouTube, you will know how good he does play for Santos, and the type of tricks he has up his sleeve to bamboozle defenders and cause problems for the opposition. However, if you have watched Neymar live playing for Brazil, either in the Olympic Games or another International game, he seems to drift in and out of games, and can not currently stamp his authority against similar strength opposition. He has a year to iron his game out, and gain confidence with stronger performances, but one should think he'll never be forgiven if he does not live up to his Nation's expectations and the apparent ability that he has.
For me, a stronger performer, and currently a better player, is Chelsea's Oscar. He was relatively unknown by many at the start of the 2012/13 season, but has immensely impressed with his cool, calm passing play. He has got a bit of pace also, that helps him take on defenders when needed. He hasn't scored many goals this season, with shooting not currently being his strong point, however he knows this, and will happily provide an assist for a team-mate at the edge of the 18-yard-box, should the option be there, resulting in more than double assists to goals in the Barclays Premier League this season. Oscar is a key for Brazil if they are to win the World Cup, as he is an unselfish, hard-working team player, the type Brazil need when he is surrounded by, at times, spectacular individual talents, and has the 2013/14 season to drive his game on a couple of gears and maybe be the difference in summer 2014.
1 Time Winner - 2010
They have only won the competition once, however, importantly it was the previous World Cup in 2010 in South Africa, and was sandwiched in between two successive European Championship wins for Spain. Spain have been seen as the best team in the World over the past 3 or 4 years, playing a possession heavy, beautiful, passing game. However, recently with the demolition of both Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid by German clubs, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern München, many are questioning whether the way Spain play will be enough in 2014.
Style of Play
Spain have one of the most beautiful ways of playing football since Association Football rules were created 150 years ago. They simply pass the ball in triangles around there opposition and when the chance arrives, no matter how long it takes, they spring a pass into a forward who tries to score. It sounds simple, and should be simple, but the fact is that it is not. It has taken many years training and development of young players who have finally put the pieces of the puzzle together to create a work of genius on a football pitch. Their play is possession heavy, and when they lose the ball the work as hard as possible to win it back as quickly as they can, and start the possession once again.
Xavi has been a World-Class midfielder for as long as I can remember, and his passing ability outshines anyone that has ever played the game. He normally plays short, simple passes to keep games ticking over, and recently gained a staggering 100% pass rate in a single game. This means every time he played the ball, it reached a team member. I must stress this is an almost impossible feat, with the game been such high paced and teams are constantly pressing opponents and attempting tackles and interceptions. Xavi calms everything around him when others might get flustered, so a fit Xavi in Brazil in 2014 will be a massive boost for Spain.
The other main star for Spain is Xavi's team-mate Andrés Iniesta. Iniesta was underrated for years, however in the past 4/5 years, with the resurgence of Barcelona and Spain, Iniesta's brilliance has been rightly recognised, and he has been in the running for the FIFA Ballon d'Or for the past 3 seasons. He plays much like Xavi, but with a more cutting edge, and could indeed steer the Spanish ship towards victory in Brazil.
0 Wins, 4th Place - 1986
I know many of you will be thinking, What?, Belgium? However, if you take a look at their squad, you will realise they have some very special players indeed, that given time, could be a hard-to-beat World Cup team. Their captain is Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany who is accompanied in defence by Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderwield, in midfield they have Eden Hazard, Moussa Dembelé, Axel Witsel and Maroune Fellaini, their strikers are Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas and Christian Benteke, they have a choice of two superb young Goalkeepers in Sunderland's Simon Mignolet and Timo Courtouis, who has starred for Atlético Madrid this season on-loan froom Chelsea, and aside from these young talents, they have experienced heads such as Daniel Van Buyten and Timmy Simons. When you look at this team, you have to think to yourself that not making a World Cup or European Championship Semi-Final over the next 8 to 10 years, would be failure indeed.
Style of Play
Belgium play with an air of freedom, with flair coming from players such as Eden Hazard and Moussa Dembelé. They have protection for their defeders incase an attacking move breaks down from central midfielders like Axel Witsel, and even Marouane Fellaini if he is needed further back. At the heart of defence the have World-Class defender Vincent Kompany, who was the star defender in Manchester CIty's title winning season of 2011/12, and Jan Vertonghen who has impressed since joining Spurs at the start of 2012/13 season. They have a solid core, that can change things up when needed, and will surely be an exciting watch in Brazil 2014.
You have got to say, one of Belgium's stars is the heart-beat of 'The Red Devils', Manchester CIty's Vincent Kompany. He is a rock at the back and his form over the 2013/14 Premier League season, as Man City try to re-gain their recently lost Champions status, will be vital to how confident Belgium go in to Brazil 2014. If Kompany is not performing in the World Cup, then there will be no doubt Belgium can not win it, however if he helps his team keep clean sheets then Belgium could be difficult opponents.
Eden Hazard has the potential to be Belgium stand out World Class player, and possibly one of the greatest of his generation. He has an abundance of flair and skill, and even has an eye for goal. He has been an integral part of Chelsea's team this season, and apart from Mata he has been the stand out player for the Blues. Should rumours be true that José Mourinho is returning to Stamford Bridge, then Hazard could flourish even more under his watch, and could maybe play a starring role in what could be Belgium's most successful World Cup to date.
2 Times Winners - 1978, 1986
They have undoubtedly the best player in the World, and possibly the Greatest Player Ever at their disposal in Lionel Messi. However, have failed to use him correctly over the past few years. Argentina have won the World Cup twice before and are yearning for success once again. The allure of triumphing in their greatest rival's back yard in 2014 is leaving Argentinians salivating at the possibilities, and with Lionel Messi at the height of his powers so far, it may be Argentina's best chance for many years to come to be World Champions.
Style of Play
Argentina's style is more direct than star Lionel Messi would like, however he has still managed 13 International goals in 12 International games in the last 2 seasons. The have quite a bit of pace and skill in their squad which is why they find it successful to play in a direct fashion. They have only lost once since a defeat to Venezuela on October 11 2011, showing just how dominant they can be, and if they can take this sort of dominance into the tournament, they could be successful.
Unsurprisingly, Argentina's star man is Lionel Messi. There has been no player like Messi, probably ever. He breaks records every time he plays a football game, therefore will thrive the opportunity to put Brazil in their place and win the World Cup for Argentina in their biggest rivals own country. One could assume, that Messi may even win the World Cup single-handedly, as he's recently pulled off amazing comebacks for Barcelona after just having cameo appearances due to an injury.
This choice may be somewhat surprising, but the second star player of the Argentinian national team I have chosen, is Pablo Zabaleta. Zabaleta is not the most skillful player, and does not have a lot of flair, however he is an essential member of the Argentina squad, and is a non-stop workhorse. In a disappointing season domestically and in European competition for Manchester City, he has been a stand-out performer, and his never-say-die attitude translates to his fellow professionals, and if Argentina progress far, it may help his nation clinch what would be a legendary triumph.
0 Wins, Runners-Up 1974, 1978, 2010
Last time's Runners-Up, Holland have been strong individually, however have normally disappointed when it has came to competitions. They have plenty of talent in their squad including the past two seasons Premier League top scorer, Robin van Persie. They will want to repay their nation for what was a disappointing Final match last time around, and more disappointingly, not even making it out of the Group Stage in the last European Championships. The Dutch always take impressive support and the Orange Army will be expectant when it comes to next summer.
Style of Play
The way Holland play has always been admired by fans of football. Fast moving, hard pressing, and strong when needed. However they may need to be less bullish than they were in the Final in South Africa, where many believed they were lucky to escape with getting no-one dismissed for overpowering fouls. If they can channel the historic 'total football' mantra, and keep tight at the back, 2014 may be finally the year for Holland.
The engine at the heart of Holland's midfield is Wesley Sneijder. He has been one of the most wanted men for Europe's biggest clubs for the past 5 years, however he made the surprising decision, probably monetary, to join Turkish giants Galatasaray, instead of the more logical destinations of Manchester United or Manchester City that people had suspected. He exudes quality on the ball, and will be vitally needed if Holland are to challenge for the 2014 crown.
Arjen Robben has had an amazing season. He seems to have grown under Jupp Heynckes at Bayern München, playing in a way he never has before this year. He has always had a lot of pace and a quality finish in his left foot, however, he used to get lazy and did not want to know when he lost the ball and was needed in defence. Heynckes has got him doing what no other manager could do, he now works extremely hard for the team, and gets his rewards for doing so. Josep Guardiola is taking over in the summer, and will be an advocate of Robben working hard off the ball, making Guardiola possibly Holland's biggest weapon for next summer's World Cup, especially if he can bring Robben's game on even more again.