Will Germany lift the cup in 2014 FIFA World Cup?
With 136 goals in the group stages alone, the 2014 edition of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil seems to be well on its way to break the record for most goals scored in the history of the event (France 1998 – 171 goals).
Labelled by some as the most exciting World Cup till date, fans around the globe have been glued to their television sets, regardless of the time difference. A number of big teams, including defending champions Spain, former champions Italy and England along with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, have been shown the door before the knockout phase, which begins in a few hours.
As a result of these upsets, there are several teams that look appropriately equipped to bring the cup home. The following is a round up on all eight group leaders who have their eyes on the crown.
The Selecao have been firm favourites to lift the cup, by virtue of their outstanding home record throughout the course of history. Most football pundits have predicted a sixth title for the men in yellow, under the shadow of the well reputed 2002 World Cup winning manager Luiz Felipe Scolari.
However, Brazil has not been on top of their ‘joga bonito’ game, looking a touch too shaky in defence and not particularly convincing in attack. The pressure on the home team is immense as well, as fans still rue the 1950 final loss to underdogs Uruguay, at the Maracana.
Apart from Brazil’s favourite son Neymar and Chelsea playmaker Oscar, the Selecao haven’t really risen to the occasion. Central forward Fred, who seems to be a favourite of Scolari, has been justifiably mediocre while the FC Zenit St Petersburg star, Hulk, has been very wayward.
Brazil needs to tighten their screws and they must not get complacent against the talented, pacey and unpredictable Chile. If they are to slip on any stage, may it be the round of sixteen or the final; we will surely be witness to countless tears from a very passionate and patriotic fan base.
Key Player: Neymar Jr
Going into the World Cup, the Oranje seemed to lack the fire power required to overhaul the likes of Spain and Chile. With that regard, Louis van Gaal’s boys have been clear overachievers, recording three wins out of three and ending as group leaders. If there has ever been a precise epitome of the phrase ‘taking your game to the next level’ it has been Arjen Robben’s performance so far for the Flying Dutchmen.
Robben has provided the extra bite in Holland’s attack, along with the reliable Robin van Persie, who has questionably scored the best headed goal in recent memory. Left back Daley Blind has also shown some serious promise in the group stages and only time shall tell if Netherland’s rather inexperienced squad can make it big in Brazil.
The Oranje are favourites going into their first knockout clash against a spirited Mexico side and I will not be surprised if they make it to the semi-finals. However, they do have a history of crashing out of tournaments after starting them supremely (Flashback: Euro 2008).
Key Player: Arjen Robben
Los Cafeteros have most definitely made a strong impression after returning to the World Cup finals after 16 long years, that too in the absence of their star player Radamel Falcao. Jose Pekerman’s attacking brand of football has made the headlines more often than expected, as Colombia have thus far been the most attractive South American side of the tournament, winning all of their three matches in a convincing fashion.
The team revolves around creative playmaker James Rodriguez, who has also stunned the world with his empathic finish from the left foot. Veteran captain and centre-back Mario Yepes has also been impressive and seems to be doing a fantastic job leading the team into the knockouts. Up against a handicapped Uruguayan side, the Colombians are expected to seal their first ever Quarterfinal berth in the World Cup, which will indeed be a massive achievement for the nation as a whole.
Key Player: James Rodriguez
The Ticos have truly been the surprise package in this edition of the World Cup, bringing about arguably the biggest upsets of the tournament as they ended on top of group D (dubbed as the group of death) which consisted of three former world champions: Uruguay, Italy and England. After convincingly coming back from behind to beat Uruguay 3-1 in their opener, Costa Rica held their nerve against a well drilled Italian side, beating them 1-0.
Having only conceded one goal in the competition so far (that too from the penalty spot), Costa Rica possess a competitive defensive line along with their ever so impressive and underrated goalkeeper Keylor Navas. The Ticos will face an organised Greek side in the round of 16, and look set to progress if they can keep up their fast counter attacking play, courtesy of Fulham forward Bryan Ruiz and Arsenal’s wonder-boy Joel Campbell.
Anything past the round of 16 will be an overwhelming achievement for the Central American nation.
Key Player: Joel Campbell
Les Blues have provided a fair amount of entertainment in the past two weeks, handing 3-0 and 5-2 drubbings to Honduras and Switzerland respectively, before failing to score in a goalless draw against Ecuador. Didier Deschamps has done a good job building the team morale after a rather forgetful 2010 campaign, in which a number of squad members, including then captain Patrice Evra, went on a players strike.
France has looked impressive upfront, with the likes of Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud and last minute Franck Ribery-replacement Mathieu Valbuena shining on the big stage. A rock-hard backline along with the young and talented duo of Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba in midfield have certainly helped the French to propel as likely title contenders.
Their defence will face its toughest task yet in their upcoming match against a strong and physical Nigerian attack. French Legend Theirry Henry is quoted to have said that this generation of French footballers can lift trophies. However, with a possible Quarterfinal clash against Germany, the French must play out of their skins to make it to the semis.
Key Player: Blaise Matuidi
Coming in to the tournament as favourites, due to their outstanding top finish in the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) qualifiers and their renowned offensive strength, Argentina have, without a doubt, been a one man team so far, heavily relying on none other than four time Ballon d’Or winner and Barcelona icon Lionel Messi.
Blessed with a rather easy group, Argentina’s nine points are heavily credited to Messi, who has been their only goal scoring forward up till now. If Argentina is to progress further, it must find a way to make things work without having to turn to Messi each time. In light of a misfiring Sergio Aguero, performances from Angel Di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi are very crucial to Argentina’s success.
Also, with a considerably weak defence compared to Argentinean teams of the past, La Albiceleste should consider themselves lucky to have only conceded three goals in three games. Looking vulnerable at the back, Argentina will need to step it up against a capable young Switzerland side that is hungry for goals.
What could be Messi’s last World Cup in his prime, he will surely give it his utmost in an attempt to emulate Argentina’s world cup winning hero, Diego Maradona.
Key Player: Lionel Messi
Amid all the unpredictability of this World Cup, the one predictable reality is a well-oiled and efficient German team. Despite having lost star Dortmund duo Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus to injuries, Die Mannschaft have look unfazed in their quest for World Cup glory, which has eluded them for the past 24 years.
Joachim Low is in charge of the national side for his fourth major tournament, seeking his big moment with the ever so talented squad. Germany’s exceptional young superstars, which include the highly accurate Toni ‘The Sniper’ Kroos and the Space Investigator Thomas Muller, are a result of one of the world’s best pipelines: German Football Academies.
Stalwarts Bastian Schweinsteiger and Miroslav Klose add valuable experience to the squad, which was evident during their substitute appearances against Ghana. On top of that, Germany enjoys the services of Manuel Neuer, one of the best goalkeepers in modern era.
A major crown has long been due for the Germans who have been football’s ‘nearly men’ over the past decade and a half. A 4-0 Portuguese thumping showed the world how threatening the Germans can be at their best. The fact that Germany’s defence is looked upon as their weaker suit only proves that anything less than a semi-final appearance from Die Mannschaft will be considered a failure. Expect the Germans to storm past Algeria on Monday!
Key Player: Bastian Schweinsteiger
The Red Devils joined Netherlands, Argentina and Colombia in the elite club of teams who have won all their group games in the 2014 World Cup after their 1-0 victory over Korea Republic in the final group game on Thursday.
Coming into the World Cup as dark horses by virtue of their talented young bunch of players who play their part in Europe’s top clubs, Belgium has been steady in their quest so far. Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen form one of the best centre-back partnerships in the tournament, while 22-year-old goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has been a super stopper for current La Liga champions Atletico Madrid last season.
However, due to Romelu Lukaku not being fully fit and in the absence of injured striker Christian Benteke, Belgium’s attack has been severely dented. Manager Marc Wilmots has indeed made some timely substitutions in the World Cup, which have helped Belgium secure knockout qualification.
We have seen signs of brilliance from Belgium, especially from Chelsea superstar Eden Hazard linking up with Napoli’s Dries Mertens, yet the Red Devil’s have been more or less inconsistent upfront.
If Belgium is to beat Jurgen Klinsmann’s disciplined USA side in the round of 16, it needs to create more chances and overall improve as an attacking outfit. If Belgium can peak at the right time, they could well be on their way to make history.
Key Player: Eden Hazard
Amongst the eight teams discussed above, Brazil, Argentina, Germany and the Netherlands could be likely semi-finalists as these teams possess more quality on paper than the rest of the lot. That said, it would be foolish to underestimate the potential of the Belgians and Colombians, or for that matter of fact, any team in the round of sixteen.
It’s a tricky task to predict a world cup as unpredictable as this one, and only time shall tell which team has the mettle and quality to surpass the rest, finishing this mega event as the champions of the world.
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