The build up to World Cup has been anything but smooth. While there have been many issues with the stadiums in Brazil, some of the 32 national teams have faced their own problems with a plethora of talented individuals unfortunately missing out on this summer’s showpiece tournament. Kevin Strootman, Falcao, Franck Ribery and Marco Reus to name but four of the players who won’t be taking part in the World Cup.
All eyes will be on Brazil, as tournament kicks-off on Thursday night with the hosts taking on Croatia, thus beginning a month long festival of football. The pressure has already been heaped on the Brazilians, as the nation expects them to lift the trophy on home soil at the Maracanã on July 13th and make up for the final of 1950 which they lost out to Uruguay.
In terms of the European teams taking part, history is against them. This will be the seventh time that the World Cup has been staged in South America; all the previous six have been won from a team from the same continent, a small caveat to add is that South America has only hosted one World Cup in the past half century (Argentina 1978).
On the other hand, Spain has a double chance of creating history – the reigning World and European champions will be aiming for a fourth straight tournament victory – you have to go back to Brazil 1962 to find the last team to retain a World Cup.
There is an air of always the bridesmaids never the bride associated with Germany of late; having made the semi-finals of the last two World Cup’s and the final in 2002 only to fall short. Jogi Loew’s hugely talented squad have a certain Jekyll and Hyde quality about them. While the national team have been successful at youth level, their last major tournament victory came in the 1996 European Championship.
Having recovered from the Diego Maradona sideshow in South Africa in 2010, Argentina go into this summer’s tournament in a curious position. By his own standards, Lionel Messi has had a less than successful season at Barcelona. Argentina and Messi have a strange relationship to say the least, however, that will pale into insignificance if he was to lead them to glory in Brazil. La Albiceleste’s haven’t won a major tournament since 1993, when they triumphed in the Copa America that year.
Outside bet – France (25/1)
Taking those teams into account, an outside bet for the World Cup could well be the 1998 World Champions, France. Les Bleus are a strange beast when it comes to major international tournaments. Under Raymond Domenech, they stank the place out in South Africa in 2010, failing to win a game, finishing bottom of their group and falling out with each other. A new and unified generation has emerged under current manager, Didier Deschamps, with the likes of Raphael Varane, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba all travelling to Brazil. Outside the favourites for the tournament, France might just be one to watch.
The Hipster’s choice
Belgium and Colombia are the current two flavours of the month and why wouldn’t they be given that they are ranked 8th and 11th in the current FIFA rankings. Even with a vague interest in football, the chances are you could at least name one Belgian player – their ‘golden generation’ has been very kind to them. However, this is the first tournament that Belgium has qualified for since 2002. While, Radamel Falcao has been one of the most high-profile casualties of this summer’s World Cup, Colombia can still call on the likes of Carlos Bacca, Adrian Ramos and Jackson Martinez. Similar to Belgium, Los Cafeteros, have also been blessed with a golden generation and have been on an upward curve – this will be their first World Cup since 1998.
Even watching the highlights from Chile’s recent friendly vs Egypt gives you a flavour of what to expect from them in Brazil – a suicidal high-line from their defence, but also the ability to counter at breakneck speed. People will remember Marcelo Bielsa’s, Chile from South Africa, well, never fear, they haven’t changed one bit.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN!