With the world’s largest sporting event just a week away, it’s time to take a look at the favorites, contenders, groups and potential star players. They’re entering Brazil as we speak, four years after conquering South Africa, which suddenly feels like eons ago.
Football, the most popular sport on the Universe, will turn into an intense celebration over the next fortnight in the most football-crazy country in the world. This is the tournament everyone has waited for, though last year’s Club fixtures and Friendlies, Champions League and FA Cups—BRAZIL 2014 is finally here, and the host nation is ready to capture the imagination of every sporting fan around the globe with a spectacle that is guaranteed to blow your minds.
Defending Champions: Spain (Rank 1)
Prime Contenders: Germany, Argentina, Brazil
Secondary Contenders: Italy, Portugal, Netherlands
Dark Horses: Russia, Uruguay, Belgium, France
Group A: BRAZIL, MEXICO, CAMEROON, CROATIA
It’s always going to be the home team that is expected to go far, but in Brazil’s case, not unlike India in cricket, nothing less than a World Cup Win will do. Anything less, especially on home turf, will be a colossal failure under previous World Cup Winning Coach Scolari (2002). Everything is in their favor, including momentum, after a stunning Confederations Cup triumph over Spain (4-0) last year, as well as 8 successive Friendly wins. Croatia, who began their 2006 World Cup with a 0-1 loss to same opponents Brazil (Kaka Winner), start against them again in the first match of World Cup 2014. They had a torrid time in the final stages of qualifying, changing coaches, much like Mexico who had to qualify through the playoffs too. Cameroon will look to repeat their 1992 upset, but that’s a long shot in this group. Mexico v/s Croatia will be the most crucial match of the group for 2nd place.
Players to watch out for: Neymar (BRA), Fred (BRA), Modric (CRO), Eto’o (CAM), Peralta (MEX)
Group B: SPAIN, NETHERLANDS, CHILE, AUSTRALIA
Many call this the Group Of Death, with 2010 finalists Spain and Netherlands locking horns for top spot. Van Gaal’s rejuvenated Oranje look definite contenders after storming through qualifying in style, with Van Persie scoring 11 goals on the way. La Roja, headed by Del Bosque, are fresh from a recent draw against Chile—who finished 3rd in the South American qualifying group. Theirs will be an important game, because Australia are perpetual dark horses after sputtering through qualifying.
Players to watch out for: Iniesta (ESP), Xavi (ESP), Robben (NED), Van Persie (NED), Sanchez (CHI), Cahill (AUS)
Group C: COLUMBIA, GREECE, IVORY COAST, JAPAN
Favorites: Four teams, four different continents, four types of football. This is a difficult group to predict, which makes it fun to watch. Columbia defeated Japan in last year’s Confederations Cup to reach the knockouts, but the Asian Champions are the spunkiest out of the four—and will look to repeat their brave 2002 home soil performance. None of these teams have been past the round of 16, and one gets a feeling that a few records will be shattered this time around.
Players to watch out for: Falcao (COL), Samaras (GRE), Toure (CIV), Drogba (CIV), Kagawa (JPN)
Group D: ENGLAND, URUGUAY, ITALY, COSTA RICA
Italy defeated Uruguay most recently in the Confederations Cup on penalties for third place, but the reigning Copa America Champions will be favourites in this group. Italy are 2012 Euro Runners-up as well as 2006 World Champions, and can never be ruled out. England went through Qualifying without a defeat, but they often sputter on the big stage. Costa Rica will begin as dark horses, and that will suit them just fine.
Players to watch out for: Suarez (URU), Rooney (ENG), Rossi (ITA), Balotelli (ITA), Forlan (URU), Gerrard (ENG)