Argentina have the players to win the World Cup and are one of the nations from South America that can take advantage if Brazil falter. Uruguay are another side that could progress to the latter stages while Spain and Germany will again be the main contenders from Europe. England could for once over-perform in the context of odds of 33/1 to win the tournament.
It is now a well used statement that no European side has won the World Cup in South America. This may be more to do with the fact that this continent could not supply genuine contenders when the tournament has been played below the Equator than any disadvantage due to climate and playing conditions. Brazil and Argentina are first and second favourites in betting for this year’s tournament.
The pressure on Brazil generally and Neymar in particular to perform will be huge. Anything but a sixth world title will be seen as failure. However, when Brazil staged the World Cup in 1950 there was a similar level of expectation but Brazil lost to Uruguay in the final. With the onset of social media and increased media exposure the level of scrutiny will be much greater.
The World Cup has divided the huge nation that is Brazil. Many of its people do not feel a connection despite the passion for the game in the country. There have been protests and violence on the streets as many people believe spending a huge of amount of money on a sports event will do nothing to alleviate widespread poverty. Having a new airport will help the residents of the favelas (slums) in Rio.
There have been fatalities at construction sites and the building of several of the stadia was behind schedule less than a month ahead of the first match. It will be interesting to see how the country responds when the tournament begins. The players have a huge responsibility to unite a divided nation. The World Cup loses something when the hosts depart but the ramifications could be serious if Brazil underachieves.
Neymar has scored 30 goals in 47 internationals and played well in the Confederations Cup in Brazil last summer. He was also a standout player at the Olympics on 2012 and having played for Santos for five yeas has experience of high intensity matches in Brazil. However, the demands on his slight frame will be unprecedented during the World Cup. He made a decent start to his career at Barcelona but his form dipped over the second half of the season.
There are concerns that he is physically too light to carry the burden of a nation. Ultimately he disappointed the people of Cataluña who follow Barcelona and his presence in their side effected Lionel Messi’s level of performance. Messi’s tally of league goals dropped to 28 after scoring 46 times in the previous season. Maybe Neymar can produce his best when he is the main scorer and not supplementary to someone like Messi.
The bookmakers believe Argentina are the side most likely to win the World Cup if the level of expectation is too much for Brazil. Messi is the obvious standout player but he didn’t score for his country at the last World Cup. In Sergio Aguero Argentina have a proven goal scorer who has taken his game to a new level with Manchester City. He has just helped them win the Premier League for the second time in three years.
Aguero is joined in Argentina’s World Cup squad by his team mates from City, Martin Demichelis and Pablo Zabaleta, who both ultimately had great domestic seasons. Javier Mascherano is a veteran of 96 games. He is now an integral part of the Barcelona side that just lost out on winning the league in Spain. All but four of Argentina’s 26 man provisional squad play league football in Europe.
Spain are the defending champions and have also won the last two European Championships. No other side has won three major international tournaments in succession and the nucleus of the 2010 World Cup squad remains unchanged. Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez from Barcelona will again be pivotal in midfield but the warrior that is Carlos Puyol has retired from international football.
Eleven of the players in the Spain provisional World Cup squad are from Barcelona and Real Madrid. Its is a fine achievement by the national coach, Vicente del Bosque, to form an effective unit with players from such intense rivals. El Classico between Real Madrid and Barcelona is the most divisive match in world football as it transcends sport and involves politics, history and identity.
The Spanish players know what it takes to win a World Cup and patience will be key in the late stages in the prevailing climate. Spain won each of their elimination matches 1-0 at the last World Cup so believe eventually they can create a scoring chance even in the tightest of matches. Alvaro Negredo, also from Manchester City, is more like to accept that chance than a sulking Fernando Torres or Diego Costa who may miss the tournament through injury.
There is a similar clash of styles and cultures in Germany’s national squad as a number of members play for either Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund. Bayern have just won the German league and will be represented amongst others by Thomas Muller and Bastain Schweinsteiger in midfield. Manuel Neuer plays in goal for the national side and he is well established as the number one keeper at Bayern Munich.
Philipp Lahm is the captain of Germany and also plays for Bayern. He has played over 100 times for his country and is considered the best right back in the world. An interesting career development with Bayern was a move into midfield where he has been just as effective. Per Mertesacker could reach 100 caps in Brazil on the back of an improved season with Arsenal.
The key to England’s chances will be the first group match against Italy. Given the selection of several young players like Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling England must be positive and take the game to an Italy side that will sit back and play a controlled game. Win that match and England have a great platform to progress but ultimately may face disappointment in potential matches with Brazil or Argentina.