Every four years, a single event has the ability to unite an entire nation. The World Cup, arguably the greatest sporting event in the world, can bring out the national pride in anybody. Let’s take a look at all 32 teams vying for the Jules Rimet trophy in Brazil.
Brazil– The host country, a World Cup victory would send Brazil into hysterics. And Brazil has the best chance to do that. Many analysts, including ESPN FC’s Mario Kempes, can’t find a weakness in the play of Brazil. The Brazilians have the best back line in the world, with the likes of Dani Alves, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, and Marcelo. Neymar heads the attack, along with the intimidating Hulk. Brazil’s surplus of midfielders playing key roles in Europe makes Brazil a complete team. Following a convincing 3-0 defeat of 2010 World Cup winner Spain at last year’s Confederations Cup, Brazil is the favorite to win the World Cup.
Cameroon– The Lions come into the tournament without high expectations, needing a playoff victory in African qualifying to make it to the Cup. Captained by Samuel Eto’o, who has played with Barcelona, Inter, and Chelsea, Cameroon will rely on Eto’o and Barcelona midfielder Alex Song to provide leadership. Unless Cameroon’s lesser-known players can perform at a high level, the Lions will return home unhappy.
Croatia– The Croatians may not have many big names, but they are capable of solid soccer. Led by Real Madrid mid Luka Modric and Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic, Croatia has a balanced team. Midfielder Ivan Rakitic and defender Darijo Srna are two players you’ve likely never heard of, but produce good performances. The Croatians will battle for the second playoff spot.
Mexico– One of the worst and most dramatic qualifying campaigns in recent memory, Mexico still managed to make it to the finals, thanks to 9-3 aggregate playoff victory against New Zealand. El Tri now needs to put that experience behind them and show why they deserve to be at the World Cup. Superstar forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez isn’t playing much at Manchester United, and Mexico lacks big names. Despite all their setbacks, Mexico should compete with Croatia for the second spot.
Australia– Although Group G has been labeled the “Group of Death”, Australia’s group is not far off from that. Even with strong players like midfielder Tim Cahill and defender Lucas Neill, the Roos lack the firepower of the other teams in their group, and will be lucky to even tie a game in Brazil.
Chile– Although many don’t recognize Chile as an international power, it’s time they should. A very well-balanced squad that includes Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal and Barcelona winger Alexis Sanchez, Chile possess the national pride and spirit that is required for a deep run in the World Cup. If the Chileans defense can hold opponents to two goals or less, their attackers should get them goals.
Netherlands– After getting so close to winning the World Cup four years ago, the Netherlands can show that they still belong with the world powers. Their strength is their high-powered attack, with striker Robin van Persie, winger Arjen Robben, and the versatile Wesley Sneijder. The supporting cast are also active on the offensive. However, putting lots of effort into the attack means becoming susceptible to a counterattack, and Chile and Spain can make the most of those chances. If the Dutch want to advance out of their group, they’ll have to score lots of goals.
Spain– Winners of the last three major tournaments, Spain uses their famed “tiki-taka” style of quick passing to break down opponents. As always, their midfield is one of, if not, the best in the world, featuring Barcelona teammates Xavi and Iniesta. If you have to pick out a weakness, it would probably be Spain’s defense, who don’t have the greatest size and strength to fend off large strikers. Previously unmatched in the international world, La Roja will have to compete with Brazil to retain their status as best in the world.
Colombia– Similar to Chile, Colombia are starting to gain power in the soccer world and will certainly make a splash in the World Cup. Although you’ve likely never heard of most of their players, many of the starting eleven play in Italy, France, and England, so they have experience against the big names of soccer. If Radamel Falcao can return to form from his ACL surgery in January, then Colombia will be a very dangerous team.
Greece– Fun fact: Out of all the teams qualified for the World Cup, Greece lost the least amount of games during the period between World Cups (4)…Okay, so back to the important stuff. Greece’s strong suit is their size and strength, focusing on defense and hoping their big forwards can get them a goal or two. However, the Greeks are unlucky because teams like Colombia and Japan have small, quick attackers who can dart right by them. Greece doesn’t have the flair to advance to the next round.
Ivory Coast– Considered by many the best team in Africa, the Ivory Coast are a very unpredictable team. With stars like midfielder Yaya Toure and forward Didier Drogba, the Elephants have the talent to advance to the knockout stages of the World Cup. However, Toure and Drogba can’t win a game by themselves, so the supporting cast has to step up in order for advancing to be possible.
Japan– Probably the best team in Asia, Japan represented the continent at the Confederations Cup last year. Japan conceded a large number of goals, showing the level of their competition and that their defense needs to step it up. However, the Samurai also scored a considerable amount of goals, proving they can hang with the best. Led by electric midfielders Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, Japan will compete with the Ivory Coast for second place in the group.
Costa Rica– Los Cafateros just got unlucky. Drawn in a group with England, Italy, and Uruguay, Costa Rica simply lacks the star power and international experience that the other three have. The best chance they have is to just sit back and defend, and hope that they can break away on a counter-attack with their speedy midfielders and win tight games.
England– Always one of the more interesting teams to watch, England will have a challenge this year, dealt a tough group. Striker Wayne Rooney and midfielder Steven Gerrard head the Three Lions, and a resurgent Daniel Sturridge is another player to consider. All of their starters and 29 of the 30 on the roster play in the Premier League, but that also means that the English aren’t accustomed to the smaller, quicker teams like Uruguay. The English will get a challenge from Italy, and that matchup will decide who advances to the Round of 16.
Italy– The Italians are one of the most experienced teams in the tournament, and in a tough group that could be an advantage. The Azzurri also are one of the best teams position wise and keeping their shape, and can’t really be broken down with brute force. When not in conflict, striker Mario Balotelli is one of the most intimidating players in the world. One concern for Italy will be their inability to keep up with the new fast-paced, quick breed of players who dominate the game today.
Uruguay– After a surprising third-place finish at the 2010 WC, Uruguay will look to achieve a similar performance. After having arguably the best league season in Europe this year, Luis Suarez teams up with Edinson Cavani to create a dynamic duo that creates problems for any defense. The midfield doesn’t have any big names, but they play together well as a unit. If Uruguay’s defense can play at a high level, then Uruguay will be a very tough game for anybody, including Brazil.