Argentina & Brazil: Which Team Has the Best Shot to Beat Spain at the World Cup?
The 2014 World Cup is still almost two years away, and so much can happen in that time to weaken teams, change the general level of competitiveness or even turn other teams into favorites.
However, regardless of what happens over the next couple of years, there is a very strong chance that Spain, the reigning world and European champions, will travel to Brazil as favorites to win the tournament once again.
There are plenty of teams who can upset La Roja, of course.
Germany is probably the most balanced team in the world with no weakness anywhere on the pitch. Their inexperience that helped cost them trophies over the last two years will not be a problem by 2014.
With so many incredible talents throughout the team likely to start playing their best football in 2014, Die Mannschaft will be one of the heavy favorites to lift the cup.
Italy are another favorite as they have now rebounded from a shameful showing at the 2010 World Cup to once again be considered one of the best teams around.
France could be just a few steps behind the Italians as well. They showed everyone that they can hang with Spain and even beat them. That could create a great winning mentality.
Other European clubs like Portugal, Belgium, England and Holland could also upset the holders without it being a historically shocking result.
While each of those teams certainly have the quality to defeat Spain in a single elimination match, the two non-European teams that will be considered the strongest contenders are Argentina and Brazil.
South America will look to take the cup back from the Europeans in 2014 after 12 years of disappointment.
The hosts will obviously be considered one of the favorites. Not only will A Seleção be playing on their home turf, they have one of the strongest and deepest teams in all of football.
Argentina will also be playing near their home, though it will not exactly be a comfortable trip. More importantly, they will field a supremely talented side.
When we try to decide which of these two teams is most capable of overtaking Spain as the greatest team on the planet, the answer is far from clear.
Both teams have incredible strengths and equally crippling weaknesses. Let's start with the hosts.
Which is the bigger X-factor?
Brazil have enormous talent at nearly every position. However, despite the incredible potential shown by the likes of Oscar and Rafael Cabral, consistency and poise remain a problem.
As they showed in the latest final of the Olympics, the Brazilians have, thus far, been unable to turn their almost limitless skill into a cohesive team.
Mano Menezes has more top-class players to choose from than he knows what to do with.
As he stated (according to Tom Maston of Goal.com) after their latest win over Japan, he is finally starting to get solid skeleton for A Seleção, which will help the team grow as long as that stays the same.
Additionally, while the 50-year-old manager has loads of supremely talented players, he does not have many truly elite players on the squad.
Guys like Neymar and Oscar are on the cusp of greatness but are not there yet and are not guaranteed to reach that level before the World Cup.
Those stars who are already ranked among Europe's best—such as Thiago Silva, Kaka, Marcelo and Dani Alves—may have peaked already. Aside from Marcelo, all of these players will be in their 30s come 2014.
They will still be elite and by no means 'over the hill', but may not be at their best anymore, especially Alves and Kaka.
How will the team mesh? Will the young stars be ready to become the new leaders of their team by the tournament?
Can the veterans put in one more month's worth of elite football to help ensure a title for their country? Only time will tell.
Argentina also have their own major concerns looking toward 2014. But first, let's look at the strengths.
Right now, Alejandro Sabella is blessed with the greatest attack in world football.
He uses the elite pairing of Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain in attack with Angel di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi spreading play on the wings.
Of course, his greatest weapon is the reigning Ballon d'Or winner and the player widely considered the best of his generation—Lionel Messi.
For country, La Pulga Atomico plays a very different role than at Barcelona. In Spain, the forward is the focus of every attack and has his teammates creating and building up play to create chances for him to score.
For country, Messi switches to the play-maker role; he is the creator. Playing a deeper role as a midfielder, the team captain uses much more restraint and discipline going forward and is not the main source of goals.
But for all of the unrivaled versatility and ability in attack, the host's greatest rivals are incredibly unbalanced. The defense remains very shaky and inconsistent and lacks any true world class players.
Sabella has yet to find a perfect pairing in central defense, and if not for some phenomenal play from Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago, Argentina would be at risk of allowing multiple goals every match.
The options at keeper, while sufficient, are also without a truly elite choice. Sergio Romero will be entering his prime and has become much more reliable over the last 18 months, but fans will not rest as easily with him in goal as the likes of Spain, Italy and Germany will.
If the midfield can continue to shield the defense while keeping enough possession to put Messi on the ball, any defensive weaknesses can be overcome by providing Argentina more serious scoring opportunities than the opposition.
So which has the best chance of dethroning Spain?
Going back to the original question, we have to look at all of these factors when deciding which South American powerhouse will have the best shot at being crowned champions of the world once again.
Which team has the best chance of overtaking Spain in 2014?
Brazil will have the huge advantage of playing at home, but that has not served them so well in the past. They will also have many players who should be entering their prime, but the balance, unity and discipline in the team have to be questioned.
Argentina will likely have the most dangerous attack in the entire tournament but will greatly struggle against counterattacks and will become much less potent against the likes of Spain and Germany—teams that can dominate even the best midfields in football.
There is no question that both of these teams can win the World Cup. Despite some glaring flaws, both are obviously talented enough to beat any team in the world, especially in an elimination match.
We will not see Argentina or Brazil play again until March. Even then, we may be watching a very different team than the one that will be aiming for glory in 2014.
However, every match over the next 20 months will be extremely important. Whichever team can become the closest during the tournament is more likely to play their best football.
Whichever coach can best realize and utilize his team's strengths to account for any weaknesses will put his team in the best position to win.
Spain are in the middle of their Golden Age, one of the greatest periods of any team in history.
If anyone is going to end that historic run and dethrone the best team in football over the last four years, they will need more than just talent. They will need unity, timing of form and maybe even a bit of luck.
With the World Cup being played in Brazil, both the hosts and their greatest rivals have as good a shot as any team of dethroning La Furia Roja.
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