Predicting the Top Seeds for World Cup 2014
On June 12, 2014, the World Cup will get underway in Brazil with what should be the top 32 nations in the world competing for the grand prize.
The draw for finals will take place in Bahia on December 6, with the teams as always sorted into four groups of seeds determined by both FIFA world ranking and the governing body.
The top seven sides, according to FIFA's ranking list, along with the host nation will be awarded top-seed status and will be drawn separately for the competition. In theory, it offers them an advantage in terms of qualification for the second stage.
So, with just 10 months to go until the draw takes place, let's take a look at who may fill the top eight places.
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As the host nation of the 2014 World Cup, Brazil are guaranteed a place among the tournament's top seeds. Their normally assured top-seed status would otherwise have been in major doubt given their current lowly FIFA world ranking.
The Seleção started life under new head coach Luiz Felope Scolari with a tame 2-1 defeat to England at Wembley. However, having changed coach, Brazil must believe that 18 months is long enough to mount at least some form of title challenge. Home advantage should, of course, help in this regard.
The problem for Scolari is that it has now been some time since Brazil's side took the field with confidence, a settled tactical setup or a consistent starting 11. In truth, they are in a state of confusion.
This is what "Big Phil" has set about correcting, and early indications are that he will not chop and change dramatically with the hope of bringing a certain amount of familiarity and certainty to the squad.
How they respond to the pressure of hosting the tournament could decide how far they ultimately progress.
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Current world and European champions Spain sit comfortably at the summit of the FIFA world rankings and look very unlikely to lose their position over the next 18 months.
Few would disagree that La Roja are currently the best team in world football and, assuming they qualify, they will enter the 2014 tournament as favourites to retain their trophy.
Qualification is, on this occasion, no formality. France earned an impressive away draw to keep the group wide open, but it would take a brave man to back anyone other than Vicente del Bosque's side to advance automatically.
While some of their leaders from 2008 and 2010 may now be relative veterans at the top level of international football, the Iberians have more than enough strength in depth and emerging talent to suggest that any late loss in form or injury could be accommodated.
They remain the yardstick for all other nations and will be expecting further international glory come the Maracanã in July of 2014.
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Many believed that Joachim Low's side would challenge for global glory at the last World Cup in 2010, while the same was said ahead of Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Neither ultimately came to pass.
For the likes of Philip Lahm, Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose, a final shot at World Cup glory is approaching, and many believe it to be the best opportunity of their long and successful careers.
Lying comfortably at second in the world rankings as of January 2013 and flying high at the top of Group C in European World Cup qualifying, Germany look to be sailing comfortably toward the 2014 tournament and a top-seed place.
The core of the side has been settled for some time, and with plentiful talent emerging in an ever-strengthening Bundesliga, Die Mannschaft will believe they have every chance at the coming World Cup.
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Under current manager Alejandro Sabella, Argentina have been making swift progress in their quest to return to the top of the world game, having fallen to disappointing levels under the command of former coaches Diego Maradona and Sergio Batista.
With the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain leading the Albiceleste attack, they will not struggle for goals—the issue has always been finding the correct balance of a side to unleash their star players.
The defence, while not as strong as it maybe could or should be, is now a functioning unit and, with the Angel di Maria moved into midfield and Aguero playing from the left, the balance in attacking areas is now much better.
Argentina, who look set to comfortably qualify from the South American section, are fairly comfortable in their current ranking and should easily emerge as one of the World Cup's top eight seeds.
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Italy, barring a Confederations Cup disaster, will comfortably qualify as top seeds for the 2014 World Cup with a fine record of three wins and a draw from their qualification campaign so far.
The Euro 2012 finalists will hope to lay down a marker when they take on Brazil, Mexico and Japan this summer, with just one win likely enough to ensure a top-seven world ranking.
The Azzurri surprised many observers in Poland and Ukraine with their impressive and organised performances, overcoming both Germany and England en route to the final.
The core of the Juventus team that has been taking Serie A by storm will form the basis of Italy's side, while Italian fans will hope that the partnership of strikers Mario Balotelli and Stephan El-Shaarawy will take off in the colours of AC Milan.
Should their young strikers begin to strike up a partnership of note, then the Italians could be a major threat at next year's tournament.
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Roy Hodgson's England side are another who, provided they succeed in qualifying for the World Cup, will likely attain top-seed status—with their sixth position in the FIFA rankings likely to improve following their recent defeat of Brazil.
The Three Lions will expect to win the majority of their remaining qualification fixtures and, over the past four years, have a strong record of avoiding defeat—hence their high ranking.
While few would claim that England will be challengers for the World Cup title in Brazil, there is little doubt that Hodgson will make them hard to beat. The result over Brazil will also act as a major confidence boost.
The English game has many areas to work on, but its lack of quality is often exaggerated by many who seek to knock it. The truth is, while England may not be challenging for major tournaments, they are one of the most regular at reaching the latter stages.
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Louis van Gaal's Netherlands side are another European giant currently flying through the qualification process, currently sitting with four wins out of four in Group D.
A much-changed Oranje side last week drew with Italy, despite playing just three players over the age of 23, and with their senior stars set to return, they look to be a strong unit once more ahead of the World Cup.
Although currently in eighth position in the rankings, which would not be enough to qualify them for top-seed status, Netherlands should be able to break into the required positions in time for December's draw. All that is required is that they continue their current form.
The Dutch have a good balance of experienced players and talented youngsters, but their Euro 2012 failure will weigh heavy on many of their ranks.
In order to succeed, their talents must be combined into a coordinated team unit. The individual forces of their biggest talents alone will not be enough, as has already been proven.
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The final top seed slot at the World Cup appears to be a straight fight between Portugal and Colombia. However, given Portugal's qualification travails, it is the South Americans who currently hold the upper hand.
Portugal's loss to Ecuador last week will have dented their ranking ambitions somewhat, while Colombia have several of their key remaining qualification fixtures at home—besides the slender advantage they already hold.
Jose Pekerman's side look to be a real rising force in world football, and with their Under-20 side recently crowned the best side in South America, reinforcements could be on their way in time for the 2014 event.
Striker Radamel Falcao is, of course, the star of the Cafeteros side, but the likes of playmakers Juan Fernando Quintero and James Rodriguez offer real hope of a dynamic and creative forward line.
If some of their aging and creaking defenders can make it through to the 2014 finals, the sleeping giants of South America could be one to watch on their own continent.