5 Second-Tier Nations Who Could Feasibly Triumph at World Cup 2014
The recent spate of World Cup qualifiers has given everyone a taste for the International spectacle that looms next summer. This article profiles five second-tier nations who could well triumph at Brazil 2014.
For the purpose of this piece, I define ‘Second-Tier Nations’ as those sides in the world that have not yet won the World Cup—i.e. Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Italy, France, Germany, England and Spain, or Holland and Portugal, who are approaching the status and profile of the eight previous winners despite never having taken home the trophy. Holland alone have been defeated finalists on three occasions.
I am also not defining ‘triumph’ as ‘victory,’ as very few nations actually have a feasible chance of winning the competition outright—indeed the only ‘first-timers’ in the final since 1974 have been France and Spain, both of whom had previously won their respective continental championship.
Instead, I consider ‘triumph’ to be an achievement that either outstrips or equals their recent performances or best performances on the international high table.
Thus, despite not the winning the cup, I would identify Turkey and South Korea’s run to the semifinals in 2002 as a ‘triumph’—due to the outstanding nature of the achievement.
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Following their disappointing showing at the recent Cup of Nations with the much-vaunted ‘Golden Generation’ gently ebbing away, and with the stock of Ivorian football at its lowest ebb for a decade, they may seem like a strange choice for this article.
However, there are green shoots of optimism in the Ivorian case, and I believe that there can be cause for encouragement.
Currently leading CAF Qualifying group C, one point ahead of unfancied Tanzania, and five clear of perceived-closed rivals Morocco, I would say that it’s a fairly safe bet that the CIV will advance from their group. Then, only a two-legged playoff will separate them and a place at their third consecutive finals.
Recent showings—in 2006 and 2010—were underwhelming, but it’s easy to forget that on both occasions the Elephants found themselves in the tournament’s Group of Death; initially with Serbia, Argentina and Holland; and latterly with Brazil, Portugal and…North Korea.
Surely the favours of fate can’t frown upon them once more, and, older and wiser, expect the CIV to advance deeper into the competition than ever before.
I would argue that three things characterised their decade of underachievement in the Noughties, when, despite being Africa’s finest collection of players (possibly ever), they failed to pick up any honours. These three things are instability, an over-reliance on a star player and crushing pressure.
Moving forward, there is every chance that these issues have been overcome; the perpetuated employment of inexperienced French boss Sabri Lamouchi post-Afcon suggests that the Ivorian federation finally see the merit of stable stewardship, while Drogba’s gentle phasing out from the side may well give other performers the chance to flourish.
Finally, with much less expected from the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ the CIV’s talented performers may well realise their immense potential on the international stage.
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Few other teams on this list, or even in the whole of World Football, can boast the same depth and calibre of talent as Belgium. Indeed, barring misfortune or significant upheaval, this star-studded side look set to make a big impact at next summer’s World Cup. If all goes to plan, this ‘Golden Generation’ of Belgian stars could make a splash similar to that made by the dazzling Dutch in 1974.
In recent qualifying campaigns, a low coefficient and a lack of stability have cost the Belgians dear. This time however, despite being placed into a difficult pool containing Balkan rivals Serbia and Croatia, as well as British duo Scotland and Wales, the Red Devils are prospering, and after six games, sit atop UEFA Group A.
Many of this exciting selection of Belgian stars are plying their trade in the English Premier League, and are among the competition’s most vibrant protagonists. Sir Alex Ferguson bemoaned the immense influence of Marouane Fellaini earlier in the season, while Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen have arguably been the Prem’s most impressive defenders last term and this.
Further up the field, Eden Hazard and Moussa Dembélé are two of the Premier League’s finest midfielders, while any combination of Kevin Mirallas, Christian Benteke or Romelu Lukaku could be devastating.
Born from lands including Mali, DR Congo and Martinique, this cosmopolitan collection of stars—the quality of which I have only touched upon—could genuinely prosper at the 2014 World Cup, capturing the imagination in the process.
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After decades of broken promises, failed dreams and dismal underperformance, the heavyweights of West Africa finally brought joy to Lagos, Abuja and the principalities by claiming Africa’s premier prize—the Cup of Nations.
While this victory alone, isn’t enough to suggest they will prosper at the World Cup—the record of African champions at the international high table is underwhelming to say the least—the nature of the triumph, and the makeup of the squad, suggests that Naija can stride to Brazil buoyed by optimism.
Despite a recent home draw against Kenya, Nigeria remains in pole position in Group F, and with one of the easier collections of opposition, I would strongly back them to advance to the third round of qualifying.
One of the most marked things about Stephen Keshi’s new-look Super Eagles side is their age; traditional talents like Peter Odemwinge, Obafemi Martins and even nominal skipper Joseph Yobo have been dispensed with opening the door for the likes of Kenneth Omeruo and Godfrey Oboabona, the juvenile centreback pairing that displayed such maturity and poise at the Afcon.
Their two key players, Chelsea duo Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel, were in fine fettle in their recent continental triumph; the former announcing himself to the continent with some delicious dribbling, confident finishing and architectural creativity, while the latter trod the line between anchor man and progressive playmaker, growing in stature as the tournament progressed.
Unified and liberated, look for the champions of Africa to represent their continent with pride in Brazil.
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Currently sitting in third place in the CONMEBOL Qualifying Group, it is by no means sure that Colombia will qualify for the World Cup, but if they do, I foresee big things for Los Cafeteros.
Beyond the likely home-continent advantage (Brazil is one of five countries that borders Colombia) the national side have firepower which could rival any national in the world.
However, the last decade has been lean for the Colombian national side; after three consecutive qualifications in the 1990s, the generation of Valderrama, Asprilla and Higuita departed, leaving the embers of that side to fade beneath a revitalised Uruguay and the threats of Ecuador, Chile and Paraguay.
The pendulum of fortune in South America has now swung back to Bogota, and Colombia once again boast talent that could threaten the upper echelons of the sport.
Few can argue with the meteoric rise of Radamel Falcao over the last two years; after only 42 caps he is already the fourth-highest goal scorer in Colombia’s history, despite making only half as many appearances as Freddy Rincon in third place. A multitude of options could complement him up front, with the dynamic qualities of Teofilo Gutierrez, Jackson Martinez, Carlos Quintero, Luis Muriel and Carly Bacca all poised to dovetail with El Tigre.
The rest of their squad isn’t quite as high-caliber as the forward line, but with the likes of Porto superstar James Rodriguez, Internazionale midfielder Fredy Guarin and experienced defenders Cristian Zapata and Mario Yepes, Colombia could forge an effective unit.
There is a reason why Colombia are currently sixth in FIFA’s World rankings, and don’t be surprised to see the likes of Falcao, Martinez and Rodriguez fire the side beyond their previous best World Cup finish, the Round of 16 in 1990.
Like many other national teams across Europe, the Swiss drive to incorporate the various ethnicities inside its frontiers into the footballing set-up is paying dividends. Other nations such as Belgium, France and England have benefited from the populations oftheir former colonies; Switzerland has benefited from its status as a haven for immigrants.
Whilst the likes of Spain, the Ivory Coast and Turkey were represented among the personnel of its World Cup 2006 squad, now countries as diverse as Bosnia, Macedonia, Nigeria, Albania, Kosovo, Cape Verde, Italy, Germany and Chile are regularly and routinely found in the squad.
Indeed, Albania alone is responsible for furnishing the Swiss with the finest talent in a generation, and players such as Valon Behrami, Blerim Dzemaili and Bayern’s Xherdan Shaqiri have been hugely influential in pushing the Europeans to the pinnacle of UEFA Group E.
In the 2010 World Cup there was a sense that the Swiss missed a trick. After beating Spain in their opening game, they failed to capitalise on their momentum and points, and ended up heading home in the Group Stage—bewildered by their inability to best Honduras in Bloemfontein.
It was a similar story four years previously, where, despite not conceding a single goal, Switzerland were eliminated in the Round of 16 following a penalty shootout defeat.
Perhaps in 2014, with a combative unit laced with some of Europe’s most exciting talents, they could finally build on their immense potential.