6 Biggest Sleepers Heading into 2014 World Cup in Brazil
With just over a year remaining until the 2014 World Cup captivates global attention, the tournament favorites have already been established.
In almost every installment of the world's biggest sporting event, though, a few nations are able to overcome some seemingly long odds and make a deep run to the tournament's latter stages.
In 2010, Slovakia, Ghana and Uruguay's runs to the round of 16, quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, were not tipped by too many before the first ball was kicked.
Hence, one might be wise to expect a surprising face to challenge the likes of Spain, Brazil, Germany and Argentina for places in the semifinals.
So what teams have a chance to make such a run in Brazil and cut through the heavy favorites on their way to the knockout stages?
Here are the six biggest sleepers for the 2014 World Cup.
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Casual fans may not see this one coming, but any fan of European club football will know the potential of Belgium's football team.
The Belgians are a young side, but their talented youth have recently made a mark in the Premier League.
With Chelsea's Eden Hazard, Tottenham's Jan Vertonghen and Moussa Dembele, Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, Aston Villa's Christian Benteke and Everton's Marouane Fellaini, just to name a few, Belgium have all the ability to make a deep run at the World Cup.
They may not have made a major tournament over the past 10 years, but one would be ill-advised to look past Belgium for a team to watch in Brazil.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
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Bosnia and Herzegovina have been threatening to make a major tournament for the past few years, falling short in playoffs to Portugal during qualification for both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
The eastern Europeans look well set up to finally break through this time around, though, destroying opposition along the way to establishing a three-point cushion atop their qualifying group.
With Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko leading the way, expect Bosnia and Herzegovina to be a threat heading into their group in Brazil.
If everything goes right, it's very easy to see them making a similar run to the one Slovakia made in 2010.
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While much of the talk surrounding Africa's qualification process quite rightly centers around sides like the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria, Egypt have seemed to slip under the radar.
The Egyptians have dominated their group thus far, winning every match and pulling them ever closer to a spot in the World Cup in Brazil.
Egypt's inability to qualify for the past two Africa Cups of Nations and five World Cups have put them completely off the radar, obscuring the talent they have that led them to three successive African Cups from 2006 to 2010.
Expect the Basel duo of Mohamed Salah and Mohamed El-Nenny to guide their team through qualification and to a competitive performance in Brazil.
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With arguably the easiest group in Europe's World Cup qualifying process, Switzerland seem like sure bets to qualify for Brazil.
At the 2010 World Cup, the Swiss picked up an unlikely win over Spain in their opening match of the tournament, a result made all the more curious by their inability to win another match and Spain's recovery to win the trophy.
Switzerland have just improved since then, building a young a talented midfield from the likes of Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Valentin Stocker.
In all likelihood, the Swiss will make it to Brazil under the radar, but they could make waves and make it out of their group.
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Over the past several years, Japan has done a lot to establish themselves as the best team in Asia.
The Samurai Blue won the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, defeating South Korea and Australia in the semifinals and finals, respectively, and have been so dominant in their World Cup qualifying group that they are likely to be the first team other than Brazil to qualify for the 2014 tournament.
Despite all of their success, though, the Japanese have slipped under the radar a bit.
With two knockout-stage appearances in the past three World Cups, expect Japan to push for a similar result in Brazil.
In fact, don't be surprised if they improve upon their Round of 16 appearance from 2010.
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Russia's inconsistencies have certainly hurt them over the past several years, but the team could be on the rise heading into the 2014 World Cup.
After Euro 2008, where the Russians finished with a semifinal loss to eventual champions Spain, many saw the team as a side to watch out for in future tournaments.
From there, though, Russia suffered a letdown in a playoff against Slovenia and subsequently missed out on the 2010 World Cup, then went out in the group stage of Euro 2012.
What is lost from their failed Euro 2012 campaign, though, is how well the Russians played before suffering a complete washout against Greece.
As a result, the general read on Russia's possibilities in Brazil is skeptical, even despite their thorough dominance in a qualifying group that contains perennial powerhouse Portugal.
With the young talent of Alan Dzagoev and experienced leadership of Yuri Zhirkov, Sergei Ignashevich and Aleksandr Kerzhakov, though, Russia could well be building toward a strong performance at the World Cup.
One shouldn't be too surprised if they were to see them in the quarterfinals come 2014.