Why Argentina Are in Better Shape Than Brazil to Challenge at World Cup 2014
Brazil are, quite understandably, most bookmakers' favorites to lift the World Cup Trophy on home soil next year, but fierce rivals Argentina are actually better placed to win the tournament.
Having won the World Cup five times, more than any other country, Brazil will be expected to ride a wave of support from their football-mad fans deep into the the business end of the competition. In 19 previous World Cups, the host nation has triumphed six times.
The risk remains, however, that Brazil's media and fans will apply such intense levels of expectation upon their national side during the tournament that playing at home will actually become more of a hindrance than an advantage.
Who will win the World Cup in 2014?
Will Brazilian players be able to cope with the intensity of the demands placed on them? The most glaring example of a team wilting under such pressure came from the Selecao themselves in 1950, when they only needed a draw against Uruguay in the final game to claim the title.
In one of the most infamous chokes in sports history, unbackable favorites Brazil took the lead in the second half in front of more than 170,000 fans at the Maracana but somehow allowed their opponents to overwhelm them, going on to lose the game 2-1.
South American football guru Tim Vickery made the point in his BBC Sport column that the emotional strain of playing at home could cause Brazilian players to falter.
Poland coach Franciszek Smuda blamed this emotional aspect for his side's disappointing second-half display in the Euro 2012 opener against Greece. His observation makes sense. Tournament hosts 16 years ago, England seemed to be running on empty in the second half of their Euro 96 debut against Switzerland...
...But even in comparison with Poland now and England in 1996, the pressure on the next World Cup hosts will be far greater. I doubt that any team in major tournament history has had to cope with the burden of expectations that Brazil will be carrying in 2014.
England have won the World Cup at home, as have France, Germany and Italy, Uruguay and Argentina. Brazil have not.
It is worth noting, then, that no fewer than seven World Cups have been won by a side from a neighboring or nearby country to the hosts, and if you include Brazil and Argentina's wins in Latin American nation Mexico in 1974 and 1986 respectively, that number goes up to nine.
That is just one reason Argentina can be quietly confident of going all the way in Brazil. There will be plenty of pressure on the Albicelestes, that is undeniable, but failure to win any senior international tournament since the 1993 Copa America means Argentines have become more cynical than their Brazilian counterparts when it comes to expecting success.
The relative strengths of the two squads are debatable, but the fact that Argentina top the South American Qualifying group indicates that pensive coach Alejandro Sabella has the team operating near the top of their game.
Sabella has a reliable goalkeeper in Sergio Romero; a stable, if unspectacular back line; a functional, ball-playing midfield; and a devastating array of talent to call on in the forwards, led by the world's premier player, Lionel Messi.
Messi has thrived for the national side since being appointed captain by Sabella, and backed by a solid team he has the potential to win a World Cup almost on his own.
Brazilians may argue that their own starlet, Neymar, is blessed with a similar game-changing talent, but the new Barcelona signing has yet to reach Messi's level of consistent genius.
The likes of Spain and Germany will fancy their chances of becoming the first Europeans to win a World Cup on the South American continent, but should they fall short, it is hard to look past Argentina or Brazil as prime contenders.
Of the two, Messi's Argentina are the side who appear to have more of an aura of potential world champions about them.
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