World Cup 2014: Highlighting Top Sleepers Heading to Brazil

Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent INovember 16, 2013

RECIFE, BRAZIL - JUNE 19:  Shinji Kagawa of Japan celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Group A match between Italy and Japan at Arena Pernambuco on June 19, 2013 in Recife, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

World Cup 2014 is less than seven months away but is still awaiting 11 more nations to fill the remaining qualification spots.

Twenty-one countries have secured berths in next summer's month-long tournament in Brazil, including powerhouse squads like Spain, Germany and Argentina. But there are some dangerous teams flying under the radar heading into the new year.

Below, we'll highlight a trio of sleeper teams to keep an eye on as June draws closer.

 

Belgium

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - NOVEMBER 14: (L-R) Marouane Fellani of Belgium and Pablo Armero of Colombia go up for a header during the international friendly match between Belgium and Colombia at King Badouin stadium on November 14, 2013 in Brussels, Belgium. (Pho
Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

A young but dangerous squad, Belgium qualified for Brazil with ease, winning eight of 10 matches in UEFA Group A to win the group by nine points. 

While this unit is an inexperienced one when it comes to high-profile international competitions, the talent it boasts is undeniable. With English Premier League stars like Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard and Christian Benteke leading the way, Belgium won't be short on skill or potential next summer.

The Red Devils' exceptional play on both sides of the ball has been encouraging throughout qualification. Belgium only conceded four goals in 10 matches while leading Group A with 18 goals scored.

Frankly, there's a lot to like about this squad as it prepares to take football's grand stage.

 

Russia

WROCLAW, POLAND - JUNE 08:  Alan Dzagoev of Russia celebrates scoring their third goal during the UEFA EURO 2012 group A match between Russia and Czech Republic at The Municipal Stadium on June 8, 2012 in Wroclaw, Poland.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Imag
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Despite having faded in the FIFA world rankings, Russia remains a team worth watching in Brazil next year.

Russia won UEFA Group F to earn an automatic bid, beating out a dangerous Portugal squad in the process. Like Belgium, Russia lacks a rich history of success on the big international stages, but it does boast emerging young talent like Alan Dzagoev, who has netted eight international goals since 2010.

The 23-year-old possesses phenomenal skill and an unrivaled will to win. When you add in the experience that veterans like Alexander Kerzhakov and Yuri Zhirkov provide, you can't help but feel Russia has the right blend of young and old to make a deep run in Brazil.

 

Japan

RIFU, JAPAN - AUGUST 14:  Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Yoichiro Kakitani of Japan celebrate after scoring a goal during the international friendly match between Japan and Uruguay at Miyagi Stadium on August 14, 2013 in Rifu, Miyagi, Japan.  (Photo by
Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

Unlike Belgium and Russia, you won't find Japan anywhere inside the top 40 of the FIFA world rankings, but that doesn't mean the Samurai Blue won't make any noise in Brazil in 2014.

After all, Japan reached the Round of 16 in South Africa in 2010 before falling to Paraguay on penalties and has plenty of World Cup experience, having advanced from the group stage in two of its past three attempts. 

With talented players like Keisuke Honda (19 international goals) and Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa (16 international goals) representing the Asian powerhouse in South America, Japan is sure to continue to exceed expectations. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

Follow _Pat_Clarke on Twitter