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World Cup 2014: Predicting Which Qualifying Teams Will Succeed in Brazil

MILAN, ITALY - OCTOBER 16:  Mario Balotelli (R) of Italy celebrates his goal with team-mates Andrea Pirlo during the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifier match between Italy and Denmark at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on October 16, 2012 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
Greg JohnsonSpecial to Bleacher ReportDecember 17, 2016

The qualification slots for Brazil 2014 are filling up fast as playoff winners grab the last few tickets to next year's World Cup.

Although world-beating individuals such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic may still be waiting for their summers to be decided, the teams most likely to light up the tournament have already confirmed their places.

Brazil are the favourites by virtue of being both the host nation and the country with the most wins in the competition's history, with five championships.

With their last win coming in 2002, such a historical record may not appear to be all that relevant for what will happen in 2014, but the Selecao almost always come alive at the World Cup regardless of their form or quality.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 30:  Neymar of Brazil gestures to his coach Luiz Felipe Scolari during the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Final match between Brazil and Spain at Maracana on June 30, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Ronald Mar
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

However, with the coach who led them to victory in 2002, Luiz Felipe Scolari, back in control of a squad featuring the likes of Neymar, and an expectant home support that will demand that their team win at all costs, they have more than just a casual knack to fall back on in the summer.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 30:  Lucas Moura of Brazil celebrates with the trophty after the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Final match between Brazil and Spain at Maracana on June 30, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

That pressure could yet backfire on Brazil, especially with an uncertain political climate that could see protests return to the street as they did during the 2013 Confederations Cup.

Such dissent could lead to either passionate and unbreakable unity or distracting unrest.

Much also depends on whether a 22-year-old Neymar (his birthday is February 5) can shoulder the responsibility of being the samba nation's talisman, especially as the Brazilian crowds have shown a preference to barrack rather than support their heroes when performances go awry.

But if Scolari is unable to mastermind another World Cup win, who will claim the trophy in 2014?

Below are four nations already on their way to Brazil with realistic dreams of success, along with a rundown of potential outsiders that will be spoiling for an upset.

 

ALBACETE, SPAIN - OCTOBER 15:  The Spanish team lines up before the Group I FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier between Spain and Georgia at Carlos Belmonte stadium on October 15, 2013 in Albacete, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Spain

As winners of the European Championship in 2012, the World Cup in 2014 and another Euros in 2016, Spain have already made history with their international treble of major titles, but can they extend their run to a nigh-on unbeatable four in 2014?

Vicente Del Bosque has signed a contract extension to stay on as Spain boss until Euro 2016 according to The Guardian, suggesting that the former Real Madrid manager sees Brazil 2014 as a continuation of his work rather than a grand finale send off.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 30:  Andres Iniesta of Spain is surrounded by Oscar, Fred, Neymar and Paulinho of Brazil during the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Final match between Brazil and Spain at Maracana on June 30, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Braz
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It may be the last tournament for Xavi, however.

The Barcelona playmaker will be 34 once the summer swings round and is beginning to struggle to stay fit and sharp for club and country.

Yet transition is in the air and Del Bosque's plans for the squad, with the likes of Koke an Thiago knocking on the door of the national team's present and future.

Whether Spain can achieve a flawless handover of power and momentum from one era to another is the key question.

Their fans must hope that the loss in last year's Confederations Cup final proves to be a wake-up call rather than a sign of irrecoverable decline.

 

DUBLIN, IRELAND - OCTOBER 12:  Marco Reus of Germany celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Group C match between Republic of Ireland and Germany at the Aviva Stadium on October 12, 2012 in Dublin, Ireland.  (Ph
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Germany

Joachim Loew's team have been nominated as the team most likely to disrupt Spain's tiki-taka dominance for at least six years now, but while Bastian Schweingsteiger and Phlipp Lahm have achieved great success with Bayern Munich, titles with Die Mannschaft have eluded Germany's stars.

BARNET, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17:  Joachim Loew, Head Coach of Germany gestures during the Germany Training Session at The Hive on November 17, 2013 in Barnet, England.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Considering the rise of Borussia Dortmund and continued excellence of their key players overseas, though, 2014 could be different. Loew's squad has arguably the greatest strength in depth of any nation.

Mesut Ozil, Mario Goetze, Marco Reus, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, Ilkay Gundogan—their list of players reads like a who's who of the most wanted footballers on the planet at present.

Even with all that talent, the Brazilian climate itself could be their greatest obstacle to success.

Germany's intensive style of play may wilt and turn into an energy sapping burden amid the South American heat.

Of course, they are also skilled at keeping the ball and playing a more patient possession game when it suits them, but their natural tendencies to try and crush opponents rather than outlast them like Spain could be their undoing.

 

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - OCTOBER 11:  Italy players line up for a team photo before the start of the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifier between Denmark and Italy on October 11, 2013 in Copenhagen, Denmark.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Italy

Under Cesare Prandelli, the Azurri have become one of the most sophisticated and exciting teams in international football.

With a blend of old, classic Italian excellence in the shape of Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi and younger, a la mode talents such as Mario Balotelli and Leonardo Bonucci they have not only helped to revitalise the 3-5-2 but also shown an alternative route to beautiful football beyond passing stats.

NAPLES, ITALY - OCTOBER 15:  Head coach Cesare Prandelli of Italy during the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifier group B match between Italy and Armenia at Stadio San Paolo on October 15, 2013 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

They also have an impressive array of stars to pick from that may not be in Germany's league when it comes to sheer quantity, but the quality is certainly there.

Giuseppe Rossi has emerged from injury-ridden hell to become a genuine contender to lead the attack in Brazil while his teammate at Fiorentina, Alberto Aquilani, has become a useful performer for his country. 

Meanwhile, Giorgio Chiellini, Antonio Nocerino and Riccardo Montolivo are the sort of players that would be first-choice internationals for other countries yet Prandelli is comfortable enough to use them as and when required.

MILAN, ITALY - OCTOBER 16:  Claudio Marchisio of Italy in action during the during the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifier match between Italy and Denmark at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on October 16, 2012 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

The versatile and decisive Claudio Marchisio has been held up as a poster child for the new Italy along with Sunderland's Emanuele Giaccherini, and it is often these sorts players, happy and able to adapt to their team's requirements, that lay the groundwork for World Cup glory.

Italy have both the foot soldiers and the luxury players to shock the globe in Brazil, but like Germany they may have to temper their favoured approach to match the conditions.

They're certainly one of the teams best equipped to counter Spain's strengths, even if they were eviscerated 4-0 by La Furia in the Euro 2012 final.

 

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - FEBRUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of Argentina in action during the International Friendly match between Sweden and Argentina at the Friends Arena on February 6, 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Argentina

Can Lionel Messi ruin Brazil's party and prove his greatness at the in the back garden of his country's fiercest neighbouring rivals?

An Argentinian win in 2014, spearheaded by the Barcelona genius, would be a huge blow to those who cite his lack of international medals as a reason to dismiss his Champions League achievements and claims to all-time greatness.

Yet La Albiceleste will need more than just their little magician to prosper, with the incredible attacking strength of Alejandro Sabella's squad undermined by a lacklustre defensive roster.

Regardless of how many goals Messi and Sergio Aguero can create and score in Brazil, if the likes of Nicolas Otamendi and Ezequiel Garay can't prevent the attackers of the World Cup's other nations from pillaging Sergio Romero's penalty box, their efforts will be for nought.

If they can fashion a defensive unit able to weather the storms that will come, then Messi and Co. could do the rest, but that's a big if considering the strikers and playmakers they are likely to face in the summer.

 

The outside bets: Colombia, Chile, Japan

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 12:  An aerial view of the Christ The Redeemer statue (F) and the Maracana Stadium (B) on November 12, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

World Cups aren't won by rank outsiders, at least not until a team does breakthrough and add their name to the list of champions, but there are few teams that look ready to make such a leap.

There are a few sides who could stir the pot however and make things more interesting even if they're unlikely to go all the way.

Colombia can boast a forward line of Radamel Falcao, Jackson Martinez and James Rodriguez yet suffer from a similar problem to Argentina of being weighted towards attack with a relatively light defence.

Their fellow South American qualifiers, Chile, are one of the most exciting, attack-minded teams around, with coach Jorge Sampaoli carrying on the work of his predecessor, and the man who gave Chilean football it's modern identity, Marcelo Bielsa.

Alexis Sanchez is their star forward while Arturo Vidal—perhaps the most complete midfielder in world football—sits at the heart of team, tackling, passing, shooting and dominating games and opponents as required.

With a bit of luck, a semi-final could be feasible.

Heading east now (or west if you're starting from Chile), Japan are another team playing good and interesting football, based on impressive work rates, team play and clinical accuracy when it comes to passing and tactical shape.

Yet their style of play is anything but cold and drab, with players such as Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda adding plenty of movement and position-switching to help encourage beautiful passing patterns and penetrative attacking surges.

Their 4-3 defeat to Italy at the Confederations Cup stands out as one of the best games of international football played in recent years, and even if they don't make into the last eight or final four, they should at least prove to be an asset for the spectators at Brazil 2014.

As far as Europe goes, The Netherlands will as ever be tricky opponents if they can make their players count. Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Rafael van der Vaart will be able to give any team problems if Louis van Gaal can keep his squad on friendly terms focused on the job at hand.

Their neighbours and historic rivals Belgium are the country on everyone's lips to stun the world in the summer, but they're still unproven in the context of a major international tournament.

If they arrive in Brazil as the real deal, they could upset the established order and venture deep into the knockout rounds, but they will need more than just potential and hype to prosper.

 

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