All eyes will be on Brazil during the summer of 2014 when the World Cup takes place. The game’s most global sport takes center stage as nations compete for the right to stand above all others.
There are bound to be some surprises along the way, but there are four teams that are in a league of their own.
Here are the most dangerous contenders that will be threatening to hoist the trophy at the end of the tournament.
Where better to start than with the most recent nation to lift the World Cup trophy? Spain is a powerhouse with talent on the pitch and on the sidelines. Manager Vicente del Bosque has been a steadying presence for the team, and he has them firing on all cylinders.
Entering Brazil, the Spaniards will be looking for their second consecutive World Cup and their fourth consecutive major trophy.
Nobody can question the chemistry of the team, but they haven’t been on their best form. The Confederations Cup was a disappointment for them, and they looked outclassed by the Brazilians in a 3-0 defeat.
Most recently, they were extremely unconvincing in a 2-1 friendly win over Equatorial Guinea (ranked 119th in the world) and lost 1-0 to South Africa in another friendly Tuesday.
Their global dominance and the skill of their players mean that they will advance to the later stages of the tournament and still be a favorite to win it all, but there is some cause for concern. Will they regain their form and be able to beat the best teams in the world?
Any talk about Argentina starts with Lionel Messi. The creative genius has dominated the soccer scene over the last five years and is on record-breaking pace with Barcelona. Despite that, he has never found World Cup success.
This Argentine squad is an offensive juggernaut, with oodles of ingenuity and finishing ability in the attacking third. Players like Maxi Rodriguez, Javier Mascherano, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain join Messi to form what could be the strongest attacking team of the World Cup.
The question for Argentina, as is usually the case, is whether they can stop anybody. When matched up against more complete squads, will they be able to provide enough balance to leave victorious?
Their recent history has been promising, with away victories over Germany, Sweden and Italy in the past 14 months.
Messi and Co. will be hoping to carry that form into next year’s tournament.
Germany was one of the most captivating teams from the last World Cup, playing a free-flowing style of soccer that was beautiful to watch. The Germans came up just short of an appearance in the final, but they are once again going to be a team to watch—both for their style of play and their legitimacy as a favorite.
Defense has always been the staple for German soccer, but Joachim Loew has placed an added emphasis on attacking since he took over the reins as manager for the national team. This year’s squad is loaded with playmakers and attackers that will make the German team fun to watch.
In addition, Loew’s team has an intriguing blend of experience and youth. Stalwarts like Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger have all been there and done that, and the two breakout players from the last World Cup (Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil) are now established and battle-tested stars.
But don’t sleep on the talented young players on the squad who are likely to have a coming-out party on the game’s biggest stage. Players like Marco Reus, Mario Goetze and Julian Draxler have all been mightily impressive for their clubs and in the qualifying stages (where Germany didn’t lose a match), and they look poised to be key contributors for this World Cup squad.
Germany boasts a talented and incredibly deep roster, as it showed when it beat England in a friendly with what many, including Eurosport, had labeled a “reserve squad.”
The Germans will be right in the thick of it in Brazil. The only thing holding them back might be the injuries to midfielders Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
The host nation is playing phenomenal soccer, and anything less than a championship will be a huge disappointment. Their track record of success at home is ridiculous, and they established themselves as a favorite with a dominant 3-0 victory over Spain in the Confederations Cup final.
Neymar has emerged as one of the best players in the world since 2010, ranking right up there with Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi in terms of creativity, flair and clinical finishing.
He has a tendency to perform best when the spotlight is brightest, but he has never experienced the pressure that he will face during the World Cup.
That pressure might be the most worrying aspect of Brazil’s World Cup dreams. With so many (including their manager) guaranteeing a championship, they may not have the wherewithal to deal with adversity if it strikes.
On the field, however, they are a dangerous team that can score goals at will. They’re not just about Neymar, either. Underrated stars like Fred and Hulk have been excellent over the past year, and Kaka is still an anchor in the midfield.
Brazil is, and should be, the favorite to win it all.