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World Cup 2014 Qualifying: Examining Most Impressive Sides During Qualification

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 29:  Kevin Mirallas #7 of Belguim celebrates Moussa Dembele #18 after scoring a goal against the U.S. Mens National Team during their International Friendly match at FirstEnergy Stadium on May 29, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Joseph ZuckerFeatured Columnist IVNovember 3, 2016

2014 World Cup qualification has nearly wrapped up, with all but one country locked in to the 32-team field.

The qualification process can be an arduous journey for some, while others make it look too easy.

It's difficult not to be seduced by those teams that qualify with the greatest of ease and earned a place in the World Cup with matches to spare. Those qualifying matches are, after all, the toughest tests teams will face before the World Cup begins.

For a team to have a near perfect record can be a great indicator of future success.

Plenty of teams looked great during qualifying, but these four stood out the most.

 

Netherlands

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - NOVEMBER 19:  Kevin Strootman of Netherlands runs with the ball during the International Friendly match between Netherlands and Colombia at Amsterdam ArenA on November 19, 2013 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Gett
Lars Baron/Getty Images

An almost perfect qualifying campaign for the Netherlands. What could possibly go wrong now?

Well, everything.

The Dutch won nine and lost one while qualifying for the 2012 European Championship. They then failed to take a single point at Euro 2012 and went home in ignominy.

There's undoubtedly been progress made under Louis van Gaal. He wasn't afraid to shake up the squad and integrate the younger players. Those were two things Bert van Marwijk failed to do in the buildup to Euro 2012.

But as good as the Dutch have been, you still have to question their potential at the World Cup. That defense is young and inexperienced, and the attack hasn't looked as fluid as it should under a coach like van Gaal.

It's safer to temper expectations heading into Brazil. While the Netherlands should be able to advance to the knockout stages, they're unlikely to repeat 2010's runner-up finish.

 

Germany

MILAN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 15:  Germany manager Joachim Low looks on before the international friendly match between Italy and Germany at Giuseppe Meazza Stadium on November 15, 2013 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Can you believe it will have been 24 years since the Germans won the World Cup?

While it's not all that long, especially compared to England's title drought and the Netherlands' inability to win anything, it feels like a lifetime for a country so accustomed to tasting international success.

That streak could well be broken in 2014.

There may not be another midfield better than Germany's. Bastian Schweinsteiger remains one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, and the likes of Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos, Marco Reus and Thomas Muller can provide the creativity.

More importantly, Joachim Low won't repeat the mistakes of Euro 2012, when Schweinsteiger was paired with Sami Khedira in that 4-2-3-1 formation. Both guys ended up playing as box-to-box midfielders, which served to leave Germany exposed at the back.

It will be interesting to see if Low ends up burying the hatchet with Stefan Kiessling. Neither side has budged regarding his status with the national team, but having somebody as talented as the 29-year-old is would be a boost for the Germans. Plus, from a player's perspective, you only get so many chances to play in a World Cup.

 

Belgium

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - OCTOBER 15:  Goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois of Belgium in action during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group A match between Belgium and Wales at King Baudouin Stadium on October 15, 2013 in Brussels, Belgium.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtar
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Belgium need to strike while the iron is hot if they're going to take advantage of one of the best generations of players to come along in years.

The Belgians don't have a great record at international competitions. Unlike the slightly larger Netherlands, they haven't been able to produce an assembly line of talent that keeps them at a high level year in, year out.

That's what makes this team so special. From top to bottom, the Red Devils have a solid squad. Thibaut Courtois is the best young goalkeeper in the world. Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are all solid defenders, too. Then, there's the attack that can call upon either Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke at striker and has Eden Hazard, Marouane Fellaini and Kevin De Bruyne in midfield.

2014 may not be Belgium's year, though. They might have to go through some growing pains before everything comes together and they become a top international side. The 2016 European Championship and 2018 World Cup could present better opportunities to win silverware.

 

Argentina

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

Although Brazil weren't involved in qualification, it's still impressive that Argentina were able to top the CONMEBOL table. They lost just twice in 16 matches.

In the past, Argentina have been a collection of talent with no rhyme or reason on the pitch. People thought you could just select 11 good players and everything would come together. But this isn't the stone ages any more. You must have a defined tactical plan in order to beat top international sides.

Things have changed under Alejandro Sabella. La Albiceleste have become an organized side. And while Lionel Messi has been given more of a leadership role, the team isn't quite as dependent on his success as it has been in years past.

Argentina will find few fans in Brazil, but having the World Cup in South America should provide a boost, as well.

Perhaps, the best thing going for Argentina at this year's World Cup is that Diego Maradona isn't in charge. It's hard to figure how anybody ever thought that would work out.

 

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