Romelu Lukaku is one of the young Belgian stars that will excel in Brazil.
Now that the groups for the 2014 World Cup are set, the debate has begun about the teams that have the easiest road to the title and which nations stand the best chance of winning it all. But not every team is a contender. For some countries, this World Cup is a stepping stone to bigger things in the 2018 World Cup.
For some teams, this World Cup is the chance to prove that they belong on the same stage as the world’s greatest teams. Here are three sides that aren’t necessarily championship contenders in Brazil but have the talent and depth to make a deep run in the 2018 World Cup.
Belgium has the highest ceiling of the teams on this list. They rolled through the qualification stage, and earned a spot as a Pot One team for the 2014 World Cup. In addition, they are in a fairly easy group that they should be able to win.
Nevertheless, they face a tough test in the Round of 16 against the second place team from a very competitive Group G (Germany, Portugal, Ghana or USA). Even if they win that game and advance to the quarterfinals, they’ll probably face Argentina.
With such a difficult road through the tournament, the incredibly talented Belgian side won’t be able to deliver on their tremendous promise.
But they will prove that they are one of the best young teams in the world.
The Belgians are loaded with top-flight talent, with many players starring for English Premier League clubs including Christian Benteke, Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Romelu Lukaku.
With four more years for their young stars to develop, Belgium will be a contender to win the entire tournament in 2018.
Los Ticos are extremely talented, but their inexperience and a tough draw make them a long shot to get out of the group stage.
With four more years of experience, however, Costa Rica will be a team to keep an eye on in Russia. They have a superstar in the making in 21-year-old striker Joel Campbell who has been impressive in his time with the national team and with his current on-loan club, Olympiacos.
Moreover, the midfielders on the team are capable of controlling the tempo and making the most of their attacking chances, led by Bryan Ruiz and Celso Borges.
In a group with three football powerhouses, Costa Rica will be thrown into the deep end and will have the chance to prove that they can play with the big boys.
Los Ticos might not be able to make it out of a difficult group, but they will open some eyes by demonstrating the stable of talent on their roster and their balanced style of play.
Manager Fabio Capello has brought some legitimacy to this Russian squad, with a defensive-minded philosophy that fits the team’s personnel very well. There is plenty of talent on the side, but they aren’t quite ready to make a deep run in the upcoming World Cup.
They could very well place second in Group H, but that would result in a Round of 16 matchup against the winner of Group G (probably Germany).
Russia’s stay in Brazil projects to be relatively short, but there is reason for optimism for the 2018 World Cup in front of its home crowd.
The Russian defense has been well organized under Capello, but there are questions surrounding the ability of the side to create chances and score goals.
That won’t be the case in 2018.
The pairing of Alexander Kokorin (22) and Alan Dzagoev (23) are widely considered to be the future of Russian football, and are exceptional young talents that will be hitting the primes of their careers.
Furthermore, there are other young players that will contribute to what should be an impressive attack in 2018 with more international experience.
Fedor Smolov (23) and Pavel Yakovlev (22) are two talented forwards that have been playing well for their respective clubs, and Oleg Shatov (23) is an attacking player from the midfield.
Capello hasn’t made many changes to his starting lineup, but the young players that make the World Cup squad will get opportunities to gain experience playing on the world’s biggest stage.
That experience will pay off down the road when Russia advances deep into the 2018 tournament.
These are three nations that aren't on everybody's radar, but you should tune into their games to get a glimpse of some of the dangerous teams for World Cup 2018.