With a host of the domestic campaigns finished and the footballing grapevine rife with squad announcements, it’s beginning to feel like we really are on the cusp of the 2014 World Cup.
And as supporters from across the planet cast their eye over the squads of the 32 competing teams, opinions will be formulated on what sides can win it and what players will shine.
So here, let’s run the rule over who the bookies fancy as potential World Cup winners, the teams set to thrill at the Brazil showpiece and the players that will light up the biggest football tournament there is.
Here's the list of the five current favourites to win the 2014 World Cup, according to oddsshark.com (odds correct as of 6:30 p.m. BST, May 12), complete with the latest form of each team:
|World Cup Winners - Latest odds|
oddshark.com (Odds), soccerway.com (Form)
Qualifying as the host nation, Brazil go into this tournament having played little competitive football. They did thrive during the 2013 Confederations Cup, but the World Cup comes with added pressure and increased profile.
In the final of the Confederations Cup, Brazil blitzed current world champions Spain, cranking up the expectations even more ahead of the 2014 showpiece. Here's the squad that'll be looking to take their place in history, courtesy of FIFA's official Twitter account:
They have a host of talented players, a familiarity with the suffocating humidity and the backing of a fanatical nation. They’re the clear and deserved favourites ahead of the tournament, but the manner in which the team handle the weight of expectation will be vital to their chances.
With a myriad of stellar attacking options, Argentina are superbly placed to secure their first world crown in 28 years.
Alejandro Sabella has fashioned a system that can facilitate the attacking talents of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain, and the Albiceleste look ready to outgun every other side on their way to glory.
Javier Mascherano gives the team an unshakable defensive presence in central midfield, while the defence and goalkeeper continue to improve.
The key for this team will be striking an ample balance between attack and defence. If they can facilitate a sturdy defensive platform for the likes of Messi and Aguero to flourish, Argentina are definitely capable of winning the title in the backyard of their bitterest rivals.
Who will win the World Cup?
The current holders seem to have been written off by a significant portion of supporters, but they remain one of the most likely sides to sample glory in Brazil.
In many respects, the harrowing 3-0 loss to Brazil in the summer of 2013 could act as a blessing in disguise. After winning three consecutive major tournaments, there was a worry that this team was becoming a little complacent, but that defeat will have them refocused ahead of the defence of their world crown.
The nexus of this squad is ageing, but it’s still rife with players that are proven winners and remain class acts. If Spain can secure their fourth major title on the bounce, then surely they will be considered as the greatest international side of all time.
Lionel Messi, Argentina
There’s very little left for Lionel Messi to do in his quest to be lauded as the finest player of all time. He’s won everything there is to win with Barcelona, dragged his team to victory on many occasions, broken untold goal-scoring records and netted some of the greatest strikes we’re ever likely to see.
But, he’s yet to win a World Cup and as such, many feel as though he’s not quite in the same bracket as players like Diego Maradona, Pele and Zinedine Zidane. If the diminutive genius can inspire Argentina to the most coveted prize of them all, then Messi will surely join, if not surpass, that illustrious company.
You could argue that he’ll never get a better chance to do so than on his home continent in the 2014 World Cup.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Every so often you see a decent team made formidable because of a sprinkling of individual genius. A player so wonderful, that not only can he pull his team over the line himself, but he lifts those around him, making the collective feel better and perform better than they actually are.
When you consider how well Cristiano Ronaldo has been playing for Real Madrid this season, are we about to see something like this unfold at the 2014 World Cup? Ronaldo captains a Portugal side that are not a poor team by any means, but so often at major tournaments they’ve been without leadership and lacking direction.
Ronaldo is a phenomenal footballer, and he can give them that sort of impetus; you only need to look at how he fired Portugal to the finals with that stunning hat-trick in Stockholm, as you can see above.
Luis Suarez, Uruguay
The Liverpool man has taken his game into stratospheric new levels this campaign, finishing the season as the Premier League’s top scorer, as shown here by Squawka:
Luis Suarez claims the Premier League Golden Boot, with 31 goals. pic.twitter.com/K1JbEp7yKf— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 11, 2014
Uruguay boss Oscar Tabarez will be desperate for his star striker to carry his stellar club form into the Brazil World Cup. Suarez looks likely to partner Edinson Cavani in attack for the national side, and with little quality comparable to the aforementioned duo in the rest of the Uruguay team, the onus will be on both Suarez and Cavani to fire Uruguay to glory.
With Suarez in this inspired, irresistible form, Uruguay are an absolute must-watch at the Brazil finals. Many feel he has firmly established himself as the world’s third-best player behind Messi and Ronaldo, and a strong performance here on the biggest stage of all will go a long way to cementing that status.