There has not been a World Cup in South America since Argentina hosted the event in 1978, so to an extent it is set to be an unpredictable tournament, but there are certainly a few teams expected to do well in for some nasty surprises this summer.
It is always unfair to label an outfit as a one-man team, but rarely has a side’s fortunes been as dominated by the form of one man as the current Portugal side’s are by Cristiano Ronaldo.
The team were forced into a playoff with Sweden to reach the finals this summer, after finishing behind an uninspiring Russia side in qualification. There, the Portuguese came through 4-2 on aggregate with Ronaldo finding the back of the net on all four occasions, as reported by David Anderson of the Daily Mirror.
The Real Madrid star came into his own in those battles, but he failed to shine elsewhere in qualification, which is why the team were forced into the playoff situation in the first place. If he fails to fire in Brazil then his team are in serious trouble. Draws in qualification at home to Northern Ireland and Israel are not the sign of a team capable of going far on the biggest stage of all.
They also face a tough group which includes Germany, Ghana and United States. Most would see the Germans finishing first of those four teams, leaving Portugal to fight it out with the other two, both of whom are very tricky, especially the Africans.
Ghana sailed through qualification for this tournament and have already reached the final of the African Nations this year, so they are a team with good winning habits. They also showed what they could do at the last World Cup when they outlasted Portugal by reaching the quarterfinals. Ghana could well be playing on while the Portuguese are on their way home again.
Miguel Herrera’s side come into the tournament as the Olympic champions, so there is a reasonable amount of expectation on them, however, their qualification form was so poor they nearly missed out on the spectacle altogether.
Of their 10 games in the CONACAF section, they won just two, beating Panama and Jamaica while they lost to Honduras, Costa Rica and the United States. This just scraped them through to the playoff with New Zealand, for which they upped their game, but there are plenty of worrying signs for them.
Goals, or a lack of them, were their main concern in qualifying, as they managed just seven in 10 games (via Concacaf.com). Their main striker, Javier Hernandez, struggles for game time at Manchester United, although they may have unearthed a new star in Alan Pulido, who scored a hat trick on debut in a friendly against South Korea in January.
The team has also found itself at odds with itself by not selecting European-based players at times, as explained by ESPNFC. Players such as Hernandez were not involved in defeating New Zealand, and they will only have one friendly to play in before the World Cup begins, as described by Eurosport.
Coach Miguel Herrera has five warm-up matches scheduled but the Nigeria game at the Georgia Dome in the U.S. city of Atlanta on March 5 is the only one on a FIFA date, which allows for the release of players by their European clubs.
Mexico find themselves in a group with Brazil, who will surely top the standings, Cameroon and Croatia, so it is going to be a real scrap for second place. They will certainly not relish facing Cameroon, as they do not have a good record against African sides, being held to draws by South Africa and Angola in the last two World Cups.
Group A is going to be an intriguing one, but unless Mexico can swiftly improve their form and their performances against African teams, they will be in for a disappointing summer.
Unlike other teams mentioned, this one is not based on qualification form after the Dutch won nine and drew one en route to the finals. However, when they get there, they are in for a rough ride in a fearsome-looking group and with their star striker out of form.
Netherlands find themselves alongside Spain, Chile and Australia in Group B, and while the Aussies should not present too much danger, the other sides certainly do. Spain are the defending champions, and, of course, they edged out the Dutch four years ago to lift the trophy in South Africa. They may not be the bookies’ favorites, according to Oddschecker, this time around, but they are still expected to go far into the competition.
Then we have Chile, who showed England exactly how good they are when they dispatched Roy Hodgson’s men 2-0 at Wembley in November. They are a talented, hardworking side with star quality in the likes of Alexis Sanchez, and they have the ability to compete with any side in the world on their day. The clash between Chile and the men in orange is the last of the group, and it could be the final one of the tournament for the Dutch.
They will especially struggle to break down teams in Brazil with Robin van Persie either injured or out of form. The Manchester United striker hit 11 goals in qualifying but since then has been struggling to find fitness or the back of the net for his club. There has even been talk of the striker leaving Old Trafford with a move back to Arsenal, according to The Metro.
If he does not recover properly for Brazil then Holland will be forced to employ inferior replacements up front, such as Jeremain Lens or Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who has not scored for his country since 2012.