Biggest Weakness for Every 2014 World Cup Team
What is the biggest weakness haunting each of the 32 2014 FIFA World Cup teams?
The upcoming slate of friendlies is perhaps each manager's last chance to trial adjustments ahead of the finals in Brazil this summer, so they take on a whole new level of importance.
We take a look at each nation, run the rule over their squad and pick out the biggest worries for each respective coach.
Algeria: Inexperience in Key Positions
Algeria are a team full of promise, but inexperience and a lack of playing time in key positions could see their tournament end prematurely.
Nabil Bentaleb and Saphir Taider have lost their domestic playing places to Sandro and Zdravko Kuzmanovic respectively, left-back Faouzi Ghoulam has four caps and no Algerian goalkeeper can nail regular first-team football outside the home continent.
The front three looks magnificent, but this team seems able only to go so far.
Never has there been a time in which Argentina have struggled for quality in the forward areas, but the age-old concerns regarding their defence ring true again in 2014.
Federico Fernandez has emerged as a strong presence at the back and Ezequiel Garay is a good option, but neither centre-back can rival the likes of Brazil's current crop.
At left-back there are also question marks, with Marcos Rojo seemingly the pick.
Australia: Pick Your Poison
Australia don't have just one glaring or notable weakness—they have tons.
The defending has been nonexistent against better sides recently, and in 2013 the Socceroos conceded 16 goals to France, Japan, Brazil and Romania in one stretch of games.
None of the goalscorers—namely Tim Cahill and Joshua Kennedy—play at a strong level and the team are still clinging on to expired veterans such as Lucas Neill.
Belgium are stacked with quality in every area bar full-back, and there's a genuine chance they could play the 2014 World Cup with four centre-backs in the back four.
An abundance of central talent—taking the form of Thomas Vermaelen, Toby Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Daniel van Buyten and Jan Vertonghen—means some are being pushed wide.
The best natural full-back they can put forward is, unfortunately, Anthony Vanden Borre.
Bosnia & Herzegovina: Defence
Bosnia & Herzegovina will attend their first-ever World Cup and start on the front foot.
Their attack is star-studded, their midfield deep and talented and their goalkeeper world-class. The one weak link, though, is the defensive line, as injuries have disrupted the central berths and both full-back positions have huge question marks over them.
Perhaps Sead Kolasinac can rise forth and take the left-sided role on a permanent basis.
Brazil: Creativity from Deep in Midfield
Brazil's 4-2-3-1 formation is top-heavy in attacking talent, with the front four lethal and the back six offering comparatively little.
The 2013 Confederations Cup proved this can be a big issue bringing the ball out—when teams work hard to close off angles to Neymar and Oscar, Luiz Gustavo is left with a creative onus.
The search for a strong, balanced defensive midfield partnership has been excruciating.
Cameroon: Attacking Ingenuity
Cameroon are a big, physical, fast side who can bulldoze opponents one vs. one, but when asked to break down the best sides, they struggle.
Their defence is hard as nails, but any attacking ingenuity up front has been waning as Samuel Eto'o's influence has lessened by the year.
The emergence of Benjamin Moukandjo and return of Benoit Assou-Ekotto could help.
Jorge Sampaoli has done a magnificent job tip-toeing around the fact that Chile have no elite centre-backs.
It's the reason 5'5" Gary Medel has to deputise there, and despite his unnatural fit for the position—he's a defensive midfielder—he remains their best option.
Marco Gonzalez occupies the other spot in his base 4-3-3, and even the most stout Roja fans know they'll have to outscore all of their opponents to make headway at the finals.
Are you seeing a theme? We're definitely clocking a theme here.
Colombia are the third South American nation on this list to harbour concerns over their defensive strength, and in particular the central roles.
Eder Alvarez Balanta won't be ready to lead the Cafeteros' line this summer and the other options aren't brilliant. Neither Mario Yepes or Luis Perea inspire confidence, and they're both suspect in the air.
Right-back is also up in the air, as Juan Guillermo Cuadrado is far too attacking to take up the role.
Costa Rica: Retaining Possession
Costa Rica lean on a sturdy defensive line and work their three centre-backs to the bone.
It made for a seriously impressive record of 476 minutes without conceding during the Hexagonal qualifiers, and the run was only ended by a Clint Dempsey penalty—that deflected in off the goalkeeper!
Aesthetically, though, Costa Rica lack a lot and it's easy to criticise their direct style of play. They really struggle to hold on to the ball, and they will likely wear out in Brazil.
Croatia: Lack of Depth
Croatia have some world-class players but also some gaping holes.
At left-back, there is no obvious answer, the central defenders are tough but slow and there are no obviously excellent wingers to boast.
The biggest issue, though, is a lack of depth running through the side. It's remarkable how much weaker Niko Kovac's side becomes when Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic or Mario Mandzukic aren't playing.
Ecuador: No Plan B
Ecuador play at 100mph at all times, so when they're asked to slow down and commit fewer men forward, they tend to struggle.
It's not a trait that bodes well for tournament football as the best managers craft careful gameplans to take on individual foes.
The tragic passing of Christian Benitez during the qualifiers leaves a hole in the strikeforce, too.
England: Keeping Possession
International football is possession football. After a long, hard season, Premier League players simply aren't up to playing a physically taxing, direct game in hot conditions.
But England are notoriously poor at holding on to possession and often concede the ball to "superior" teams instead of attempting to match them 50-50.
Roy Hodgson will do everything he can to level the playing field, but it's in English DNA to kick and rush.
On paper, France are set up front with Karim Benzema, Olivier Giroud, Loic Remy and more all available for selection and ready to go.
But in reality, that strength turns into a weakness, with the three scoring just four goals between them during qualifying. Despite playing consistently well for Real Madrid, Benzema went on a 1,224-minute goal drought in Group I, as per Goal.com.
France's top scorer was Franck Ribery (five).
Germany are beginning to look irresistible up front and have the quality to replace Sami Khedira in midfield. Striker is perhaps a minor concern certainly, but the biggest question marks reign in defence.
Mats Hummels has been unable to stay fit all season and Marcel Schmelzer is not an elite left-back. It leaves Joachim Low scrapping for options and contingency plans less than 100 days before the showpiece event kicks off.
Ghana: Everything but Midfield
Ghana could field 11 star midfielders if they wanted to, such is their depth in that position, but every other area is lacking experience or quality.
Goalkeeper is the biggest concern, with Fatawu Dauda and Adam Kwarasey hardly stellar options, while striking choices beyond the ageless Asamoah Gyan are slim-to-none.
Central defensive lacks elite quality.
Greece: Attacking Ingenuity
Greece conceded only four goals during qualifying and boast the same setup and coach (Fernando Santos) as they did at Euro 2012.
They base their success in solidity in defence but still possess certifiable issues when asked to create. They'll play almost solely on the counter, have a good goalscorer in Kostas Mitroglou, but can they fashion him enough chances?
Honduras: Lack of Star Quality
Honduras are a small nation, so participating in the 2014 World Cup is achievement enough for the locals.
They'll turn in a steady performance, form a stubborn gameplan and remain tough to beat...but they lack the star quality to win tense games (against better opposition) and progress from the group.
They have goals in Jerry Bengtson and solidity in Wilson Palacios but no elite talent.
Iran: Fitness and Depth
Iran have some star quality in attack and lean on a mean defence marshalled by Seyed Jalal Hosseini, but age-old concerns over fitness still haunt the side.
A large majority of the players called up are playing for local Iranian clubs at a low level, and they can't keep up with seasoned professionals for 90 solid minutes.
To add insult to injury, Carlos Queiroz has little—if any—depth to call upon to rest the fatigued players.
Italy: Lack of Depth
The drop-off in quality beyond Italy's expected starting XI is absolutely astonishing.
Cesare Prandelli is struggling for fit wingers due to Stephan El Shaarawy's injury problems; Mario Balotelli and Gianluigi Buffon are irreplaceable up front and in goal respectively; none of the central defensive trio can be replaced like-for-like should they go down; Andrea Pirlo, the master, is in a league of his own.
The Azzurri have a chance of winning the whole thing...if they can negotiate the tournament injury-free.
Ivory Coast: Penchant for Collapsing
Ivory Coast have all the tools to go far at the World Cup, but that's been the case for the last decade and they've failed to make a splash every time.
Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure, Salomon Kalou and Co. had the potential to reach the quarter-finals at least in the last two events, but they always underwhelm.
They disappoint in the Africa Cup of Nations regularly, too.
Japan: Centre-Backs (and Strikers to an Extent)
Japan boast more technically proficient midfielders than most nations can, but serious issues lie in their central defensive core.
Maya Yoshida is perhaps the country's best in that area, but Dejan Lovren's return to fitness will surely curtail his playing time at Southampton for the rest of the season.
Shinji Okazaki scored eight during qualifying, but can he replicate that at the finals?
Mexico: Central Defensive Strain
Pablo Herrera will lead Mexico to the 2014 World Cup full of optimism and hope.
He's only recently been installed as manager but has always favoured a 3-5-2 formation, and this was on show against New Zealand in the play-off and in subsequent friendlies.
It's pretty gung-ho and creates plenty of chances but leaves a lot of work for the central defenders to do. Considering most are 30-plus and not in great nick, this could be their undoing in Brazil.
Netherlands: Subscribing to the Philosophy
The Netherlands have strong players in every area bar defence, but the biggest issue looming ahead of the 2014 World Cup is whether or not the players Louis van Gaal selects can play to the philosophy he demands.
The Oranje are fixed on playing the ball out from the back and utilising their attacking talents on the deck, but can Ron Vlaar and Bruno Martins Indi—at centre-back—subscribe to this?
If not, the defensive line appears an accident waiting to happen.
Nigeria: Ability to Self-Implode
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi had a sublime 2013 in charge of one of Africa's biggest, most expectant footballing nations.
He's largely ushered out many of the old mainstays and blooded youthful, promising players. It's a strategy that won them the most recent African Cup of Nations and has them flying into the tournament in fine fettle, but the Nigerian Football Association aren't happy with the lack of "experience."
Keshi seems one step away from clashing with the FA and losing his job, and with that the Super Eagles' dreams of impressing go up in smoke.
Portugal: Central Defence
Usually we'd look at defensive midfield here, but William Carvalho appears to be making a late run at the squad and could feature ahead of the ill-fitted Miguel Veloso.
In turn, the focus falls on central defence, as throughout qualifying the line failed to play a full 90 minutes of good football.
Pepe and Bruno Alves sounds strong on paper, but the latter is declining and Paulo Bento ignores Jose Fonte's good form for Southampton.
Russia: Tendency to Under-Perform
Russia, on paper, look a real threat this summer.
They have a Zenit St. Petersburg midfield and CSKA Moscow central defence, attacking talents in the form of Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Kokorin, and a world-class goalkeeper in Igor Akinfeev.
With Fabio Capello at the helm, they have all the pieces in place but must first overcome their frustrating tendency to under-perform on the world's biggest stage.
South Korea: Striker
South Korea are a fairly well-rounded team and boast several technically talented players, but finding a go-to striker has been very, very tough.
Kim Shin-Wook appears to be the man who will shoulder the load at the finals (Park Chu-Young features sporadically), but his presence tends to convince his teammates to play long ball toward his head.
As a result, he's not highly rated by local press.
Spain: Creeping Doubts and Expectation
There was a time in which tiki-taka football, hailing from both Barcelona and Spain, was infallible; unbeatable.
But after Barca were killed by Bayern Munich by an aggregate 7-0 scoreline, then la Roja were exposed at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup by Italy and Brazil, the pass-happy method suddenly seemed far less daunting.
Spain will battle creeping doubts over the system they subscribe to throughout the tournament, in addition to overwhelming expectation.
Switzerland: Scoring Goals
When your top scorer during qualifying is a centre-back (Fabian Schar) with three goals, you know you've got issues up front.
Switzerland boast incredible talent in defence and midfield, marshalled by world-class coach Ottmar Hitzfeld, but will come undone if they can't find a goalscoring source.
Hitzfeld is searching far and wide for the answer.
For Uruguay, there isn't a lot to worry about as we build up to the FIFA World Cup.
They may have qualified via a play-off vs. Jordan, but they're a tournament football team and will light up the big stage once the show commences.
If there's a hole to pick, it's at full-back, though, with Alvaro Pereira's poor form for Internazionale forcing him out on loan to the Brasileiro Serie A.
U.S.A: Conceding Soft Goals
The U.S national side will turn up at the 2014 World Cup in elite physical condition under Jurgen Klinsmann.
They have several emerging talents in Major League Soccer to run the rule over as yet and Michael Bradley has stepped into a key role for the nation.
But the defensive equation is yet to be solved, and the USMNT made a habit of conceding soft goals during qualifying, a trait that could end their hopes early at the finals.
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