FIFA World Cup Brazil 2014: Which Country Is the Best in Each Position?
With the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil just under a month away—and some provisional 30-man squads already named—it is time to ask which country is best-served in each position: in goal, in defence, in midfield and up front.
Here Bleacher Report nominates which team is strongest in each of the four, with honourable mentions for countries who did not quite make the cut.
This much-heralded Belgium team has much talent and strength in depth. Nowhere is that better illustrated than between the posts: Thibaut Courtois is the No. 1, ably backed up by Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet.
At 6'6" and with razor-sharp reflexes, Courtois takes some beating. Unsurprisingly, he spreads himself well in one-on-one situations, and his natural abilities make up for his tender years. Already one of the best stoppers in the world, Courtois has the goalkeeping world in his hands.
His deputy, Mignolet, may have been criticised by former Liverpool ’keeper Bruce Grobbelaar—as reported by Paul Collins in the Daily Mail—but he remains a fine shot-stopper and is unfortunate to have been exposed to opposition attacks by the porous defences of Sunderland and Liverpool.
Honourable mention: Germany (Manuel Neuer and Roman Weidenfeller)
Rather unusually, the strength of Felipe Scolari’s Brazil is at the back, although typically their defenders are fantastic on the ball. As World Cup legend Pele said in March, according to FootballAustralia.com: "There's no doubt that Brazil has a good team, a very strong team, but for the first time we have a better defence than attack."
In Real Madrid’s Marcelo and Barcelona’s Dani Alves, they possess two of the best attacking full-backs in the world. The pair will provide crucial width when going forward, helping to supply Neymar and Fred. Their understudies, Maicon of AS Roma and PSG’s Maxwell are equally offensively minded.
At the heart of the defence, captain Thiago Silva is regarded as one of the best in the game and is ably partnered by the technically gifted David Luiz. Captain Silva cuts a commanding figure in his own penalty area, and as the above video shows, he is a danger to watch for in the opposition box from set-pieces. Indeed, Rivelino, who was part of the great 1970 Brazilian side, has argued that of the current crop, only Thiago Silva would make it into their team, as reported by John Drayton in the Daily Mail.
The remaining two defenders in the squad are Bayern Munich’s Dante and Henrique of Napoli. Although these two may only have 16 international caps between them, Dante has significant experience in the Champions League, and Henrique gained Scolari's trust from their time together at Palmeiras.
Honourable mention: Spain (Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Cesar Azpilicueta)
Germany’s midfield, particularly in the offensive third, oozes class. Mesut Ozil was a star of South Africa 2010, he but will have to compete with Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Andre Schurrle, Julian Draxler and Toni Kroos for a starting berth. Even more ominously for their opposition, they will have to contend with Thomas Muller and possibly Lukas Podolski, attacking midfielders who may be deployed up front.
With so much offensive threat, defensively, the return of Sami Khedira is very welcome, and the Real Madrid man may find himself holding the midfield with Bastian Schweinsteiger. What is more, Germany also have the luxury of using their highly skilled and versatile captain Philipp Lahm as a defensive midfielder, as they did against Chile in the friendly in March.
Honourable mention: Spain (Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Javi Martinez, Koke, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Xabi Alonso, Thiago Alcantara, Santi Cazorla). The Germans’ combination of dynamism and skill makes them just shade this contest against the technical brilliance of the Spanish.
It speaks volumes that in a season in which he has struggled with injury and not found his best form, Lionel Messi still has 36 goals from 37 games. But even if Messi—who has often been accused of not reproducing his Barcelona form for his country—does not hit the high notes, Argentina can also count on Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.
Aguero has also had an injury-interrupted season but has scored 28 from 33, including 26 before the end of January, after which he spent a month on the sidelines.
Compared to his strike partners, Higuain’s 22 from 42 appears meagre, but his nine goals in the South American qualifiers ranked him the top scorer, and he was a key cog in coach Alejandro Sabella's offensive machine.
But as well as individual talent, it is the ability of this triumvirate to link well together, especially when Argentina attack quickly on the break, that makes them such a fearsome proposition. In a 4-0 home win over Ecuador in June 2012 (see video above), goals two and three (Higuain and Messi) were classic examples of pacy Argentine counter-attacks.
Such is the strength Argentina possess going forward that there will almost certainly be no place in the squad for Carlos Tevez, who is believed to be detrimental to team morale. Furthermore, it is not clear where Tevez would fit into the team's structure as he has not played for his country since missing a penalty as Argentina crashed out of the 2011 Copa America with a quarter-final defeat to Uruguay.
In Tevez's place, should he need reinforcements, Sabella can call upon PSG attacker Ezequiel Lavezzi or Rodrigo Palacio of Inter Milan.
Honourable mention: Uruguay (Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan)