The end of domestic European football is usually met with disdain by soccer fanatics. But with the Brazil World Cup just days away from kicking off, a summer bristling with top-class action is in the cards.
Who do you think will win the World Cup?
The 2014 World Cup is one of the most hotly anticipated major tournaments in recent memory. There are a host of wonderful attacking teams set to battle it out for the title, and that should pave the way for some superb contests.
Factor in the climate, the fanatical supporters and a plethora of upcoming nations, the pundits and supporters all formulating who they think will come out on top in South America, and everyone seems to have their own opinion on who'll triumph.
So on the cusp of the biggest football tournament in the world, let's run the rule over the three sides that are set to occupy the top three spots at the Brazilian showpiece and see where they could finish come the final knockings of the World Cup.
Less is known about Brazil’s competitive form when compared with the rest of the top nations. They qualified as hosts, of course, meaning Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team didn’t have to go through the arduous South American qualifying phase. Subsequently, the majority of their recent games have been friendlies.
But their dominant showing in last year’s Confederations Cup suggested that this team are ready to perform on the big stage. They swatted aside world champions Spain in the final with a wonderful showing of vibrant attacking football, cranking up the expectation to stratospheric levels when it comes to this team.
The major strengths in this squad come in defence. Thiago Silva is arguably the most complete central defender on the planet, whilst Dani Alves and Marcelo offer spades of energy and quality from the full-back positions.
Going forward, the obvious threats come in the form of Oscar and Neymar. They are both supremely talented, but it’ll be a maiden World Cup appearance for the duo, and it’ll be intriguing to see how they cope with the pressure of spearheading the host nation's charge.
Neymar doesn't seem to be too flussed, though, and claimed recently that he’s been joking with his Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi about who'll win the tournament:
Neymar: "Do I provoke Messi about the World Cup? We've talked about it, he said they'll win. I told him in Brazil? Noway."— FC Barcelona (@FCBarceIonaCAT) May 13, 2014
The squad does lack a quality, orthodox centre-forward option, and there is a fear that this will ultimately prevent them from winning the title. Neymar and Oscar are fine creative players, but without a supreme poacher, Brazil could easily come unstuck against well-organised sides. They’ll drop out at the semi-final stage.
Prediction: Third Place
Despite being the current World and European champions, Spain seem have been overlooked by most when picking their World Cup winner. Granted, the Spanish squad is ageing a little, but take a look at the names selected by boss Vicente del Bosque and it's clear they still possess a myriad of marvellous players.
Here is Spain’s provisional 30-man squad courtesy of Goal UK:
Spain have announced their preliminary World Cup squad. Mata, Torres and De Gea all included ... Isco out! pic.twitter.com/dkADs93mKr— Goal UK (@GoalUK) May 13, 2014
This team is packed full of players who are experienced, who have a winning mentality and have won a World Cup before. By acquiring the services of Diego Costa, they also have won of Europe’s hottest centre-forwards; he should bring a direct, aggressive slant to Spain’s attacking play, a style that should complement Spain’s otherwise intricate approach.
They have so many options within their squad, and Graham Ruthven believes they have enough to win their second World Cup in succession:
Just look at Spain's provisional 30-man squad. They're totally winning the World Cup.— Graham Ruthven (@grahamruthven) May 13, 2014
Expect Spain to go close in Brazil, but their unfamiliarity with the suffocating humidity will see them fall just short of the title. They'll keep possession in typical fashion and teams will toil when chasing the ball, but there's a sense this team might lack the cutting edge of years gone by.
This competition seems like it’s set up for Lionel Messi to cement his legacy and fire Argentina to World Cup glory.
The diminutive genius will play in a World Cup on his home continent for the first time, and with tournaments in Russia and Qatar to follow in 2018 and 2022, respectively, Messi will never get a better chance of winning the biggest prize of them all.
The man himself has spoken of the importance of winning a World Cup if you’re to be considered a true great of the game, as shown here by Football Tweet:
Lionel Messi: "I don't think any player can be considered a true great until they have won the World Cup." pic.twitter.com/vqKXLjJdyY— Football__Tweet (@Football__Tweet) May 14, 2014
Alejandro Sabella has fashioned an Argentina team that is capable of going all the way here too. Granted, their goalkeeping options are a little short, especially when you consider the bizarre exclusion of Malaga’s Willy Caballero, but the defence is solid, the midfield is bristling with energy and the attacking triumvirate—likely to consist of Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain—is the best in the tournament.
After a disappointing showing at the 2010 tournament, expect Messi to turn in a stellar showing out in Brazil. He’s the captain of this Argentinean team, their talisman, and under Sabella he has started to replicate his Barcelona form in the blue and white of the Albiceleste.