5 Manchester United Players Who Could Win the World Cup
The 2013-2014 couldn't end soon enough for Manchester United fans, after they saw their team fall from being champions to finishing seventh.
Before they can get too excited about next season, with new manager Louis van Gaal aiming to take the club back to the top, there's the small matter of the World Cup.
As it stands, United players are representing a whole host of nations in Brazil this summer: Marouane Fellaini and Adnan Januzaj will be going with Belgium; Antonio Valencia will be representing Ecuador; Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney will be playing for England, with Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley on standby; Patrice Evra is going with France; Shinji Kagawa with Japan; Javier Hernandez with Mexico; Robin Van Persie with Netherlands; Nani with Portugal; and Juan Mata and David de Gea with Spain.
But how did these countries get on in qualifying? Which teams will they be facing in their respective groups? And what are their chances of winning the World Cup? Here are the United players who are more likely than others to be lifting the trophy in a few weeks time.
Juan Mata's fear that he would be left out of Spain's squad prompted him to move away from Chelsea midway through the season to find a club where he could be given more regular first team football.
He signed for Manchester United in January and, after David Moyes struggled to work out where to play the Spaniard, Mata hit some great form towards the end of the season.
According to WhoScored.com, only Wayne Rooney (27) and Robin van Persie (15) provided more goals and assists in the league than Mata (10) for United. When you consider that he only started 14 games that is a pretty healthy return.
Mata has played in four games for Spain this season and scored in the 2-0 win over Georgia.
However, while Spain are one of the favourites for this summer's tournament, Mata may lose out on a World Cup medal if Vicente del Bosque doesn't select the player for his final squad. Mata is currently in the preliminary squad of 30 players but is competing with some ridiculously talented players for his seat on the plane to Rio.
David de Gea is also in the preliminary squad but is behind Iker Casillas and, probably, Pepe Reina in pecking order.
Spain finished top of their qualifying group after picking up 20 points from a possible 24, ahead of the likes of France and Finland.
The reigning world champions are the top seed in Group B, which also contains Netherlands, Chile and Australia.
Brazil, Argentina and Germany are the teams considered most likely to win the tournament, but nobody will be ruling out Spain. If Mata is in the squad, he stands the best chance of all the United players in Brazil to come home with a winners' medal.
Robin Van Persie
Robin van Persie is the captain of Netherlands for this summer's World Cup, and his manager, Louis van Gaal, has recently been appointed the boss of his club team.
Van Persie has played in six games for Netherlands this season and scored seven goals, so he will be hoping to take that form to the tournament.
Netherlands finished top of the qualifying group after collecting an impressive 28 points from a possible 30, ahead of the likes of Romania and Hungary.
Netherlands are the second seed in Group B, which also contains Spain, Chile and Australia.
The Dutch team are not one of the favourites going in to the tournament and—though you wouldn't bet against a team that included the likes of Van Persie and Arjen Robben—they will struggle more than they should do in light of the injury to Kevin Strootman.
Still, after such a strong qualifying period and with Van Gaal having a point to prove, there's a chance Van Persie could become a winner on the international stage this summer, in what will almost certainly be his last World Cup.
Marouane Fellaini has had a season to forget for United and may well find himself looking for a new club after the World Cup, but he is in the Belgium squad regardless.
Fellaini played in five games for his country this season and even scored in the friendly against Ivory Coast.
Adnan Januzaj is also in the squad, despite having never played for Belgium, after opting to the play for the country of his birth.
In qualifying, Belgium finished top of their group after picking up 26 points from a possible 30 ahead of the likes of Croatia and Serbia.
Their chances of progressing from the World Cup group are very strong, having been drawn in Group H with Algeria, Russia and South Korea. You would imagine that Belgium, who are currently ranked 12th in the world by FIFA, will easily finish top and give themselves an easier draw in the next round.
The Belgium squad boasts immensely talented players all over the pitch. Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Mousa Dembele, among others, could give plenty of teams a run for their money this summer. While the Belgians are definitely underdogs and unlikely to win, they could certainly have a strong tournament.
Wayne Rooney is always one of the first players you would name in the team for England, despite him rarely managing to impress on the international stage.
Rooney scored in both of the World Cup qualifying games he played in this season but failed to find the back of the net in the three friendlies.
Rooney is also joined by United team-mates Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, although it is unlikely that any of them will be given starting roles, without injuries or suspensions to other players.
England finished top of their qualifying group, amassing 22 points from a possible 30 and finished ahead of the likes of Ukraine and Montenegro.
England find themselves in Group D which is a difficult group to progress from. Uruguay and Italy are more likely than England to progress, while Costa Rica won't be easy to beat, with Arsenal youngster Joel Campbell in the ranks.
Still, if the Liverpool players in the squad perform as they have done this season, Rooney finally manages to prove himself at this level and the young players provide something the "Golden Generation" were unable to, they have some chance, even if it may be incredibly small.
Despite only starting seven games for United in the league last season, Nani is in the Portugal squad for the World Cup.
Nani played in five games for Portugal last season though and scored a goal in qualifying.
Portugal finished second in their group, one point behind Russia, after picking up 21 points from a possible 30.
Portugal are in Group G alongside Germany, USA and Ghana.
It will obviously be United's former winger, Cristiano Ronaldo, whom the Portuguese will be relying on this summer. Although William Carvalho, Pepe and Joao Moutinho could prove to be fairly handy too.
Portugal almost certainly won't win it, but anything is possible for a team containing Ronaldo.