World Cup Predictions 2014: Projections for Top Players and Teams in Tournament

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World Cup Predictions 2014: Projections for Top Players and Teams in Tournament
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While every team in the 2014 World Cup is hoping to win it all, only one squad will end up raising the trophy after the month-long event.

Many of the groups that head into Brazil with high expectations will only find disappointment by the end of the summer. The same can be said about the top players in the world hoping to lead their sides to high levels while counting on plenty of individual success.

Only the top players will succeed, and only the best squad will be named the best in the world. Here is a breakdown of expectations for the top teams and stars in this prestigious tournament.

 

Top Contenders

Spain

As the reigning World Cup holders and winners of the last two European championships, Spain obviously go into Brazil as a top contender to win again.

The strength is in the midfield, which features a bunch of players who have competed together for a long time. Barcelona and Real Madrid stars like Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and others will continue their successful strategies of extended possession to limit opposing opportunities and working to get the best possible shot on the attack.

Meanwhile, the group of Atletico Madrid stars like Diego Costa and Koke are coming off a La Liga championship and are certain to bring in plenty of confidence to the World Cup.

However, the past few years have proven that the tiki-taka system can be defeated. It first came when German teams Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund embarrassed Real Madrid and Barcelona in the 2013 UEFA Champions League semifinals before Brazil defeated Spain in the Confederations Cup.

Spanish clubs obviously had great seasons this year, but there is still a blueprint for success against this juggernaut. With the core of the team getting older, La Roja will again make a run to the finals but will lose in the championship round.

 

Germany

When healthy, Germany have arguably the most complete roster in the world. They have arguably the best goalkeeper in the world in Manuel Neuer, an experienced defense, elite midfielders and forwards capable of consistently finishing opportunities.

However, injuries are starting to be a problem for the talented squad. Raphael Honigstein of ESPN FC notes that this could lead to an early exit:

Honigstein breaks down the fact that Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Sami Khedira and Miroslav Klose are all dealing with various issues that could at least limit them in Brazil.

Adding another midfield injury made things even worse recently, as noted by Cristian Nyari of Bundesliga Fanatic:

The good news is there is enough depth to make it through the group stage and likely all the way into the semifinals. However, this is as far as the group will go as the issues will finally catch up to the national team.

 

Brazil

Although Brazil might lack the experience of some of the other top contenders, they have a great chance of bringing home the title. Young stars like Neymar are just entering their prime, and the home advantage will be a big part of the tournament.

Former Dutch star Edwin van der Sar also points out other factors that could contribute to a Brazil win, via James Andrew of the Daily Mail:

I think Brazil are clear favourites because of the weather, the humidity, the warmth, the expectation from the people. 

And besides, there are so many good football players that they can put two or three teams in the World Cup. So I think it will be very hard for an outsider, or maybe a European team, to get to the final and try to win it.  I think Brazil will win for the sixth time.

The fans, the weather and the talent should help Brazil achieve their past levels of success. They already showed they have the ability to beat an elite team when they won the Confederations Cup over Spain, a game that will give the young group plenty of confidence this summer.

After going through a relatively easy group stage, the squad will keep the momentum going throughout the knockout stage to bring home a trophy.

 

Top Players

Lionel Messi, Argentina

For years, Lionel Messi has been the best pure scorer in the world. In the past three seasons with Barcelona, the forward has totaled an incredible 124 goals in La Liga, including a "down" performance this season when he only tallied 28 while dealing with multiple leg injuries.

He was also named the best player in the world by FIFA for four straight years from 2009-2012.

The problem is that he has not had as much success on the international level. In 2010, Argentina were perfect in the preliminary rounds but ended up losing to Germany 4-0 in the quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Messi did not provide much help on the attack, via Paul Carr of ESPN:

Argentina should once again get three wins in the group stage against arguably the weakest selection of teams in the tournament. The easy path will continue against the second-place team from Group E.

However, the South American squad can expect another quarterfinal exit to Belgium, which has more balance throughout the pitch. Messi could end up scoring four goals in the tournament, but he will not be able to bring home a title.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

Without Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal would not even be in the World Cup. The 2013 Ballon d'Or winner scored all four of the squad's goals in its two-legged play-off against Sweden to send the team to Brazil.

While he has dealt with various injuries toward the end of the league season, he remains a star for Real Madrid as well as he totaled 31 goals and nine assists in La Liga. He also was by far the top scorer in Champions League play.

This scoring ability will keep up in the World Cup as he is Portugal's best option to advance. The squad has a solid defense, but few others are capable of putting the ball into the net.

However, a difficult draw might cause problems. Germany appears to be the best in a group that also features the United States and Ghana, which means Portugal should be happy to even grab the No. 2 spot. Following that could be a matchup with talented Belgium and then possibly Argentina.

A deep run should not be expected, but Ronaldo should at least be able to provide about three goals and two assists in the event.

 

 

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