The 2014 World Cup features a high number of national teams capable of making a run to the final. While there's a handful of sides that are considered the top contenders, there are no less than 12 with realistic dreams of an appearance in the championship match.
That may not sound like a lot on the surface, but it represents more than a third of the field. It showcases that the overall amount of parity throughout the sport is on the rise as well as the fact one dominant side hasn't emerged heading into this year's hyped tournament.
The lack of certainty about how the event will play out should make for quite a month of action in Brazil. So let's check out predictions for how the top finishers will look once the dust settles in the middle of July.
One year ago, Brazil won the Confederations Cup as the host nation thanks in large part to the massive advantage it had in crowd support. The World Cup warm-up event also featured Spain, which the Selecao beat in the final, as well as secondary contenders Italy and Uruguay.
Now they will try to match that performance on the grandest football stage of them all. Their showing in that tournament last summer should serve as a confidence boost. What it doesn't do is take away the nervousness of playing for the host nation, as illustrated by comments from Thiago Silva via ESPN:
It has not been easy. You think about the World Cup almost every day. At night, when I lay down on my bed, I think how things would be if we won, how the entire country would go crazy.
Soccer is part of the Brazilian culture, it is in our blood. So can you picture the World Cup taking place in Brazil? If the Brazilian fans are highly anxious, you have an idea how it is for us, too.
Brazil doesn't feature the World Cup title experience of Spain, an incredible amount of talented options like Germany or the singular greatness Lionel Messi gives Argentina. But when you pair a very gifted squad, led by Neymar, with home-soil advantage, the Selecao are the team to beat.
It feels like Spain didn't get enough respect leading into the tournament. Perhaps it's due to the fact a repeat winner is rarely as interesting as a new king of the international football world. Yet, it's hard to imagine anything less than another deep run for La Furia Roja.
They return most of the major contributors of the title-winning side from four years ago, including Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos, among others. Players from other nations haven't forgotten about their greatness. Liam Twomey of Goal.com passed along remarks Netherlands star Robin van Persie made to Dutch outlet Voetbal International:
We only have a few weeks and two friendlies before we play against the best team in the world. In my opinion, Spain is still the best.
If the top four teams (Brazil, Spain, Germany and Argentina) win their respective groups, Spain would be on Argentina's side of the bracket. That's a good matchup if it came to fruition due to La Furia Roja's advantage in the midfield, which means another final appearance could very well be in the cards.
Third Place: Germany
Finishing third is probably starting to get stale for Germany. The Mannschaft have finished in that position each of the past two World Cups. On one hand, it's a positive to keep making those extended runs. But it also hurts to go that far only to fall short.
Based purely on the amount of talent on the roster from top to bottom, the German squad is probably the most complete in the tournament. That doesn't always translate into winning the trophy, however, especially when beating Brazil in a huge road game will likely be necessary.
If there's one thing they lack, it's a go-to attacking player who's capable of taking over the match individually in key moments in the mold of Messi, Neymar or Cristiano Ronaldo. Whether a truly team concept can carry Germany all the way to the title is yet to be seen.
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