World Cup 2014: Predicting Biggest Upsets in Group Stages

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World Cup 2014: Predicting Biggest Upsets in Group Stages
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A total of 32 teams will be playing for World Cup glory in Brazil when the tournament kicks off in two weeks, but, of course, not all teams were created equally.

Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Germany are seen as the heavy favourites to win the 2014 World Cup, and all four are expected to make it out of the group stages relatively unscathed.

This is the World Cup we're talking about, however. Things never go according to plan, and football's biggest tournament is usually packed with plenty of drama that simply can't be scripted.

Here are three teams who have a good chance of upsetting their group favourites.

 

Korea Republic over Belgium

Lee Jin-man/Associated Press

The Belgian Red Devils are clear favourites in Group H, and pundits are predicting a relatively easy path to the knockout stages for this exciting, young team.

Belgium have a deep squad with several world-class players like Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany, but their struggles in friendly matches against Colombia and Japan highlighted one potential weakness—defending quicker players on the wing.

Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are great players, but they're not a natural fit for the wing-back position. They're comfortable on the ball and very physical, but they lack the movement skills required to guard against players who are used to playing out wide.

Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Associated Press

Colombia's Juan Cuadrado and Japan's Hiroki Sakai dominated the Belgian defence when the spaces were kept small, and teams in Group H will no doubt have watched the tapes from those two matches over and over.

Son Heung-Min and Lee Chung-Yong may not be world-beaters, but they have the sort of profile that could give Belgium's defence fits. Fans may not be expecting much from the Koreans, and the team won't face nearly as much pressure as the inexperienced Belgian side will.

Russia and Algeria will also test Belgium, and both teams have impressed in their friendlies ahead of the World Cup so far. Group H may have looked like a walk in the park for the Red Devils just a few months ago, but don't be surprised if the team struggles to break down these three sides.

 

Netherlands over Spain

Daniel Ochoa de Olza/Associated Press

It's absurd how quickly things change in world football. The Netherlands were losing finalists just four years ago, but, following the team's disastrous showing at Euro 2012, Oddsshark has dropped them all the way to ninth favourites.

Holland impressed during qualifiers (like they always do) and are travelling to Brazil with a squad that blends experience and youthful energy beautifully.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben need no introduction, but players like Memphis Depay and Stefan de Vrij will be looking to make their mark on world football during the 2014 World Cup, and both could soon be plying their trade for much bigger clubs.

Spain are the current holders and have won back-to-back European titles, and La Roja boast arguably the deepest and most talented squad in all of football.

Squawka's Greg Johnson thinks injuries could take their toll on the team, however:

At the start of the new year, it appeared that [Vicente del Bosque] would have the perfect game-changing alternatives to shake things up and refresh his roster in Atletico Madrid’s newly naturalised striker Costa, Bayern Munich’s ambitious passing hub Thiago and Navas, who has so often been the player able to add a new dimension to Spain with his pace in recent years.

However, the fitness concerns for Costa have cast doubt on whether he will be able to make the desired impact on his return to his native Brazil, while Thiago and Navas have not made the final squad due to injury.

Australia might not be perceived as a large threat to either team, but Chile will challenge the two finalists from 2010 greatly with a talented squad containing the likes of Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez.

The result of the match between The Netherlands and Spain could be vital in determining who makes it out of the group stages, and Oranje will be gunning for revenge after that painful loss in 2010.

 

Croatia over Brazil

Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Always save the best for last.

Yes, Brazil are the deserved favourites to win the World cup on home soil. They have a team packed with talent, have shown little weakness during their preparations and won the Confederations Cup just last year.

They're my pick to win it all, but that doesn't mean they won't struggle at the very first hurdle.

Croatia made life miserable on the two finalists of Euro 2012 during that tournament, playing both Italy and Spain very closely. They went blow-for-blow with Belgium for much of the qualifying stage and even outplayed the Red Devils in Brussels for a large portion of that match.

A late collapse saw the team relegated to the play-offs, where they comfortably took care of Iceland.

Group A is expected to be a close race for second place, and Cameroon and Mexico are both strong teams who would be very deserving of advancing to the knockout stages.

But people are sleeping on the Croatians, and there simply is no reason for it. Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Rakitic are world-class players that would walk into most teams' starting XI, and they're backed by a strong cast consisting of Dejan Lovren, Darijo Srna and Ivan Perisic.

Croatia will be Brazil's very first opponents, and, with all those expectations resting on the team and the eyes of the world upon them, that opening match will either be a rousing success or a big failure for the hosts.

 

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