5 Teams That Might Implode at the World Cup
One of the best things about the World Cup is that it rarely follows the script. At every tournament, there's at least one major side who fall apart at the first hurdle and head home with their tails between their legs.
Here are five candidates for the team who might just surprise with how disappointing they are on the world's biggest stage...
When one thinks of tournament implosions, one immediately thinks of France.
Les Bleus surrendered their World Cup title with a pitiful display in 2002, while their squabbling and team revolt in 2010 was an embarrassment for all involved.
On paper, France have a fantastic squad, with Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba, Franck Ribery and Hugo Lloris among those who enjoyed superb domestic seasons. However, there is always a doubt as to whether they will play cohesively as a unit. This was evident in a mixed qualification campaign in which they played very well against Spain in Madrid but scraped through a play-off with Ukraine to make the tournament.
In an easy group featuring Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland, it would be quite shocking if the French metaphorically lay down on the field with their arms crossed once again, but anything can happen in this game.
It may sound crazy to suggest that the reigning world and European champions could falter, but clear precedents have been set for this in the past.
France turned up in South Korea and Japan in 2002 with the aim of defending their trophy, but they ended up losing to Senegal and Denmark, finishing at the bottom of the group with a single point from a draw with Uruguay. Equally, in 2010, the Italians, who won the previous tournament, couldn't get a win in a group that featured famous football powerhouses Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand.
Spain are obviously a strong squad and among the favourites, but they often start tournaments slowly (remember the opening loss to Switzerland in 2010?).
There are also concerns that some of the Golden Generation are reaching the autumn years of their careers, but the biggest threat might be the death of "tiki taka."
In Europe this season, we have seen teams who play a beautiful passing game (like Barcelona and Bayern Munich) overshadowed by those high-energy, counter-attacking sides (like Chelsea and both Madrid teams).
The tactical balance might be shifting toward "reactive" counter-attacking, a fact the Spanish might discover in a group that features a high-pressure Chile side.
Mexico have given us absolutely no signs that they are going to have a successful World Cup.
They scraped through qualification via an intercontinental play-off with New Zealand and have gone through three managers on the road to Brazil.
To be fair, coach Miguel Herrera has steadied the ship since he took over in October, but the team is still not jelling, and there appears to be discordance between the players based in Europe and those who play domestically.
Star player Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez is not in good form, so El Tri may need to rely on goals from Giovani dos Santos and Santos Laguna's Oribe Peralta.
Mexico were unimpressive in a 1-0 friendly defeat at the hands of Bosnia and Herzegovina on Tuesday evening, with their performance neatly summed up by the moment two players ran into each other.
In a group that features Brazil, Croatia and Cameroon, it's quite possible that this team will not pick up any points.
After qualifying undefeated with a phenomenal plus-29 goal difference, much is expected of this Netherlands side in Brazil. This would only make it more shocking if the Oranje capitulated.
Remember, the Dutch have recent form for tournament collapses: The team that reached the final of the 2010 tournament were awful at Euro 2012, managing to lose all three of their group games amid rumours of infighting.
The main factor that could prove to be the undoing of Louis van Gaal's squad in Brazil, however, is the dearth of youth and inexperience in the squad.
Fifteen of them have 15 caps or fewer, while the defensive trio of Paul Verhaegh, Joel Veltman and Terence Kongolo have only five caps between them. What's more, 10 of the 23-man squad play in the Eredivisie, which is one of the weaker leagues in Europe. Those players, including hotly tipped 20-year-old winger Memphis Depay, have not had much experience at the very highest level.
If Spain avoid a collapse, there is a very real danger that a high-pressure, exciting Chile team will keep Holland out of the knockout rounds.
Thankfully, Van Gaal has a gig to fall back on next season...
In a South American tournament, South American teams traditionally do well. If Uruguay progress, they will have the potential to meet Brazil in the quarter-finals, knowing that they were the team who upset the Selecao at the Maracana in 1950 by taking the World Cup from under their noses.
Both Italy and England will be aware of the threat that Los Charruas pose in Group D, but it's quite possible that they will fold like a deck chair on a windy day.
For one thing, it is not known how well star striker Luis Suarez will recover from his knee injury. But even if the Liverpool striker does play, it must be noted that he is not nearly as prolific with his national team as he is in the Premier League—he has managed 38 goals in 77 appearances for his country.
Furthermore, Football365 notes that Suarez has only managed four goals in 20 appearances against the 10 World Cup favourites, and he tends to hold back against the very best teams.
Uruguay may have had a decent run in the 2010 World Cup and they did win the 2011 Copa America, but since then, their ageing squad has shown no signs of being world-beaters. After all, they need a play-off game against Jordan to reach the finals.
If England and Italy overcome the conditions and Costa Rica work hard, Oscar Tabarez's side might just flop.