With so many fantastic footballing nations vying for glory at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, selecting a winner from the list of favourites has become a near-impossible task.
Though the likes of Germany, Spain, Argentina and Brazil have the credentials to be crowned world champions, the World Cup is famous for surprises and there could be any number of shocks this summer.
Here, we take a look at the latest odds for the winners in Brazil and look at the players that could prove the difference between misery and glory for their respective nations.
Brazilian sensation, Neymar will be the cornerstone of everything going forward for the hosts at the World Cup.
With incredible skill, pace and finishing ability, the Barcelona man is destined for greatness in front of the home support, with goals galore expected.
He couldn’t possibly be entering the tournament in better form, either, scoring four in his last two internationals, according to SoccerWay.
The record doesn’t stop there for Neymar, though, having bagged 11 goals in his last 14 international matches.
Though the statistics rather speak for themselves, if ever you need evidence of just how unplayable the 22-year-old can be, then look no further than Brazil’s recent 4-0 demolition of Panama.
Weak opposition, sure, but Neymar’s stunning free-kick and two assists were enough to suggest that he’s going to enjoy being unleashed on the world next week.
Brazil defeat Panama 4-0. Neymar is the star of the show with a free-kick goal and an INSANE back-heel assist. pic.twitter.com/LbQvysT0uG— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 3, 2014
All of this coming from a player still not fully fit—according to the man himself, as reported by Goal.com:
I'm not ready yet. I'm still lacking a bit of match fitness and I'm a little tired at the end of the game but we will arrive at the tournament in perfect physical shape. I would like it if there was a little more patience from our fans from the start. We were not used to this pitch but then the team picked up the pace and we were getting used to it and we improved.
With his confidence sky-high, Neymar is looking a real threat for the Golden Boot this year and could prove to be the architect behind Brazil romping to their sixth World Cup.
Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)
World Cup 2014’s dark horses Belgium are fifth favourites to land the trophy this summer despite this year’s tournament marking just their second finals appearance since the turn of the Millennium.
In Romelu Lukaku, the Belgians have one of the World Cup’s in-form strikers who will likely be in devastating form when the action gets underway.
Across Belgium’s two warm-up matches, Lukaku has scored four goals, according to SoccerWay, and produced the kind of performances that will have Belgians rubbing their hands together with excitement.
His hat-trick against Luxembourg was followed by a dynamic display against Sweden, where he netted a stunner in Solna—as Coral revealed:
Romelu Lukaku now has 4 goals in 2 games after this beauty against Sweden yesterday. 33/1 to be top goalscorer at WC https://t.co/EPyXvEXHUL— Coral (@Coral) June 2, 2014
With Belgium’s Group H opponents Algeria, Russia and South Korea looking like going down to Marc Wilmots’ side, you can almost guarantee that Lukaku will be in the thick of the action and grab several goals.
As Chelsea are looking to offload the 21-year-old in the transfer window, per John Richardson of the Express, having a fruitful campaign may just see a club part with the Blues’ £25 million asking price.
Gary Cahill (England)
At the heart of the England defence, Gary Cahill is one of the best centre-backs to emerge for the English since John Terry and Rio Ferdinand began their careers.
The Chelsea man enjoyed a stellar Premier League campaign in west London last season and he’s now looking to take his form into the World Cup.
Alongside Phil Jagielka in the heart of the England defence, Roy Hodgson has a stable unit at the back that make life incredibly difficult for strikers—even the best ones in the world.
As SoccerWay’s statistics show, England have kept five clean sheets in their last eight matches, conceding just four goals in the remaining three games.
Cahill has been one of the reasons behind such success, with his pace, aerial ability and organisation putting him one step ahead of even the sharpest of attackers.
The 28-year-old recently praised his partnership with Jagielka in central defence and said that he’s looking to carry his recent strong form on to Brazil—per Simon Yeend of the Express:
At the back, we are going about our business quietly. We work hard to keep goals out and it is going well. We are proud of our record and we want to build on that and take it into the World Cup where it counts. I am aware we have kept quite a few clean sheets which, as defenders, we are pleased about. I am happy Phil is fit and back playing. He is a huge player for us.
A lot is said about England, but one thing they are is very difficult to beat. If Cahill can produce the goods on the big stage then expect the English to be keeping a clean sheet or two and driving toward glory.