Favorites are expected to win. When it comes to the 2014 World Cup, top teams like Brazil, Germany and the Netherlands are supposed to advance past the group stage with relative ease and keep on winning until they reach the semifinals because they’re among the best in the world.
But the favorites don’t always win, nor do they always play well. This year’s tournament has proven that. For evidence, look no further than Spain, who made history after their shocking early elimination, as ESPN Stats & Info highlighted.
Spain is the 1st defending World Cup champion eliminated with 1 game left in group stage #ESPvsCHI— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 18, 2014
Through just over one-third of the group stage, the top contenders’ performances have varied, which has made for an extremely entertaining World Cup.
Let’s take a look at how the World Cup's top contenders have fared thus far.
A bit of panic set in during the opening minutes of Brazil’s first World Cup match against Croatia on June 12. In the 11th minute, an Ivica Olic cross deflected off Marcelo for an own goal and Brazil trailed in front of their home fans.
However, the Brazilians responded and played like the superior team that they are, as Neymar scored twice and Oscar put in another to emerge with a difficult 3-1 victory and three group points.
On Wednesday, Brazil played their second game of the Group A stage, this time against Mexico, who won their previous game 1-0 over Cameroon. Brazil attacked early and often but couldn’t find the net because of the superb goalkeeping of Guillermo Ochoa, who recorded six crucial saves while Mexico preserved an impressive 0-0 draw.
“This is the World Cup, up against the host nation... the setting could not have been better,” Ochoa said in an interview with FIFA.com after the match. “I was really determined to have a good game and I think that I managed to do my bit when I was needed.”
It is a little difficult to gauge Brazil’s two-game performance. They have four group points and are in good position to advance, and the only goal they have allowed was the own goal against Croatia. Their attack hasn’t been poor, but the team should have notched more than a point against Mexico, despite Ochoa’s performance in net.
To see Brazil face an early deficit and come back strong will bode well going forward against Cameroon and beyond.
Only a handful of teams have played two matches thus far, but the Netherlands have been the most imposing.
The Dutch opened the tournament against Spain on June 13 in an eagerly anticipated rematch of the 2010 final. The Spaniards played well early, taking a 1-0 lead on a Xabi Alonso penalty kick, but it was all the Dutch from there. Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben each scored twice and the team dominated the reigning champions by a score of 5-1.
Which team is most likely to win the World Cup?
The Netherlands followed up their statement win over Spain with a second Group B victory on Wednesday against Australia. The Australians put up a terrific fight, notching two goals against the Dutch, but the Netherlands proved to be too difficult. Van Persie and Robben each scored their third goal of the tournament and Memphis Depay had the winner in the 68th minute to earn a 3-2 victory and an additional three points.
No offense has been more dynamic than the Netherlands’. Not only have the Dutch done a terrific job creating a multitude of chances in front of the net, but they have also finished most of them. Through two matches, the Netherlands have scored eight times on 25 shots on goal by constantly putting pressure on opposing defenses.
While it seems a bit absurd for the team to keep up its current pace, the Netherlands’ performance at the World Cup thus far has certainly alerted the other top contenders that the Dutch are a force to be reckoned with.
Germany, the world’s No. 2 team according to FIFA, had perhaps the most impressive match of the tournament outside the Netherlands’ dismantling of Spain. The Germans defeated Portugal, 4-0, behind Thomas Muller’s hat-trick and a solid German defense that frustrated Cristiano Ronaldo—perhaps the best player in the world— by limiting his opportunities to create.
After the match, Germany coach Joachim Low told FIFA.com that the team viewed the contest as a must-win:
Winning was our only option and the team went out there with that in mind. Thomas (Muller) did really well in attack and created a lot of space for us. We dominated the midfield and got the ball up to the forwards, where we were very fast. We were compact and stopped Portugal from launching counter-attacks. The second half was different, because the main thing for us was to keep possession of the ball and hit them on the break. (Jerome) Boateng also did a very good of marking Cristiano Ronaldo.
Germany will likely advance out of Group G, especially if they can defeat Ghana on June 21. Ghana played well in a 2-1 loss to the United States, dominating possession but failing to create enough realistic shots on goal. Expect Ghana to have a harder time holding the ball against Germany.
Although the Germans are the only team of the top contenders discussed that have yet to play two matches, they are in the best form of the trio. While that could certainly change with their match this weekend, look for Germany to continue their recent success and defeat Ghana with relative ease.
Follow Jesse Clark on Twitter: