World Cup Favorites 2014: Breaking Down Top Contenders to Win It All in Brazil

Tim Keeney@@t_keenContributor IJune 20, 2014

Christophe Ena/Associated Press

It's not a great time to be a World Cup favorite right now. Spain was booted after two matches, Brazil has shown some cracks in the armor, and England and Portugal are on the brink of premature elimination. 

OK, so the last two didn't really enter the tournament as "favorites," per se, but considering their talent, it wouldn't have been surprising if either made a deep run in Brazil. Instead, England have zero points through two matches, and Portugal—who looked painfully stagnant in their embarrassing loss to Germany—have injuries, red cards and goal differential to make up. 

As ESPN Stats & Info noted, it has been a truly unexpected start: 

Christophe Ena/Associated Press

Still, while things haven't quite gone according to plan for some of the main threats, there are plenty of countries establishing themselves as favorites to hoist the trophy in Rio De Janeiro. 

Let's take a look. 



My goodness. What a drubbing. 

Portugal isn't the fourth-best team in the world, as the FIFA rankings might suggest, but they are still a very talented team that was expected to advance out of a difficult group. 

Still, Germany made Paulo Bento's team look like a bunch of lost little kindergartners. Yes, half the game was spent playing against 10 men after Pepe was sent off, but the Germans were dominating well before that. 

Fox Sports' Kyle McCarthy put it simply:

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

Even with injuries to Marco Reus and several other key players, the Germans were never expected to be short on talent. The only question was weather or not Joachim Low would organized the pieces in the right way. 

Consider the question answered. Emphatically. 

Low, who received criticism by only bringing one out-and-out striker—and an old one at that; sorry, Miroslav Klose—to Brazil, went with the false nine. It worked to perfection, as Thomas Mueller bagged a hat trick. 

On defense, he went with essentially four center-backs (Jerome Boateng, Per Mertesacker, Mats Hummels and Benedikt Hoewedes), while Philipp Lahm moved to the midfield. Once again, the right move. Portugal's attack was absolutely stifled, while Cristiano Ronaldo's speed was mostly held in check during a nondescript performance. 

Oh, and the Germans know how to watch a game in style, too: 

The history of European teams struggling on South American soil can't be ignored. But Germany, one of the world's most talented teams, were absolutely masterclass in their opener. And unless Argentina somehow don't win their weak group, Die Mannschaft won't have to face a South American country until the semifinals. 



It hasn't been a perfect start for the hosts. 

A phantom penalty and questionable goalkeeping were needed to grab three points from Croatia, while they couldn't solve Memo Ochoa in a 0-0 draw against Mexico. 

To be fair, though, no one would have solved Ochoa on that night, and Luiz Felipe Scolari was happy with his team's progression, via The Mirror's Jack Lang:

Andre Penner/Associated Press

Even after an underwhelming start, it would be a massive mistake to write off Brazil.

Someone needs to tell Fred that the tournament has started, but you aren't going to find a more creative attacking duo than Oscar and Neymar. Throw in the ability of full-backs Marcelo and Dani Alves to bomb forward and provide width on the attack, and the Brazilians are extremely dangerous, especially on the counter. 

Luiz Gustavo also deserves credit for how well he has played shielding the back four. Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe applauded the play of the VfL Wolfsburg star: 

As this fairly inexperienced Selecao team continues to get more comfortable, they will only get better. 



The defense is really shaky. Even the ever-confident Diego Maradona was willing to admit that. 

"We are looking good in attack but I am a bit worried about the defence, to be honest," he said, via Sky Sports and Fox Sports

That will undoubtedly continue to be a major concern (although goalkeeper Sergio Romero played better than expected before allowing a late goal he should have stopped), but when you have Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria, those problems can be quelled. Especially on South American soil.

Rodrigo Palacios only believes the team will get better: 

Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

That very well may have to do with the formation. 

Albiceleste's attacking prowess looked fairly bland in the first half against Bosnia and Herzegovina, but when Alejandro Sabella moved back to a 4-3-3, the attack looked far more dangerous, and Messi looked like Messi: 

Argentina have more holes than they would probably like, but thanks to the immense talent up front, they can beat anyone on any given night. 


The Rest

As long as Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben continue to play like they have, no one will want to play the Netherlands. 

Their Group B counterpart, Chile, is another side to watch. The Chileans are vulnerable on set pieces, but their unbelievably high work rate, propensity to push forward and physicality can frustrate anyone (just ask Spain). 

Fernando Vergara/Associated Press

Even without Radamel Falcao, Colombia have grabbed six points and looked really impressive on the attack. James "Don't Call me James" Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado have both simply been on another level. 

Two 2010 disappointments, Italy and France, are also in the mix. With Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings in the midfield, the Italians looked in their opener like they stole Spain's talent Space Jam style. France, meanwhile, showed off a slew of different attacking weapons (Karim Benzema, Mathieu Debuchy, Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba) sans the talismanic Franck Ribery. 

Buckle up. It's going to be a wild and beautifully unpredictable ride to Rio de Janeiro. 


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