World Cup 2018: Struggling Nations That Must Improve on 2014 Showing

Stuart Howard-Cofield@@grumpyoldfan99Featured ColumnistJuly 16, 2014

The 2018 World Cup set to take place in Russia may seem ages away, but the thoughts of some nations are already turning toward that tournament following a poor showing at Brazil 2014.

Germany's triumph in Brazil has been credited to a forward-thinking plan that was put in place over a decade ago.

Oliver Holt, writing for the Mirror, quoted German national coach Joachim Low as saying after the final: “We realised more than 10 years ago that just having the German virtues was not enough, because all the others have those virtues, too."

And so the task was to build a new generation of technically gifted footballers. There can be no doubt that those aims were achieved by Germany.

But what do we make of those nations that struggled in this year's World Cup? Why did they fail and how can they improve?

Here are a few teams that have to get better prior to Russia 2018.



Euro 2012 was a free swing for Roy Hodgson. Taking over the England manager's hot seat prior to the tournament, the only expectation was to do the best he could with the squad at his disposal. He could then come home and start to work on a side that would go to Brazil.

Fast-paced, counter-attacking sides fared best in Brazil. Hodgson seemed to realise that this would be the case and he did include a sprinkling of exciting youngsters in his squad. However, as a naturally cautious coach, he never quite had enough daring to unleash them in the tournament.

The so-called "Golden Generation" had failed England and so did Hodgson's half-measure. Although he has been confirmed as England manager going through to Euro 2016, he'll be 70 years of age by the next World Cup, and it is unlikely he will still be in charge by then.

However, Henry Winter described in The Telegraph how Hodgson believed that "the team going forward will be a very good team." He might just be right about that.

England is at yet another crossroads. Hopefully, players like Jon Flanagan, Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling will help them through to the other side next time.



Ever the pragmatists, Italy know what their job is and they go out there and do it. Usually.

Brazil 2014 looked like another tournament where the Azzurri would stumble through the group stage doing just enough to qualify for the knockout stages. An opening-match win against England surely had the Italians pencilled in as favourites to progress. Costa Rica had other, more thrilling plans, for the group, however. 

Italy might be able to point toward Claudio Marchisio's sending off against Uruguay as a turning point and a handicap to their progression but, in truth, Cesare Prandelli's side offered little. Such complacency must not be allowed again.

In 2018 we can expect a much-changed and much younger Italy side to take to the world stage. It is unlikely that Gianluigi Buffon at the age of 40 will be there. The same goes for the likes of Daniele de Rossi, Andrea Pirlo and Antonio Cassano.

Expect Paris Saint-Germain's Salvatore Sirigu to be in the No. 1 shirt. Marco Verratti ought to install himself in the Pirlo role, pulling the strings in midfield, whereas the ever-unpredictable Mario Balotelli will still be in his prime and at the peak of his powers.



Spain must pick themselves up and formulate a new plan after a disastrous defence of their World Cup.

It all seemed to be going so well when a Xabi Alonso penalty put the reigning champions ahead in their first match against the Netherlands. Just over an hour later, Spain were on the end of a 5-1 thumping.

The warning signs were there a year before. FC Bayern Munich's dismantling of FC Barcelona in the 2013 UEFA Champions League caused people to question whether "tiki-taka" football had been found out, per The Guardian's Jonathan Wilson

Heavily reliant on Barcelona's formula and bereft of a "plan B," Spain never really regained their composure. They were unable to impose their possession-based game on quick, physical sides such as the Netherlands and Chile.

The well of talent has not run dry in Spain yet, though. Their U-21 side won the European Championship last year and much is expected of a new crop of players that includes David de Gea, Koke, Thiago Alcantara, and Alvaro Morata.



Just as Brazil and Argentina were to later find out, relying on one player to make the difference would not work in this World Cup. Brazil 2014 was all about teamwork.

Costa Rica, the Netherlands, Colombia and USA were just a few of the sides that did not boast a standout superstar in their line-up, but all enjoyed relatively successful campaigns that were based on hard work and team ethics.

That Germany could also add a high level of technical ability to the mix was probably a reason why they ended up as World Champions.

Portugal looked and played like a side that knew they had Cristiano Ronaldo—and that was about it. Next time round he will be 33 years old. Portugal may not be able to rely on him alone much longer.



Including a side that made the semi-finals of the World Cup in this list may seem a little harsh. Yet it was clear for all to see that Brazil struggled to perform without relying on their talismanic superstar Neymar.

On home soil and with the dazzling sides of the past haunting their every move, much was expected of Brazil's players. Yet a squad that is now indoctrinated into the methods of European club football looked workmanlike. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari seemed unable to find anyone that could share Neymar's burden or add that spark of invention so badly needed.

Once he was injured, belief seemed to drain from the side. However, Brazil never truly convinced at any stage in the tournament. The added blow of losing their defensive leader Thiago Silva to suspension in the semi-final badly exposed the weaknesses.

Picking themselves up after the humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany will not be easy. Like Portugal, they cannot expect one player to do all the work.


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