Can you name the top eight soccer nations in the world today? Even if you don't follow the global game on a regular basis, you should still be able to label the popular powerhouses from around the world with ease.
Many of the top teams have reigned the footy world since the beginning of time, but a few have worked their way up from the basement and into the ballroom. In the world of soccer, there is always room for previously non prestigious teams (such as Spain) to rise up and stamp their brand on the global game. With that in mind, here are the next eight non-historic nations that are most likely to rise to prominence in the near future.
Current FIFA Ranking: 13
Best World Cup FInish: 3rd 1962
Current FIFA Ranking: 28
Best World Cup Finish: Quarterfinals 1986 (Host)
Current FIFA Ranking: 26
Best World Cup Finish: Round of 16 2010
Current FIFA Ranking: 27
Best World Cup Finish: Quarterfinals 1998
Players to Watch: Cristian Eriksen, Nicklas Bendtner, Peter Lovenkrands
The Danes might not have deserved praise after their distasteful stutter in South Africa last summer, but they will earn worthy respect in the near future. Denmark has never really been known for their offensive assets, but now it seems as though their attack is overflowing with definitive weapons.
The offense will revolve around 19 year-old Christian Eriksen who is coming off a remarkable first season at Ajax where he earned the talent of the year award. His play dramatically affected Ajax’s offensive firepower last season and could help the Danes light up the scoreboard in the upcoming years.
Also, the dynamic duo of Lovenkrands and Bendtner up top might prove to be one of the most dangerous in Euro 2012. This next generation of Danish football will be one that rebrands the nation.
Current FIFA Ranking: 38
Best World Cup Finish: Group Stage 2002
Players to Watch: Teko Modise, Katlego Mphela, Steven Pienaar
After last year’s historic hosting of the World Cup, you would have to think that Bafana Bafana are on the rise in the soccer world. The team currently features a number of strong players in their prime who will be the backbone of a new era in South African football.
After hosting such a global event, the popularity of the sport among youth should greatly increase and spread throughout the large country. As more and more kids have a ball at their feet from a young age, the overall quality of South African football will most likely improve to previously unseen levels. Improved stadiums, quality and overall reputation should help the next generation of South African football be one to remember.
Current FIFA Ranking: 25
Best World Cup Finish: Quarterfinals 1954 (Host)
Players to Watch: Tranquilo Barnetta, Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka
In just a few years, Switzerland will no longer be a neutral nation (in the soccer world at least). The Swiss are loaded with exceptional young talent and do not have a single midfielder/forward on their roster above the age of 26.
That being said, you don’t need to be a brain surgeon to know that Switzerland’s future is headed in the right direction. Names to look out for: Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka, and Eren Derdiyok. Their play is almost as awesome as their names.
Current FIFA Ranking: 22
Best World Cup Finish: 3rd 1930
Players to Watch: Juan Agudelo, Timothy Chandler, Stuart Holden
Whether you support the "Stars and Stripes" or think that America is simply bloody rubbish at football, you have to admit that the USMNT is on the rise. The team put forth a strong showing in South Africa last summer and have plenty of top young talents who could continue USA's global success.
Although the Yanks will lose the Donovan/Dempsey combination in a few years, midfielders such as Stuart Holden, Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley look to pleasantly fill the void that remains after they depart. The constantly criticized striker position also seems to be in good hands with prodigies Juan Agudelo and Jozy Altidore, entering their prime around the same time. Finally, Ream, Goodson, Chandler, and Spector should create a consistent back line that thankfully stands in front of Howard.
You don’t even need a Magic 8 ball to realize that the USA is jogging up the soccer staircase.
Current FIFA Ranking: 37
Best World Cup Finish: 4th 1986
Players to Watch: Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Axel Witsel
Belgium is the soccer parallel to that “next-gen” Vizio TV you recently got for Christmas. It has all the features you could possibly want: a fast working processor, big and strong screen, and of course, a wide variety of channels. But, like any new product, finding out where all the wires go for the first time can be a pain in the Belgian buttocks.
Belgium have some of the hottest prospects in the game of football with winger forward Eden Hazard and monster striker Romelu Lukaku filling out the roster. With a variety of talented teenagers, there is no doubt that Belgium is on its way up in the ranks. However, just like every other up and coming nation, the talent cannot be completely exploited until all the puzzle pieces are full grown and in place.
When Belgium can bond experience with their potential, the team will be one of the most dangerous in all of UEFA. Simply put, the gasoline is in the fireplace my friends—we are just waiting for the flame to appear.
Current FIFA Ranking: 10
Best World Cup Finish: 3rd 1998
Players to Watch: Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar
The checkered Croatians have a very promising future in the world of football. The team currently has the perfect blend of experience and youth that gives them the capability to make a big statement next year in Poland/Ukraine. Just four years ago, Slaven Bilic would have led a far less talented and experienced squad to the Euro Final Four if it weren’t for a referee who clearly disliked reading time.
With playmakers like Modric and Kranjcar in the middle, gracefully supplying a plethora of wingers, Croatia offensively is a dangerous team. Add that to a steady back line and successful coaching staff and you have one promising football squad.
Current FIFA Ranking: 15
Best World Cup Finish: Quarterfinal 2010
Players to Watch: Kevin Prince-Boateng, Ayew brothers
The team that broke the hearts of thousands of USMNT fans like me will be causing far more damage in the near future. Ghana was just seconds and fingertips away from becoming the first African nation to reach the World Cup semifinals last summer.
Reaching the quarterfinals by itself is worthy of high praise, but what makes this near feat even more heroic is that the nation did it with an extremely inexperienced squad. The majority of the Ghanaian’s who handled adversity so successfully in South Africa were under the age of 25, hinting that in just three years, the squad will be scarily even stronger.
Gyan, Muntari, and the Ayew brothers will likely all be in their prime by the time Brazil comes around—leaving me with a prayer that USA is an opposite group.
Current FIFA Ranking: 14
Best World Cup Finish: Round of 16 2002 (Host)
Players to Watch: Keisuke Honda, Ryo Miyaichi
The Japanese reign my Nations on the Rise list for 2011. And why shouldn’t they? Japan has a variety of top prospects at each position and could be a sleeper team at the next World Cup. Honda, Kagawa, Morimoto, Nagatomo, and Miyaichi are just a few of the many names that will be gracing your television sets in the next decade.
As Japan slowly pulls away from the rest of the AFC, the nation will begin to hone in on conquering a new part of the football world. To the future reader whose team just fell victim to the Japanese at the 2014 World Cup: Remember who said it first.