The 2014 World Cup finals are being held on South American soil for the first time since Argentina in 1978, with Brazil taking centre stage this time around.
The hosts will be aiming to assert their dominance in the World Cup, where they currently sit with the highest amount of wins, with an impressive five victories in the competition. They are the pre-tournament favourites at around 3/1, and have been very warmly backed in the run-up the summer.
They will be aiming to go one better than when they were beaten by Uruguay in the final, last time the tournament was held in Brazil, back in 1950. They certainly have the class and calibre of players to do some serious damage, and look the side that everyone has to beat, having landed the Confederations Cup extremely comfortably.
The attacking outlet of Neymar Jr, Hulk, Fred, Oscar, Willian etc. is extremely impressive, but for the first time in a long time they have an equally exciting defence, and complete balance. Luiz Felipe Scolari has put a massive emphasis on ensuring the likes of Neymar and Oscar are understood they are to drop deep and defend when they don’t have the ball, to create a 4-5-1 without the ball, or a 4-2-3-1 when pressing strongly. The defence itself is steeped in quality with; Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Dante, Maxwell, Henrique, Marcelo and Maicon all adept at the highest level.
The balance of the team is magnificence and they look set to have the strongest defence of the South American’s which could well be the difference as the tournament progresses, and all points lead to Brazil going very close, and although it is a rather boring selection, you can’t look past the 3/1 for Brazil to land the trophy.
The tournament has been held in South America four times, with the trophy staying in South America on every occasion, so this puts a line through most European sides, in-terms of a confident selection.
Argentina are second in the betting, and should go very well in the climate with arguably the best player in the World, Lionel Messi, aiming to end his World Cup rot, that has seen him only score once in eight appearances. The Argentinian attacking threat is arguably the most potent in the tournament even without Carlos Tevez and Erik Lamela, as Messi, Aguero and Higuain completing an electric front-three with Lavezzi, Di Maria and Palacio offering other brilliant options going forward. They look a solid bet to be the highest scoring team in the tournament; however they are rather unbalanced, as like the majority of South American sides, they are fairly weak defensively.
They are a consistent unit under Sabella, and they do have star individuals who helped them only concede 15 goals in 16 games during qualifying. However they had plenty of shaky moments along the way, and with the attacking intent shown by the South American’s, the lack of pace at the pack is likely to be exploited on the counter attack, which could lead them to falling short at the final hurdle. The 5/1 seems to be a fair price, however you are taking a risk on the defence staying strong as a unit, and the striker’s firing on all cylinders, as anything possible with Lionel Messi in the side.
The next three in the betting are all European sides, in the shape of 2010 winners Spain, Germany and the ‘dark horses’ Belgium.
Spain are still a tactically brilliant squad, that have been seemingly written off before the tournament has started due to the ‘aging squad’ claims. Xavi and Iniesta are getting older, but are both still fantastic footballers, and with Fabregas and new recruit Diego Costa, they should still be able to put plenty of sides to the sword with their attractive style of short sharp, attacking football.
They know what it takes to win major tournaments, having won three on the bounce (Euro ’08, World Cup ’10, Euro ’12), and should go very close once again. The climate alterations will be a negative, however they will have arrived in the best possible shape to stake a claim to win an unprecedented four major international tournaments on the bounce.
Germany are slowly forming a brilliant young squad, and they boast one of the greatest midfield and defensive structures in the tournament, with Manuel Neuer arguably the greatest ‘keeper in the world, between the sticks. They will prove very tough to beat, and have plenty of creative sparks, such-as Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil and Munich’s Bastien Schweinsteiger and Mario Gotze often able to pick the final pass. However the major negative is that they have only taken two out and out strikers, with the seemingly still effervescent Miroslav Klose given a seat on the plane, despite still not being completely fit.
They will be relying on plenty of goals from midfield, and this is a slight negative, as-well as having to negotiate a tricky group, featuring Portugal, Ghana and the United States. It will be a big learning curve for the majority of the squad, and give them two years and they will be in better shape to land a major tournament, in the 2016 Euro’s.
Belgium are no longer considered ‘dark horses’ by the majority, as they enter the tournament as fifth favourites, with a squad filled with fantastic individuals. They breezed through their (rather simple) qualifying campaign, finishing unbeaten with eight wins and two draws in ten games. They are slowly building as a unit and should progress massively for when they arrive in Brazil.
They have the added benefit of still having slim expectations, as the team are still improving and they should manage to negotiate out of their group, consisting of Algeria, South Korea and Russia, adjusting to the climate as they go. All is set for a big campaign, but you can’t back them too confidently in their first major tournament, and as they are European it would go against the stat of 15/19 winners coming from the host continent.
Yet, this brings into play an interesting outsider in the shape of Colombia, whose odds considerably improved as their talisman Radamel Falcao has recovered from his injury to be given a place in the squad.
El Tigre is a magician in front of goal, and has the ability to turn games on its head singlehandedly due to his deadly accuracy in the final third, and brute strength and pace. He will have the service alongside Porto’s Jackson Martinez who has been in imperious for his club this season, and the pair should be able to navigate their way past Greece, Japan and Ivory Coast.
Teofilo Gutierrez and Dorlon Pabon offer firepower from the bench, but will find it hard to break into the preferred 3-5-2, as James Rodgriuez, Juan Cuadrado, Juan Zúñiga and Pablo Armero offer a more pacey and direct approach that fits the system extremely well.
It was seen to great effect when the side finished runner-up in their CONMEBOL qualifying campaign, thanks to a solid defensive performance, conceding only 13 in 16 games, whilst managing to net 27, with Falcao scoring a third of these. All roads lead to the side being in the best shape in recent years and they could be a very tempting proposition as an outside bet at 33/1.
They are the same price as England, and although Roy Hodgson’s squad is very positive and attacking, you can almost guarantee he will start a rather rigid 4-5-1 formation and aim to snatch a point from both Italy and Uruguay, whilst hoping the attackers can go to work on Costa Rica, who aren’t as bad as the media are seemingly making them out to be. It will be a dangerous ploy that could backfire, with Uruguay and Italy having arguably stronger attacks. It is not guaranteed England will get out of the groups, with the difficult task they face, however with the young, fearless players in the squad they have the potential to cause a few upsets, yet they will likely fall short of the quality needed to actually go on and win the World Cup.
WIN: Brazil @ 3/1
E.W: Colombia @ 33/1
WIN: South American nation to win World Cup @ Evens