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Chris graduated from Georgia State University in 2009 with degrees in Journalism and Creative Writing. He has spent a lot of time working with the media. From engineering radio broadcast for most of Atlanta’s major sports teams to shooting high school football games behind a camera, Chris has a lot of media experience. Besides that, he loves soccer, detective shows, and a buffet list of 'nerdy' things that would embarrass his wife.

Conquering Brazil: A Who’s Who at the 2014 World Cup

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Brazil last won the World Cup in 2002 (Image Credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

In less than two weeks, the whole world will turn their eyes to the “Samba Nation” as the biggest soccer (or proper football) event returns from another 4 year hiatus. The 2014 World Cup is back, and for many of us, it’s about time. While soccer is still in the ever-continuing process of growing here in America, the fever for the tournament has been steadily increasing around the globe since the qualifiers began three years ago.

Some say that this may be the best World Cup yet, with the games to be played in the country that has won the games more times than anyone else. Others think that the violence, protests, and economic woes in Brazil may overshadow and possibly leak into the fanfare. However, each of the 32 teams that are making their pilgrimage to the World Cup Mecca will bring with them the expectations and excitement of a country. Hopefully, like tournaments past, we will forget troubles of our world long enough to enjoy the beautiful game.

Speaking of hope, there are plenty of nations who will be dreaming of holding up the Jules Rimet Trophy this summer. There will also be a number of teams hoping not to be unceremoniously dumped out at the group stages, and this article will examine all parts of that spectrum.

The Favorites

While not the host nation, Spain is one of the overwhelming favorites at the tournament, having won the 2010 World Cup (as well as Euro 2008 and Euro 2012). The seeming era of dominance by the Spaniards has a lot to do with their style of play. They tend to run out opponents with short, tiki-taka passes in the midfield before pouncing on a mistake or open space left by tired defenders. Their formation is often compact in the center and orchestrated by the likes of Barcelona’s Xavi and Andres Iniesta. In fact, their midfield is probably one of the most talented midfields in the world, featuring ultra talented passers like Cesc Fabregas, Santi Carzola and Juan Mata. If there is one question mark about Spain, it’s their ability to focus on defense when called upon (on the rare occasions).

Next up is Brazil, a country that traditionally gives eager eyes a real thrill on the ball. Having previously produced legends like Zico, Pele and Ronaldo (just to name a few), times have changed a bit for the Samba Kings. After giving up the lead disappointingly and being knocked out by the Dutch in 2010, Brazil is looking to get back on track with the coach who helped them win the 2002 World Cup, Luiz Felipe Scolari. Having omitted former fixtures Ronaldinho and Kaká, Scolari is clearly emphasizing tactical discipline and youthful exuberance. However, he may have his hands full with players like Marcelo, David Luiz and Ramires—players who like to lunge after opposition and subsequently see red.

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How much Bastian will we see for Germany? (Image Credit: Getty)

Germany, who have appeared in seven finals themselves, also have a point to prove. Their strong and technically brilliant team is known for dismantling even the most organized of teams, but this incarnation has failed to deliver the final triumph at each of the last 4 tournaments. One thing to watch for is the health of midfield lynchpin Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has been hampered by injuries all year. While many people point to players like Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller as the fulcrum of attack, it is Schweinsteiger who gives them solidity. Another thing to watch for is striker Miroslav Klose, who is only a couple of goals away from surpassing Ronaldo as the leader in goals at the World Cup.

Another nation from South America makes this list, and that’s Argentina. Many wonder why the Argentinians have struggled to make it to the finals over the pass two tournaments, especially with the emergence of perennial World Player of the Year Lionel Messi. The answer is usually a simple one: chemistry. All the talent in the world can’t get past a lack of it. Many believe that to be the reason that Carlos Tevez is being left home this summer, and I wouldn’t doubt it.

The Make-Us-Believers

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Can Sneijder and Co. get The Dutch back to the finals? (Image Credit: Rogan Ward/Reuters)

One team embodies this category perfectly and that is the Dutch. If there is one thing that Netherlands  fans aren’t sure of, it’s which team will show up at the World Cup Finals. Will it be the team that dominated their qualifiers? Or will it be the team nearly lost to Brazil four years ago and also tried to judo-kick their way to the trophy against Spain in the same year’s finals? One thing is for sure, they don’t lack experience with players like Sneijder, Robben and Van Persie leading the lines. But the injury to Rafael Van Der Vaart hurts.

Portugal seems to always be an “also-ran” team time and time again. Will this year be different? It will certainly be harder since they have been drawn into the “Group of Death” with Germany, Ghana and the U.S. If they make it out of the group, they’ll be looking to make it to their first finals in a major tournament since Euro 2004, where they lost to “powerhouse” Greece. Yep, the Portuguese have been underachieving for quite a while, and now have to hope that current World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo can carry their country to top (though it probably would have been easier to do that against Greece).

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Wilshere (Far Left) and Rooney (Center) have the weight of England on their shoulders. (Image Credit: Clive Rose/Getty Images Europe)

While we are on the subject of underachievers, let’s talk about England. You’ve probably heard of people like Michael Owen, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney over some of the names that I’ve already mentioned, but there is something about the World Cup that just seems to be lost with this team. Coach Roy Hodgson has been described as unimaginative by many in Britain, but his current roster shows that he might be looking to engineer ways to win. The inclusion of Southhampton’s Adam Lallana was a surprise, and it remains to be seen if Jack Wilshere can bring creativity into the fold. However, if England fails to impress at this tournament, you can bet that Roy will never get knighted.

Italy was so close (well, a few goals away, actually) from winning Euro 2012, and were the last team to win a major tournament since Spain (the 2006 World Cup). However, they have been unlucky at times with injuries, and also consistently suffer from a lack of natural width and pace. They often win with guile and crazy-goal specialists Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli, but I think that their group is actually the hardest in the tournament (Uruguay, Costa Rica and England) and it will be a real feat to escape.

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Watch out for Suarez (Image Credit: Roberto Candia/AP)

Staying in Group D, Uruguay are a number of pundits pick for the tournament dark-horse, mostly because of prolific striker/goal machine Luis Suarez. He led the English Premier League in goals, while suspended for the first handful of games (for biting another player). Yes, you read that right, and you may remember the infamous handball that denied Ghana a game-winning goal at the last World Cup. While super talented, he has a number of incidents that are beyond strange and is seen as sort of an enigmatic headcase. But in strictly soccer terms, paired with Diego Forlan or Edinson Cavani, he can light up any team at this tournament.

The Dark-Horses

No matter what sport you’re in, there are always those guys who you think you can take. But in actuality, if you’re not careful, they will destroy you.

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Lukaku (Left) is just one of the stars Belgium has at their disposal (image Credit: Agence France-Presse)

These guys may not have the lofty expectations of the others, but a team like Belgium has to feel good about their chances in Brazil. Their roster is lined with talent, and I do mean lined. Each player could easily fit into another nation’s World Cup squad, especially Eden Hazard. He has very quick feet and his talent is second only to his competitive nature. Oh, and the defense looks like it could be one of the most solid defenses in the world with players like Kompany, Vermaelen, Van Buyten, Vertonghen and goalkeeper Courtois. Beware of Belgium.

Boznia-Hercegovina might be playing in their first World Cup, but considering that they were one of the first teams to qualify, I doubt they are going to want to leave without a few scalps. They may surprise a few teams that underestimate them. They practically walked into the tournament, scoring freely in most of their games and have one of the most underrated strikers in Europe in Edin Dzeko. I could easily see them giving Argentina a run to top Group F (also featuring Iran and Nigeria).

From a team playing in the 2006 finals to a team that is only marginally considered to have an outside chance of making it to the semis, France experienced one of the biggest drop-offs of any team for this year’s World Cup. But boycotting will do that to you, just asked Samir Nasri (he’ll be at home this summer). However, the French are still very dangerous, especially in a very lax group (with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras). Besides Argentina, they have the most impressive strike force, featuring Champions League winner Karim Benzema, Arsenal frontman Olivier Giroud and Loic Remy. Plus, Cabaye and Greizmann can add goals from midfield.

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Didier Drogba could help the Ivory Coast conquer Brazil (Image Credit: Armando Franca/AP)

Africa’s best chance to get to the Final may be with the Ivory Coast. A team that boasts a number of experienced match winners, including Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure, will be looking to take advantage of a relatively soft schedule in Group C (Japan, Colombia and Greece). While this doesn’t always equate to overall tournament success, it would take a catastrophe for the physically overpowering Cote D’Voire not to play one of the big boys post-group stage.

Finally, Switzerland is another team that the competition should be wary of. This team is defensively stout and has a lot of young faces that will be looking to prove a point on the world’s biggest stage. Johan Djourou, Reto Ziegler and Phillipe Senderos, three of the more experienced defenders, can chip in a goal from setpieces. I’m also sure that Xherdan Shaqiri will be looking to impress a possible new club this summer.

The Underdogs

One of the best things about soccer is that there really are no impossibilities. There is no team at the tournament that shouldn’t be there, and there is no team that can’t win in the final. But with that being said, there are a number of teams that have a difficult task in front of them

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Will players like Fabian Johnson shine for the USA? (Image Credit: Adam Hunger/USATS)

One of these teams is the United States. Jurgen Klinsmann made headlines a few weeks ago with his omission of Maurice Edu and American ever-present Landon Donovan. However, Donovan has been pushing the line between mediocre and past it since 2011. Jurgen knows how to coach and knows that his young side faces a tough task against Germany, Portugal and Ghana. I am definitely looking forward to seeing how the American midfield handles the speed and tenacity of their opponents. Honestly, it’s a doable mission if the team eliminate their errant passes that have haunted them in World Cups past.

Mexico, like their American neighbors, has a chance to upset the other teams in Brazil. However, having the host, Cameroon and Croatian teams in their group might stunt their hopes a bit. To be fair, they did well to get to the tournament considering they were almost eliminated from qualifiers and fired their coach in the process. One thing is for sure, they have to score goals in their group – something that was hard to do for them in qualifiers.

Another thing that could hold Mexico back is Croatia. Often seen as underdogs at most major tournaments, Croatia needs to take advantage of their experience over Brazil and Mexico’s squads. Their strikers all specialize at being in the right place at the right time (see Eduardo, Olic and Mandzukic). If their midfield can put balls in the box, expect to see plenty of poached goals.

Greece is another team that will rely on service into the box for their goals. Giorgios Samaras can knock them in, but hardly on his own. It has to be said that the Greeks may benefit the same way the Ivory Coast might, as there aren’t any other big names in their group. Oh, and they haven’t conceded too many goals in qualifiers either, with only 4 goals let in during that time. Solid.

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Algeria will look for some magic from Brahimi (image Credit: Louafi Larbi/Reuters0

A team hoping to come back with a vengeance after a disappointing exit in 2010 will be Algeria. The one question that will be on everyone’s minds will be whether the French have truly claimed a lot of their young talent (Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema included) or are their still a few hidden gems in the team. Yasine Brahimi wants to be like former World Cup heroes Ronaldinho and Zidane. Well if he can do something like this, then maybe Algeria can surprise a few people to the next round.

Ghana will be looking to avenge what happened to them last time at the World Cup, when a Suarez handball and subsequent terrible PK led to their quarter-final exit. Unfortunately, their group looks like the worst of the bunch. They’ll be looking for defensive solidarity in their games against Germany and Portugal. However, the game against the U.S. is going to be a real toss-up. If they can pull a win and a draw from three games, that may be enough to make 2nd in the group.

Another team from Africa, Cameroon needs to really show up at this tournament. They have had some talented rosters in the past, but this one does lack a bit of fresh legs. Eto’o certainly isn’t getting any younger, and the likes of Alex Song and Jean Makoun aren’t renowned for their speed. Many people have them as shoo-ins to come up 2nd from the group, behind Brazil, but I think Mexico and Croatia have a better shot.

Making the short trip across South America is Chile. Packed into a group with the Dutch and Spanish, the Chileans will hope to produce the kind of performances that got them to the tournament over other South American hopefuls. Leading the line will undoubtedly be Alexis Sanchez and/or Eduardo Vargas. If they can peel the ball away from the opposition, they may be able to take advantage of the other squad’s slower legs.

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Dzagoev may be a force at the 2014 World Cup (Image Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images Europe)

Among all the teams that I’ll be watching at this year’s World Cup, Russia will be the most intriguing. Head Coach Fabio Capello made a strong call to leave some of the past tournament veterans at home. However I’ve been a big fan of Alan Dzagoev since the last Euros and think that behind Belgium’s Eden Hazard, he may be the most dangerous player at his position in this group.

The Japanese are coming into the World Cup as a lower-tiered underdog, but they do have a good bit of quality to turn a few heads in Brazil. Japan has a number of creative midfielders in their employ, the one question is whether any will be able to stand out enough to take points off of the tougher opposition, like they did to the Dutch and Belgium a few months ago. Either way, don’t ask Manchester United fans to vouch for Shinji Kagawa.

Nigeria is really unlucky to be looked at as an underdog. They don’t play bad at all and finished top of their qualifying group. The only catch is, they are drawn against Argentina and a fierce-looking Bosnia side that will be tough to overcome. I personally like their out-and-out strikers better than any of the other teams in their group. However, we will have to see if Victor Moses and Peter Odemwingie can light up the scoresheet in Brazil.

I remember watching the 2002 World Cup and thinking that South Korea would get destroyed. I was very wrong and the Koreans ended up finishing 4th in the tournament. Talk about a Cinderella story. 12 years later, and South Korea has been blessed with a fairly even group (Russia, Algeria and Belgium). It’s obvious who the favorite is, but that doesn’t mean that the vastly experienced side can’t push to be on top.

What Can They Do?

I wanted to include this category because there are a lot of teams that I haven’t had time or opportunities to watch, and didn’t want to arbitrarily throw them in one category or the other.

For instance, I didn’t get to watch a lot of Colombia during their qualifiers, but I know that they are considered one of the most dangerous South American sides at this tournament. Their defense is littered with experienced players, but without their true danger-man, Radamel Falcao, it will be interesting to see where the goals come from.

Ecuador may be one of the teams people have already written off. They didn’t win a single game away from home in the qualifiers, and their fans may worry that it may be a trend more than tactics. I’m interested to see how they do against the French and the Swiss come group play.

The other of Ecuador’s Group E opponents, Honduras, has a similar issue. They are seen as being the “minnows” of this group and could end up having to play more defense than offense. However, if they can frustrate the rest of their group and win their game against Ecuador, they may be making a surprise trip to the next round.

It’s hard to be optimistic when you’re paired against Nigeria, Bosnia and Argentina. Iran will tell you that. They only have one win in the tournament’s history. If they manage to get two and maybe a draw…well, let’s just say they’d be one of the biggest upsets to happen this summer.

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Tim Cahill will need his boxing gloves to battle the world’s heavyweights (Image Credit: Hassan Ammar/AP)

The Aussie’s are a team that every neutral would love to see be competitive, especially since they haven’t been lately. Sadly, the last memory I really have of Australia in the World Cup was that bizarre game against Croatia. They are the lowest ranked team going to Brazil and with Spain and the Dutch drawn against them in Group B, the Socceroos are going to need every bit of hope to make it to the last 16.

People talk about talent and tactics a lot, but Costa Rica is a team that will be hoping that luck prevails above all else. Not that they are an untalented side, but they are the only team to be drawn in a group with 3 World Cup winning teams (England, Uruguay and Italy). I think they will take points from one of these teams (possibly Italy), but it’s a tough task to ask anyone to emerge from this group unscathed.

Who Will You Root For?

If you haven’t been getting excited about the World Cup by now, you must not be paying attention. For the average viewer, there will be a ton of players and names that are unfamiliar, but you can keep up with the group standings and fixtures here. While it’s impossible to know something about every player making the bench in Brazil, learning new faces and seeing different styles of play is one of the best things about the tournament. I know that I’ll be cheering for the USA (and my Arsenal players, of course), what about you?

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2 Comments on “Conquering Brazil: A Who’s Who at the 2014 World Cup”

  1. fifaworldcupscore June 9, 2014 at 9:08 am #

    it is an interesting world cup with many injuries before the tournament hamparing many teams but still this looks to be a mega event specially because Brazil is hosting it and they will be my favorite this year.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Beautifully Unpredictable: Reviewing the 2014 World Cup Group Stage | The Hudsucker - June 27, 2014

    […] much of a whimper. Speaking of which, Chile has to be the surprise of this group. Even though I knew they had the speed to counter-attack the “big boys” of the group, I never could have imagined just how good they are at pressing in attack. Though […]

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