The World Cup is a little more than a year away. We assessed the favorites after the 2010 World Cup and after Euro 2012. With teams well into qualifying, we figured it was time for an update. Same five countries we had in 2012, but we shuffled the deck a bit.
Spain: The Spanish had a couple qualifying hiccups. With that all but resolved, they remain the favorites until dethroned. Dead legs and internal strife remain concerns. They were concerns as well in 2010 and 2012. Spain do not beat themselves. No one has yet deciphered a way to beat them. Even when they play like crap, they dominate possession and give themselves chances to win.
Argentina: Brazil’s nightmare scenario. Argentina seem to have found a formula that works: not being coached by Diego Maradona and not trying to make Carlos Tevez happen at better players’ expense. The team is built to complement Messi. Not surprisingly, his form has improved with seven goals in his last nine qualifiers. Iconic domination of an international tournament is the ultimate alpha move. It’s one Messi may have to make to be considered the best player of all-time.
Germany: The Germans should enter Brazil they way they entered Poland/Ukraine, with the strongest and deepest squad. They have tremendous continuity, with Joachim Low a fixture in the setup since 2004 and most of the players concentrated at Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. The question is whether the Lahm/Schweinsteiger generation can make the jump forward when it counts. They have yet to do so, for club or country.
Italy: This Azzurri team is atypical. They are playing well before the tournament. They are exciting (at least two goals in each qualifying match). They have perhaps the sport’s most dynamic game changer in Mario Balotelli. The mercurial striker appears to have a stable club environment at AC Milan. It has been reflected in his form, with nine goals in his last seven appearances for club and country. When Balotelli is rolling, he’s unstoppable. If Italy has that and enough WD-40 to keep Pirlo and Buffon healthy, they can beat anyone.
Brazil: The Brazilians may be ailing, but there is too much talent that can step forward to discount them. This is still “Brazil.” Even the mundane 2010 team should have progressed to the final. Having home-field has been huge at the World Cup in the past. That said, the national side rarely plays on home soil. It’s not clear how facing the most pressure any World Cup side has ever faced heading into the tournament will be a blessing. This tournament could make Neymar’s career, or it could break it.
[Photo via Getty]