It’s quiet before the storm. The flags are beginning to appear, the bookies are filling up, and the pubs are redecorating in vivid red and white. No one makes plans without consulting their wall chart first. The World Cup is a week away!
It’s time to pick a team and talk them up. Can Spain retain the World Cup? Will Messi inspire Argentina? Can Roy’s boys really do it? Here are our odds-on favourites, a handful of unlikely stars and few tasty tournament omens.
Brazil, as the most decorated footballing nation on the planet, enter most World Cups as favourites. But fewer host nations win the tournament than is usually recognised – only six in 19. And Brazil, even with Hulk and Neymar, aren’t the effervescent attacking side they once were. They may not wow like in previous years, but they have the potential to win it. The current holders of the Confederations Cup are built on defence: with Silva, Luiz and Gustavo, they look impenetrable. And they’ll need to be…
Attack attack attack
The 2010 World Cup felt lacking in fire power: the winners, Spain, played mostly with a false number nine and Thomas Muller, the German forward, won the Golden Boot with just five goals, the joint second lowest in the tournament’s history.
But Brazil is set up for explosive football: the world’s best forwards are in town. Argentina’s Messi and Aguero
scored 69 goals between them last season – despite spells in the injury room – and make the South American team second favourites. Uruguay’s Suarez hit 31 in the Premier League and Spain, this time, have Diego Costa to call upon – scorer of 36 goals in 2013/14. Those extra goals could be enough for a second Spanish World Cup.
Conversely, Germany, who scored 36 goals in qualifying – more than anyone else – have only 35-year-old Miroslav Klose as an out-and-out striker. You’d be foolish to write off the Germans.
Boring old England?
The glorious, character-building defeats of ’86, ’90 and ’98 seem a lifetime ago. England’s recent World Cup displays have not just been languid but insipid. Yet, the Three Lions topped their group unbeaten with a goal difference of +27, while only Spain conceded fewer goals. Good news? Yes, but England’s 2010 qualification was even more impressive (five more points, one more goal) – in South Africa, they scored only three goals all tournament and limped out to a superior Germany.
And then there are penalties to worry about… England (along with Italy) have the worst record in World Cup history, with three losses in three. The best? That would be
England’s old foes Germany and Argentina, with four each.
Belgium have been fancied outsiders for so long they’ve surrendered any element of surprise. Indeed, for the first time in their history, the Belgium team is one packed full of stars. The Premier League can’t get enough of them. Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku are ones to watch, but with Jan Vertonghen and Vincent Kompany in front of on-loan Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois, there are few better defences at the tournament. There’s a reason they went unbeaten in qualifying (eight wins, two draws) and, despite Dembele and Fellaini’s faltering form, are well worth your money.
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