Favorites to lift the trophy:
- Brazil - The home nation is a strong favorite. That's an understatement. Will the pressure get to Brazil? It might. I have serious doubts about their goalkeeping situation. Julio Cesar was loaned out to Toronto FC from QPR...wow...really?? Also not sure Fred is world class up front and the pressure on Neymar might be too much for him to handle. The strength, somewhat of a surprise for Brazil, will be the defensive players. Silva in particular, who will anchor the back line with Gustavo providing cover and linking up with the attack. Brazil has a relatively easy group, but the difficulty comes in the knock out stages. They could very well face the following in successive matches in the knock outs - Holland, Italy, Germany and then either Argentina or Spain in the finals. Yikes. Best case scenario - champions by defeating Uruguay. Worst case scenario - reaching the finals but losing at home. Reminding everyone about 1950 (where Brazil lost to Uruguay at home).
- Argentina - After Brazil, this other South American power is under the microscope during this World Cup. And much of this focus will be on Messi. The Barcelona superstar has long been compared to Maradona and each time the fact Messi has not elevated his game during the World Cup as did Diego - winning a World Cup and getting to another final for Argentina. Messi will not be alone, his side is loaded on the offensive end. So much so that the likes of Tevez was left at home. With Di Maria, Aguero, Higuain, Lavezzi et al to complement Messi, Argentina will be very dangerous to hold down. And unlike 4 years ago where Argentina played center backs as the wide defenders, this version has the likes of Zabaleta who poses a real threat from his right back position. Mascherano will act as the defensive anchor either as a deep lying midfielder or center back. They also have an easy group and, unlike Brazil, could have a relatively easy run until the semis - where they could face Spain. Best case scenario - champions beating Brazil. Worst case scenario - lose in the finals to....Brazil.
- Spain - If Spain wins this tournament they will solidify their place as the greatest national team...ever. Ugh. Cannot let that happen otherwise my friend Jose will become insufferable. Some have argued that this is the best Spain team ... uh not sure about that. Yes they have found themselves a striker, stole him from the host nation, Diego Costa. Who knows if he is even 100% healthy. Spain still has bags of talent in the midfield: Iniesta, Cesc, Cazorla, Xavi, Alonso, Silva etc etc. Their defense has become weaker without their fearless leader - Pujol. Please don't get me started on Ramos...one of the most overrated players on the planet. I am also scratching my head with regards to Casillas, yes he won the Champions League for Real Madrid...but the goal he gave up in that game should have won it for Atletico Madrid...I also think teams have started to figure out the Spanish. If they do not have a real striker on the pitch, teams do not fear someone getting behind them so they can just give the Spanish the ball and hit back on the break. Look at the second half of the France v Spain game in Madrid. They have a difficult group but should get out top of the group. Best case scenario - champions by beating Brazil to avenge the spanking they took last year. Worst case scenario - stumble to Holland and Chile, have to win big against Australia...end up second in group and face Brazil in first game of knock out and get spanked again like the Confed Cup finals last year.
- Germany - Die Mannschaft is always in the conversation when it comes to title challenges. However there are some chinks in the armor - Klose, isn't he 76 years old? No Reus is going to be a big hole in the offensive line up. What about Khedira? If Low expects his Real Madrid midfielder to carry much of the defensive responsibility in the midfield, he might be disappointed. Khedira just came back from a serious knee injury...will he hold up for the entire tournament? And what about Ozil? He never seemed to gain his world class form for Arsenal this season. Will this carry over to the German side? Germany also has the "group of death" and kick off that group against Portugal. It is hard to ever pick against Germany, as was once said - football is a simple game. 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win. Best case scenario - champions by beating Spain. Worst case scenario - losing in 1/4 finals to France on penalty kicks
- Uruguay - The two time winner of the World Cup, one of which came the last time the World Cup was held in Brazil, are fancied by many to make another deep run. They were semi finalists 4 years ago. Can they repeat this success? Yes. But much depends on Suarez and his knee. The racist cannibal from Liverpool does have bags of talent and can carry his nation, especially when Cavani and Forlan are there in support. The problem is their group is going to be difficult. And if they get out of the group they will most likely end up playing either Spain or Brazil in the 1/4 finals. Tough. Best case scenario - reach the 1/2 finals, claim Spanish scalp along the way. Worse scenario - Suarez does not recover 100% and Uruguay crash out of group stage.
- Italy - Difficult to not have Italy as a favorite. But I think without Montolivo or Rossi, Italy are short of some creative talent. They are leaning heavily on the grandpa - Pirlo. Who knows what to expect from the likes of Balotelli as well. It is hard leaving the Italians off a list of favorites. But their age, group and potentially facing Brazil early on means I find it difficult seeing Italy adding another star. Best case scenario - get out of group in first place and lose to Spain in 1/4 finals. Worst case scenario - somehow lose to England and Uruguay and finish third in group.
- Portugal - Which team will we see? The one that can crash out after three games or the one that took Spain to penalty kicks at the last Euros and if Ronaldo hadn't wanted to take the last kick, might have gone on to the finals. Question is who will support Ronaldo with goals etc? We have seen this haunt the Portuguese - ever since Pauleta retired from the national team, Portugal have not seemed to find a world class striker. If Ronaldo isn't 100% this will drag down the Portugal side. The group of death awaits as well. Best case scenario - a run back to the semi finals, where they could face Brazil or Spain. Worst case scenario - drop opener against Germany, then succumb to the pressure and relive the South Korea/Japan world cup nightmare and lose to the US. Play Ghana for third place.
- France - For once I have not been stupid enough to think my beloved France would reach the finals...I somehow had them in the finals of the last World Cup and the semis of the last Euro. That was my heart picking for both. But this time I think I am more realistic. They have a fairly easy group. More importantly they start off with the weakest team, one they should defeat and give themselves 3 points. Without the likes of Nasri has hurt them from a pure talent, but seems to have helped with regards to the team concept. The lose of Ribery will be hard to overcome, but I do not see them not having enough talent to get through the group. Assuming, and I shouldn't, they finish first, they should have an easier time of it going against the second team from group F...most likely Bosnia or Nigeria. Both sides France should defeat. After that the fun would begin...most likely Germany! Anyways. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Best case scenario - finish first in group, and find a way to beat Germany in 1/4 finals. Lose to Brazil in 1/2 finals. Worst case scenario - have a complete melt down: draw against Honduras, lose to the Swiss and lose to Equador. Less worse - drop too many points and finish second to the Swiss and face Argentina in knock out.
- Belgium - I love the fact that some pundits have picked the Red Devils to win the title! I realize they have players like Hazard, Lukaku, Courtois and Januzaj. But they are still suspect on the back line, have no experience at this level and have a mountain of expectations on their shoulders. They also have to face a team from the Group of Death, Group G, in the first round of the knock out stages. Not easy. I just cannot see how the Red Devils go very far in this tournament. Best case scenario - reach 1/4 finals but fall to Argentina. Worst case scenario - pressure gets to them and they somehow fail to qualify from what is one of the weakest groups.
- Chile - A serious dark horse. Their main hurdle is a very difficult group. But with one of the world's best midfielders - Vidal and a striker many seem to forget - Sanchez and playing on their home continent, they could sneak into the picture. The main reason I do not see Chile going anywhere - I doubt they win their group, and if they finish second they face...Brazil. Best case scenario - finish second and lose to Brazil in first knock out. Worst case scenario - battle Australia for third place.
- England - For once there is very little hype surrounding the three lions. But they are always seen as a "favorite." This will be an interesting tournament for the English. They still have some old guard such as Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney but have also brought along some talented youth Sterling, Wilshere, Sturridge etc. How will these two worlds mesh? Best case scenario - get to 1/4 finals and give Brazil a run for their money. Worst case scenario - finish third in their group after dropping games to Italy and Uruguay.
It all starts in a few hours!