There are still questions as to the readiness of the venues, security and overall infrastructure for the upcoming soccer championships in Brazil, but as any diehard soccer fanatic knows, all that matters is what happens between the lines.
Anything less than a championship will be considered a failure by Brazil, especially playing at home. With five championships, football is not only the national sport, it’s an obsession. With international stars such as David Luiz, Neymar Jr., and Thiago Silva, expectations are sky high for this team.
Croatia is a relative newcomer to top-flight international play, but led by Luka Modric, they can be dangerous. Inexperience will be an issue.
Cameroon can strike quickly, but at this level, defenses are much stronger than what they’re accustomed to. There is talent here however, especially in Samuel Eto’o and Pierre Webo.
Defending champion Spain comes in as a tough match up regardless of the opponent. A nice mix of experience and youth is featured, with the biggest concern being defense. Standouts are Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.
Coming so close in recent tournaments is frustrating for The Netherlands. This year, it appears that they’re going to be too reliant on youth. Veterans Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder are the stand-outs.
Another relative newcomer to upper-level competition is Australia. The Aussies are a thrown-together squad this year, relying on aging veterans such as Tim Cahill.
Chile’s squad is led by Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, but there’s little else. A lack of defensive consistency is also a concern.
Colombia’s Radamel Falcao is one of the most exciting players in the tournament, but he’ll need considerable help for to them advance past Round Two.
Ivory Coast is one of the more athletic squads in the tournament, but a lack of upper-level international experience will offset it. Also, midfield consistency is lacking. Didier Drogba is the team’s leader.
In the event for just the third time, little is expected from Greece. Strong defensively, uneven offensively, veteran Kostas Mitroglou is the team’s heart and soul.
2014’s “mystery team” is Japan. They’ve improved dramatically in recent years to become a solid, disciplined group, led by Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa.
In the Group of Death, it will be tough to advance, as all four clubs have tons of talent. With Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard, England can never be counted out, but it doesn’t appear that the Brits have much else in the way of a consistent threat.
For this year’s Uruguay squad, scoring shouldn’t be a problem, but stopping opposing advances will be a challenge. Luis Suarez is their headliner.
Historically, only Brazil has more success at this level than Italy. Exciting young players such as Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy are Italy’s immediate and near future.
Costa Rica’s strength is at the front and backsides, with a marked drop off in the middle. Any success at all will be a surprise. Bryan Ruiz is a proven producer.
Switzerland’s unpredictability is maddening. Wins against weaker opponents has boosted their confidence, but they’ll need more to advance very far. Gokhan Inler is their top player.
Roger Espinoza is the leader of the Honduran squad; unfortunately, he doesn’t have much help, making Honduras a likely first round fatality.
Playing in South America may be Ecuador’s biggest hope, but more experienced squads should handle them easily. Antonio Valencia is an aggressive attacker, but his supporting cast is mediocre.
France is an interesting collection of aging and (sometimes) temperamental stars. Playing without Franck Ribéry (back) is bad enough, but the uncertainty surrounding the rest of the team already made France an unlikely finalist.
Lionel Messi is a superstar, but he has plenty of help on the Argentine squad, including Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria. Scoring is not a concern, but like so many prolific offenses, how they defend is key.
Nigeria is good, though very inexperienced. John Obi Mikel is top-flight with the ball, but there’s little else to get excited about.
Iran’s history in the tournament is brief, and just making the field is considered a victory. They qualified by upsetting South Korea, and their top player is probably Ashkan Dejagah.
Appearing in the tournament for the first time, Bosnia-Herzegovina is largely unknown on the international stage. The squad doesn’t lack in talent (Edin Dzeko, Asmir Begovic, etc.), but there’s little depth.
One of the best players in the world, Ronaldo will be the defensive focus of every opponent. He’s not all that Portugal offers however, with Bruno Alves, Raul Meireles and Nani also experienced and talented.
Placement in probably the toughest grouping doesn’t help their chances, and fallout from the Landon Donovan omission lingers for the U.S. Michael Bradley should be the leader, but they really need Jozy Altidore to break out of his slump in a big way to advance.
Advancing to the tournament for the third consecutive time, Ghana, has a star in Asamoah Gyan, but that’s about the extent of it. More defensive intensity is needed at this level.
“Potential” is the key term for Belgium. Loaded with young players, this team is one to keep an eye on. Eden Hazard is the leader, but he has plenty of capable support.
Algeria is more than capable of pulling off an upset or two. Sofiane Feghouli and Carl Medjani are world-class, and with several promising young athletes, the future looks bright.
South Korea’s standouts are midfielders Ki Sung-Yueng and Lee Chung-Yong, but there’s not much else available to expect much advancement.
Russia has plenty of talent, but teamwork and cohesiveness is iffy. Alan Dzagoev has shown he can terrorize defenses, but there’s still too many holes.