Samba Party

Our preview of this month's FIFA World Cup in Brazil

Spanish players celebrate winning the 2010 World Cup
Getty Images
By RS Staff
Jun 11, 2014

On June 12th, the world’s biggest sporting event begins in Brazil – the 20th FIFA World Cup. Thirty-two countries will take part, and football fans everywhere will be hoping that the competition’s return to the nation that has done more than any other to immortalize The Beautiful Game will see a more adventurous, attacking style of play than the defensive mindset that has dominated major tournaments for the past couple of decades. Here, we take a look at the main contenders, the likely heroes, and assess the chances of the region’s representatives, Algeria and Iran.


The chance of winning the World Cup for a sixth time – and doing so on home soil – will mean the hosts are playing under plenty of pressure. But they’ll also be playing with home support and the fanaticism of the crowds may well be enough to help Brazil – who already boast an impressive squad, even without home advantage – lift the trophy. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari led the team to their last World Cup victory, in 2002, and his combination of tactical nous and attacking inclination should keep both fans and critics happy. His squad, led by the outstanding center back Thiago Silva, is a solid blend of streetwise experience and youthful exuberance. The attacking triumvirate of Hulk, Fred and local hero Neymar (pictured below) should ensure plenty of goals, and Silva, fellow center back Dante and midfielders Fernandinho, Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo offer a solidity that isn’t always associated with Brazil. Bookies make the hosts favorites, and few would disagree.



For the last eight years, Spain have won every major tournament they're eligible for. Two European championships and the 2010 World Cup finally put an end to the Spaniards’ reputation as serial bottlers. But their ‘tika-taka’ brand of possession football, honed on the training pitches of Barcelona (where several of the team’s major players ply their trade), which threatened to take over the world has – in the last two years – been vulnerable to teams that have the stamina and speed to continually close down the man in possession, and the skill to capitalize on the counter. But that’s no easy task, and few international teams have the quality of either Bayern Munich or Real Madrid (the two clubs who’ve done most to present an alternative to the Barca way). Coach Vicente del Bosque has yet to lose a knockout game in a major tournament (indeed, Spain haven’t even conceded a goal in the knockout stages of the last three they’ve entered). The big concern for del Bosque is where goals will come from. Fernando Torres has spent years desperately trying – but usually failing – to remind us why he was once the most feared striker on the planet, David Villa is past his best, and Alvaro Negredo lacks consistency. Much depends on whether naturalized Brazilian Diego Costa, who has been in stunning form for the last two years, is back to full fitness following his hamstring injury.



Argentina haven’t reached a World Cup final since a diminutive, brilliant left-footed forward led them there nearly a quarter of a century ago. Diego Maradona failed dismally to add that same Midas touch when he managed the national team at the last World Cup in 2010. But, in Leo Messi, Argentina have another diminutive, brilliant left-footed forward who, his nation hopes, might lead the team to their third World Cup. With their formidable forward line (no other country could afford to leave a striker as lethal as Carlos Tevez out of their squad), which sees Messi joined by Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi, Argentina will be a threat to any defence. And their midfield mixes the steel of Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago with the skill of Angel di Maria. It’s their defense that might let them down once they’ve progressed from a fairly easy group stage. And coach Alejandro Sabella’s lack of experience against managers of the highest level might be exposed. 


The last World Cup saw Germany ditch their stereotypical image of ruthless efficiency to become the tournament’s most entertaining team – thrashing England and Argentina before losing out to eventual winners Spain in the semi-finals. Many of that same squad will be appearing again this year, and expectations will be high. With one of the world’s best goalkeepers, Manuel Neuer, behind them, the occasionally shaky defense will feel confident of getting through a tough group, which pits them against Portugal, Ghana and the U.S. There’s plenty of creativity going forward (although the loss of Marco Reus through injury is a blow), with Mesut Özil (pictured below), Mario Götze, Thomas Müller and others providing a potent blend of speed and skill. But relying on 36-year-old Miroslav Klose as their main goalscorer will be a slight worry.   


For the past few years, Belgium have been the footballing hipster’s team of choice. They play attractive attacking football, offering strength, speed, technique and great hair. If Moussa Dembele, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas all peak at the right time, Belgium will terrify opponents. And with Thibaut Courtois in goal, and the formidable Vincent Kompany marshalling the defense, they’ll be tough to beat no matter what. With Algeria, Russia and South Korea in their group, Belgium have the opportunity to build up confidence and momentum heading into the knockout stages, and are serious contenders for a semi-final spot at least.


With Karim Benzema in the team, France boast one of football’s most talented attackers. Add in Paul Pogba – fresh from an excellent season with Italian champions Juventus – in midfield, Hugo Lloris in goal and Raphaël Varane at center back (plus a straightforward group draw) and there’s every chance France can put their horrendous showing in the 2010 World Cup behind them. While there have already been whispers of discord in the camp following the omission of Manchester City’s Samir Nasri, France’s authoritarian coach Didier Deschamps is unlikely to allow the kind of dressing-room revolt that has unsettled the team in the past. The recent loss of the excellent Franck Ribéry through injury, however, is a cruel twist that will diminish not only France's attacking threat, but the tournament as a whole.


A tough group – containing England and Uruguay – means Italy’s odds have lengthened considerably since the draw. But this is a squad with all the necessary ingredients to win the tournament. The combined experience of proven winners Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon should compliment the mercurial talent of Mario Balotelli. The surprise omission of Giuseppe Rossi, however, means Italy look thin on cover up front if Balotelli decides to sulk through games, as he sometimes does.



If a South American team is to win this World Cup, it will surely be Brazil or Argentina. But Colombia pose a definite threat to their continental peers. That threat will be even more potent if Radamel Falcao – one of the best strikers in the world – completes a remarkable comeback from the knee injury he suffered in January. A relatively kind draw for the group stage (Colombia face Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan, all of whom they’ll expect to beat, even without Falcao) means Colombia should at least progress to the second round, and with an experienced coach (Jose Pekerman) and the attacking flair of Teofilo Gutierrez and James Rodriguez they could cause an upset or two. And if Falcao makes it, Colombia will be dreaming big.


As is so often the case with Portugal, their tough defense and glittering midfield talent is undermined by the lack of a world-class striker. While Cristiano Ronaldo is clearly capable of scoring plenty, particularly when using his pace and power on the counter-attack, Helder Postiga (Portugal’s most likely choice to start up front) isn’t a name that strikes fear into the world’s top defenders – or even the mediocre ones. If Portugal can make it through a tough group stage, though, they have the ability to beat any team in a one-off knockout game.


For once, England go into a major tournament without a surge of media hype (which inevitably turns into media bile once the team struggle to play with any cohesion) behind them. This could actually help the players – free of any real pressure – to perform well for once on a major stage. There’s a (much-needed) fresh feel to this England team, and an attacking trio of Wayne Rooney (pictured below), Daniel Sturridge and one of Raheem Sterling or Adam Lallana will ask questions of any defense. The tough part will be getting out of the group. England will likely need plenty of goals in their final group game against Costa Rica.