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Rating the top teams in the FIFA World Cup

The Economic Times
Monday, May 26, 2014

Update: 3:06PM Football returns to its spiritual home on June 12. There is a great romance between the beautiful game and Brazil, not unlike the feelings of wild love India as a nation feels for cricket.

Eight years ago, when Brazil won the bid to stage the biggest tournament in global sport, there were rapturous celebrations.

Brazil could finally avenge the Maracanazo or "the Maracana blow," the match that Brazil lost to Uruguay in Rio De Janeiro to cede the World Cup when it last hosted the tournament in 1950.

Much has changed. The preparations have been marred by stadium delays as well as widespread protests calling for better public services and criticising the money spent (around $11.5 billiontriple the amount spent by South Africa in 2010) . It is eerily reminiscent of Delhi's Commonwealth Games fiasco in 2010.

However, once the whistle blows in Sao Paulo, all will be temporarily cast aside as football takes centre stage until new winners are crowned at Rio De Janeiro's Maracana stadium.

The contenders:

BRAZIL

The pressure is firmly on the hosts to win the cup. Anything else will not be tolerated. Manager Luiz Felipe Scolari provides the tactical nous and experience required to guide Brazil to yet another triumph. This team, however, does not have the depth of attack that Scolari had at his disposal when he led the class of 2002 to glory in Korea and Japan.

The strength of this team, rather unusual for a Brazilian team, lies in the defence. At the heart of Brazil's rearguard are two of the most expensive defenders ever Paris Saint Germain's Silva and David Luiz, who agreed to sign for the French club from Chelsea in a record-breaking deal. Real Madrid's Marcelo and Barcelona's Daniel Alves are formidable full-backs.

Bayern Munich's classy centre-half Dante may not even make the first team. At the other end of the field, Scolari will rely on Neymar and Oscar to unpick opposition defences. The chief weakness is the lack of an out-andout striker at the peak of his game, with veteran forward Fred likely to lead the line. They will face a stern test in the round of 16 as the winners of their group will face the runners-up of a group that contains Spain, Netherlands and Chile.

Prediction: Finalists

SPAIN

The fading fortunes of the Barcelona team that dominated football in recent years have tempered expectations for the current world champions. Spain's loss to Brazil in the Confederation Cup final last year confirmed suspicions that the balance of power was shifting.

However, it would be foolish to write off this generation of Spaniards. In attack, Diego Costa has been in scintillating form all season for Atletico Madrid. Their midfield oozes class, with Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, David Silva, among others. Sergio Ramos and Javi Martinez are as good a central defensive duo as any.

There is however a sense that the period of Spanish dominance is finally over. Even Vicente Del Bosque, the only manager to win the World Cup, European Championship and the UEFA Champions League, may not be able to inspire the Spaniards to another major triumph.

Prediction: Quarterfinalists/Semi-finalistsGERMANY

Joechim Loew's Germany are undoubtedly one of the favourites a team that likes to play aesthetic, attacking football, but seemingly look a little soft at the back. In Mario Goetze, Marco Rues, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos they have a clutch of technically brilliant attacking midfielders, with Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira at the base of midfield.

Loew has modelled his team's play around the passing game of Bayern Munich to the extent that he may field an attacking midfielder as a 'false 9' up front. Germany's defence will likely have Mats Hummels and Christian Schmelzer along with Jerome Boateng and Phillip Lahm, marshalled by Manuel Neuer in goal.

Prediction: Semi-finalists (could meet Brazil in semis if both win their groups)ARGENTINA

Lionel Messi has openly admitted that this has not been his best season. He has now turned his attention to the World Cup to rediscover his touch. But, La Pulga isn't the only attacking talent at Argentina's disposal. Sergio Aguero, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Gonzalo Higuain all feature in a forceful strike team. Yet, this attack drew a blank against both Romania and Ecuador in recent friendlies.

A lot depends on whether coach Alejandro Sabella has moulded them into a cohesive force that can fight as a unit. Los Albicelestes have quality throughout the squad, even in defence which has been their Achilles heel in recent years. This could be the tournament that finally puts Messi on par with the incomparable Diego Armando Maradona.

Prediction: Finalists




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