From the fans to the players to the media, a huge chunk of the world is ready and excited for what is set to be a magnificent world cup.
Over one billion people will watch 32 nations compete in Brazil. With great goals, tense games and most of the best players in the world, there is so much that makes a World Cup the most watched event on earth. Every single game is an event in itself and a chance to make history.
Every World Cup starts with a host of questions that always pull out surprising answers. How will the established hierarchy do? What dark horses will emerge? Can the top players produce on the biggest stage? Who will make themselves an overnight star?
These questions will only be answered once the tournament is underway but here is a breakdown of what will probably and possibly happen in Brazil 2014.
Crashing Out Early
Like any great sporting event, despite all the fun and games someone has to come home a loser. Uniquely, in the World Cup many will come away feeling like losers. Only maybe half a dozen teams will feel happy just to participate, the rest will feel they should and could reach the knockout stages, so anything less is a major failure.
Probably: some teams are fairly obviously not going to go past the group stage, such as the likes of Costa Rica, Honduras, Iran, Algeria and an Australian team that hasn’t the quality it not too long ago had. Others such as Cameroon and Greece are also unlikely to go through, although they have more chance of springing a surprise.
Possibly: There are some big names that may not go beyond the group stage. It will be a shock for whichever nation out of England, Italy and Uruguay fail to make the next stage. Portugal have stumbled at this stage before and have the athletic sides of USA, Ghanaand Germany to get by with only a half-fit Cristiano Ronaldo at their disposal. Odds on Spain or Holland going home earlier than expected are not too high given they have a very tricky Chile team in their group.
The Surprise Package
One of the aspects of the tournament that makes it so watchable, the World Cup always has one team that goes way further than expected, from Cameroon in 1990 or Turkey in 2002. Seeing the joy a good World Cup run can bring to an entire nation is a lifting to the sport itself. This year, there are a few teams that have a real chance to do this.
Probably: one of the other South American teams will be more acclimatised in a tournament that will definitely be affected by the scabby, dry pitches and stifling weather. If Uruguay can manage to get the Luis Suarez – Edison Cavani partnership firing they could go all the way to the final. Chile have created a real team with their own identity that on their day can beat anyone, whilst Colombia have top quality in the likes of Freddy Guarin and James Rodriguez.
Possibly: The Ivory Coast have arguably the most in form player in the world right now in the magnificent Yaya Toure. In a solid team, captained by Didier Drogba upfront, the Africans will not fear any team and will also be used to the tropical conditions. From Europe, Belgium may just have the best squad outside of the super-power names in the tournament, giving them hope of pushing all the way to the semis.
Since round about 1958 there has not really ever been any surprises with the winners of the World Cup. The likes of France and Spain may have won their first tournaments in recent history but that was a long time coming. Otherwise, only the elite footballing hierarchy have won in 14 tournaments. At one point, Uruguay and Portugal may have had a long shot to change this but with their talisman only semi-fit the World Cup will only be going to some of the recent winners this year.
Probably: due to their recent record Spain are automatically included in this but without a fit or in form goal scorer, the team that only scored eight goals in the entire tournament in 2010 may struggle to break down teams, especially with the likes of Xavi and Iker Casillas no longer the players they once were. Germany have the pedigree and some youthful, vibrant, attacking talent but the conditions may stretch their squad to the limit. In their home continent, Argentina have a fairly fresh Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi leading a squad that is together and confident, whilst of course Brazil have world class players, home advantage and huge confidence after their Confederations Cup win last year. This is likely to be taken by the best team from South America.
Possibly: there are big teams that not much is expected from that actually have a real chance. Italy have an outstanding record under Cesar Prandelli and their patient style could pay off in the South American heat. Under Didier Deschamp France have found a style and some unity that could see their undoubted quality shine this year.
The Golden Boot
The World Cup is a place that can make legends out of mere mortals, and there is no better way to do that than to be the tournament’s top scorer. Frenchman Just Fontaine (having scored an amazing 13 goals in 1958) is the answer to one of football’s toughest quiz questions, sealing himself in the history books as the highest scorer in a single tournament ever. His name has gone alongside legends such as Ronaldo, Mario Kempes, Gary Lineker, Toto Schillachi and Davor Suker as outright Golden Boot winners. So who is likely to join the list this year?
Probably: Both Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero are fairly fresh and will be playing in a group that contains Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina, so expect either or maybe both of them to be contending for the boot. Neymar will be on free-kick and penalty duty for Brazil, and is also given all the freedom he wants to score and create goals.
Possibly: Looking at the strength of the groups and how their respective seasons went, Romelu Lukaku and Karim Benzema should be getting at least a couple of goals this tournament. Outside bets could be Robin Van Persie, who Louis Van Gaal has shown he can get the best out of as the focal point of the Dutch attack or Fred, the goal poaching forward that will start for Brazil, while Germany’s Thomas Muller will look to be the first person to retain the Golden Boot trophy in history.
Rising to the Occasion
A good World Cup can be the catalyst for a player’s whole career. Many a player has come back after a good tournament and gone on from strength to strength, sometimes even turning around a whole career. This year there are many that hope to become proven stars with a by starring for their respective nations.
Probably: Gary Cahill is England’s number one centre back and at club level has come through every test and will be hoping to prove himself true international class in Brazil. Angel Di Maria has always played second fiddle to higher profile teammates but has his own undoubted quality. A certain starter for Argentina, Di Maria could seal his own legacy this tournament. Edison Cavani has always been magnificent for Uruguay but still has questions asked of him at the highest level. With Luis Suarez recovering from the onus will be on Cavani to supply the goals and become a hero.
Possibly: In a group of very evenly matched teams, Japan will be looking to qualify by getting the best out of Shinji Kagawa, who often saves his best for his nation. Diego Costa made a choice that shocked the football world when he chose to represent his current home nation of Spain over his motherland, Brazil. A lot of pressure will be on the feisty striker but he has the ability and the team behind him to prove his doubters wrong. A surprise star could be Gervinho, having scored once every three games for Roma this season, the lanky winger is one of the Ivory Coast’s best attacking threats.
In the Shop Window
For better or for worse, the World Cup is the biggest shop window in football, with hundreds of players showcasing their ability in a tough, high pressure environment. With half of the summer transfer window being taken up by the tournament, scouts will simply have to use the World Cup to assess potential targets and certain players will be hoping to put themselves in the thinking of Europe’s top clubs with their displays.
Probably: Xherdan Shaqiri is undoubtedly very talented but is yet to find a real place for his talent in the Bayern Munich first team. As the playmaker for Switzerland, Shaqiri could find a club willing to make more use of his talent by the end of his World Cup. Ezequiel Garay will be at the heart of the Argentinean defence and having been already linked with the likes of Manchester United and Bayern Munich, solid performances could see him leave Benfica after the World Cup. The progress of Sporting Lisbon’s Portuguese central midfielder William Carvalho has been followed by all Europe’s big clubs and with a good performance against the likes of Germany, his move could come this summer.
Possibly: The Holland line-up will lack the big names of yesteryear but will contain some potential future stars, none more so than Stefan De Vrij, a composed and strong centre-back that has been in the Feyenoord team since he was a teen. Ecuador’s Jefferson Montero is a left-footed Antonio Valencia, aged just 24 but already with 40 caps at international level and will be relatively cheap, as he plays his club football in Mexico. The brilliance of Wayne Rooney after Euro 2004 saw all the top clubs at the time vie for his signature and something similar could happen with Ross Barkley, if he repeats some of his club form in the World Cup.
The Golden Ball
If ever there was a pantheon of greats in football, it is the Golden Ball award winners list, given to the outstanding player of the World Cup. Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Pele, Bobby Charlton; to join this list is to become a certified legend of football. This year some of the very best players in the world will be competing for this individual title in every game they play.
Probably: No one can doubt Lionel Messi and Neymar will be up for contention come the end of the tournament, with both geniuses being the star players for the two favourites for the cup. Having had a great season and now a confirmed starter for Spain, David Silva may also be in contention for the Golden Ball. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Andrea Pirlo have also been in top form at club level and will be central to the hopes of Germany and Italy respectively.
Possibly: Arguably the best defender in the world, Thiago Silva as captain will be as important as any other player for a Brazil team looking to go all the way. Whilst teams concentrate on stopping Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero may just prosper. If Yaya Toure can carry his league performances to the World Cup there is nothing stopping him from winning the Golden Ball. A real outside bet would be Paul Pogba, a player on his way to becoming one of one of the best players in the world and could prove this at the World Cup.
Someone not mentioned that could have a huge impact on this tournament is Cristiano Ronaldo. However, reports state he is unfortunately far from match-fit and will possibly not take part in Portugal’s opening game, which could cost the nation dearly.
Should the likes of Portugal and maybe Holland or England fail to qualify, there will be more scope for the likes of Belgium, Colombia and a quality Croatia team (Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic) to go further in the tournament. As good a team as Germany are, being in the hottest part of the country will have an impact on them, meaning they will need to reply on their entire squad.
Overall, the Brazilian atmosphere – from the samba music to the energy sapping weather – should make this tournament an open one, with lots of goals. Teams such as England and Italy have gone for slightly more attacking squads than they have had in recent years and even small teams, such as Chile (Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal), Belgium (Eden Hazard, Adnan Januzaj), Colombia (James Rodriguez, Juan Quintero), Bosnia-Herzegovina (Miralem Pjanic, Edin Dzeko) and others, all have real attacking quality.
Most of the attention and expectation – justifiably so – will be on Messi and Neymar. So much is expected of them that even if they disappoint the shock will still make this one of the most memorable World Cups ever.
However, when the World Cup comes to the home of the beautiful game, only great things can happen.
Winners – Argentina
Golden Ball – Thiago Silva
Golden Boot – Sergio Aguero
Surprise Package – Ivory Coast