Spain (World Ranking: 1)
Best World Cup finish: 2010 – Winners
Nikki Davidson – Despite winning the Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 – the first team to win 3 consecutive international competitions – all good things must come to an end. With the much-purported ‘death of tiki-taka’ (even an all-Spanish Champions League final displayed little of that), is Spain still considered the best, playing the admired and desired style of football the world should want to emulate? Spain is part of a relatively tough group, which it needs to win, and though it likely will, it is not difficult to forget last summer’s almost merciless defeat at the hands of Brazil, which exposed the vulnerabilities of a side that seemed to be practically flawless and unbeatable. Though a number of the players are older, the expectations-and therefore the pressure- are just as high, and there is always the danger of complacency among the more experienced. Whether Diego Costa is an asset or an injury-laden absence also remains to be seen.
Portugal (World Ranking: 3)
Best World Cup finish: 1966 – Third Place
Rebecca Coles – Unfortunately I think Portugal will suffer the early exit of the World Cup this summer, due to the fact they’ve been drawn into the ‘Group of Death’ (Germany, Ghana and the USA). Portugal will have their work cut out for them. They might be equipped with the most talented footballer on the planet – Ronaldo – but can they really expect him to deliver the goods every game? I think Portugal fans could be left very disappointed.
Brazil (World Ranking: 4)
Best World Cup finish: 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002 – Winners
Paul Dargan – The hosts could surprise a lot if they don’t get off to a good start against Croatia (who were beaten twice in the qualification process by Scotland), but they should still win their group, with Mexico and Cameroon their other opponents. But they are set to face Chile and Colombia should they do so. Selecao have so much pressure to cope with and after failing to win on home soil in the 1950, will Maracanazo strike again? They could play Spain in the final at the Maracana and even if they do reach the biggest game in football, that fear will flow through the country. Anything other than a sixth World Cup victory will be a disappointment.
Tom Simmonds – The Brazilian public always expects the Selecao to win the World Cup, regardless of where it is held. This expectation will be amplified with Brazil being hosts in 2014, and a big question hanging over Brazil will be, can this squad cope with that feverish expectation? While none of the current squad were around in 1950, when Brazil lost to Uruguay in the final at the Maracana, that does not mean that they will be unaware of the event and how it still rankles with Brazilian football fans today. Brazil go into the tournament with a far from vintage squad that looks, Neymar aside, light on striking options and defensively fallible.
Uruguay (World Ranking: 6)
Best World Cup finish: 1930, 1950 – Winners
Mark Young –Personally I believe Uruguay will fail to turn up this year. They are in a tough group with Italy and England. Uruguay struggled to qualify in South America without Brazil and that’s down to a lack of creativity in midfield. It’s okay having Diego Godin stopping them and Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez scoring them but without anyone to feed the strikers in particular, I can really see them struggling.
Italy (World Ranking: 9)
Best World Cup finish: 1934, 1938, 1982, 2006 – Winners
Shafi Musaddique – The heat and climate of Brazil won’t favour many European powerhouses. Italy, whilst basking in the Mediterranean heat, will falter against Uruguay and a youthful England (fingers crossed).
Netherlands (World Ranking: 15)
Best World Cup finish: 1974, 1978, 2010 – Runners-up
David Lee – Injury problems could extend Holland’s wait for World Cup glory. With midfield general Kevin Strootman already ruled out, Louis van Gaal will be hoping his reliant Robin can put his stuttering season behind him and lead the Dutch to their first ever Jules Rimet. Expect more heartache for one of world football’s underachievers.
Andrew Papadopoulos – I don’t have a good feeling about the Netherlands. They have a very difficult group and of their three key players- Arjen Robben, Kevin Strootman and Robin van Persie – only Robben is fully fit and coming off a good season. Strootman won’t even be there. They’re also hugely inexperienced in certain positions. The speed of Chile and the quality of Spain might be too much for them.
Shafi Musaddique – The Dutch will be knocked out early on, used to the colder climbs of Europe, with little help from an out of form Robin van Persie and departing Louis Van Gaal.
France (World Ranking: 16)
Best World Cup finish: 1998 – Winners
Michelle Owen – I can’t see France doing much this year – the lack stand out players. Karim Benzema, Raphael Varane and Franck Ribery are their best players. They are really going to need the likes of Paul Pogba to show what he can do on the world’s biggest stage.
Who do you think will fail to turn up at World Cup 2014? Get involved with this week’s Yap!
Episode 40 of The Offside Rule Podcast (We Get It!) will be available on our Audioboo page on Thursday 29th May. This week we speculate as to which outsiders will cause a few upsets in Brazil!