Get your bunting up, your replica shirt at the ready and the beers on ice- the 2014 World Cup is almost upon us. For the next three weeks, the eyes of billions of people from across the globe will be focused on Brazil for what is the biggest tournament in football, with 32 countries set to compete for the honour of winning the infamous gold trophy.
A galaxy of elite players from a variety of leagues has descended on Brazil to showcase their talent on the most prestigious stage of them all. From Real Madrid’s Ronaldo to Barcelona’s Neymar, the best of the best will be hoping to impress where it matters the most. The cream of the crop will perform in the depths of the rainforest, near the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema and in the shadow of Christ the Redeemer in the country that didn’t invent football- but reinvented it.
But who’s got what it takes to become the 2014 World Cup Winners at the Estadio Maracana in Rio De Janeiro on July 13? Here’s my take on the top five favourites to win it in the South American sunshine…
The tournament favourites with a distinct advantage- it’s on their turf. The Samba boys represent football for a country where it’s played barefoot in the street and on the beaches. The sport runs through their veins- and boy do the Brazilians know how to play it. Five times winners, the last time they won it was in 2002 in Japan, when they beat Germany 2-0 with both goals coming from Golden Boot winner Ronaldo.
Guided by Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil go into the competition with two warm-up wins to their name and are huge favourites to storm Group A, with games against Cameroon, Croatia and Mexico. But class oozes through the team in every position, from Davi Alves, Thiago Silva and Dante to Willian, Fernandinho and star man Neymar. When it clicks, it really clicks and makes for a wondrous spectacle- but will the pressure of being the home nation and favourites prove too much?
One to watch: It has to be Neymar.
Outright odds to win it: 3/1
The Argentineans will be buoyed by the fact that they are familiar with the climate and they will be focused on getting one over the neighbours in their own back garden. The last time they won it was back in 1986 in Mexico for the second time, largely thanks to a star turn by a certain Diego Maradona, but with back to back wins in the warm up fixtures and a squad brimming with world class players, Alejandro Sabella will know his team is in with a real shot of lifting the gold trophy.
Group F has been relatively kind to Argentina, with games against Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia & Herzegovina. When you’ve got Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Huguain, Sergio Aguero and Ezequiel Lavezzi amongst your arsenal, anything is possible. But it’s captain Lionel Messi that the team will be relying on to deliver the goods. Having never scored a World Cup finals goal, everybody is aware of what the striker is capable of conjuring up. If he turns it on, expect Argentina to shine. If it clicks, there’s no reason they can’t go all the way.
One to watch: Of course it’s Lionel Messi.
Outright odds to win it: 4/1