With the Barclays Premier League season ending a week last Sunday, with Manchester United finishing in seventh place, the lowest league finish since the Barclays Premier League era began in the early 1990’s, we look ahead to a summer of football with the FIFA World Cup being held in Brazil this summer. In what has been a lack lustre season, we can look ahead to a summer of spectacular samba football, which is always a good filler bridging the gap between the end of the season and the start of pre-season, which starts usually a month before the new season.
There have been some twists in the FIFA rankings ahead of this summer’s World Cup with some of Europe’s finest and promising teams outside of the top 10. You can also review some of the matches and betting odds here. Currently the top 20 look like this:
1. Spain, 2. Germany, 3. Portugal, 4. Brazil, 5. Colombia, 6. Uruguay, 7. Argentina, 8. Switzerland, 9. Italy, 10. Greece, 11. England, 12. Belgium, 13. Chile, 14. United States of America, 15. Netherlands, 16. France, 17. Ukraine*, 18. Russia, 19. Mexico, 20. Croatia
(* – not involved in the FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil)
Spain, the current holders, are seen as the favourites alongside the hosts Brazil. Spain’s tiki-taka football style means they can effectively close their opposition from the game with possession play, but it can be boring football doing that, but that is why they are the current holders of the FIFA World Cup and two-time winners of the UEFA European Cup, which has been a busy six years with the squad winning a major tournament every two-years. With United players David De Gea and Juan Mata being called up for the preliminary squad, it will be good if both travel to Brazil. You can put money on Spain winning with the odds at 6/1, which could be worth a bet. Spain have the Netherlands, Chile and Australia in their group, which could be tough for them.
Germany are always a team that will find their way to the latter stages of the World Cup, but you have to go back to 1990 to see them lift the famous trophy. The Germans play some good football and have some very talented players with a youthful age group, this makes them well worth a bet as this year could be their year. With players like Toni Kroos, Thomas Müller and Mario Götze, who have been linked to United ahead of this summer’s transfer window, in the team, to name a few, it means that their opposition will need to contain them in their play. Germany face Portugal, Ghana and the United States of America in the group stage, but I see them making the knockout stages and showing their dominance, with the odds on them winning the competition placed at 11/2, they certainly stand a chance.
Portugal have a chance to show how good they are, but with United old boy Cristiano Ronaldo as the squads only real star, I do not see them getting any further than the quarter-finals. Portugal struggles to qualify for the World Cup in their group and had to show their class against Sweden in the play-offs to earn their spot in Brazil this summer. If Ronaldo gets injured, which he has quite a few time playing for Real Madrid this season, I really see no inspiration from the squad to perform. United winger Nani is in the provisional side, despite only making 13 appearances appearance in all competitions this season, due to injury and form. Bets for Portugal lifting the World Cup can be had at 33/1, which really bodes them a small chance, but you never know.
Brazil, the hosts of this summer’s tournament are the team that most would like to see lift the trophy on the 13th July. Neymar, the Brazilian superstar who signed for Barcelona last summer, is the player that has the most pressure on his shoulders. Brazil have not lifted the trophy since 2002 with Ronaldo led them to victory in Japan and South Korea. That was their third World Cup final in a row, beating Italy in the United States of America in 1994, being beaten by France, the hosts of the 1998 world cup and their last win in Yokohama, Japan. Bets can be placed on Brazil winning at the odds of 3/1, making them William Hill’s favourites of the tournament, but it could be tough for them considering the experience they have left out of their squad, but anything can happen in football. If the 23-man squad bonds well, they could steal the show. Brazil face Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon, so they do have a tough group, but you need to beat the best to be the best.
Argentina led by Lionel Messi the Barcelona superstar. Messi has not proven anything on the international stage in major tournaments and you have to look back to 1986 when they beat West Germany to lift the trophy. West Germany got their revenge four years later with a rematch to the 1986 final with the Germans winning the trophy on their third attempt. Argentina have always had a star in their team whether it was Alfredo Di Stefano, Mario Kempes, Diego Maradona, Gabriel Batistuta or Lionel Messi to name a few. Argentina have a good chance this year though. Sergio Agüero, Ángel di María and Ezequiel Garay have had good seasons with their clubs and could inspire their side to glory in Brazil, you can have odds of 9/2 to bet on them today. Argentina face Bosnia Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria in their group, but it may not be as easy as it looks for them.
Italy, the team that knocked England out on penalties in the quarter-final of Euro 2012 will face the same team in their opening match in Manaus this summer. Italy have a strong but ageing squad, but I still think they are good enough to make the latter stages of the tournament, despite the odd on them winning currently being 25/1. Players like Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi along with more youthful players such as Mario Balotelli, Mattia De Sciglio, Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile, it could be the balance of experience and youth a team needs to bring success.
England have not done well in tournaments since their World Cup win in 1966. In 1986 they made the quarter-finals, being beaten by Argentina with that ‘Hand of God’ goal by Diego Maradona. In 1990 it was tears for Paul Gascoigne as England were beaten on penalties by West Germany in Turin. A failure to qualify in 1994, then a trip to France in 1998 in which David Beckham saw red against Argentina with England exiting the tournament in the Round of 16. In 2002 they got their revenge over the Argies and found themselves in the quarter-finals against Brazil and were beaten 2-1 by the team who went on to lift the trophy. In Germany in 2006 it was heartbreak against Portugal after Cristiano Ronaldo managed to help Wayne Rooney get sent off with England losing on penalties in the quarter-finals in Gelsenkirchen, in which I was present, to their 4-1 thrashing against Germany in South Africa in the Round of 16 just four years ago. England have had their fair share of tears in competitions and despite youthful players such as Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling joining the more experienced players like Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, the balance may not be enough to see they through to the final, but you can see odds on England lifting the cup at 25/1, the same as Italy and slightly better than those of the Netherlands, Uruguay and Portugal, so it just shows that anything can happen in football.
Belgium have a team of competent individuals in their squad, with players like Eden Hazard, Adnan Januzaj, Marouane Fellaini, Vincent Kompany and Romelu Lukaku in their provisional side, some talented players who, if they work their magic together, could cause some problems for their opposition. There were rocked with the injury to Christian Benteke earlier this season though, but with Romelu Lukaku still fit and able to score goals, they could well be a threat and you can place a bet on Belgium at 14/1 to win the competition.
Netherlands led by Louis van Gaal, the manager linked with taking charge of United next season heads into the final tournament of his international career. The Dutch side were the runners-up in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which suggests that they could be a side likely to be underestimated this summer. They are in a group with holders Spain, Chile and Australia, so there could be a battle there for them to reach the knockout stages as Chile are a team with a lot of talent and Australia could be out to shock, but that is less likely. Van Gaal has picked experienced players such as Robin van Persie, Nigel de Jong, Wesley Sneijder, Ron Vlaar and Michel Vorm, but has also chosen some inexperienced youth suck as Tonny Vilhena, Stefan de Vrij and Karim Rekik in his provisional squad. Kevin Strootman will be absent from the side after his knee injury, but Jordy Clasie, who played for Feyenoord could be in with a shout to play in his position. The Netherlands have odds of 28/1 to lift the trophy, four years ago they were close, maybe this time they will win it!
France struggled to qualify for the World Cup this summer, having to play the Ukraine and losing 2-0 in the first leg, but winning 3-0 in the second earning their place in Brazil. During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, France exited from the group stage in fourth place after failing to win a match, but there were problems in the squad during that time. United defender Patrice Evra is in the squad with many France regulars. Paul Pogba has also earned a place in his first World Cup and will look to be a star of the show. France can be a tough team to beat, but they will be under pressure to not fail again this summer like they did four years ago. The odds for France to lift the trophy in July are at 20/1, so it would be a good bet, if it came in. I don’t think it will though.
Mexico qualified for this summer’s World Cup after earning a play-off place and beating New Zealand winning 9-3 on aggregate. Javier Hernandez has earned his place in the side despite not featuring much for United under David Moyes, but he is well worth a place as he can score the odd goal or two. I really do not see Mexico as being able to win the tournament, but they have a good chance to reach the knockout stages. This should be an exciting World Cup with many players putting themselves into the shop window ahead of moves this summer. Hernandez could be one of those after not featuring much for United in the last season, but with a new manager on the cards that could still change for him. Mexico are at 150/1 to lift the trophy, a decent bet if they won, but it shows how they are not feared by many, but you never know.
If I was to pick a winner of the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this summer, my head would say Brazil, as when previous World Cups have been played in South America, it was a South American team who won it, the same in Asia with Japan and South Korea hosting the 2002 World Cup, it was a South American team (Brazil) who won the tournament. When the host nation is in Europe or South Africa, the majority of the time a European side has won it, apart from when Sweden hosted the tournament in 1958 when Brazil won it. I do feel Argentina have a chance though, but that would depend on how players like Messi fare in the tournament. I would like England to win the tournament, but I doubt it will happen but Spain would be worthy winners and continue their dominance of the world football scene for another four years.
By Paul Bienkowski
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