The dark horses for the greatest prize in world football
Belgium has seen a number of world class footballers emerge over the last few years, most plying their trade in the Premier League. Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Simon Mignolet, Moussa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen, Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku have all moved to England over the past few seasons. The Belgians won eight of their ten qualifying matches, emerging unbeaten throughout the process. They have been drawn into a group with Algeria, Russia and South Korea, and are strong favourites to emerge unscathed. Their true champion’s credentials will be tested in the second round however, where they will most likely play one of German or Portugal.
The amount of attacking talent is what Uruguay will be looking to for inspiration in Brazil. Their obvious outlet will surely be Liverpool striker Luis Suárez, who has scored 22 goals in 17 games. He will be looking for an equally headline grabbing World Cup just like he had four years ago, but this time for the right reasons. He was sent off in the quarter final against Ghana for handballing Stephen Appiah’s shot, with Asamoah Gyan squandering the subsequent penalty. The striker will be ably supported by Edison Cavani of Paris Saint Germain, Diego Forlan of Brazilian club Internacional and Gastón Ramírez of Southampton. Having been dropped in the ‘group of death’ alongside Italy, Costa Rica and England, Uruguay will firstly have to see of their competitors before a second round match out of Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan awaiting them.
Recent years have not been kind to the French national team. At the last World Cup, the team was in disarray; Nicolas Anelka was dismissed from the national team after reportedly having a dispute with team manager Raymond Domenech during half-time of the team's loss to Mexico. They fared little better at Euro 2012, where they finished runner up in the group, topped by England, and were eliminated by Spain, losing 2-0. Yet, there is hope for the French. Ballon d'Or nominee Franck Ribéry, Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper and national captain Hugo Lloris composing a strong spine of the squad, as well as Premier League stars Samir Nasri and Yohan Cabaye adding midfied class to the team. They have been placed in a group alongside Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras. If they can make it past them, they will most likely play one of Argentina, Nigeria or Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Colombia’s FIFA ranking of 4th may be somewhat overrated, yet they still have an impressive squad. They are led by talismanic striker Radamel Falcao, the prolific Monaco striker. He is joined by his young teammate from Monaco, James Rodríguez. The youngster is one of the most coveted assets in Europe, and cost Monaco €45 million from Porto. The Colombians have been dealt a relatively easy group, competing with Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan, and are strong favourites to progress to the second round where they will meet one of England, Italy or Uruguay.
The African Cup of Nation’s champions are Africa’s best chance for a World Cup this year, having been drawn into a group composing Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iran. Whilst the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero will most likely prove too strong for the Super Eagles, they will be looking to progress from the group in the runner-up position. They will surely look towards Victor Moses, Obafemi Martins and John Obi Mikel to provide inspiration on football’s greatest stage. Whilst the trophy itself may be a stretch too far, they will surely look towards the quarter finals as a must.