After this week’s playoffs, the 32 teams that will compete in next year’s World Cup have now been decided. Next month’s draw promises to offer up some mouth-watering groups as anticipation builds toward Brazil next summer.
Here’s a quick preview, as well as the latest odds (provided by Paddy Power) for each of the nations that will be at soccer’s showpiece event.
Brazil (10/3): Despite the enormous pressure, they showed they could use playing at home to their advantage in the Confederations Cup. The Selecao are growing into an increasingly impressive unit under Luiz Felipe Scolari, with star man Neymar improving all the time at Barcelona.
Argentina (5/1): If Lionel Messi is fit and firing, no side at the World Cup will have better attacking options than Argentina. They should be thrilling to watch, but Alejandro Sabella’s side still have concerns defensively.
Germany (5/1): An incredible generation of players is now coming into its prime and coach Joachim Low needs a trophy to affirm his fine tenure. However, they can still be susceptible defensively and their striker options are less than stellar.
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Spain (6/1): Can Spain really win four trophies in a row? The team remains largely unaltered since their dominance began in 2008, but this could well be the swansong for some, including Xavi. The pinching of Diego Costa from Brazil adds aggression up front, but could Spain be caught between old and new generations?
Belgium (16/1): The dark horses have turned an increasingly lighter shade in recent months as they have been tipped by all and sundry. They have an unquestionably wonderful pool of players, but they also have a novice coach in former international Marc Wilmots and, for all their array of central defenders, they are weak at full-back.
Holland (18/1): No European team qualified with a better record than the Netherlands, but then they also qualified impressively for Euro 2012 and that competition proved to be a disaster. Louis van Gaal has returned to typical Dutch principles and the young players he has introduced appear to have created a better harmony in the camp. Still, the new generation doesn’t, at least yet, appear to have the quality of their predecessors.
Italy (20/1): Hugely impressive in reaching the final of Euro 2012, their tactical flexibility, mentality and the superb coaching of Cesare Prandelli make them more than the sum of their parts, which are far from insubstantial. If Giuseppe Rossi stays fit and firing, his partnership with Mario Balotelli promises much, but there are signs that the prowess of Andrea Pirlo is beginning to wane at the age of 34.
England (22/1): England are paying the price for a lack of youth development with what will likely be the poorest group of players they will have taken to a tournament in at least 20 years. Roy Hodgson’s pragmatic style and disciplined coaching could still see them frustrate better teams, but they have little hope of making a real impact.
Colombia (25/1): Striker like Radamel Falcao, Teofilo Gutierrez and Jackson Martinez, supported by the creativity of James Rodriguez and Fredy Guarin gives Argentine coach Jose Peckerman great options going forward. At the back Colombia are less impressive, with 37-year-old Mario Yepes still a mainstay of the side.
Uruguay (25/1): Following a fourth-place showing in 2010 and wining the Copa America a year later, Uruguay had a major rocky patch in qualifying. They turned it around when wily coach Oscar Washington Tabarez went back to focusing on their principles of defense and organization. His nous and world-class forward duo Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez elevate an average side to one that could again cause a stir.
Portugal (25/1): With the most in-form player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo, in their ranks, Portugal can be a threat to any team on the break. However, they have been less than the sum of their parts with several players failing to take their share of the slack. A lack of a quality striker remains a problem.
France (25/1): As in the last two major tournaments, there remains fear of dressing-room unrest leading to their downfall. Yet their playoff comeback could be a turning point and they have been infused by promising players from the Under-20 World-Cup winning side. The European Championships on home soil in 2016 appears a more likely competition for them to truly prosper.
Russia (40/1): Fabio Capello will ensure that Russia are at least well-disciplined and focused this time around. Some of their more instinctive attacking play has been blunted under the pragmatic Italian, however.
Chile (50/1): The most exciting team at the last World Cup could well be that again in Brazil with Marcelo Bielsa having been replaced by fellow-Argentine and philosophical disciple Jorge Sampaoli. Their high-pressing, attacking style will win admirers and, with the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal now coming into their primes, they could go far.
Bosnia-Herzegovina (80/1): The achievement of qualifying for their first major tournament after two successive failures in playoffs should not be underestimated. Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibisevic and Miralem Pjanic offer real quality in attack, but there is too much mediocrity in the side, especially at the back, for Safet Susic’s side to make a major impact.
USA (100/1): After initial question marks, Jurgen Klinsmann impressively qualified the United States with Concacaf’s best record. However, as recent friendlies showed, they remain a largely workman-like side. The two players who can elevate them beyond that, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, appear to have passed their peaks.
Switzerland (100/1): Undoubtedly the seeded them that all the non-seeds will want to face. In their favor, they do have quality with Gokhan Inler, Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka, as well as the shrewd coaching of two-time Champions League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld, who will retire after the tournament.
Ivory Coast (100/1): After much disappointment, this is likely to be the Ivory Coast’s golden generation’s last chance to really achieve something. Their failures at continental level have been inexcusable, but they are due a more amenable group after horrors in 2010 and 2006. Still, with Didier Drogba and others now past their best, and with Sabri Lamouchi still appearing a very strange choice of coach, they could again come home early.
Ecuador (100/1): There will be much support for Ecuador after the untimely death of Christian “Chucho Benitez” during qualifying. Ecuador should pose opposition problems down the flanks with Antonio Valencia and potential future star Jefferson Montero, but a lack of goals and a weak defense will hamper their chances of making it out of their group.
Japan (100/1): Alberto Zaccheroni’s side is likely to be one of the best to watch with their technical, passing play led by Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa. A lack of quality in both penalty areas, though, will ultimately prove their downfall.
Croatia (100/1): While they only just scraped through qualifying after Niko Kovac replaced the hapless Igor Stimac, Croatia still possess quality, especially in midfield with Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. The loss of Mario Mandzukic, likely for two matches, after his stupid sending off against Iceland will be a big blow.
Mexico (100/1) On the back of victories at Under-17 and Olympic level, there were expectations at the start of qualifying that Mexico could finally go beyond the last-16 of a World Cup. By the end, though, there was euphoria at merely beating New Zealand to sneak into the tournament through the most secluded of back doors. There is still talent there and El Tri could yet prosper if it can be utilized correctly.
Ghana (125/1): There is real quality at Ghana’s disposal with Kevin-Prince Boateng, the Ayew brothers and Kwadwo Asamoah, as well as the aging Michael Essien. Yet, many of their best players have also shown a lack of commitment to their country that could undermine their hopes.
Nigeria (200/1): Stephen Keshi deserves immense credit for leading Nigeria to the African Cup of Nations title and World Cup qualification despite constantly having his job under threat from incompetence behind the scenes. Nigeria lack the quality of ’94 and ’98, but, with Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike and speed merchant Ahmed Musa they could throw up a surprise or two.
Greece (200/1): They are again unlikely to be one of the neutral’s favorites as they once more rely on the stifling pragmatism that amazingly took them to the Euro 2004 title. The form of Olympiakos striker Konstantinos Mitroglou does, though, provide hope for a genuine goal-scoring threat.
Cameroon (250/1): Providing that Samuel Eto’o doesn’t have yet another change of mind about his international eligibility and can continue his recent upturn with Chelsea, then Cameroon will have at least one quality operator in Brazil. Ultimately, a lack of real ability elsewhere, combined with question marks over whether there will once more be unrest in the camp, is likely to render Cameroon also-rans.
South Korea (250/1): Coach Hong Myung-Bo played at four World Cups including captaining his nation to fourth place on home soil in 2002, but it is hard to imagine him pulling off a similar feat in Brazil. With recent Bayer Leverkusen signing Son Heung-Min, they will be neat and tidy on the ball, but are unlikely to be anything more.
Australia (250/1): With the generation that reached the last 16 in 2006 now retired or long past their best, Australia have little hope of matching that feat. The recent appointment of Ange Postecoglou provides some hope after humbling back-to-back 6-0 defeats to Brazil and France, along with some controversial comments, counted for predecessor Holger Osieck.
Iran (500/1): Qualified impressively by finishing ahead of South Korea in their group and can count on the nous of highly respected coach Carlos Queiroz. Expect Iran to be difficult to break down, as Queiroz’s previous team Portugal were at the 2010 World Cup. Unlike his home nation, though, Iran can offer little beyond that.
Honduras (500/1): Took advantage of Mexico’s failings to snag an automatic berth, but, with one notable exception at the Azteca, they struggled playing away from the stifling atmosphere at home. The Central Americans are Unlikely to make any waves in Brazil.
Costa Rica (500/1): Like Honduras, Costa Rica were poor on their travels, but they do have more quality at their disposal. Colombian Jorge Luis Pinto sets his side up to keep things tight at the back while hoping to prosper on the break with attacking talent like Bryan Ruiz, Joel Campbell, Christian Bolanos and top-scorer in qualifying Alvaro Saborio.
Algeria (2500/1): Perhaps the most fortunate side to have made it to World Cup after benefitting from some terrible refereeing in their playoff with Burkina Faso. The villain of that piece, Madjid Bougherra remains the defensive mainstay for a team that is unlikely to win many friends in Brazil. They should, however, be slightly more entertaining than in 2010, particularly as they can call on the talents of Valencia’s Sofiane Feghouli.