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June 11, 2014 / ultrafox1963

Spanish kings seek to retain place on throne

Will Spain lift this trophy again in 2014?

Will Spain lift this trophy again in 2014?

The wait is nearly over.

After weeks of media sniping at FIFA and the Brazilian infrastructure, football is set to reclaim centre stage as the 2014 World Cup begins in Sao Paulo.

The bookies – who will dominate our screens and billboards during the next month – have identified four main contenders for one of the most glittering prizes in world sport.

While others among the 32 competing nations, with varying degrees of justification, may also claim to be in with a shout, it will be a substantial shock if the eventual winners do not emerge from the leading pack.

The host nation will be very strongly fancied. Star striker Neymar will be eager to prove his worth on home soil after a somewhat-troubled season at club level with Barcelona. He will be ably supported by several other world-class stars, as well as one of football’s biggest and most passionate fan bases. However, better Brazil sides than this one have struggled with the weight of expectations and doubts persist about the squad’s strength of character. A semi-final defeat, possibly on penalties, appears to be their most likely fate.

Meanwhile Lionel Messi, the top player on the planet during the past four years, will be desperate to lead Argentina to glory and thus match the achievement of compatriot Diego Maradona in 1986. He will spearhead a strikeforce which also features Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria and will be the most formidable in the tournament. However the quality of the defence is somewhat less impressive and this area is likely to prove, once more, Argentina’s Achilles heel.

Among the European challengers, Germany will be looking to build on their showing in 2010 when they hammered both England and Argentina before succumbing in the semi-finals to eventual champions Spain. As ever, they will prove powerful, disciplined and organised opponents, but the lack of a genuine, top-drawer talisman may prolong the wait for their first major international honour in the 21st century.

So attention will focus on current champions Spain, who seem well equipped to mount a successful defence of their crown. Most of the key players from four years ago are still around, and their squad has quality, experience and depth in every area. The only issue appears to be whether coach Vicente Del Bosque is tempted to make unnecessary changes in order to maintain a balance between Barcelona and Real Madrid. If he can negotiate this particular political minefield, he will be well set to repeat his past triumphs.

As for England, the flaws that have plagued the side in past tournaments look set to recur. Once again, the squad is over-reliant on a misfiring Wayne Rooney, while the technical deficiencies that have been ruthlessly exploited by opponents in the past are still very much in evidence, even among the present squad’s so-called “young guns”. Although Roy Hodgson’s team may reach the knockout stages, probably at the expense of an equally-mediocre Italian side, an honourable exit, preferably not involving penalties, may be as much as we can hope for.

There are a handful of sides – Chile, Uruguay, Portugal, Belgium and possibly Ivory Coast – who have the capacity to cause a few upsets during the next four weeks, and perhaps even reach the last four.

One notable factor, which may help to boost TV ratings and maintain domestic interest even after England’s likely exit, is the presence of past and/or present Premier League stars in every one of the competing squads.

Leicester City fans will take particular note of the progress of winger Riyad Mahrez, whose meteoric rise through the ranks at Filbert Way after his winter arrival from France saw him elevated to the Algerian national side. In attention, former Foxes Max Gradel and Sol Bamba (both Ivory Coast) and ex-loanee Gelson Fernandes (Switzerland) will also be appearing in Brazil.

Whatever the outcome of the tournament, fans throughout the world will be hoping that it produces enough memorable moments to banish, if only temporarily, the cynicism, greed and negativity that too often tarnishes the beautiful game in the modern era.

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