World Cup 2014: The early contenders


It's less than a year until the big one - the FIFA World Cup.

Spain were pretty much everyone's favourites until Sunday night's statement of intent by Brazil, who outplayed and outclassed the World and European champions. Can Brazil do it all over again next year, or will they be denied a record sixth World Cup crown by one of the many contenders?

Spain will feel they can recover to become the first country since Brazil (1958 & 1962) to retain their crown, but a Lionel Messi led Argentina, a ferociously talented Germany side and even dark horses Belgium will fancy their chances. 

Here's who we think will be in the running in 12 months' time...


The contenders

Brazil

Despite possessing the hottest property in world football, Neymar’s boys entered the Confederations Cup with expectation unusually low for a Brazil team. Fast forward a couple of weeks and Brazil are suddenly favourites for the World Cup. While such a dramatic slashing of the odds is admittedly a little hasty, Brazil have played some inspired football and proved most people wrong. With the additions of Sandro and Lucas Moura, Brazil should only get stronger by next year. And that’s before you even mention the boy wonder Neymar, who has the world at his feet right now. Back favourites Brazil to win the 2014 World Cup at 4.00 or 2.10 to finish in the top three.

 

Spain

No matter how humbling and humiliating their Brazilian battering on Sunday night, Spain remain a world class side that, on their day, can beat anyone. That hasn’t changed now, and it won’t change in the next year. There are clear signs that the likes of Xavi may have to be replaced by the new generation, with Thiago Alcantara waiting in the wings to replace him, but when you have David Silva, Javi Martinez and Cesc Fabregas unable to get into the starting XI and Xabi Alonso still to return from injury, Spain should be written off at your peril. With odds having drifted to 6.00 to win or 2.55 the place, this is a great time to back La Furia Roja.

 

Germany

Never write off the Germans. It’s a tired expression, but one that still rings true. Die Nationalmannschaft may have spurned their greatest chance to win the European Championships in 2012 when overconfidence set in, but this remains a golden generation of German players and, if anyone are going to be the first Europeans to win a World Cup in South America, there’s a very good chance it will be them.  The familiar names of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Mario Gomez will all be present for a final World Cup at their peaks, but the new generation – Mario Gotze, Ilkay Gundogan and Julian Draxler – are all breaking through. And remember, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil are all still well under 25 too. NEVER write off the Germans and back them at 6.00 to win or 2.60 for the place.

 

Argentina

Argentina have a lot to prove at the 2014 World Cup, but the added motivation of winning football’s most coveted prize in their neighbour’s back yard is all the added motivation they need. Much expectation will rest on the shoulders of Lionel Messi, who has never produced his best football for his country. A forward line of Gonzalo Higuian, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez will be the most feared in the tournament, but Argentina always seem to find a way to screw it up. They now have former Sheffield United and Leeds United player Alejandro Sabella in charge, which should provide some more cohesive coaching than the last coach to take Argentina to a World Cup, a certain Mr Maradona. History tells us that South American World Cups are won by South American sides, so if you’re not sure about Brazil, it makes sense to back the Argentines at 6.00 or 2.80 for the place.


England

Roy Hodgson’s men still have some work to do to qualify from a tight group, but they should be there in Brazil next summer. A recent 2-2 draw with Brazil in the Maracana showed that England still have the quality to trouble the best sides, but against a Brazil in full flow, England would struggle. Expectation around England seems to drop with every major tournament and this could benefit a side not suffocated by the pressure. If England are to succeed in Brazil, they need star players Jack Wilshere, Wayne Rooney, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Frank Lampard fit and in form. It’s a big ask, but England may just surprise a few this time next year and are available at 20.00 to win and 6.00 for the place.

 

Outside bet - Belgium

Belgium are set to be the surprise (or not so surprise) package in Brazil. A plethora of young stars all coming to their peak in time for next summer, Belgium are a very good bet to reach the last four of the tournament. To get that far, they’d have to qualify (they are three points clear of Croatia), then get out of their group and then beat a team of real pedigree – a Netherlands or an Italy for example. But with a young side that boasts the likes of Eden Hazard, Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany, Axel Witsel, Kevin de Bruyne, Mousa Dembele, Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku… there is little wonder why they are a great outside bet at 20.00 or 6.00 to finish in the top three.

Who is your tip to win the 2014 World Cup? Get the odds for every nation here