With the World Cup in Brazil officially kicking off on June 12 when the hosts take on Croatia, attention is starting to move towards the players who will travel with their respective national sides and get the chance to take part in the biggest tournament in world football. As the hosts, Brazil must surely fancy their chances – and history dictates rightfully so – but are Verde-Amarela the side others should be looking at as the team to beat? They may be the most experienced team in the competition, owing to their status as the only side to feature in all finals tournaments to date, but are they the side other teams should be look at as the benchmark?
Brazil are also the most successful team in World Cup history, having lifted the trophy on five occasions (in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002) but have experienced something of a decline in the FIFA rankings in recent times, sinking to an all-time low FIFA ranking of 22 in June 2013 – only a year before they host the competition.
They currently sit ninth, and so have clearly done enough to rise back up the list, but the actual importance of the rankings has been called into question on more than one occasion, with the usual analysis arguing points for and against FIFA’s latest release each time the new standings are announced.
Of the eight different nations to have won the tournament since its inauguration in 1930, six sides have won at least one of their titles on home soil, with present world champions Spain falling short in 1982 and, ironically, Brazil in 1950, where they finished runners-up, while England (1966) and France (1998) are the only nations to have won their only title to date in front of their own fans.
The Spaniards became the first side to lift three consecutive major trophies – their first competitive titles ever – when they won Euro 2012, having proven triumphant in Euro 2008 and the previous World Cup in South Africa in 2010. The Europeans will not be looking to give up that run lightly, and are still fancied among critics, but a European side has never yet lifted the Jules Rimet trophy in South America – adding to Brazil’s hopes of bringing the title back to the continent, where it went after neighbours Uruguay won the first ever World Cup 84 years ago.
Italy will also surely be contenders, and the second most successful side (with four title wins) will hope to end the European hoodoo on South American soil. England are not as high in the odds as they have been in past tournaments, sitting behind contemporaries Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Portugal, with Colombia and Uruguay also ahead of the Three Lions in the odds stakes. England’s odds are hovering around 30/1 at present, but Roy Hodgson admitted he was happy with the selection available to him, and so chalk them up as underdogs capable of producing a result on the day – almost 50 years of hurt never stopped the dreaming, after all.
Brazil will be there or thereabouts by the end of the tournament. Defeating the most successful side in World Cup history on their own soil will surely give anyone who can do so a massive confidence boost, and that could prove an important factor. Will they win outright? Certainly possible. Are they the team to beat? Considering what could be at stake for anyone who can trump then, it is definitely likely. Spain and Germany will also fancy their chances against the hosts, though, and so 2014 could perhaps be the year that the trophy finally travels directly from a South American tournament to Europe.