With 21 of 32 teams qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup already, the competition’s momentum will now truly begin to pick up.
Bosnia & Herzegovina, England, Chile, Ecuador, Honduras and Spain are just some of the teams that sealed their passage on a frantic Tuesday night of action, and from here we can begin to deduce some of the key storylines that will dominate the run-up to the tournament.
Discount Football Kits brings you five of the top issues to look out for.
Never has a European team won the FIFA World Cup on South American soil. In fact, since the competition’s inception in 1930, only South American sides have won the competition when hosted on the continent.
That means history is against Europe’s finest next year, and already the likes of Oliver Bierhoff are publicly downplaying the chances of a German win, citing the “monstrous task ahead.”
If ever the stage was set for this trend to be broken, it’s now: Spain are faltering slightly but remain a machine, the Dutch are reinvigorated, the Belgians colossal and Germany the favourite to win for some.
Can a European side do the impossible?
Scolari, Brazil, Expectation and Home Advantage
Luiz Felipe Scolari was brought in to rescue a flagging Brazilian side pre-Confederations Cup, and despite lifting the doom and gloom of the Mano Menezes era, was not expected to go ahead and win the trophy in convincing fashion—if at all!
That victory, celebrated wildly throughout the country, has only served to increase pressure and expectation on Felipao’s shoulders, and there’s genuine belief in the host country that lightning can strike twice.
With Neymar emerging as an elite-level talent, a sturdy defence gelling together and solutions appearing up front, a sixth World Cup victory is expected of the Selecao.
Who Will Lead Australia?
Australia scraped through to the World Cup courtesy of a last-gasp triumph over Iraq earlier this year, with poor performances the signature of a disappointing campaign.
All that matters is getting there though, right? Wrong. After being drubbed 6-0 by France this weekend in a warmup match, coach Holger Osciek was fired by the football federation and they’re back to square one.
Whoever picks up the job has a lot of work to do; repairing a broken side bereft of confidence is not easy, especially when dealing with a group expected to be one of the very strongest qualifying from the AFC zones.
Just How Competitive Are the “Other” South American Outfits?
Argentina look a force this time around, with Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain clicking to stunning effect in an Albiceleste shirt.
Brazil, too, look extremely strong, but briefly take your attention away from the big two and you’ll see the South American section has much more to offer alongside.
Colombia, once thought of as a dark horse and now just simply brilliant, have an incredible selection talent to call upon with good depth in most areas. Chile, who qualified in third from the CONMEBOL region, also boast considerable talent and look primed to make a good, strong run in the World Cup.
Ecuador are no slouches and have a strong emotional motivating factor in the sad passing of Christian “Chucho” Benitez, while Uruguay will likely come through their playoff with Jordan and bring Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani to the party.
Could this be one of the most dominant displays from South American sides yet?
Who’s the Dark Horse?
Every year, fans are desperate to express their opinion on who the dark horse for the competition could be. Why? It shows knowledge, and if proven correct they’ll be lauded for weeks to come.
So who’s shaping up to be the surprise contender this time around? It’s an extremely tough call.
It’s not Belgium and it’s not Colombia—they were dark horses two years ago, maybe, but not now they’ve qualified with flying colours and boast a world-class collections of players.
After an atrocious Euro 2012, the Netherlands have gone into full-on rebuilding mode, blooding youth and revamping the approach under Louis van Gaal. Are they too high-profile to be dark horses, or do they fit the bill just right?
Ecuador too, will relish the home soil but could draw a very unforgiving group (a top speed and a European opponent). Chile could catch fire with Alexis Sanchez up front, but could also fall victim to a similar cruel draw.