Five international teams to look out for in 2014
Published: 05.11.12 / Written by: David Gold
With World Cup qualifiers in full flow, some teams are seeing hopes shattered of reaching Brazil in 2014.
For others, dreams are being formed and hopes increased across the world. These are some of the ‘unusual suspects’ looking to surprise and showcase their talents in Brazil
Europe’s most promising young team on paper, Belgium have a host of talent – from Eden Hazard to Axel Witsel and the defensive partnership of Thomas Vermaelen and Vincent Kompany – this side have ability in abundance.
Yet they made little impression on qualifiers for the last European Championships, and therefore turned to a favourite son, Mark Wilmots, to restore their fortunes. He has done so emphatically, with a 1-0 defeat to England disguising an excellent showing, and have since beaten rivals the Netherlands 4-2. This week they became the first team to win a World Cup qualifier away to Serbia for 10 years, and in style 3-0, to go top of a tough qualifying group also involving Croatia. If they continue their improvement, this hugely talented side have the ability to reach their first World Cup in 12 years.
With the World Cup taking place in South America for the first time since 1978, the chance for teams on the continent to excel is there. For Venezuela, this could be the moment they come of age. With two of the continent’s best sides of the last decade, Chile and Uruguay, struggling in these qualifiers, there could be a vacancy for one of the smaller teams on the continent. One or both of Venezuela and Ecuador have a genuine chance to reach Brazil in 2014. Venezuela are no longer an international no hoper, but a genuinely decent team, who showed at the Copa America last year that they can compete with the likes of Brazil and Argentina, even if they lack the same quality. The only South American side never to qualify for the World Cup, this could be their time.
A more reliable bet for Brazil would be Colombia, who have shown little since the ill fated 1994 World Cup. Now, under Jose Pekerman, Colombia are showing the form and promise they have always had the potential for. With Falcao in irresistible form at Atletico Madrid as well as with his country, Colombia have a genuinely world class striker. A solid defence and functional midfield now has flair too, in James Rodriguez, the brilliant Porto playmaker. Jackson Martinez, Rodriguez’ club mate, is another of prodigious quality, and this Colombia team could be set to take the next World Cup by storm if they can get there.
Mexico stunned the World Cup hosts Brazil this summer in London, winning the Olympic title. But this is a nation who have developed a real culture of winning. In the last year or so, they have won the Pan American Games gold medal, the Toulon title and the Gold Cup. Now the Olympic gold medal too, as well as a host of youth tournaments. Almost every youth tournament they have entered in recent years, Mexico have at least reached the final, more often than not coming out as winners. That meant that at this summer’s Olympics, whilst most teams appeared disjointed, understandably, due to being thrown together at short notice, Mexico were a real team. Hector Herrera and Marco Fabian are some of the new talented generation benefiting from the overhaul of national football in the last decade, and plenty more success seems destined for this young team.
The Blue Samurai, like Mexico, excelled at this summer’s Olympic Games. Under Alberto Zacherroni, they are reigning Asian champions, and have some players of real quality in Shinji Kagawa, Makoto Hasebe, Keisuke Honda and Yuto Nagatomo. With many young players who excelled at the Olympics as well as the likes of Ryo Miyaichi, there is a generation of Japanese players with the pace, skill and cutting edge to prove a real threat on the international stage. Japan and Brazil have a fond football friendship, and it would be no surprise were they to achieve one of their best international results to date there in 2014.