Plenty of teams feel that they have what it takes to win it all, but who really has the whole package to hoist the cup come July 11th? Let’s take a look at some contenders and pretenders. Keep in mind that there are other contenders – and even more pretenders – but here is a small sampling of what to expect.
First let’s clarify what a contender is. A contender in this year’s World Cup is a team that will strongly compete to make it to the Final with a great chance of winning it while all the other teams look at them saying, “They need to be knocked out of the tournament if we are to have any shot of winning it all.” Let’s call this the “Whoa” Factor.
How many teams can you name in the world that when they step out onto the pitch do you think to yourself, “My team is going to have to play out of their minds today if they want to win?” The collective talent on a contender is so great that the contender will have to lose the game more than your team actually winning it. The following three teams have that Whoa Factor and will look to strongly contend for the World Cup.
A few months ago it seemed as though Argentina wouldn’t even qualify for the World Cup. Now they have quietly assembled a roster that can easily contend with the likes of any of the other 31 teams. Looking at their squad makes me go “Whoa” just after the first few names. Carlos Tevez, Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Diego Milito, Sergio Aguero – the list goes on. Their strike force is probably the most dangerous coming into the tournament, and their midfield and defense are just as good. It’s no wonder why everybody is jumping on the Argentine bandwagon.
From an attacking standpoint, not as many names jump off the page, but that’s no reason to discount Brazil. Offense may sell tickets, but we all know that defense wins championships, and that is why Brazil is a bona fide contender. Their attack and attractive football is great, but few teams will be able to crack the Brazilian defense. Lucio and Maicon anchor a stingy defense that prides itself on shutting down the opposition’s attack. Couple that with Julio Cesar in net, and that means goals will be at a premium for their opponents. And that guy Kaka is pretty good, too.
Had it not been for a surprising 2-0 loss to the United States in the 2009 Confederations Cup, Spain wouldn’t have lost a match since November 15, 2006. If a four year unbeaten streak isn’t enough for you, just take a look at their squad for the World Cup. Spain is arguably the most well-rounded team in South Africa. It’s nearly impossible to find a weakness. Their defense is right up there with Brazil’s. Their midfield, as a whole, is better. They may not have as many goal scoring options up top as Argentina, but Fernando Torres and David Villa can score in bunches. Spain will be a forced to be reckoned with.
Other contenders: France, Italy, Netherlands
By definition, a pretender this summer is a team that is making “a false claim to the throne.” There are plenty of those teams out there, but in a more generic sense a pretender is a team that is “all talk, no action.” They bring a knife to a gun fight. They like to talk a big game, but they can’t back it up when it comes time to state their case to claim the throne.
These teams can be contenders, but they appear to be lacking something (i.e. confidence, a certain type of player, etc.). They may look good on paper, but it’s just something about when the team steps out on the pitch something just isn’t right. These teams may think they have what it takes to win the World Cup, but football pundits are just not ready to give them that credit.
Before you jump on my back, hear me out. If England had anybody with brains managing them they would easily be contenders, but once I saw the final 23-man roster I almost passed out. I blame Fabio Capello for any shortcomings that fall on England in South Africa. No Darren Bent, Leighton Baines, or Adam Johnson? Instead he takes Old Man Heskey, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Matthew Upson, and Stephen Warnock? Are you kidding me? I hope that the Three Lions can pull it all together and make a deep run, but if they don’t, it’s all on Fabio. His absurd decision making will cost England, mark my words. The loss of their captain Rio Ferdinand is just that much worse. Michael Dawson can certainly hold his own, but Ferdinand was a key piece to England’s success. Now they are that much worse off.
Four years ago Germany was a force in international football. Now? A deep run in the World Cup seems unlikely, but nobody is to blame. Injuries have decimated a perennial contender. Michael Ballack is the biggest German name missing out due to injury, and although his abilities are on the decline, his presence alone would bring leadership and stabilize the team. Germany still has a strong squad, but I can’t see them contending with so many stronger teams out there.
Some of you may be relishing the fact that I don’t think Cristiano Ronaldo can lead his team to World Cup glory, while others are probably contemplating my current mental state as you read this, but Portugal won’t be contending. I know it’s a bold statement for some of you to digest, but I actually don’t even see them making it out of the Group of Death. Ronaldo can score from all over the pitch, but Brazil and Ivory Coast will just be too much to handle. They barely qualified to begin with, so there’s no reason to believe that a squad lacking in all-around talent will be able to do some damage. Their lone victory will come against North Korea. I know I just lost a lot of Portuguese support, but the truth hurts.
Other pretenders: Mexico, Denmark, Ghana
Stay tuned to Premiership Talk throughout the 2010 Fifa World Cup for all the news and opinions on the tournament on our World Cup page!