In just four days, the greatest show on Earth begins; the FIFA World Cup. As Ireland are not involved, Rich Roberts is here to discuss six teams that are deserving of your support.
Ireland’s ill-fated qualifying campaign means the Boys In Green will not be pitting themselves against the elite of world football. This failure ultimately brought a premature end to Giovanni Trapattoni’s tenure, with Martin O’Neill taking the reins of the national team for at least the next two years.
Whilst Ireland’s next bow at a major tournament is at best two years away, there is no reason why the rest of the country should remain neutral to the World Cup spectacle that starts in Brazil on Thursday.
To fully engage in the emotion and drama of a World Cup, one must identify with a team from the outset and for the next month adopt a new nationality for the duration of the tournament.
World Cup fever in Ireland this summer is unlikely to match the heady heights of Italia ’90 and USA 1994 but this year’s tournament still promises to be one of the most open and exciting since its inception in 1930.
Brazil are the bookmakers’ favourites and they still stand at quite lengthy odds of 3/1. The footballing powerhouses of Germany, Argentina, defending champions Spain, France and Italy are all also viable contenders for glory on July 12. Here we flout some potential candidates for your support this summer.
As favourites and hosts, Brazil is an obvious option. Any World Cup benefits hugely from a strong showing from the host nation, as evidenced by the unforgettable scenes on the Champs Elysées in 1998 as France marched towards glory in Paris, and with the backing of a football mad public behind them, the Seleção are capable of realising a nation’s dream.
The Brazil squad is as always blessed with a wealth of talent, including flying full-backs Marcelo and Dani Alves as well as national treasure Neymar. He holds an almost God-like status in Brazil with his stunning performances for boyhood club Santos drawing comparisons with Pelé.
Neymar has struggled to live up to his billing at Barcelona in his first season in Europe, a return to his homeland where he is still universally adored could easily spark a return to the sort of form that inspired Brazil to glory in the Confederations Cup on home soil last summer.
The 22-year-old possesses all the mercurial genius one associates with the yellow jersey, as a whole this Brazil side exhibits a more disciplined footballing approach than the flamboyant incarnations of previous years. Despite lacking a world-class centre-forward in the mould of Ronaldo, a solid spine of Fernandinho, David Luiz, Danté and Thiago Silva provide head coach Luis Felipe Scolari with the platform from which he can orchestrate his second World Cup triumph.
Whilst it may seem traitorous to even consider supporting England given the long and bloody history with our neighbours across the Irish Sea, a cynic would point to the close economic, cultural and family ties which make Ireland and England inextricably interlinked. Irish people overwhelmingly support English football clubs and have done for generations.
It seems illogical that one can go from idolizing the likes of Wayne Rooney in a Manchester United jersey for most of the year and then reveling in the same player’s inevitable demise at the World Cup. Surely a team consisting of potentially five or six Liverpool players should entice the Irish legion of Liverpool fans to back the Three Lions this summer?
For once, England’s national team enter a World Cup without any great fanfare or expectations. The golden generation of Becks and co. repeatedly crumbled under the intense pressure imposed by the British media, yet under the calming guidance of Roy Hodgson, this youthful squad have the freedom to express themselves in Brazil.
Hodgson has placed his faith in the form players of the Premier League this season with young guns Sterling, Lallana, Barkley, Henderson, Shaw and Sturridge forcing their way into Hodgson’s plans following stunning seasons at club level.
It is not unforeseeable that the master plan formed by Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool could be adopted to the England XI with Wayne Rooney taking the position of Luis Suarez in an otherwise Liverpool front quintet of Sturridge, Sterling, Henderson and captain Steven Gerrard.
For Rooney, England’s great hope for the past decade, this could well be his last chance to leave his mark on the World Cup after underwhelming in 2006 and 2010, returning home goalless.
After coming agonizingly close to glory in South Africa in 2010, the Oranje will be out for vengeance in Brazil this summer. Led by the irascible Louis van Gaal, the Dutch are sure to entertain with Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben all capable of setting the tournament alight.
With van Gaal set to become manager of Manchester United after the tournament, Red Devils fans the world over will be focusing intently on how the Netherlands perform.
Irish Manchester United fans would do well to wish their incumbent manger well and familiarise themselves with his footballing philosophy and abrasive character. Supporters of Manchester United may also be drawn to the Netherlands’ cause by the presence of Robin van Persie as captain.
Whether one would like to see them lift the trophy on the on the 13th of July or not, the Dutch will be well worth watching due to their gifted forwards and fragile back 4, goals are guaranteed. This open style of play combined with their presence in the group of death alongside Spain, Chile and Australia makes supporting the Netherlands a potential roller-coaster ride.
The blue and white stripes of Argentina have always had a romantic element to them. The genius of Diego Maradona will forever be interwoven into that famous shirt, but it is his heir, Lionel Messi, that all eyes will be glued to in Brazil.
The undisputed best player of the world over the past five years, Messi has swept all before him in his club colours of Barcelona but has failed to deliver similar success with his nation.
For Messi to cement his place as one of the true legends of the game, he must set the tournament alight this summer. One cannot help but love the diminutive, modest maestro and nobody would begrudge him a World Cup, except Cristiano Ronaldo perhaps.
The prospect of a vintage Messi setting the tournament alight is one that would thrill any fan of the beautiful game and is why so many would-be neutrals are throwing their weight behind the Argentinian campaign.
After a disastrously limp display in South Africa under the rash Maradona, Argentina are due a strong showing this time round. Their talisman Messi will be ably supported by the world class triumvirate of Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain.
The squad seems quite top heavy with the midfield not containing quite the same calibre of players as seen in previous tournaments. Head coach Sabella’s continued refusal to acknowledge Willy Caballero as his number one goalkeeper leaves Sergio Romero in between the sticks and seems an accident waiting to happen.
If the back four and central midfielders can provide solidity, Messi and his friends have the potency to tear through any team. If Messi inspires Argentina to glory, he could well anoint himself as the greatest of all time.
Belgium are the football hipsters team of choice for the World Cup. Having not appeared in the finals since 2002, Belgium endured a rather dour decade until their Golden Generation began to blossom.
The attraction of Belgium is the fact that they are encroaching on the turf of the traditional footballing elite; a squad full of exciting young talent that blazed through their qualifying group unbeaten and arrive in South America as dark horses for the title.
The Rode Duivels have class all over the park, from Thibaut Courtois in goal through the human rock that is Vincent Kompany, midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard all the way to the monstrous Romelu Lukaku who bulldozed through Premier League defences with Everton this season.
A relatively comfortable group consisting of Algeria, Russia and the Korea Republic makes progression to the knockout rounds more than feasible, though they will be keen to beat Russia and thus avoid meeting Germany in the second round.
If given a chance, Manchester United starlet Adnan Januzaj could be a breakthrough star at this World Cup. A run as deep as the semi-finals would be of no surprise for Marc Wilmots outfit and they will certainly be a team that even the likes of Brazil and Spain will be reluctant to cross swords with.
The Ivory Coast’s flag is the closest to our own tricolour you are likely to see in Brazil this summer and for that alone, it is worth trumpeting the cause of The Elephants.
Not only does it provide the perfect excuse to dust off the old inflatable hammers and restore the bunting, the Ivory Coast are a fast, powerful side that will thrive in the trying environmental conditions of South America and could easily negotiate a rather tame group of Colombia, Greece and Japan.
This could well be a final bow for Stamford Bridge legend Didier Drogba on the international stage and he is unlikely to leave quietly. A number nine quite unlike any other, Drogba relishes the biggest occasions and is easily capable of taking any game by the scruff of the neck and determining the outcome.
He is not the only star of the Ivory Coast, with Gervinho putting a unsettled period at Arsenal behind him with an electrifying first season in Serie A with AS Roma, he is sure to arrive in Brazil brimming with the confidence that so often alluded him during his spell in North London.
In midfield, The Elephants have the dominant figure of Yaya Touré who recently inspired Manchester City to a second Premier League Title and is potentially the most influential midfielder on the planet. With Touré likely to dominate the middle of the pitch in any match he plays, the Ivory Coast could easily upset the apple cart and send a big nation crashing out of the tournament.
Rich Roberts, Pundit Arena.