2014 World Cup pits soccer’s best against one ...
After four long years of waiting, the 2014 FIFA World Cup will finally be kicking off Thursday afternoon, and soccer fans everywhere are rejoicing.
With the hopes of an entire nation on their back, 32 teams will be travelling to Brazil with their 23 best players in tow. All will be in pursuit of the most prestigious championship trophy in all of sports.
I will be highlighting some key players and teams to watch whether you are a die-hard soccer fan or a relative newcomer to the sport. I will also be making my prediction for who will come out on top.
Players to watch:
Leo Messi, Argentina: The winner of four FIFA Ballon d’Or awards in a row from 2009-2012 (soccer’s equivalent to an MVP award) is considered one of the greatest players in the history of the game, despite only being 26 years old. Although he has dominated for his professional team FC Barcelona, he has struggled in international competitions. This may be his best shot at the elusive World Cup trophy.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal: The reigning FIFA player of the year, like his rival Messi, has seen success in international competitions fall just short of his grasp. Can the two-time Ballon d’Or winner put Portugal on his back and carry the team deep into the tournament or will we see a flame out in the group stage?
Gianluigi Buffon, Italy: Heading into his fourth and likely final World Cup, many consider Buffon the greatest goalkeeper of his generation. Buffon and teammate Andrea Pirlo are the only two remaining members of Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning squad. The two will want to go out in style in their final Cup appearances.
Teams to watch:
Spain: The reigning World Cup champion and winner of the two most recent European Championships will not come in as the favorites to win (more on that in a moment), but the team does have the most experienced and talented lineup with stalwarts like Andres Iniesta, Iker Casillas, Gerard Piqué, Xavi and David Villa. “La Roja” will not give up their title without a fight.
Germany: Claiming the deepest roster of any team in the tournament with players like Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Manuel Neuer and Mesut Ozil, Germany figures to improve on their semi-final appearance in the 2010 World Cup. No team in the tournament can trot out an offense lineup quite like Germany’s.
United States: Manager Jurgen Klinsmann stirred up controversy when he left “Captain America” Landon Donovan off the final roster for the Cup, but his approach has proven successful in coaching stints elsewhere. The USA will rely heavily on Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and captain Clint Dempsey to survive the “group of death” that features Germany, Portugal and Ghana.
Brazil: The host country is the odds-on favorite heading into the action. With a great mixture of young stars (Neymar, Oscar) and established veterans (David Luiz, Thiago Silva), an easy group, home field advantage and a history of great Cup performances, anything less than winning the tournament will be unacceptable for Brazil and their fans.
The World Cup starts Thursday with a match between Brazil and Croatia at 3 p.m. and concludes on July 13.