An Associated Press panel of reporters who have covered 28 World Cups between them have taken a stab at predicting who will shine or flop among the 32 teams next June in Brazil. The AP also got second opinions from Raymond Domenech, who coached 1998 world champion France at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. We thought you might find it interesting…
WILL BRAZIL WIN? Yes. Brazil’s team, although average by its standards, will transcend itself thanks to the expertise of coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, Neymar’s gift for scoring and creating goals and the added zest of playing for home crowds. Scolari is adept at getting teams and players to peak on schedule, essential for the month long World Cup. Scolari proved he hasn’t lost his touch by leading Brazil to victory at the 2013 Confederations Cup. Usually intolerant of imperfection, home fans threw themselves behind the team and will do so again in 2014, helping to carry Neymar and Co. to the final, which they’ll win. DOMENECH: Agrees. “The Confederations Cup confirmed they’ll be tough to beat.”
OR WILL IT BE SPAIN? If Spain win, they will become the first team to win four major championships in succession. The World Cup winner in South Africa and two-time defending European champion has the necessaries to repeat: Quality, experience, youth and master coach Vicente del Bosque. It will likely be the last World Cup for midfielder Xavi Hernandez, who could have less of an impact. But Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Sergio Ramos are in their prime. Del Bosque has top goalkeepers, with Iker Casillas likely to start despite becoming second choice at Real Madrid. Striker Diego Costa’s decision to play for Spain, his naturalized country, instead of his native Brazil could tip the balance. He gives Spain presence and a scoring threat with both feet. With the extra motivation of making history, Spain will become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to defend the world title. DOMENECH: Says Spain’s “players are getting a bit old. It’s the end of a cycle. I even see them being knocked out quite quickly.”WILL LIONEL MESSI SHINE? No. Messi won’t be healthy enough. He’s running out of gas, picking up injuries with alarming regularity, the latest a left-leg muscle tear. He appears to be paying for his keenness to play every match and for rough tackles he’s endured over the years from opponents he frustrates. Under ex-coach Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Messi enjoyed long spells without injury. But Guardiola moved on and Messi broke down with a hamstring problem at the end of last season. At the World Cup, stars have little time to shine — a maximum of seven matches in one month if they make the final. Messi needs to be fully fit and that looks unlikely. DOMENECH: Disagrees. “He has time to get better, because he’s getting injured now and the World Cup is in more than six months.”
GERMANY’S “GOLDEN GENERATION” FINALLY WINS? No. Germany will start as always with a big victory and breeze through the rest of the tournament — until the semifinals. There, Joachim Loew’s men will again fall short despite playing sparkling football. Other teams are beginning to read Germany’s game and won’t give so much space to midfielder Mesut Ozil. Germany will have one of the youngest teams and will lack experience — except in attack, where Miroslav Klose and Mario Gomez are aging and aching. Germany’s defence is its biggest weakness. Loew’s philosophy is to score more than concede, but squandering a 4-0 lead against Sweden for a 4-4 draw in World Cup qualifying exposed Germany’s lack of a world-class defender, except Philipp Lahm. DOMENECH: “Completely agree. They’ve always been short of that extra something and they’re not going to do better as they get older. Semifinals, yes. They’ll lose against Brazil.”
WILL ENGLAND REPEAT 1966? No. The nation with the world’s No. 1 football league still won’t have international success. Fans who long struggled to accept the diminished status of the 1966 world champion now realize that Roy Hodgson’s side won’t repeat that feat in Brazil or get to the semifinals like Bobby Robson’s team in 1990. Even the English Football Association’s chairman, Greg Dyke, only set England a target of winning the World Cup … in 2022. The youthful energy of Jack Wilshere and Andros Townsend will unsettle teams. The matured Wayne Rooney will score his first World Cup goal. But off-field distractions and difficulty with relentless media attention have a habit of derailing England at major tournaments. England won’t go further than the last 16.
DOMENECH: Agrees. Not getting beyond the last 16 “is their habit.”
So, what do you think…?!