By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
The overwhelming support and pressure for and on Brazil will ultimately lead to a national disappointment for the host team in 2014. Enough has been written about the Brazilian team to convince anyone—including myself—that they are the rightful champion, but in a tournament such as the World Cup, nothing is awarded for achievements on paper; the competition is won with actual merit and a lot of luck.
Ecuador: My dark horse pick is based around a resilient team emerging from the wakes of a tragedy. Christian Benitez, a 27-year-old striker died in July 2013 from a heart attack playing for his club team, Qatar. Pitted against the other five South American teams, Ecuador may seem like the most inexperienced. Antonio Valencia of Manchester United will have to be the electrifying player he is and score some goals, while the midfield will need to support each other in order to get through Group E, which includes the Swiss, the French, and the Hondurans.
Belgium: A team with nothing to lose, but everything to prove is a dangerous team, and I think Belgium epitomizes that statement the best in this year’s World Cup. Placed with Algeria, Russia, and the Korean Republic in Group H, Belgium is the young up-and-coming team that can give the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and Spain a run for their money. No team will take Belgium lightly, but if Romelu Lukaku and their youthful stars can come up big with some timely goals, there is an exceptional chance that the country known for its chocolate can finally be famous for football as well.
Netherlands: Spain versus Netherlands on day two will truly kick off the tournament—no disrespect to Croatia and Brazil of course. They’ve pulled consistently good numbers in the last several World Cup tournaments, and I don’t see any reason they can’t make a legitimate run again this year. Superstars Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, and Wesley Sneijder will play significant roles on the team, and if they are able to reach their elite level in the month-long tournament they will have great success. The Netherlands has the talent and momentum is on their side.
Colombia: If Monaco’s striker, Radamel Falcao can return in time from his ruptured cruciate ligament, then Colombia’s chances may be amped up even more. But the national squad has played without him and is very capable of winning games on their own. Colombia often lurks in the shadow of Brazil and Argentina—even Uruguay and Chile—but the future looks bright for the Colombians and their no.5 FIFA ranking.
Argentina: I’m a strong believer in legacies; I think great players on great teams must perform at key times in order to earn the title of legendary. Lionel Messi is, of course, en route to earning that honour, at least in my books. All he needs is to win the World Cup in 2014. No big deal. Yet recent historical records have not favoured the Argentineans; after all, they have not won since 1986. But the hopes are high, the conditions are familiar in Brazil, and their offence is as capable as the other favourites. Argentina will come up big when it counts and prove many critics wrong in this year’s World Cup, thus earning Messi the recognition on the world stage he deserves.