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FIFA World Cup 2014 Team-by-Team Rough Guide

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterNovember 21, 2013

FIFA World Cup 2014 Team-by-Team Rough Guide

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    Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

    Welcome to Bleacher Report's team-by-team guide to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

    You may know all about your own nation's prospects, but have you checked in on the competition yet? Here, we provide a full preview and analysis of all 32 qualified nations. They're in ascending order using FIFA World Rankings, all quotes were obtained firsthand, and all betting odds are from Bet365.com.

    Got a prediction for the tournament, a concern to raise or want to add your two cents to the conversation? Speak your mind in the comments section below—it's what football, and in particular the World Cup, is all about.

     

    This guide was constructed with the help of several experts in various fields. We'd like to thank the following individuals for their input into this comprehensive preview:

    Allan Jiang, Chris Atkins, Ed Dove, Mani Djazmi, Eduardo Mendez, Karla Villegas Gama, Dan Colasimone, Andy Brassell, Jonathan Wilson, Gianni Verschueren, BIH Dragons, Mike Cummings, Nikos Overheul, Ricardo Granados, Clark Whitney, Sebastian Reyes, Aleksandar Holiga and Jonathan Johnson.

Cameroon

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1 and variants of it

     

    Coach profile

    Volker Finke is a wily old German coach who is chancing international management for the very first time.

    He presided over Freiburg for an astonishing 16 years up until 2007, tried his hand in both Japan and at the role of the director of sport and now is the spokesman for a traditional African powerhouse.

    Cameroon were the first team to be mathematically eliminated in the 2010 World Cup, so literally anything better than that is progress.

     

    Route to the Finals: First in African qualifying Group I, then dispatched of Tunisia in the mandatory play-off, 4-1 (aggregate).

     

    Key Man: Samuel Eto'o

    Cameroon are working hard on moving away from their overreliance on Samuel Eto'o, but it remains hard to deny he's a spectacular player on his day.

    He's evolved into a more complete player as the years have gone by and is now a more reliable outlet in possession and in defence.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Cameroon are a physically dominant side, boasting immense fitness and a strong work ethic throughout. Defensively, they are extremely strong, blessed with a number of top-tier centre-backs and central midfielders.

    As a result, they lack ideas in attack, although the emergence of Benjamin Moukandjo and return to form of Benoit Assou-Ekotto have helped in this regard.

    FIFA Ranking: 59th

    World Cup Odds: 300/1

Australia

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    Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-3-3

     

    Coach profile

    Ange Postecoglou has been one of Australia's most successful domestic coaches over the course of the last decade. After failing to lead the nation's youth teams to any success—and coming in for some hefty criticism in the process—he bounced back with a successful stint as head coach of the Brisbane Roar. 

    He's been recently installed after the FFA dispensed with Holger Osieck, and with a five-year deal under his belt, he can go to Brazil under no pressure whatsoever.

     

    Route to the Finals: Second in Asian qualifying Group B.

     

    Key Man: Mile Jedinak

    Australia don't have an awful lot to call upon, as their rising "stars" are not significantly better than their aging first-teamers. Danny De Silva could be one to watch out for in future years, but for now, the eye is drawn toward the destructive Mile Jedinak in midfield.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    This is a team that has taken successive 6-0 hammerings from France and Brazil and is in a state of flux. As such, strengths are hard to come by, but ball retention is at least on the rise.

    Weaknesses are easier to find: The defence goes missing against big teams, the nation's top scorers aren't playing in top European leagues, and there's a reliance on older players.

    Lots for Postecoglou to do.

    FIFA Ranking: 57th

    World Cup Odds: 250/1

South Korea

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    Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1

     

    Coach profile

    Hong Myung-Bo, the current manager of South Korea, captained the 2002 side when his country co-hosted the event with Japan. 

    He is widely regarded as the nation's best-ever defender, and he took the reins of the first team earlier this year after achieving a third-place finish in the London 2012 Olympics.

     

    Route to the Finals: Second in Asian qualifying Group A.

     

    Key Man: Heung-Min Son 

    Bayer Leverkusen forward Heung-Min Son is South Korea's clear star player and the only one playing for a UEFA Champions League club.

    He's settled into Sami Hyypia's side quickly after moving from Hamburg this summer and adds an element of guile and creativity to the forward line.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    South Korea are well schooled in keeping the ball and retain an excellent level of talent throughout the side, particularly in the attacking midfield position.

    Unfortunately, they have failed to settle on a first-choice No. 9 so far and their goalkeeper, Jung Sung-Ryong, is mistake-prone.

    FIFA Ranking: 56th

    World Cup Odds: 250/1

Iran

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    Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1

     

    Coach profile

    Carlos Queiroz's defensive outlook was a horrendous fit for Portugal at the 2010 World Cup, and he returns four years later with a side far better suited to his counterattacking methods.

    He's brought Iran back to the international stage after a mini-hiatus, crafted a well-organised defence and unearthed some key talents in the country.

     

    Route to the Finals: First in Asian qualifying Group A.

     

    Key Man: Reza Ghoochannejhad

    Captain Javad Nekounam may be one of the most recognisable names on Iran's teamsheet thanks to his penchant for a thunderbolt goal, but Ghoochannejhad is the man who has truly solved the nation's scoring woes.

    The Standard Liege striker, who was spotted at Sint-Truiden by Queiroz in 2012, has scored eight goals in his last 11 appearances for the Persian Stars.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    In typical Queiroz style, the side is solid and well-drilled. The defensive unit, led by Seyed Jalal Hosseini, has recently welcomed two new additions but still looks as trusty as ever.

    The right flank boasts considerable talent in the form of Ashkan Dejagah and Mohammadreza Khalatbari, though the latter is rather unpredictable and doesn't always win a starting role. 

    The age-old concerns over Iranian fitness levels continue to ring true, and the depth in this squad is almost non-existent. Creativity in midfield is a big issue against stronger sides.

    FIFA Ranking: Tied 49th

    World Cup Odds: 750/1

Japan

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    Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: Varies, often 4-2-3-1

     

    Coach profile

    Alberto Zaccheroni is an iconic Italian manager who is most famous for his stints in Serie A.

    Since 2010, he's been Japan's head coach and has already hauled in an Asian Cup and an East Asian Cup win. Historically, he's been reluctant to try new faces in his XI but is beginning to show far more flexibility as the talent level at his disposal rises.

     

    Route to the Finals: First in Asian qualifying Group B.

     

    Key Man: Shinji Kagawa

    Shinji Kagawa is a world-class playmaker who can be the difference in any game.

    He fits into Zaccheroni's system better than he does David Moyes', and coming off the bench in Japan's friendly with the Netherlands underlined just how effective he can be.

    His linkup and movement is fantastic, and he unlocks the best in everyone around him.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Japan are excellent from a technical standpoint, and they keep the ball extremely well no matter the opposition. The full-backs, Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida, get forward brilliantly, and the midfield is packed with talent.

    However, they've failed to find a settled No. 9 to lead the line and lack any top-tier centre-backs.

    FIFA Ranking: 44th

    World Cup Odds: 175/1

Honduras

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1

     

    Coach profile

    Luis Fernando Suarez has already done the hard bit—qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup—and Honduras will enter the tournament with no expectations.

    Suarez's goal will be simple: win the nation's first-ever game at the finals, and his squad is laced with the requisite experience to pull something wonderful off.

    He has a World Cup pedigree and led Ecuador to their best-ever finish in 2006, reaching the round of 16.

     

    Route to the Finals: Third in CONCACAF "Hex" qualifying with 15 points.

     

    Key Man: Wilson Palacios

    Wilson Palacios has been around the block enough times to ignore the hype surrounding the tournament and focus his energies on the first win.

    He was one of the most influential and consistent figures throughout qualifying and will do an important job in front of the back line mopping up.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Honduras lack star quality in every area, and as such, they lack any true strengths in comparison to the best in the business. They do boast goals, though, and in Jerry Bengtson and Carlo Costly, they are assured a few.

    FIFA Ranking: 34th

    World Cup Odds: 1,500/1

Nigeria

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3

     

    Coach profile

    Stephen Keshi led Nigeria to a fantastic 2013 Africa Cup of Nations win, and in claiming victory, the Super Eagles were able to build a lot of new talent that will carry them in the future.

    He's attempting to stabilise the growing optimism surrounding a side that is still in its infancy but has shown consistency in dropping perceived "big names" in favour of finding young, hungry alternatives.

    The fans love it, but there are rumblings of discontent within the Nigerian Football Federation.

     

    Route to the Finals: First in African qualifying Group F, then dispensed with Ethiopia in the mandatory play-off, 4-1 (aggregate).

     

    Key Man: John Obi Mikel

    The John Obi Mikel we see at the international level is a far-cry from the one we see at Chelsea.

    The 2013 Confederations Cup showed us glimpses of what he can do further forward, and B/R's Ed Dove believes the former Lyn man is a roaming, majestic deep-lying midfielder when given the chance.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    In Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike, Nigeria boast a wonderful attacking triumvirate that could trouble any defence. Strength in midfield is also impressive, with the Super Eagles boasting a fine youngster in Ogenyi Onazi.

    They are, however, just a step way from clashing with their own football federation—and perhaps fatally so. With Joseph Yobo, Obafemi Martins and Taye Taiwo all non-factors in Keshi's plans, most positions reek of inexperience beyond the first XI.

    FIFA Ranking: 33rd

    World Cup Odds: 250/1

Algeria

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    Gallo Images/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3

     

    Coach profile

    Vahid Halilhodzic is an extremely well-traveled man, and you may recognise him as the coach who took control of the Ivory Coast in 2008.

    He was a modest player, gaining 15 caps for Yugoslavia in the 1980s, then went on to enjoy moderate success in Ligue 1 with Paris Saint-Germain and Lille.

     

    Route to the Finals: First in African qualifying Group H, then dispensed with Burkina Faso in the mandatory play-off on away goals (3-3 aggregate).

     

    Key Man: Saphir Taider

    Algeria have experience in the form of Madjid Bougherra and muscle in the form of Adlene Guedioura, but we expect to see Saphir Taider integrated into a starting role before the summer rolls around. He can make a serious difference this side.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Algeria have a strong midfield base that is able to provide cover for creative talents Sofiane Feghouli and Yacine Brahimi.

    It takes focus away from their suspect defensive line, which is commonly all at sea and struggles under pressure.

    FIFA Ranking: 32nd

    World Cup Odds: 1,000/1

Costa Rica

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 5-4-1

     

    Coach profile

    Jorge Luis Pinto will feel that this World Cup is a long time coming.

    He was coaching Costa Rica back in 2004 but was fired before the nation qualified for Germany 2006. He's returned to the helm after the nation missed out on South Africa 2010 and now finally has the chance to take charge at the tournament proper.

     

    Route to the Finals: Second in CONCACAF "Hex" qualifying with 18 points.

     

    Key man: Bryan Ruiz

    Costa Rica don't boast reams of attacking talent, but the one star player they do have in a forward position will take some stopping.

    Bryan Ruiz can blow hot and cold, but when he's on his game, he's a nightmare to deal with.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Undoubtedly, a strong defensive foundation is what Pinto has built his side on. They went 476 minutes without conceding a goal in qualifiers, and after Clint Dempsey scored in the snow March 22, they didn't allow another until Dempsey scored a penalty Sept. 6—a penalty that deflected in off the 'keeper.

    Stylistically, Costa Rica can be criticised for an inability to hold onto the ball. Their passing accuracy in the final third is excellent, but they only managed to out-possess one side in the qualifiers (Panama).

    FIFA Ranking: 31st

    World Cup Odds: 1,000/1

Mexico

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    Getty Images/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 5-3-2

     

    Coach profile

    Miguel Herrera has a 13-year career as manager, in which he has coached Atlante (two terms), Monterrey, Veracruz, Tecos and America. He won the 2013 Clausura tournament with the latter, and that stands as his only title to date.

    Herrera puts an emphasis on ball possession, and his teams are very offensive, especially down the flanks. He encourages flying full-backs, and that, in turn, places an importance on the three central defenders.

     

    Route to the Finals: Victors in the CONCACAF vs. Oceania play-off, beating New Zealand 9-3 on aggregate.

     

    Key Man: Oribe Peralta

    With Javier Hernandez regularly drawing blanks due to a lack of playing time at Manchester United, Oribe Peralta has become a central figure.

    The striker scored a hat-trick in the away leg against New Zealand, is the top scorer in the Liga MX and boasts, speed, agility and a deadly instinct inside the box.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Mexico's midfield looks strong, both in talent and in depth, with Carlos Pena and Luis Montes in particular looking fantastic during the latter stages of qualifying. Should Chicharito regain form and Carlos Vela be welcomed back into the fold, that'll serve up some serious options for the forward line.

    Herrera's flying full-backs are potent offensive weapons, but they do, in turn, place strain on the central defensive trio. Francisco Rodriguez is aging and slow, Rafa Marquez is already 34 and Juan Carlos Valenzuela doesn’t have much experience at the international level.

    FIFA Ranking: 24th

    World Cup Odds: 125/1

Ghana

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    Adam Pretty/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-5-1 / 4-1-4-1

     

    Coach profile

    Kwesi Appiah is a former captain of Ghana and a former player for local club Asante Kotoko. He's extremely new to the coaching scene, and aside from the U-23 side, this represents his first managerial shot.

    Despite the lack of experience, he is widely believed to have the very finest African side at his disposal, and his use of the various peripherals at his disposal is impressive.

    He's taken a hard line with his players in previous years but has begun to soften his tone recently.

     

    Route to the Finals: First in African qualifying Group D, then defeated Egypt in the mandatory play-off, 7-3 (aggregate).

     

    Key Man: Kwadwo Asamoah

    Now that Kevin-Prince Boateng is back and Michael Essien has returned to form, this is a tough choice, as up until now, Kwadwo Asamoah has been the country's clear best player.

    We're sticking with him for this selection given his form in the qualifiers and during the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, though, as his drive, passion and commitment is a serious outlet for Appiah's side.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Ghana are packed with talent in midfield, so much so that B/R's Ed Dove believes they could field two international-class lineups.

    Unfortunately, every other position has question marks, with the most obvious collecting over the goalkeeper spot.

    FIFA Ranking: 23rd

    World Cup Odds: 125/1

Ecuador

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-4-2

     

    Coach profile

    Reinaldo Rueda has World Cup experience in the form of Honduras, which he coached into the 2010 edition but landed in a group with Spain and Chile.

    He returns four years later with Ecuador, which haven't qualified since 2006, and is looking to breach the knockout stages on home soil.

     

    Route to the Finals: Fourth in CONMEBOL qualifying with 25 points.

     

    Key Man: Jefferson Montero

    Antonio Valencia is seen as "Mr. Ecuador" in Europe, but Jefferson Montero is quickly becoming a key outlet for this side.

    This team won't wow anyone with their defence, and goals will be key to progressing into the knockout stages. Montero scored five in qualifying, is stepping up to the plate following the sad passing of Christian Benitez and is putting together a nice season at the club level.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Ecuador are fast, intense and physical. At home, they were unbeaten in qualifying, winning seven of their eight games but failed to pick up a single victory away from home.

    When they cannot maintain an intense tempo, they struggle, and a lack of organisation comes to the fore. 

    FIFA Ranking: 22nd

    World Cup Odds: 150/1

France

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    Harry Engels/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3

     

    Coach profile

    Didier Deschamps certainly knows his way around a FIFA World Cup having won it as a player in 1998. He led his nation to victory on home soil as captain that summer, turning in a particularly assured performance in the final against Brazil's dreaded Ronaldo-Rivaldo combination.

    Since retiring and becoming a manager, he's endured a mixed bag: He led Marseille to the Ligue 1 title in 2011 but will always be haunted by a Champions League final loss with Monaco to Jose Mourinho's Porto.

     

    Route to the Finals: Second in European qualifying Group I with 17 points. Beat Ukraine 3-2 on aggregate in a play-off.

     

    Key Man: Mathieu Valbuena

    Franck Ribery is the best player in France's national pool, but under Didier Deschamps' tenure, Mathieu Valbuena is undoubtedly the key man.

    He didn't feature in Ukraine when Les Bleus lost their play-off first leg 2-0, but he re-entered the side for the 3-0 win and, in the words of B/R's Jonathan Johnson, made France look "a different beast."

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    France are a monstrous side and boast an immense physical presence in central areas. Les Bleus have centre-backs and centre-midfielders coming out of their ears, but that depth of talent has not translated itself to wider areas.

    Full-back remains a concern, as does leadership (Hugo Lloris is captain), and neither Olivier Giroud or Karim Benzema can afford to pick up any injuries.

    FIFA Ranking: 21st

    World Cup Odds: 22/1

Russia

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    Francois Nel/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1

     

    Coach profile

    Fabio Capello needs little introduction to most football fans.

    Despite flunking the 2010 World Cup with England and resigning on the eve of Euro 2012, the Italian retains a strong reputation and walked straight into the Russia job.

    He rules with an iron fist and expects the best from his players, and Igor Denisov and Co. have responded well to his methods.

     

    Route to the Finals: First in European qualifying Group F with 22 points. Topped Portugal by one point.

     

    Key Man: Alan Dzagoev

    After demonstrating his raw talent at Euro 2012 on the right of Russia's 4-3-3 formation, we've hardly heard Alan Dzagoev's name mentioned on the broad scale of things since.

    That doesn't make him any less of a threat, though, and playing in a central role has helped unlock his undeniable creative ability.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    It's a Capello team, so they're naturally organised and well-conditioned. Their World Cup record is extremely poor and bowing out early at Euro 2012 has added fuel to their committed fire when it comes to making a long-awaited splash.

    They conceded just five times in qualifying but lost twice away from home. Belgium exposed their frailties in a friendly, and they wholly failed to deal with direct pace and guile running straight at them.

    FIFA Ranking: 19th

    World Cup Odds: 66/1

Croatia

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    Alex Grimm/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: Varies greatly, retains a back four

     

    Coach profile

    Niko Kovac accrued 83 caps for the Croatian national team and captained the side at World Cup 2006 and Euro 2008.

    He was drafted in as manager just last month after his predecessor Igor Stimac had only managed to stumble into the play-offs, and in the short time he's been around, he has clearly impressed the fans.

    He's got passion, knowledge and tactical nous.

     

    Route to the Finals: Second in European qualifying Group A with 17 points. Beat Iceland 2-0 on aggregate in a play-off.

     

    Key Man: Luka Modric

    Not only is Luka Modric a world-class performer on the pitch, but he's also a great leader and a commander for his teammates, too.

    Kovac has begun crafting his team around Modric to accentuate his strengths and allow others to feed from them, and the likes of Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic are truly prospering. 

    He makes them tick.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    The trio of Modric, Rakitic and Kovacic are Croatia's finest players, and Kovac's willingness and ability to shuffle them around appropriately for each fixture gives them a tactical edge.

    Unfortunately, the defence is blessed with no such strength—left-back in particular is a big issue—and there are no top-tier wingers to be found.

    Who plays at holding midfield is a big question mark, but the anticipated rise of Ante Rebic has Croatia fans excited; he could fill the hole left by Mario Mandzukic's expected ban in the group stages.

    FIFA Ranking: 18th

    World Cup Odds: 150/1

Ivory Coast

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3

     

    Coach profile

    Sabri Lamouchi, a former France international, has taken the Ivory Coast as his first coaching job.

    It's one hell of a choice given the expectation attached to it, as this widely regarded "golden generation" of talents has failed to win anything of note over the last few years—despite the presence of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Salomon Kalou et al.

     

    Route to the Finals: First in African qualifying Group C, then defeated Senegal in the mandatory play-off, 4-2 (aggregate).

     

    Key Man: Yaya Toure

    The Elephants have a number of top-drawer players to brag about, but Toure is undoubtedly Africa's best central midfielder.

    When he's on his game, he's unstoppable, be it surging forward with the ball at his feet, letting loose from 30 yards or putting in a commanding tackle.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    The Ivory Coast boast an incredible collection of quality players who are capable of attacking in an assortment of ways. The depth they boast in the form of Seydou Doumbia, Wilfried Bony and Lacina Traore is astonishing.

    However, strong as they are, mental issues have always come to the fore. The Elephants are infamous chokers under the weight of expectation and have a woeful World Cup record.

    FIFA Ranking: 17th

    World Cup Odds: 150/1

Bosnia and Herzegovina

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-1-3-2 / 4-2-3-1

     

    Coach profile

    Safet Susic is a living legend in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    He's loved by the players and the fans, possesses fantastic motivational skills and has built great chemistry within the ranks of the national side.

    He was hesitant in taking over for Miroslav Blazevic initially, but he took the post at a time that suited him and has gotten the very best out of a strong squad.

     

    Route to the Finals: First in European qualifying Group G with 25 points. Topped Greece in the group on goal difference.

     

    Key Man: Edin Dzeko

    Much will be made of Miralem Pjanic, Asmir Begovic, Senad Lulic and Co., but Edin Dzeko is the man who leads this team.

    He plays well for his country even when out of favour at the club level and boasts the second-best goalscoring record in the European qualifiers with 10.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    BIH boast an incredibly dynamic offensive system with two natural goalscorers in Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic. The midfield is packed with creative talent and has decent depth.

    If there's a weakness in this team, it's the defence, as despite its slow maturation and improvement, it struggles to find consistency. Right-back is a problem area due to injuries, and left-back is a revolving door.

    FIFA Ranking: 16th

    World Cup Odds: 150/1

Greece

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-3-3

     

    Coach profile

    Fernando Santos has subscribed to the Greek way of playing international football and has continued the hallmark of their efficient, grinding game.

    The Portuguese manager has been adopted by the Mediterranean nation and recently stated that in no place has he "ever felt so loved as in Greece," per Tom Kundert of Portugoal.net. In 2010, he was chosen as the best coach of the decade by the Greek Football League.

     

    Route to the Finals: Second in European qualifying Group G with 25 points. Second to Bosnia and Herzegovina on goal difference. Beat Romania 4-2 on aggregate in a play-off.

     

    Key Man: Konstantinos Mitroglou

    Since their improbable victory at Euro 2004, Greece have always been stellar at one end of the pitch but not the other. Scoring has been an issue, with the likes of Georgios Samaras and Theofanis Gekas underwhelming on the national stage.

    Konstantinos Mitroglou is the best striker they've had in decades, and right now, he's on fire for Olympiakos and the Piratiko.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Greece conceded an astonishingly low tally of four goals during qualifying, a record second only to Spain, which played two less games in a shortened group.

    Defence has been the foundation for much success over the past several major tournaments, and with Santos in charge, that won't change at all.

    Going forward, there are still issues, and midfield creativity is a problem. This isn't a side that will shock the world, but it will acquit itself with solidity.

    FIFA Ranking: 15th

    World Cup Odds: 200/1

Portugal

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    Martin Rose/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-3-3

     

    Coach profile

    Paulo Bento is a promising, young coach.

    He's no tactical mastermind, but he motivates his troops well, and according to B/R's Andy Brassell, has a firm grasp on the importance of playing players in their club positions at the international level.

    He's loyal—perhaps overly so—to his players, and at times keeps underperformers in the starting XI.

     

    Route to the Finals: Second in European qualifying Group F with 21 points. Beat Sweden 4-2 on aggregate in a play-off.

     

    Key Man: Cristiano Ronaldo

    The man that fired Portugal into the finals next summer with a stupendous hat-trick in Solna, Cristiano Ronaldo is without doubt Bento's most-prized asset.

    The XI is built around him, it is designed to accentuate his strengths and he has free rein of the pitch when he finds himself double-marked. Goal machine.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Somehow, Portugal have failed to produce any sort of "destroyer" midfielder and have come to rely on Miguel Veloso as the deepest player. It makes for a curious system, and there are some imbalances to be found by the top teams.

    Defending has been an issue throughout qualifying, and the team has been known to fade over the course of 90 minutes. CR7 is a one-man threat going forward, though, and Portugal always look good when they're attacking in full flow.

    FIFA Ranking: 14th

    World Cup Odds: 33/1

USA

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    Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1

     

    Coach profile

    Jurgen Klinsmann is as experienced as they come in terms of major international tournaments, having played and coached in several of them already.

    He's shown a propensity to introduce new players into the fold and expand the talent pool considerably while still handling the seasoned veterans in an appropriate manner.

    The U.S. have won high-profile ties against Italy, Mexico and have also won the Gold Cup under Klinsmann's guidance.

     

    Route to the Finals: First in CONCACAF "Hex" qualifying with 22 points.

     

    Key Man: Michael Bradley

    Michael Bradley is the classiest midfielder the U.S. national team have to offer, and over the past 24 months, he's improved his game beyond belief.

    He steadies the team with his work rate, positioning, passing and, occasionally, scoring. The Roma man can even make Jermaine Jones look a world-class midfielder at times.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Any Klinsmann team will be well-organised, disciplined and boast elite physical conditioning. The U.S. have struggled to break down lesser sides in the past but also seem prone to surrendering soft goals against midlevel opposition.

    Against the very best, they'll rely on their counterattacking skills.

    FIFA Ranking: 13th

    World Cup Odds: 100/1

Chile

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 3-4-3 / 4-3-3

     

    Coach profile

    Jorge Sampaoli was drafted in to save a sinking ship, but now, Chile look like dark horses for the World Cup.

    Since taking the reins, La Roja have been incredible, mixing a potent style of counterattacking football with strategic spells of possession. The confidence exuded by his side is remarkable, and he's taken many players who prospered under his tutelage at the club level onto the world stage.

     

    Route to the Finals: Third in CONMEBOL qualifying with 28 points.

     

    Key Man: Gary Medel

    Chile boast some of the best players in the world, including Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez, but have often struggled in defence. Chileans are worried by their nation's defensive setup but know they can count on an out-of-position Gary Medel week in, week out.

    He doesn't make mistakes, wears his heart on his sleeves and goes a long way toward solving a problem area for Sampaoli.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Chile have the ability to play any way they wish, be it slow, possession football or quick, incisive attacks. That makes them difficult to plan for, but perhaps what's most frustrating is that they refuse to allow other teams to settle into their own rhythm and plan.

    The attacking talents they boast are insane. They have a world-class midfielder in Vidal, but defence remains a question mark despite Medel's presence. They conceded almost twice as many goals as Colombia did in qualifying.

    FIFA Ranking: 12th

    World Cup Odds: 33/1

Brazil

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1

     

    Coach profile

    Luiz Felipe Scolari led Brazil to glory in 2002, beating Germany 2-0 in the final and inscribing his name into FIFA World Cup legend.

    He's returned to head an expectant nation once again after the Selecao ditched the disappointing Mano Menezes, and so far, all has been well.

    With no competitive games usually available for the hosts, the 2013 Confederations Cup was used as a sounding board for how the side is shaping up. They won convincingly, sparking hope and expectation across the country.

     

    Route to the Finals: Automatic as hosts.

     

    Key Man: Neymar

    This is not a side the Brazilian public are immensely proud of, as it lacks the sort of star quality Cafu, Ronaldo, Romario and Roberto Carlos have brought it over the past two decades.

    If there is one man for the crowd to pin their hopes on, however, it's Neymar. The Barcelona star has grown into his role as the "star" of the Selecao and has already notched 27 goals on international duty.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Brazil are physically strong throughout and boast the best centre-back in world football among their ranks. The left side, consisting of Neymar and Marcelo, is electric and is usually the key to their victories.

    During the Confederations Cup, they struggled to move the ball through the central areas, though, and Marcelo's temperament could be an issue. Depth at striker, beyond Fred, is bleak.

    FIFA Ranking: 11th

    World Cup Odds: 10/3

England

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    Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1

     

    Coach profile

    Roy Hodgson has made his name as a grafter, a grinder. He squeezes out results and doesn't stray too close to the edge, and that fact could not have been more obvious during his pedestrian Euro 2012 tenure at England's helm.

    But given the time and the luxury to trial new strategies, the Three Lions have been improving—bit by bit—under his leadership, and Brazil could be the stage upon which the former Liverpool man unleashes a hungry pack.

     

    Route to the Finals: First in European qualifying Group H with 22 points. Unbeaten.

     

    Key Man: Steven Gerrard

    Hodgson has built his 4-3-3 formation around Steven Gerrard as a regista-esque playmaker.

    No player is capable of stepping in and doing his job, and he could be the man that allows England to flourish or fail. Utilising him in an Andrea Pirlo-type position attempts to accentuate his passing range and hide his tired legs, a transition Brendan Rodgers has been more than accommodating of at the club level.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    With England, it's always going to be about whether they have the confidence to go toe-to-toe with the opponent or simply shrink into a shell and hope for the best.

    At Euro 2012, Hodgson employed the strictest set of bank fours world football has ever seen, and fans will be hoping the team will express themselves a little more at the World Cup.

    Penalties, for obvious reasons, are never a welcome sight.

    FIFA Ranking: 10th

    World Cup Odds: 25/1

Italy

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-3-3 / 3-5-2

     

    Coach Profile

    Cesare Prandelli has set about making his mark on world football over the past 12 months, impressing in both Euro 2012 and the 2013 Confederations Cup.

    He's won the respect of his players—both young and experienced—from a motivational and tactical standpoint and has a group of professionals willing to fight at his disposal.

    Should Prandelli end up leaving the Azzurri following next summer's showpiece event, he'll have a long list of suitors at the club level waiting to pounce.

     

    Route to Finals: Topped European qualifying Group B with 22 points. Unbeaten.

     

    Key Man: Andrea Pirlo

    Il Professore may be in the process of being phased out of the Juventus starting XI by Antonio Conte, but he still pulls all the strings for the national side.

    This will be his last major international tournament and his last shot at building upon the glory experienced in 2006 when Italy claimed the trophy.

    Much will be made of Mario Balotelli's brilliance, but Andrea Pirlo is the constant Prandelli relies upon.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Italy have reams of experience coursing through their side, with the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi well-versed in how World Cups play out.

    It's almost impossible to out-think the Azzurri from a tactical standpoint, and few—if any—can claim to defend with such effectiveness.

    FIFA Ranking: Tied 8th

    World Cup Odds: 20/1

Netherlands

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    Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3

     

    Coach Profile

    Louis van Gaal has set about reintroducing an attacking philosophy to the Netherlands, which suffered mightily under Bert van Marwijk's defensive outlook at Euro 2012.

    Passing football and playing out from the back has become the focus, with attacking talents such as Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben benefiting hugely as a result.

     

    Route to Finals: Topped European qualifying Group D with 28 points. Won nine, drew one.

     

    Key Man: Arjen Robben

    Robben is in the form of his life at the club level, and the Oranje army will be hoping he can translate that into international success next summer.

    Once exiled from the Bayern Munich squad by Jupp Heynckes, an injury to Toni Kroos allowed the Dutchman to re-enter the fold and score the winning goal in the UEFA Champions League final.

    Since then, he hasn't looked back.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    To say van Gaal's men have goals in them is an understatement; van Persie was the top scorer in the European qualifying zones with 11, while Jeremain Lens and Rafael van der Vaart also contributed five each.

    But defensively they remain suspect, with van Gaal constantly chopping and changing his central defensive partnership to find the right formula. The likes of Ron Vlaar and Stefan de Vrij struggle to subscribe to the passing method.

    FIFA Ranking: Tied 8th (with Italy)

    World Cup Odds: 20/1

Switzerland

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    Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1

     

    Coach Profile

    As much a scientist as he is a coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld has a world-class pedigree, and that's apparent in how he sets his teams out on the pitch.

    He's nurtured a promising Swiss outfit into a seeded nation for the World Cup, and it's difficult to find a bad word to say about him and his preparations at work.

     

    Route to Finals: Topped European qualifying Group E with 24 points. The team went unbeaten.

     

    Key Man: Gokhan Inler

    Eyes will be cast upon the talent of Xherdan Shaqiri and the relentless running of Stephan Lichtsteiner, but solidity in midfield is where Switzerland will make their own luck in this tournament.

    Gokhan Inler, alongside the likes of Valon Behrami and Valentin Stocker, will be looked to for consistency.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Switzerland are an underrated entity that could surprise a few this summer. Their work rate in midfield is remarkable, and they're comfortable both on and off the ball.

    If there's a weakness, it's a lack of absolute, proven star quality. They weren't able to rely on a single player to bag goals in qualifying—Fabian Schaer was top scorer with three, and he's a centre-back—and there's no reason to expect that to change.

    FIFA Ranking: 7th

    World Cup Odds: 150/1

Uruguay

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    Buda Mendes/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: Flexible—4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 3-4-1-2

     

    Coach Profile

    Oscar Tabarez has built up an unlimited amount of respect in Uruguay and has been in the job since 2006. He achieved a fourth-place finish in 2010 and won the Copa America in 2011.

    He's the professor type, the football scientist, and his tactical flexibility is a major strong suit.

     

    Route to Finals: Fifth in CONMEBOL qualifying with 25 points, beat Jordan 5-0 on aggregate in a play-off.

     

    Key Man: Edinson Cavani

    Choosing between Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez is a tough task, as both will be influential in any strong run Uruguay have.

    We've gone with Cavani as he seems to score even when he has a bad game, and La Celeste fans will be hoping that he continues his great early-season form right up until the summer.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    A strike force of Suarez, Cavani and Diego Forlan is not to be sniffed at—especially when the latter is coming back into form.

    At times, a lack of imagination in midfield can haunt them, though the resurgence of Nicolas Lodeiro and potential transfer of Gaston Ramirez, via Ed Maylon of Mirror Football, are promising developments.

    You have to wonder about the lack of pace between the two centre-backs and also whether left-back is an issue going forward.

    FIFA Ranking: 6th

    World Cup Odds: 28/1

Belgium

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    Christopher Lee/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-3-3 / 4-3-2-1

     

    Coach Profile

    Marc Wilmots faced severe questioning upon taking the Belgian reins in 2012, but he has proven himself to be a superb motivator and has endeared himself to his star players.

    He's shown a keen eye for in-game substitutions and fostered a wonderful team spirit within the group, but he can be out-coached by more experienced opposite numbers.

     

    Route to Finals: Topped European qualifying Group A with 26 points. The team went unbeaten.

     

    Key Man: Eden Hazard

    Vincent Kompany is a leader and Axel Witsel is Wilmots' trusted No. 2, but if this team is to move into the latter stages (as expected), Eden Hazard will be key to progression.

    The Chelsea star has only flashed his potential on the international stage, but his manager will pour faith into his ability next summer and pray for a handsome return.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    There doesn't appear to be an awful lot wrong with this bunch, but inexperience at major tournaments is a well-covered angle when it comes to discussing their potential performance.

    They're physically dominant, technically excellent, boast ridiculous depth in almost every area and have some eye-popping speed and trickery on the wings.

    FIFA Ranking: 5th

    World Cup Odds: 14/1

Colombia

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    Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-2-2

     

    Coach Profile

    Jose Pekerman is responsible for this goal, and after several years in the wilderness, he appears ready to make an impact on the world stage once again.

    He's helped Colombia qualify for their first World Cup in 16 years, and as a result, he was nationalised by the country for "making a dream become reality."

    He's already drawn with Brazil in the buildup to the tournament, despite fielding a changed side, and the public are optimistic Los Cafeteros can make a big impact this summer.

    He's renowned as a tactically experimental coach and works very hard at his craft.

     

    Route to Finals: Second in CONMEBOL qualifying with 30 points.

     

    Key Man: James Rodriguez

    Radamel Falcao is the star, but he's not a striker who crafts his own opportunities. Without plentiful supply, he'll draw blanks, and that's where the likes of James Rodriguez come in.

    The Monaco winger is one of the most skillful playmakers in world football and operates on the flanks for Colombia. His connection with Falcao at the club level has helped the two synchronise, and they will form one of the best duos in Brazil next June.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Colombia mix strong athletic ability with neat technical skill, making them an incredibly well-rounded, complete bunch.

    Pablo Armero and Carlos Zuniga perform extremely important roles on the flanks to ensure the team retains its width, with the latter in particular putting in some sensational all-round performances.

    It's not all roses, though, and Pekerman is certainly on the lookout for new centre-backs. He may have to do with Luis Perea and Mario Yepes for the World Cup, and their friendlies of late have shown the team struggle to defend aerial balls into the box.

    FIFA Ranking: 4th

    World Cup Odds: 25/1

Argentina

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-3-3

     

    Coach Profile

    Alejandro Sabella came into the job looking to make a reputation rather than riding on an existing one. He doesn't have the pull of a behemoth like Marcelo Bielsa, but he does come across as a very thoughtful, pragmatic and intelligent tactical coach.

    After the chaos of Sergio Batista and Diego Maradona, that's an extremely welcome commodity, and that he continues to leave out Carlos Tevez for the sake of squad harmony is a strong sign. The local media don't like it, but he doesn't care. 

     

    Route to Finals: First in CONMEBOL qualifying with 32 points.

     

    Key Man: Lionel Messi

    Lionel Messi will be hoping to catch fire for the first time in a World Cup, having previously underwhelmed in his first two attempts.

    There's no doubt he's one of the finest in world football when on form, and he'll take extra care to be physically ready for Brazil having already succumbed to a number of injuries this season.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    In Argentina's 4-3-3 formation, the front three is one of the best—if not the best—in the world. The trio of Sergio Aguero, Messi and Gonzalo Higuain puts almost every other strike force in world football to shame, and that's simply scratching the surface of a deep talent pool.

    The defensive line is still a little suspect, as usual, and full-back is an issue. Federico Fernandez has done a lot to shore up the central areas, but the wide areas are a problem.

    FIFA Ranking: 3rd

    World Cup Odds: 5/1

Germany

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1

     

    Coach Profile

    According to B/R's Clark Whitney, Joachim Loew is "the kind of guy who likes to sit in a Freiburg cafe with a macchiato and some high-brow book on coaching theory."

    He's dedicated to his work, has been in situ as Germany's head coach since 2006 (after taking over from Jurgen Klinsmann) and knows the players inside out.

    He's led Die Mannschaft to second place at Euro 2008, third at World Cup 2010 and to the semifinals of Euro 2012. Time to go a step further?

     

    Route to Finals: Topped European qualifying Group C with 28 points. The team went unbeaten.

     

    Key Man: Mesut Ozil

    Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil has taken on a pivotal role in Germany's impressive attack and appears to be the star man heading into next summer. Mario Goetze could be set to explode after returning from injury, but Ozil is a man Loew knows he can trust to do the damage in Brazil.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Germany press well and attempt to minimise the time the opposition have on the ball. Loew allows fluidity in his 4-2-3-1 formation and encourages his players to interchange at will. The side, on the whole, is absolutely superb in terms of strength, star quality and depth.

    That said, Die Mannschaft are not without their issues. Loew cannot find a striker to fit his system, Sami Khedira has torn his ACL, Ilkay Gundogan has a spinal injury, Marcel Schmelzer underwhelms at left-back (compared to the other 10 positions), and a good centre-back pairing has been hard to come by.

    FIFA Ranking: 2nd

    World Cup Odds: 5/1

Spain

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Preferred Formation: 4-3-3

     

    Coach Profile

    Vicente del Bosque is one of the most experienced coaches in world football.

    He took the reins for Spain after Luis Aragones had led the team to glory in Euro 2008 and proceeded to one-up him by winning the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

    He's taken much of Barcelona's famous tiki-taka style and adopted it at the international level but has also undoubtedly prospered from the unification of the Blaugrana-Madrid "factions" within the squad.

     

    Route to Finals: Topped European qualifying Group I with 20 points. The team went unbeaten and pipped France to the post.

     

    Key Man: Cesc Fabregas

    Cesc Fabregas is catching fire for Barcelona this season, and fans of both club and country will hope it lasts beyond December this time.

    He's developing into one of the world's best midfielders, capable of making an impact in any position and initiating a telepathic link across the forward line.

    Predicting who will start for Spain, or how important a role someone like Xavi will receive, is tough, but we can guarantee del Bosque will favour Fabregas in his XI.

     

    Strengths/Weaknesses

    Spain still have the ability to pass teams to death, and providing the fitness is there, the capability to press teams into turning the ball over in dangerous areas. There's a World Cup-winning pedigree everywhere you look in this side, and that makes them a contender for victory.

    With that said, the 2013 Confederations Cup wasn't kind to them. Both Brazil and Italy exposed weaknesses in the side, and del Bosque will need to pick (and stay loyal to) a striker, shore up defensive midfield to prevent being overrun and remotivate his trophy-laden squad.

    FIFA Ranking: 1st

    World Cup Odds: 6/1

     


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