FILE: FOOTBALL/SOCCER - Previews for four of the top seeds for the 2014 World Cup: Argentina; Belgium; Brazil; and Colombia, ahead of the group draw on December 5
FILE: FOOTBALL/SOCCER - Previews for four of the top seeds for the 2014 World Cup: Argentina; Belgium; Brazil; and Colombia, ahead of the group draw on December 5
- Title: FILE: FOOTBALL/SOCCER - Previews for four of the top seeds for the 2014 World Cup: Argentina; Belgium; Brazil; and Colombia, ahead of the group draw on December 5
- Date: 2nd December 2013
- Summary: BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (FILE - JUNE 6, 2013) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF GOALKEEPERS TRAINING VARIOUS OF FALCAO PASSING
- Embargoed: 17th December 2013 12:00
- Location: Belgium, Italy, Argentina, United Kingdom
- Country: Argentina
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVA3Q5Z3LREDG5GHH9DOKRPBRZUF
- Story Text: ARGENTINA Factbox on World Cup qualifiers Argentina: Argentina are potential world beaters with Lionel Messi in the team and still a good side when he is not. If Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, the so-called Fantastic Quartet, are on song in attack, Argentina can win the World Cup.
Yet they have defensive frailties that coach Alejandro Sabella has been working to overcome.
Argentina won the 16-match South American qualifying group, cementing first place during a brilliant 2012 when their first-choice side went unbeaten in nine matches, including friendlies and Messi scored 12 goals, including two hat-tricks.
This year they have suffered a solitary defeat to Uruguay, but key midfielder Fernando Gago, who dictates the pace of their game and acts as a supply line for Messi, has missed most of their matches through injury.
Surprise is a key element for Argentina, who play their best football when Gago, Javier Mascherano and Di Maria play in midfield behind Messi, Higuain and Aguero.
The transition from defence to midfield is a weakness, along with dealing with high balls into the penalty area.
This is despite them having an imposing goalkeeper in Sergio 'Chiquito' (little one) Romero, who tends to dally on his line when balls are crossed into the box.
Sabella has kept faith with Romero, who has fallen out of favour at club side Monaco.
In contrast, Sabella has chosen to call up uncapped or seldom-used defenders for friendlies, to give them a chance of staking claims for World Cup places as he works on the balance of a top-heavy team.
Coach: Alejandro Sabella Sabella will be going to his first World Cup as head coach having been to France '98 as Daniel Passarella's assistant. He took charge after Argentina failed to get past the quarter-finals in the Copa America, which they hosted under coach Sergio Batista in 2011.
Sabella comes from the Estudiantes school of coaching, having played there under 1986 World Cup-winning coach Carlos Bilardo and favours a 5-3-2 tactical formation.
He was a gifted attacking midfielder with River Plate, Sheffield United and Leeds United before winning Argentine league titles at Estudiantes.
With Messi in his team, Sabella favours tactics that will bring the very best out of his captain while encouraging his forwards, capable of hurting rivals with quick, precise counter-attacks, to help in defence when the team lose possession.
His choice of Belo Horizonte as Argentina's World Cup base is no surprise. It is the city of his greatest success as a coach, when captain Juan Sebastian Veron's Estudiantes won the Libertadores Cup there in 2009.
Key player: Lionel Messi Some say Messi will never be able to claim a place among the sport's greats, such as Alfredo Di Stefano, Pele, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona, unless he wins a World Cup.
Others say he has already achieved enough at club level to live in their exalted company.
Messi dreams of winning the World Cup in Brazil next year and at his best, no-one would deny his chances in an Argentina side with one of the best attacking units on the planet.
This year has rung alarm bells, however, because, for the first time in Messi's 10-year top flight career, he has suffered injury problems that have caused him to miss Barcelona and Argentina matches.
This could be a blessing in disguise, since top players going to a World Cup in the modern era of massive club commitments have often arrived at the finals exhausted at the end of a long season; so injury breaks could stand Messi in good stead.
He could, however, lose the momentum that has carried him to successive FIFA World Player of the Year titles, while breaking scoring records and winning club trophies in the process.
Messi has scored 37 goals in 83 appearances for Argentina. He is second only to Gabriel Batistuta (56 in 78) as Argentina's highest scorer, having surpassed Hernan Crespo (35 in 64) and Diego Maradona (34 in 91) this year.
How they qualified: Winners in South American qualifying 2011 Oct 7 Chile H W 4-1 Higuain 3, Messi Oct 11 Venezuela A L 1-0 Nov 11 Bolivia H D 1-1 Lavezzi Nov 15 Colombia A W 2-1 Messi, Aguero 2012 June 2 Ecuador H W 4-0 Aguero, Higuain, Messi, Di Maria Sept 7 Paraguay H W 3-1 Di Maria, Higuain, Messi Sept 11 Peru A D 1-1 Higuain Oct 12 Uruguay H W 3-0 Messi 2, Aguero Oct 16 Chile A W 2-1 Messi, Higuain 2013 March 22 Venezuela H W 3-0 Higuain 2, Messi(pen) March 26 Bolivia A D 1-1 Banega June 7 Colombia H D 0-0 June 11 Ecuador A D 1-1 Aguero (pen) Sept 10 Paraguay A W 5-2 Messi (2 pens), Aguero, Maria, Maxi Rodriguez Oct 11 Peru H W 3-1 Lavezzi 2, Palacio Oct 15 Uruguay A L 3-2 Maxi Rodriguez 2 Previous World Cup appearances (15): 1930, 1934, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 Best: Winners 1978, 1986 Runners-up: 1930, 1990 Odds: William Hill odds to win World Cup (Nov.2013): 5-1 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- BELGIUM Factbox on World Cup qualifiers Belgium: Form and Prospects Belgium are blessed with a wealth of talent, including captain and defensive rock Vincent Kompany, combative Marouane Fellaini and tricky midfielder Eden Hazard, so on paper are contenders in Brazil.
Competing at their first World Cup since 2002, Belgium have options or at least one back-up in every position, including two of the Premier League's best young strikers in Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku, as well as goalkeepers Thibaut Courtois and Liverpool-based rival Simon Mignolet.
Belgium's rise through FIFA's world ranking has been meteoric, going from a lowly 53 in the world when they started World Cup qualifying to fifth when they booked their ticket to Brazil after an unbeaten campaign.
Older fans will remember the fine Belgium sides of the 1970s and 1980s, including the one featuring Jean-Marie Pfaff, Jan Ceulemans and Enzo Scifo that reached the world cup semi-finals in 1986.
In part the current crop appears so good because the Belgian team has been so bad for the past decade.
Success has come as a group of players now in their early 20s has strengthened a core with plenty of international experience, but lacking the ability in the past to finish off weaker opponents.
For many in Belgium, a 4-2 defeat of closest rivals Netherlands in August 2012 was the trigger for a change of mentality and a surge of self-belief.
Detractors would point to Belgium's struggle at times to find the back of the net, including their recent 2-0 loss to Colombia and a lack of match time, in particular for Chelsea's Kevin De Bruyne.
Kompany's susceptibility to injury could also harm their prospects.
Coach: Marc Wilmots A dogged midfielder, dubbed 'Kampfschwein' (fighting pig) by adoring fans of German side Schalke 04 with whom he won the UEFA Cup in 1997. Wilmots scored 28 times in 70 appearances for Belgium and appeared at three World Cups.
After retirement, the 44-year-old dabbled in politics and also began coaching, although his first role at lowly St Truiden lasted just eight months.
The turnaround occurred in 2009, when Dick Advocaat took him on as assistant to the national team, a post he retained under the Dutchman's successor Georges Leekens.
Questions were raised when Wilmots replaced Leekens in May 2012, but he has managed to infuse the team with spirit and belief, some tactical nous and formed an ability successfully to adjust his team according to the opponent.
Key player: Eden Hazard Despite plenty of promise, Belgium have struggled to score in the face of organised defences, but in Chelsea's Hazard they have someone with the skill to dribble through a defensive wall or deliver the last vital pass.
Under former coach Leekens, Hazard struggled to replicate the form he displayed at then club side Lille that twice won him French league player of the season. He made headlines when, after being substituted in a home tie against Turkey in 2011, he was spotted eating a hamburger outside the stadium while the match was still in progress.
In Wilmots, Hazard has gained a mentor and someone who will put his arm around his star talent to confide and encourage him.
Hazard has rewarded the trust placed in him, notably in the home qualifier against a stubborn Macedonia, by creating a moment of magic to score the winner.
Wilmots is thought to be considering him for the playmaking number 10 role, more central than his position at Chelsea, but the jury is still out on his value there.
How they qualified: European Group A winners 2012 Sept 7 Wales A W 2-0 Kompany, Vertonghen Sept 11 Croatia H D 1-1 Gillet Oct 12 Serbia A W 3-0 Benteke, De Bruyne, Mirallas Oct 16 Scotland H W 2-0 Benteke, Kompany 2013 Mar 22 Macedonia A W 2-0 De Bruyne, Hazard Mar 26 Macedonia H W 1-0 Hazard June 7 Serbia H W 2-1 De Bruyne, Fellaini Sept 6 Scotland A W 2-0 Defour, Mirallas Oct 11 Croatia A W 2-1 Lukaku (2) Oct 15 Wales H D 1-1 De Bruyne Previous World Cup appearances: 11 (1930, 1934, 1938, 1954, 1970, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002) Best performance: Semi-finalists 1986 Odds: William Hill odds to win World Cup (Nov 2013): 16-1 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- BRAZIL Factbox on World Cup hosts Brazil: Form and prospects One year ago it would have been foolish to cite Brazil as one of the favourites for the World Cup, even though they are the only team to win the trophy five times and are playing it on home soil.
After being knocked out of the tournament at the quarter final stage in 2010, coach Dunga stepped down to be replaced by Mano Menezes, but the former Corinthians boss never quite got his team playing the pressing, possession game he wished.
His team were knocked out the Copa America at the quarter-final stage by Paraguay in 2011 and a year later his under-23 side once again failed to win the Olympic gold in meekly capitulating to Mexico in the Wembley final.
That all changed in 2013. Fans' favourite Luiz Felipe Scolari replaced Menezes and within months Brazil were back playing something resembling the scintillating football for which they are famous.
Menezes did a fine job in 'blooding' youngsters such as Neymar, Oscar and David Luiz, but there was always a sense they lacked an experienced leader. 'Felipao' introduced a few older heads and some steel, recalling Julio Cesar, Kaka, Robinho and Fred, and in doing so gave those players barely out of their teens some experienced heads to turn to.
The team now not only has more experience, it also has an established spine. Julio Cesar is first choice in goal; David Luiz and Thiago Silva are unchallenged as the two main central defenders; Paulinho mans the engine room in central midfield; and Neymar and Fred operate up front.
They have responded to Felipao's promptings, surprising even their biggest fans with a series of fine displays at the Confederations Cup in June. If they were good in the early round, harassing their opponents from the off and scoring nine goals in three games, they really showed their mettle in the semi's, surviving an early scare against Uruguay, before comprehensively beating world champions Spain in an unforgettable final at the Maracana.
Felipao's Brazil has come on leaps and bounds over the past 12 months and is now a firm favourite to lift a sixth title next July.
Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari When the Brazilian football federation dismissed coach Mano Menezes in November last year, there was only one man who was ever going to take his place and sure enough within days Luiz Felipe Scolari was unveiled as the man charged with taking Brazil to its sixth World Cup.
Scolari certainly knows the ropes, having led Brazil to its fifth title in 2002. The no-nonsense Scolari was hired not just for his winning record, but for also his reputation as a coach who can whip his charges into shape.
Demanding but fiercely loyal, his 2002 squad became known as the Scolari Family, with Felipao as the 'hard on the outside, soft on the inside' father figure.
In just six months he transformed Menezes' improving, but fragile team into a faster, stronger and more coherent unit.
Scolari is also someone who knows how to play to a gallery and he has worked hard to get Brazil's often fickle fans - and their even more fickle media - behind the team.
Barring a total collapse, his legend shouldn't be at risk in 2014. But he knows the bar is set high and is not shirking from the responsibility.
"Let me be clear," he said on taking over the manager's mantle. "It is our duty to win the World Cup at home."
Key Player: Neymar Brazil's hopes rest on the skinny shoulders of Neymar, the 21-year old Barcelona striker whose talent and fame spread worldwide in 2013.
Brazilian fans have known Neymar was something special since 2011, when he led Santos to its first Copa Libertadores since 1963, the year a young man called Pele wore the famous white shirt.
But the rest of the world wanted to see him turn it on against the best Europe has to offer. Neymar did that this year: first when he led Brazil to success in the Confederations Cup; and then with a series of impressively mature performances for new club Barcelona, who he joined for a reported 57 million Euros in May.
Neymar will still be only 22 when the World Cup kicks off, but few people doubt he has the maturity or experience, not to mention the wide array of tricks and skills, to lead his compatriots in front of a home crowd that will be as demanding as they are passionate.
How they qualified: As hosts. Brazil were awarded the right to stage the finals by FIFA on Oct.30 2007 as the only nominated candidate from the South American confederation CONMEBOL.
World Cup record: Brazil are the only country to have taken part in all of the previous 19 tournaments Best performances: Winners: 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002 Runners-up: 1950, 1998 William Hill Odds to win World Cup (Nov 2013): 10/3 ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- COLOMBIA Factbox on World Cup qualifiers Colombia: Form and Prospects Colombia returned to a World Cup finals after a 16-year absence because of their second place finish in the South American qualifiers, behind Argentina.
The team, under Jose Pekerman, displayed great attacking power supplied by Falcao, Teofilo Gutierrez and Dorlan Pabon, as well as solid defensive strength to end an agonising wait.
They finished the 16-match group with the best defence, conceding only 13 goals and marshalled by veteran Mario Yepes and Luis Amaranto Perea; David Ospina was in goal.
After a shaky start, Pekerman took charge of the team which went on to win five of the next six matches to be on qualification course for Brazil.
The team display the traditional ball possession game of Colombian football, but with a renewed tactical approach.
James Rodriguez has proved a key component in Colombia's gameplan as the Monaco midfielder shows great tactical acumen to go with his attacking skills.
Colombia are fourth in the FIFA rankings. They will try to go beyond the last 16, their best performance in a World Cup in 1990.
Coach: Jose Pekerman The 64-year old Argentine took over in January 2012, succeeding Leonel Alvarez, when Colombia were in a precarious situation in the qualifiers after collecting only four points from their first three matches.
His arrival triggered a turnaround and Pekerman developed a strong and confident team that showed a new game built around their attacking strengths.
He did not make wholesale changes and got the best out of his players.
A landmark change was the faith he put in Falcao, who was not a regular in the starting line-up under Alvarez and was criticised for not being as successful as he was with Atletico Madrid, his club at the time.
Pekerman was in charge of the Argentina team that made it to the last eight in the 2006 World Cup and the challenge for him now is to better that record with Colombia.
Key player: Radamel Falcao Since leaving Argentine side River Plate and signing for Porto in 2009, Radamel Falcao Garcia has become one of the most feared forwards in the world.
'Tiger' Falcao has won seven local and three international titles with Porto and Atletico Madrid and was the Europa League's top scorer two years in a row (2011 and 2012).
The 27-year-old scored nine goals in 13 games in the South American qualifiers.
Falcao initially endured an unlucky spell, with few minutes on the pitch and one goal in five matches at the start of the campaign, but with Pekerman's arrival he transformed into a fundamental part of the team.
A very dangerous forward with great skills and a powerful header, he has scored 20 goals for Colombia in 50 matches, five goals short of the record set by Arnoldo Iguaran.
How they qualified: South American zone runners-up 2011 Oct 11 Bolivia A W 2-1 Dorlan Pabon, Falcao Nov 11 Venezuela H D 1-1 Fredy Guarin Nov 15 Argentina H L 2-1 Dorlan Pabon 2012 June 3 Peru A W 1-0 James Rodriguez June 10 Ecuador A L 1-0 Sept 7 Uruguay H W 4-0 Teofilo Gutierrez 2, Falcao, Juan Zuniga Sept 11 Chile A W 3-1 James Rodriguez, Falcao, Teofilo, Gutierrez Oct 12 Paraguay H W 2-0 Falcao 2 2013 March 22 Bolivia H W 5-0 Macnelly Torres, Carlos Valdez, Teofilo Gutierrez, Falcao, Pablo Armero March 26 Venezuela A L 1-0 June 7 Argentina A D 0-0 June 11 Peru H W 2-0 Falcao (pen), Teofilo Gutierrez Sept 6 Ecuador H W 1-0 James Rodriguez Sept 10 Uruguay A L 2-0 Oct 11 Chile H D 3-3 Teofilo Gutierrez, Falcao 2 (pens) Oct 15 Paraguay A W 2-1 Mario Yepes 2 World Cup record: Previous appearances: 4 (1962, 1990, 1994, 1998) Best performance: Last 16 (1990) Odds: William Hill odds to win World Cup (Nov 2013): 16-1
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