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South American Domination in Rio

    There is nothing like it.  Nothing comes close to the emotions that a World Cup awakens. The anticipation, the nerves, the passion, and the hopes and dreams created are unmatched. The whole world will be watching as 32 countries compete on soccers biggest stage.

    It is the place where legends are made and legacies cemented. The place where Pele and Maradona became the greatest players of all time and villains like Roberto Baggio were created.

     From June 12 to July 13, the World Cup tournament will once again return to Brazil after 64 years, when it hosted its only other World Cup in 1950.  The tournament also comes back to South America after 36 years, when Argentina won its first title as the host in 1978.

    Twelve stadiums in 12 different cities, each the capital of its state, will host the 64 games.. The 32 national teams are separated into eight groups of four, and they will travel to different stadiums for each of their three group stage matches, the two best teams will advance into the knockout stages of the tournament.

    For a tournament with such importance and popularity, the thing that stands out the most is the lack of parity that exists between the participants. The goals and aspirations for each of the 32 teams in the tournament can be worlds apart.

    For a team like Bosnia-Herzegovina, that is debuting in a world cup, just qualifying is a major victory and getting a single win in one of their three group stage matches will suffice to make the experience a good one.

    Other teams such as Mexico or the United States have their sights on just getting out of the group stage and reaching the quarterfinals, but for teams such as Germany, Brazil and Argentina, anything other than a spot in the championship game would probably be considered a failure.

    The Favorites

    Many teams are going to Brazil with a winning mentality and the idea that anything is possible.  The reality is that there are only a handful of teams that have a real chance of getting to the final on July 13.  Brazil, Argentinaand Germany are really the only teams that pose a threat to Spains bid of being the first European team to win on foreign soil, being just the third team to repeat, and the first to win four major trophies in a row.

    Brazil holds the record for the most world cup championships with five and they will be at home.  Germany has won the tournament three times and has reached the quarterfinals of every World Cup since 1954.  Two-time World Cup Champion Argentina has one of the best players the world has ever seen, but also a plethora of talent, especially upfront.

    Of course, like it happens every four years, there will be surprises with teams under and overachieving.  But when its all said and done and all the smoke clears, the tournament is about these four and just these four.

    The Others

    There are teams that have talent and the potential to complicate the road to the Maracana, the stadium in which the final will be played.  Teams such as England, France, Uruguay and Portugal always seem to have plenty of individual talent, but struggle to put it together as a team.  If these teams  do perform to their potential, they have a chance of upsetting any of the top four favorites, like Uruguay did four years ago.

    Italy is a team that is usually in contention to win the cup, but with a team that has struggled as of late, key players such as striker Mario Ballotelli having the worst year of his career and Captain Riccardo Montolivo being injured. In a very competitive group, the Italians are a serious candidate to be one of the major disappointments for Brazil. 

    The Netherlands, runners up to Spain four years ago in South Africa, also come into the world cup with doubts.  Injuries, aging stars and lack of depth also make the Orange Machine a very possible early departure.

    The Dark Horse

    Group H is the place to find the surprises of the tournament, Russia and Belgium have the potential to surprise. The Russians return to the World Cup after missing out on the last two.  They are a very disciplined and are a well-coached team.  Coach Fabio Capello, whos coached teams such as Real Madrid, Milan and the British at the last world cup, quietly led Russia to qualify over Portugal, and now he has had extra time to work with his team since the Russian league ended almost two months ago.

    Belgium has become everybodys pick to make some noise this summer, therefore they should probably be disqualified as a dark horse.  Still for a European nation who was absent in the last four world cups, a deep run in Brazil would be quite a surprise.

    This Belgian golden generation, with players such as goalkeeper Thibaut Cortouis, Vincent Kompany, Axel WItsel, Eden Hazard and Lukaku, will try to at least match what its previous golden generation did. In 1978, at Belgiums last world cup, they made it all the way to the semifinals, where they lost to hosts and eventual champions Argentina.

    Two others team that deserve consideration are Colombia and Chile. Both teams are not usually as attractive, but the fact that the tournament will be held in their backyards should give them an advantage when it comes to the climate and crowd support.  In addition to those factors, is the fact that they do have key talent playing in Europe, such as Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez, who could be one of the major stars this summer, for Chile.

    Colombia suffered two major losses because of an injury to Luis Perea, veteran defender, as well as with their best player, striker Radamel Falcao.  Still a roster stacked with European players such as Fredy Guarin, Cuadrado and Jackson Martinez has the potential to be impressive.

    The Group of Death

    There’s always one.  The World Cup would not be the World Cup without a group of death. When there are multiple historically good teams with similar levels, it becomes almost impossible to pick who will go through.  This year there are a couple of candidates that look to take the title.  Group B consists of Spain and Netherlands, who played in the last World Cup final, and the potential-filled Chile, who has the great advantage of location.  Then there is Group G, which has Germany as the favorite, but an argument could be made for any of the other three, Ghana, Portugal or the U.S. to win the second spot.

    The title of Group of Death has to probably go to Group D though, in which England, Italy and Uruguay have all won at least one World Cup already, and would become one of the biggest disappointments of the whole tournament if eliminated.

    The Champion

    The champion will be from a  South American country.  In the previous four South American World Cups, the victor has always been South American.  Europeans have never won a tournament outside of Europe.  The last time the World Cup was held in Brazil, the host made it all the way to the final, where massive underdog and neighbor Uruguay upset them.

    Brazil will once again reach the final, in Maracana, in front of its people, against another South American country, and once again they will fall short.

    The difference will be that this time it wont be Uruguay, but Brazils biggest rival, their hated enemy Argentina.  Wouldnt that be something–Brazil and Argentina at Maracana, Messi against Neymar, the new Maradona against the next Pele.

    There will be no bigger game, ever.  The aftermath will be unimaginable.  For Argentina, Brazil 2014 wont really start until the round of 16, because of the little competition they have to face in group F.  Coach Alejandro Sabella and his pupils should be able to use this time to fine tune their game and reach the second round–the critical part of the competition at full strength.  Led by Messi, the best player I have ever seen, this is the new generation of Argentine footballers.

    Players, who have grown with Messi, have learned to admire and follow his lead, not challenge or doubt.  Argentina is a team rich with attacking talent, like that of Angel Di Maria, who just finished a season of being the most important player at Real Madrid, and Manchester Citys Sergio Aguero. 

    Just like with Brazil, the expectations for Argentina are great, the pressure is even greater, but that is exactly when the great players, the generational players, step up and become legends.  Thats exactly what Messi will do, and Argentina will celebrate, unfortunately at the expense of Brazil.

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