Most people’s current firm favourites for any sort of international tournament, at almost any age level, are Spain – and many have backed Vicente del Bosque’s men to continue their previously unheard of domination of the international football scene when they kick off their 2014 World Cup campaign next summer.
Teams like Germany, Holland, Argentina and Italy have all been considered as contenders for the crown on offer at the Maracana on July 13 2014.
However, one national team that has constantly slipped under the radar, and is almost being considered an underdog for the tournament is, surprisingly enough, the host nation itself: Brazil.
Here’s a look at some of the reasons for which Luiz Felipe Scolari’s side should be considered favourites for the tournament.
1. Luiz Felipe Scolari
In veteran manager Scolari, Brazil have a manager who knows what it takes to win a World Cup. Admitted, he may not have the genius of Ronaldo at his disposal today, but his experience with the Brazilian national team – which he led to international glory in 2002 – and the Portuguese national team – his CV contains a Euro 2004 final appearance and a fourth-place finish in Germany in 2006 – will stand his team in good stead.
A poor start to his second period at the helm of the national squad did not bode so well but, of late, the performances have improved – and it looks like he is getting his team of superstars to gel well.
2. Home advantage
Only six World Cups have been won by the host nation – the most recent being France’s triumphant 1998 campaign – and Brazil will fancy themselves for the coming edition, mainly for the reason that most European teams are not suited to the sweltering heat and humidity of Brazilian climes.
Spain seem to have acclimatised themselves to the conditions here, but Brazil will be hoping that the weather conditions, and of course having tens of thousands of Brazilians supporting their players, will play an important role in handing the Selecao their sixth World Cup triumph.
3. A squad brimming with individual quality
It probably goes without saying, but Brazil have lived up to their mythical reputation of churning out world-class offensive players. From what we have seen, Neymar – the man entrusted with spearheading this squad’s challenge for the title – could well follow in the footsteps of legends of days gone by, like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Romario.
With a supporting cast of established stars like Hulk, David Luiz, Dani Alves and captain Thiago Silva, and young talent like Oscar, Lucas Moura and Paulinho, Brazil could well boast one of the strongest squads on display today.
4. Strength in depth
Scolari has at his disposal not just a starting XI brimming with world-class talent – or even a squad of just 23 quality players – but enough quality to form two or three national squads.
Just consider the fact that players of the quality of Rafael da Silva, Cassio, Elano, Fernandinho, Robinho, Willian, Heurelho Gomes, Ronaldinho, Sandro, Leandro Damiao, Taison, Philippe Coutinho, Ramires, Lucas Leiva, Luisao and many more are not even in the 23-man squad for the Confederations Cup.
With one more year left for players of such immense ability to prove themselves at club level, what can be guaranteed is that Scolari will have a tough job on his hands when the time to select the World Cup squad is finally at hand.
5. Ageing Italian, Spanish and English sides
While most managers always maintain that their only focus is their own squad, it cannot be questioned that it is always prudent to know your enemies better than you know yourself – which is exactly why Scolari will be encouraged that the Spanish and Italian squads are approaching the end of a cycle that has brought them immense success.
Players like Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, David Villa and Carles Puyol are not getting any younger, whereas Italian manager Cesare Prandelli will be contemplating the impending closing of the curtains for the careers of stalwarts like Andrea Pirlo, Gigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini.
While both squads probably have enough talent to replace these icons of the game (Spain certainly do) in the long run, the World Cup in 2014 probably presents to Brazil as good a chance as they will get to lift the trophy that Brazilians so enthusiastically covet.
These reasons, and many more, will be encouraging reading for Scolari and co. as they look to make the most of their current squad of brilliant talent, by bringing home the ultimate honour: the World Cup.