2014 World Cup: 5 Teams That Stand in the Way Of a Brazil-Spain Final
Whether you were pulling for Brazil's fast-paced attack or Spain's meticulous strategic advances Sunday, chances are the thought eventually crossed your mind: is this an inevitable preview of next year's World Cup final? There's no denying the status of Spain and Brazil as two of the world's premiere teams, and with Confeds all wrapped up, perhaps it's already time to look forward to seeing these two again next summer.
There's still plenty of talent in the expected World Cup pool, and of course nothing is a lock in world football's biggest stage. Which countries threaten a reprise of Sunday's final? Five come to mind right now.
The recipients of the Confeds Cup bronze are an obvious choice to disrupt this rematch. Italy finished third despite Mario Balotelli's nagging thigh injury, and the 2012 UEFA runners-up have had plenty of success in recent World Cups. With a 4-2-0 record in qualifying matches, Italy will shoulder big expectations next summer.
Gianluigi Buffon is still dominant in the box, and Italy will have plenty of firepower with Balotelli, Alessandro Del Piero, Ricardo Montolivio, and Fabio Borini. Gli Azzurri is a veritable threat who could definitely reach the final if Buffon plays at a high level.
Germany's coasted to a 5-1-0 spot in qualifying matches and lead group C by a healthy eight points. The team ripped 15 consecutive wins in international football before falling to Italy in last year's UEFA semis, and figure to be hungry without a World Cup title in 23 years.
Mesut Ozil is an all-world talent, Mario Gomez is a fantastic finisher and keeper Manuel Neuer allowed a combined two goals to the "Group of Death" in last year's UEFA Championship. Tack on standouts Mats Hummels and Bastian Schweinsteiger and Germany's garnering some serious momentum heading into next summer.
Two words: Lionel Messi. Though Brazil has the attention of South American football right now, Messi and Argentina are not to be trifled with.
Striker Sergio Aguero is agile up front, while Javier Mascherano is one of the best central midfielders in the game. Messi can take over a match at any point with his dynamic offense, and Sergio Romero is an athletic goalie with prior World Cup experience.
Argentina's four-pronged offensive attack and defensive depth make it likely to go all the way at the Maracana.
After reaching the final in South Africa in 2010, the Netherlands are toeing the line between experienced and old. The Oranje is headlined by Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, three stars who occasionally let their egos get the best of them.
Despite a weak showing at the 2012 UEFA matches, the Netherlands have outscored their qualifying opponents by a combined score of 20-6.
An uncommon name in a list like this. Colombia's been red-hot of late after a fantastic qualifying campaign. Radamel Falcao is as dynamic as anyone in the sport, and Los Cafeteros have surged to seventh in the world football rankings after failing to make the three previous World Cups.
True, they're unproven on a major stage, but Colombia will have a quasi-home field advantage with the games being played in South America. Teofilo Gutierrez adds another scoring threat, and though perennial powers Portugal, France, and England could be in this conversation, you have to like Colombia's sudden resurgence and motivated play.