Germany, Spain, Italy, Brazil, France, Brazil. Germany, Argentina, Italy, Argentina, Germany. Brazil, England, Brazil, Brazil, Germany, Uruguay.
Those are the nations – only eight in total – who have won every World Cup for the past 68 years, every time sport’s pre-eminent tournament has been held since its resumption after World War II in 1950.
Anyone looking to strike a bet on this year’s tournament would probably save themselves plenty of money and headaches by not looking outside that group, which is reduced to seven by the fact that Italy has not even qualified this time round.
Seven runners in a race of 32 is, however, almost a quarter of the field, and it can probably be whittled down still further given that England and Uruguay have both won it only once, and the most recent of those was 52 years ago in England’s case.
Flashback: The German squad celebrate four years ago.
France and Spain are also singletons, but their record at major European Championships and World Cups in recent decades is much better than England’s and means they should be included on a much more manageable short list of five potential winners – those two, plus Germany, Brazil and Argentina.
The identity of the teams beaten in the final should also help focus the mind.
Starting with 2014, the runners-up in the post-war tournaments have been: Argentina, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Brazil, Italy, Argentina, Germany, Germany, the Netherlands, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Hungary and Brazil.
There are not too many clues there for someone looking for an outsider to upset the applecart.
Czechoslovakia (beaten in the 1962 final by Brazil) does not exist as a country any more, having been split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc.
The Netherlands has not qualified for this tournament.
Nor has Hungary, which has not been a factor in soccer for 60 years and more.
Sweden has, but its place on this honour roll owes much to the fact that it was the beaten finalist when it hosted the competition in 1958 when Brazil, inspired by the then 17-year-old Pele, became the only non-European country to lift the trophy in Europe.
There are other demographic factors that invariably point to the identity of the winner.
Triumphant nations tend to have large populations, at least 50 million – something else that rules out Uruguay, although their overall economic strength is not necessarily an indicator of their place in football’s pecking order.
What they must have, however, is a large base of players and strength in depth.
Only rarely (maybe 1986, when Diego Maradona inspired a competent though far from dominant Argentina side to victory) can a single individual sway things in favour of his team.
Looking at the shortlist and pruning it further, Argentina should be crossed off.
Lionel Messi has not been able to inspire them to the ultimate triumph in the past – he was largely anonymous in the 2014 final – and brilliant though he is, he and many of the men who made the decider four years ago are now older and not necessarily any better than they were then.
They might be worth risking this time and could struggle to make the semi-finals.
That leaves four.
Spain can take some succour from the experience of France, who won the title in 1998, were awful in 2002, then reached the final in 2006.
But they, too, are an ageing team – many of the heroes of 2010 are still around eight years later – and while they can be expected to come together for one last hurrah they might not quite have what it takes to win.
France will be keen to exorcise the disappointment of their 2016 European Championships campaign, when they reached the final as hosts. But the expected coronation in Paris did not occur as they were beaten by the Portuguese in the semi-final.
France’s Paul Pogba.
Les Bleus have rebuilt since then, and high-quality players such as Anthony Martial and Karim Benzema have not even made the squad, displaced by exciting youngsters such as PSG’s Kylian Mbappe.
Didier Deschamps’ team could go all the way, but they, like Spain, may find getting past the semi-finals beyond them.
That leaves Brazil and Germany, the two countries who tick most of the boxes: large populations, strength in depth, a winning mentality, great tournament experience and recent winning form.
These are the only two countries to have ever won the World Cup on a different continent.
Brazil did so in 1958, in Sweden, while Germany equalled that achievement in 2014, when they won at the Maracana in Rio.
Joachim Low’s men were imperious in qualifying and proved that playing in Russia posed no problems for them when they won the Confederations Cup last year, defeating Australia, among others, with what effectively amounted to a second string squad.
It’s hard not to see Die Mannschaft taking the title once more, taking their haul of World Cups to five.
Germany’s head coach Joachim Loew after the 2014 triumph.
England has a history of flattering to deceive, and it is hard to see this workmanlike group of players – good going forward but questionable at the back – getting further than the quarter-finals.
Uruguay should be competitive, but the last eight may be the summit of their ambitions too.
Belgium could be the nation to break all the trends given the array of talented players at the disposal of coach Roberto Martinez, but for some reason the Belgians rarely seem to put it all together in major tournaments.
If there are to be some shocks they will come with a handful of nations underperforming, and a few playing beyond expectations.
This time round Portugal, who surprised when winning the European championships, might find things tougher than expected in the group phase, while Poland, who might be flattered by their high ranking, could also experience some difficulties.
If there is to be a bolter from Africa or Asia perhaps Senegal or Egypt represents the best hope from the first federation, and Iran, who often promise much but don’t deliver, from the second.
And the Socceroos? Hopes have been raised by that win over the Czechs, which was as impressive as the scoreline against Norway was disappointing in March.
Bert van Marwijk will have them organised and disciplined, and if they can keep things tight against France they will hope that they can grab a win against Denmark or Peru to take them through to the knockout phase.
The odds are against, but they are in there and pitching. And there are many leading soccer nations who would trade places at a moment’s notice: just ask fans of Italy and the Netherlands for starters.
Source: Read Full Article