Soccer News of Thu, 12 Jun 20143
World Cup 2014: Profiles of every team in Brazil
The hosts are one of the favourites for the tournament and boast an 11-year unbeaten record on home soil, but Brazil will be looking to banish memories of hosting the 1950 World Cup, when they were beaten by Uruguay in the final game.
The flicks and tricks remain second nature, but this Brazil side is also resilient and well organised, moulded by the pragmatism of 2002 World Cup winning-coach Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Scolari has the required major tournament know-how, the players are talented and well-drilled, a passionate home crowd will surely inspire the team and even the iconic yellow jerseys can intimidate the opposition.
emi-finalists at the 1998 World Cup in France, Croatia have struggled on football's biggest stage ever since and only just qualified for Brazil by beating minnows Iceland in a play-off.
Mario Mandzukic, 28, averaged better than a goal every other game in 2013, helping Bayern Munich win a historic treble and top scoring for Croatia with four goals in qualifying. The goals have dried up recently, though, registering just twice in his last 11 appearances.
Bayern coach Pep Guardiola says "there is nobody better in the air in the world" than the striker, but his red card for a studs-up lunge in the play-off win over Iceland will limit his World Cup involvement.
Mexico used 47 players and four coaches in a turbulent qualifying campaign which left a host of questions unanswered.
There is undoubtedly talent within their playing pool, but the 2012 Olympic gold medallists have little time left to find a winning formula.
Only a late comeback from the USA against Panama saved El Tri from elimination in the final round of Concacaf qualifiers. That set up a two-legged tie against New Zealand, which they won 9-3 on aggregate.
It is a long time since Cameroon lived up to their nickname of Indomitable Lions.
They have failed to qualify for the last two Africa Cup of Nations amid player friction and discontent with Cameroon's football federation, which was briefly suspended by Fifa last July because of government interference.
The national side is top-heavy with defensive midfielders but lacking in creativity, to the extent that Barcelona's Alex Song has been deployed in an unfamiliar role as playmaker.
2010 World Cup final hero Andres Iniesta remains a vital part of a star-studded Spanish midfield that will hope to lead their country to back-to-back titles.
The defending champions were unbeaten in a qualifying group that also featured France, but suffered a 3-0 loss to World Cup hosts Brazil in the Confederations Cup final last year.
Vicente Del Bosque is aiming to become only the second coach in history to win successive World Cups.
The Netherlands all-time leading scorer Robin van Persie will be a key part of his country's hopes to go one step further in Brazil.
The Manchester United striker was also the top scorer in European qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, as the Dutch went through undefeated with nine wins and a draw.
As ever with the Dutch at a major tournament, it is difficult to predict how they will fare. Is a front three of Arjen Robben, Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder at its peak - or a fading force?
Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez headlines a strong Chile squad at this year's World Cup, that also features Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal.
Chile, who finished third in South American qualifying to secure their spot, were boosted by a 2-0 win over England at Wembley and a 2-2 draw with Group B opponents Spain last year.
Fun to watch, tough to play against, they have the potential to reach the quarter-finals for only the second time in their history - if their best 11 stay fit.
Australia's all-time leading scorer Tim Cahill will again feature as his country makes its third straight World Cup appearance in Brazil.
The Socceroos had mixed results during qualifying, but eventually booked their place in their final group match, finishing second behind Japan.
Australia are the lowest ranked country to qualify, and the remit for new coach Ange Postecoglou is to bring through the youth.
Colombia will feature in their first World Cup for 16 years after qualifying second to Argentina with 30 points. Highlights from their campaign include a 4-0 win over Uruguay and a 3-1 victory in Chile.
Radamel Falcao will be the one to watch along with his Monaco team-mate James Rodriguez.
Conditions in Brazil may also suit them. They played qualifiers in the sweltering Caribbean port of Barranquilla, opting for mid-afternoon kick-offs in the belief rivals would wilt in the heat.
Greece head into the World Cup with plenty of confidence despite having to qualify through the play-offs.
Fernando Santos's side will want to go a step further than they did in South Africa in 2010 and reach the knockout stage of the competition for the first time.
Greece conceded four times in their qualifying group, a record bettered only by Spain. The bookies rate them as Europe's weakest side in Brazil but it is worth recalling they upset Russia to reach the quarter-finals at Euro 2012.
Salomon Kalou's winner against Senegal in the play-offs sent the African side into their third consecutive World Cup.
Ivory Coast harbour some very talented players including the country's all-time top goalscorer Didier Drogba and Manchester City's powerhouse Yaya Toure.
The Ivorians' golden generation now has a distinctly greyish tinge, and this tournament is set to be the last of Drogba's international career. Their talented squad has flattered to deceive, with their failure to win at least one Africa Cup of Nations particularly mystifying.
Expect the unexpected from the technically gifted yet defensively susceptible Asian champions.
They breezed through qualifying but exited the Confederations Cup with three defeats. Losses to Serbia and Belarus then led to calls to sack coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
November's draw in the Netherlands and a win in Belgium have revived hopes that Japan could yet be a surprise package.
The 2011 Copa America winners will be hoping for a repeat performance of the 1950 World Cup in Brazil when they beat the hosts in the final match to win the tournament.
Liverpool striker Luis Suarez has been named in Uruguay's 23-man World Cup squad, despite his recent knee surgery.
Suarez, 27, had an operation on 22 May to repair meniscus damage, but hopes to play in his country's opening Group D match, against Costa Rica on 14 June.
Costa Rica secured World Cup qualification with two games to spare, winning all their home games. However, it has been 24 years since they have reached the knock-out stages.
Arguably the most talented Costa Rica squad ever assembled for a World Cup, they can consider themselves unlucky to have been drawn in Group D. There's a smattering of talent within the squad but heads could drop if they go a goal down.
It is a second spell in charge for Colombian Jorge Luis Pinto, who was fired during qualifying for the 2006 World Cup. He has given Costa Rica an identity, given them confidence and made them difficult to break down.
For once England arrive at a major tournament with little expectation. The ride has been uncomfortable at times, a little out of control and the engine prone to overheating. Then again it might just be a decent run-out, with more fuel in the tank than expected because of low mileage and plenty of scenery to enjoy along the way.
Led by Roy Hodgson, the first English coach to lead England in a World Cup for 16 years, there is pressure on the Three Lions to at least continue proud traditions. Only twice before have they failed to make it out of the group stage of a World Cup, in 1950 and 1958, the former of which was held in Brazil.
Italy were undefeated in their qualification matches for the tournament, and manager Cesare Prandelli will hope striker Mario Balotelli can repeat his attacking form when he scored five goals in five games en route to the finals.
If Italy win in Brazil, they would equal the host's record for the most World Cup finals ever won.
Prandelli's Italy know how to make it to the latter stages of tournaments; runners-up at Euro 2012, third-place at the Confederations Cup. They may not be seeded but they are in all but name.
The Swiss have several talented youngsters coming through from the sides that won the Under-17 World Cup in 2007 and reached the final at the 2011 European Under-21 Championship.
Switzerland's perfectly-timed rise to become one of the seeded nations for the World Cup is founded on a resilient defence, with two central midfielders shielding the back four.
A record of nine clean sheets in Switzerland's last 15 matches - including in a 1-0 win over Brazil - is testament to the strength of their aforementioned defence.
During qualifying Ecuador only dropped two points at home, against Argentina, but failed to win a single away game taking just three points from those eight matches.
There's no doubting Ecuador have talented attacking players but there is a lack of top-class defenders. Their results away from Quito, the altitude sickness-inducing capital, do not bode well either.
They only dropped two points at home, against Argentina, but failed to win a single away qualifier, taking just three points from those eight games.
At the last four World Cups France have either failed to win a game (2002, 2010) or reach the final (1998, 2006).
That Jekyll and Hyde streak remains. Daily sports newspaper L'Equipe asked "is this the worst French team in history?" after a first leg defeat in their play-off with Ukraine.
The headline which then followed a rousing second-leg comeback read simply: "Respect."
Honduras have qualified for back-to-back World Cups for the first time in their history but are yet to win a match in their two previous appearances, in 1982 and 2010.
The squad lacks real pedigree, and they are one of the tournament's outsiders.
Their lack of technical ability could be partly compensated for by familiarity with the hot and humid conditions expected in parts of Brazil.
Argentina pose one of the greatest attacking threats in the tournament, with the likes of Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero.
They often fielded a bold 4-3-3 formation in qualifying, although a more conservative 5-3-2 was deployed for tricky away fixtures.
But with Angel Di Maria deployed as part of a midfield three, the formation offers little defensive protection.
Despite being the only World Cup debutants, Bosnia are odds-on with most bookies to reach the last 16 thanks to their attacking firepower and technical ability. Their cavalier tactics in qualifying - a 4-4-2 diamond - yielded 30 goals, 18 from strike duo Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic.
While the squad is overflowing with playmakers, it lacks effective ball-winners to screen the defence.
Expect them to change formation against Argentina but go for the jugular against Nigeria and Iran.
This is Iran's fourth World Cup finals and they are yet to compete in the knockout stages. They will hope the attacking threat of Fulham midfielder Ashkan Dejagah and veteran captain Javad Nekounam gets them out of the groups this time.
A predominantly domestic-based squad will do well to improve on Iran's World Cup record of one win in nine attempts.
They only conceded twice in eight matches during the final qualifying phase but stronger opponents lie ahead.
Nigeria qualified top of their qualification group before convincingly beating Ethiopia 4-1 in a play-off . Relying on their strength at the back with captain and goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, they also have striking flair with forwards Victor Moses and Peter Odemwingie.
After failing to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, the Super Eagles have undergone a radical transformation under Steven Keshi, who has sought to lower the average age of the squad.
His selection policy, at times controversial, has paid off - this year the Super Eagles won their first African title since 1994. They produced a competent showing at the Confederations Cup, but improvement is needed to reach the knockout stages in 2014.
The three-time World Cup winners topped their group in qualifying scoring 36 goals in the process.
Blessed with far more flair than many Germany sides of the past, their fluid 4-2-3-1 is underpinned by Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira anchoring the side from the base of midfield.
Ahead of them lies creative fulcrum Mesut Ozil, who is usually flanked by the dangerous Marco Reus and Thomas Muller.
Cristiano Ronaldo's four goals over two legs in their play-off match against Sweden booked Portugal's place in Brazil.
With Ronaldo in your team, the sky's the limit. However, getting out of a very tricky group will be their primary objective before they can start thinking of a potential quarter-final against Argentina.
The likes of Pepe and Joao Moutinho give them a strong spine, but they remain without a world-class striker, meaning the goalscoring burden rests with Ronaldo.
The Black Stars were fancied to repeat, or even improve on, their run to the quarter-finals in 2010 in Brazil. That was until the draw was made and they were pitted with the world's second and third-ranked sides.
However, confidence is not an issue in the Ghana camp and why should it be? Their team is packed with experience and world-class talent. Michael Essien's return has been crucial, while Asamoah Gyan's time in the Middle East hasn't blunted his goalscoring touch.
USA topped their group in qualifying to secure their seventh successive appearance at the World Cup finals.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann says the minimum aim is to reach the knockout stage. A national record 16 wins in 2013 - including against a depleted Germany - gives cause for confidence.
Defence is a concern and then there's the lack of continuity - 37 players were used in qualifying.
Despite being in a tricky group, Belgium qualified for their first finals since 2002 after remaining unbeaten during their qualifying campaign.
Belgium gave a series of controlled and powerful displays throughout qualifying. Disciplined defensively, they are prepared to be patient but look to break with pace.
They have an abundance of versatile attacking players and, crucially, a tight-knit team spirit instilled by coach Marc Wilmots.
Write off Algeria at your peril. No longer World Cup whipping boys, the Desert Foxes are boosted by a stronger professional league, improving standards at grassroots level and an influx of players with Algerian parents or ancestry.
Zinedine Zidane, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri have all previously slipped through Algeria's net. The Greens will be hoping they have turned off that particular tap that has been flowing in the direction of France, and with it enhanced their own standing in world football.
World Cup stars of yesteryear Diego Maradona and Rivaldo, as well as Javier Zanetti, have been queuing up to sing the virtues of the Greens' class of 2014 - the only Arab nation present in Brazil. Maradona predicts Algeria "will cause a surprise", while Rivaldo says "the possibilities of reaching the second round are abundant".
Fabio Capello and Russia work to each other's strengths. Of their potential starters at the World Cup, nine boast 40 caps or more. The miserly back-line predominantly come from CSKA Moscow, while perennial Champions League dark horses Zenit St Petersburg provide the rest of the spine.
For the most part, Capello only calls up Russian-based players so he has got to know his squad and their strengths quickly.
The midfield is key to them playing high-tempo, pressing football. Yet their Achilles heel can be when they are subjected to a similar style themselves.
When South Korea and Japan were awarded the 2002 World Cup as co-hosts it was with a view to spreading the football gospel. To provide better coaching, facilities and infrastructure not only for both countries but for Asian football as a whole.
South Korea certainly embraced the gift given to them by Fifa. Their coach Hong Myung-bo was part of Dutchman Guus Hiddink's fourth-placed finishers at that tournament. Two further Dutch coaches followed, as did several South Korean playing exports to western European club sides.
Once seen as whipping boys, the Taeguk Warriors are anything but these days and are seen as genuine challengers to qualify. This is their eighth consecutive World Cup finals appearance and they have progressed past the group stage in two of the last three editions.
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