We now know the 32 teams that will grace the world’s biggest sporting event, the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. But who are the teams that harbour genuine ambitions of winning this most prestigious prize? Let’s take a look at them.
Alves – Luiz – Silva – Marcelo
Hernanes – Paulinho
Hulk – Oscar – Neymar
Strengths: Home advantage, which as we saw at the Confederations Cup, was a major factor in their victory, as the European teams struggled in the humid conditions. They also boast an impressive array of creative, skillful midfielders – the likes of Lucas Moura, Willian and Bernard in reserve, and two extremely effective full backs in Alves and Marcelo.
Weaknesses: David Luiz. Probably the most polarising footballer of modern times, the Chelsea man is capable of sensational defending – see his goal line clearance in the Confederations Cup final – and moments of equally sensational lunacy. One slip up from him could cost Brazil big time against the likes of Spain, Germany or Argentina. Brazil also lack a genuine world class striker – the likes of Fred, Pato, Damiao and Jo are capable, but not on the same level as some of their competitors.
The Next Big Thing: Marquinhos. The then-19-year-old had only spent one season in Europe for Roma before PSG spent an eye-watering £32 million on him. One of the world’s most promising defenders.
If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Joffrey Baratheon. Sitting pretty on their home turf, daring anyone to come and get them.
Arbeloa – Ramos – Pique – Alba
Xavi – Busquets – Iniesta
Pedro – Fabregas – Silva
Strengths: Quite simply the best midfield in world football. When the likes of Mata, Cazorla, Isco and Thiago are far from certain of being in the squad, when they would be the main man for most other countries, you know this is a squad that means business.
Weaknesses: Lack of a quality right back. Spain also have a tendency to try and pass the ball into the net, meaning all their possession doesn’t get them anywhere.
The Next Big Thing: Isco. The Real Madrid man would be a definite starter for anyone else, but he should be a regular for Spain in 2 or 3 years as Xavi and Iniesta start to fade out.
If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Stannis Baratheon. They see themselves as the number one, and they are not afraid to take the fight to Brazil.
Boateng – Hummels – Mertesacker – Lahm
Schweinsteiger – Kroos
Muller – Ozil – Reus
Strengths: Versatility – in Gomez and Klose they have 2 very clinical strikers, but they have also been experimenting with Mario Gotze as a false 9, meaning they have 2 potential systems they can use.
Weaknesses: Unlike Brazil and Spain, they weren’t at the Confederations Cup last summer, so they might not be prepared for the conditions.
The Next Big Thing: Julian Draxler. The youngest player to reach 100 Bundesliga appearances is currently the star man at Schalke, but expect him to make a big money move soon.
If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Daenerys Targaryen. Nice to look at, they are quietly assembling an army to match any other.
Zabaleta – Mascherano – Garay – Ansaldi
Di Maria – Biglia – Banega – Lavezzi
Messi – Aguero
Strengths: The best player in the world on form, Lionel Messi, and the best range of striking options of any nation – Aguero, Higuain, Tevez and Palacio. Their defense is also better than it has been in recent tournaments.
Weaknesses: The centre of midfield isn’t likely to scare many of the other contenders.
The Next Big Thing: Erik Lamela. The Spurs man has yet to show his full ability in the Premier League, but we know from his last season at Roma, that this boy has bags of potential.
If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Renly Baratheon. Attempting to usurp their big brother, they have all the power of Messi behind them, but will it be enough?
Abate – Barzagli – Chiellini – Criscito
Pirlo – De Rossi – Marchisio
Balotelli – Rossi
Strengths: No longer reliant on Mad Mario for goals, the resurgence of Giuseppe Rossi, and the exciting young talents of Insigne and El Shaarawy mean they have more than one man to bail them out if need be.
Weaknesses: Surprisingly for an Italian team, the defense is the area that could do with improvement. The full backs in particular, while decent, are not of world class calibre.
The Next Big Thing: Marco Verratti. The PSG man has been one of the world’s most promising youngsters for a long time now, and is starting to deliver on that potential in France.
If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Balon Greyjoy. Learnt from the experience of their last attempted uprising in 2012, they are back with a vengeance.
M. Pereira – Godin – Lugano – Caceres
Ramirez – Gargano – Gonzalez – A. Pereira
Cavani – Suarez
Strengths: Two world class strikers who can win games on their own with a moment of magic.
Weaknesses: Midfield is lacking in the creative ability that other nations have.
The Next Big Thing: Abel Hernandez. Has been hyped up for a few years now, but needs to start delivering on it. Relegated last season with Palermo, he is scoring freely in Serie B, but can he step up to the main stage?
If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Robb Stark. King of their own kingdom at the last Copa America, but can they win on the biggest stage of all?
Alderweireld – Kompany – Vermaelen – Vertonghen
Witsel – De Bruyne – Dembele
Mirallas – Lukaku – Hazard
Strengths: A very solid looking defence, with several of the Premier League’s very finest on show. The midfield is also looking powerful and creative, and Lukaku, Benteke and Hazard are among the most promising young attackers in world football
Weaknesses: Can they cope with the great expectation on their shoulders? Quite a young squad, if they can deal with the pressure and play to their best they could go far.
The Next Big Thing: Adnan Januzaj. Assuming he opts to play for the country of his birth, the youngster who has broken into Man Utd’s first team has bags of potential.
If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Arya Stark. Young and full of enthusiasm, they could go on to be one of the finest teams there is.
Zuniga – Zapata – Alvarez – Armero
Cuadrado – Guarin – Aguilar – James Rodriguez
Falcao – Martinez
Strengths: In Falcao, Martinez and Muriel they have 3 incredibly clinical strikers, who scored 65 league goals between them last season.
Weaknesses – The full backs Zuniga and Armero are most accustomed to playing as wing backs, and can be vulnerable defensively.
The Next Big Thing: Juan Fernando Quintero. Recently signed for Porto on the back of some good performances for a poor Pescara team in Serie A, and an incredible under-20 tournament in January.
If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: The White Walkers. Back after an extended absence, they will take the world by storm if no one stops them.
Richards – Cahill – Lescott – Baines
Gerrard – Wilshere
Lennon – Rooney – Townsend
Strengths: An excellent range of pacey, skilful wingers who could torment most defences.
Weaknesses: A defence with very little international experience. Also, Wayne Rooney was the main man in qualifying, but he has yet to score a single goal at a World Cup finals. For England to get anywhere, he needs to perform.
The Next Big Thing: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. After bursting onto the scene at Euro 2012, his career has been rather stop-start since then due to niggling injuries, but he is still young enough to become an excellent player.
If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Sansa Stark. They once dreamt of being the best, but they’ve now accepted the cruel reality of world football.
Pereira – Pepe – Bruno Alves – Coentrao
Moutinho – Veloso – Meireles
Nani – Postiga – Ronaldo
Strengths: Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player in the world right now, and as we saw in the playoffs, can easily win games on his own.
Weaknesses: No quality strikers whatsoever, Postiga and Almeida are nothing better than average.
The Next Big Thing: Bruma. He left Sporting Lisbon for Galatasaray in acrimonious circumstances, but was another who impressed at the under-20 tournament. Has been called the next Ronaldo.
If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Roose Bolton. A smaller country, dragged to the top table of football by their ruthless and powerful captain.
Sagna – Varane – Koscielny – Evra
Pogba – Cabaye
Valbuena – Nasri – Ribery
Strengths: Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri are among the best in the business, they just don’t often show it in a French shirt. If they all play to their best, France will be a force to be reckoned with.
Weaknesses: Too often the big French players let them down on the big stage. Their last world cup was marred by in-fighting. Also, being in the 3rd pot for the group draw leaves them with a chance of being in a group of death.
The Next Big Thing: Florian Thauvin was a major force behind their under-20 tournament triumph. Also, watch out for young defenders Kurt Zouma, Samuel Umtiti and Lucas Digne.
If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Jaime Lannister. Capable of great things, they need to stop making excuses, step up and make their ability count.
van der Wiel – Heitinga – Bruma – Pieters
Robben – Van der Vaart – De Jong – Sneijder
Van Persie – Huntelaar
Strengths: Exceptionally experienced midfield and striking talents, especially Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie. And after the disaster of Euro 2012, they will want to show they are still a main player on the biggest stage.
Weaknesses: As always, the defence is far behind the rest of the team in terms of ability.
The Next Big Thing: Adam Maher. Another talented young midfielder who has made his name in the Eredivise, he has already been part of the main squad and will continue to do so for many years yet.
If they were a Game of Thrones character, they’d be: Tyrion Lannister. They excelled at the last world cup, but were then cast down to nothing. Now they need to work their way back up to where they belong.