As we approach the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 12, the Sports Unbiased Crew will be releasing guides to help make better sense of what you watch as the world’s best soccer players converge on Brazil this summer. Check in regularly as we preview the eight groups, 32 teams, and key players that will play an integral role in determining the next world champion.
Let’s face it. Not every team has the same chances of taking home the World Cup trophy. Australia (1500/1 odds) has far less of a chance of making it to the tournament, having been drawn with defending World Cup finalists Spain (13/2) and the Netherlands (34/1). A team like Iran (1000/1), matched against a perennial powerhouse like Argentina (9/2), would have to upset the entire balance of world football order to advance far in the tournament.
So in that spirit, let’s look at the top 12 teams with the best shot to win the preeminent championship of the beautiful game. But we’re not talking FIFA coefficients here; the real place to look for contenders is with the betting odds. (This might seem odd in light of the New York Times expose about match fixing around the 2010 World Cup… but it is not the legitimate bookmakers that have incentive to fix these matches.)
All odds provided by Unibet. Why Unibet among all possible bookmakers? Well… I’ve been partial to the company since the cycling team they sponsored received a raw deal back in 2007. And their hierarchy of teams is not appreciably different than any other. Feel free to peruse the full selection of odds from around the globe here.
12. Colombia (Group C — 40/1 odds)
Things looked a lot better for Colombia before they started seeing their star players drop like flies prior to the announcement of their World Cup roster. Ranked eighth in the world in the last FIFA ranking prior to the tournament, Colombia is actually down three spots from a previous top-five perch.
They’ve still been playing some of the best soccer in the country’s history, and with a favorable draw in Group C they should easily make it to the knockout stage. How far they can go from there depends on who steps up in the absence of several injured players, but the talent is evident throughout the roster.
World Cup History
Amazingly, Colombia has only been to the World Cup on four prior occasions. In 1962 they failed to win a single match in group play. They had to wait 28 years for the next opportunity to play on the world’s stage; that team, headed by players like Rene Higuita and Carlos Valderrama, skirted its way into the Round of 16 only to fall to Cameroon. Returning to the World Cup in 1994, this happened:
The failure to reach the knockout stage in the USA sent the Colombians into a tailspin. Andres Escobar, the defender whose own goal against the Americans doomed his team to an early return home, was murdered soon after returning to Colombia. The team would return to the tournament in 1998, finishing behind Romania and England, and then fell off the map. This will be their first World Cup appearance of the 21st century.
Four years ago they…
… were sitting at home for a third straight World Cup.
PLAYER TO WATCH: James Rodriguez
With Radamel Falcao failing to recover from January knee surgery in time for the World Cup, somebody will have to take the lead in creating and scoring goals for the Colombians. His club teammate at Monaco, attacking midfielder James Rodriguez, could be the key to getting the most out of Falcao’s replacements at striker.
Rodriguez operates best behind the forwards, playing the sort of trequartista role that could see the 22-year-old make an even bigger name for himself on the world stage. Look for him to be the catalyst that springs some combination of Teofilo Gutierrez, Adrian Ramos, Carlos Bacca and Jackson Martinez up top.
MANAGER: Jose Pekerman
Eight years ago, the Argentine manager Jose Pekerman was heading the national team of his homeland at the World Cup in Germany. The Albiceleste finished top of Group C, bested Mexico 2-1 in extra time in the Round of 16, and then lost on penalties in the quarterfinals to the host nation. Pekerman resigned following the defeat, moving on to coach Toluca and Tigres in Mexico. Previously the three-time U-20 World Cup-winning coach of Argentina, Pekerman has led Colombia to a 14-6-3 record since taking over in January 2012.
Colombia 23-Man Roster
|5 - Aldo Leao Ramirez|
|2 - Cristian Zapata||6 - Carlos Sanchez|
|3 - Mario Yepes||8 - Abel Aguilar||9 - Teofilo Gutierrez|
|1 - David Ospina||4 - Santiago Arias||10 - James Rodriguez||17 - Carlos Bacca|
|12 - Camilo Vargas||7 - Pablo Armero||11 - Juan Guillermo Cuadrado||19 - Adrian Ramos|
|22 - Faryd Mondragon||16 - Eder Alvarez Balanta||13 - Fredy Guarin||21 - Jackson Martinez|
|18 - Juan Camilo Zuniga||14 - Victor Ibarbo|
|23 - Carlos Valdes||15 - Alexander Mejia|
|20 - Juan Fernando Quintero|
How Far Can Colombia Go?
Losing Falcao (as well as players like injured defenders Amaranto Perea and Aquivaldo Mosquera and midfielders Edwin Valencia, Elkin Soto, and Macnelly Torres) certainly takes some of the gleam of Colombia’s soaring World Cup hopes. This team will go as far as Rodriguez and the strikers can make up for the lost goal prowess of Falcao, and it will be incumbent on 38-year-old Mario Yepes to anchor a back line that is thin beyond the starters. Look for Pekerman to lead the squad out of a group where everyone is an underdog and nobody among Greece, the Ivory Coast, and Japan should be serious threats. The dream might come to a premature end, though, when they face a team like Uruguay in the Round of 16.