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.
10. England (Group D — 28/1 odds)
England always come into the World Cup with heightened expectations, yet the country that codified the laws of the game has long had an underwhelming history with the tournament. The 1960s are long gone, and the last trip to the semifinals in 1990 is fast fading in the rearview mirror.
Though England hasn’t failed to advance beyond the preliminary stage at the World Cup since 1958, but this time the draw this time did England no favors. The Three Lions, in Group D, face an uphill battle against both Italy and Uruguay — as well as tenacious CONCACAF side Costa Rica — for one of the two coveted tickets to the knockout round. Can Roy Hodgson get his squad past two of those three squads to keep the streak going in Brazil?
World Cup History
Until 1950, the English national team steadfastly sat out each of the first three World Cups as the FA resolutely refused to acknowledge any organization but its own as the benefactor of world football. Finally participating in Brazil in the first tournament after World War II, England promptly lost to the United States in one of the biggest upsets in Cup history and missed the final round in their first appearance.
It wasn’t until 1966 that the English side put it all together, winning the Jules Rimet Trophy over West Germany. English teams have been chasing the ghosts of Sir Alf Ramsey and crew ever since. They didn’t even reach the World Cup in 1974 or 1978, and only once since 1966 have they reached the semifinals. That 1990 team was a crew that took the world by surprise. England doesn’t have that benefit at this point, having done just enough to reach the knockout stage in the past four tournaments but haven’t been able to do much more with the opportunity.
Four years ago they…
… were fighting for their life to get through a group that contained Algeria, Slovenia, and the United States. The Three Lions needed a 1-0 win over Slovenia just to book passage to the Round of 16, finishing behind the Americans in Group C. Once they got to the knockout bracket, England were quickly outclassed by Germany 4-1.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Daniel Sturridge
His Liverpool teammate, Steven Gerrard, remains the captain for England and continues to be a solid midfield presence along with a key veteran leader. Another Merseysider, Raheem Sterling, could be equally as valuable. But last year,
But if England are going to go anywhere in Brazil beyond their three group matches, they will need goals against the Italians and Uruguayans. Wayne Rooney represents the past for England, while Sturridge represents the future. Just 24 years old, Sturridge is entering his prime as a striker; last year his 21 league goals put him second in Premier League scoring behind teammate Luis Suarez.
He has played just 11 games for England in the past three years since his call-up to the national side, and Sturridge has notched four goals in the past 15 months. If Hodgson gives his young striker an active and regular role in England, this could prove to be a breakout tournament for the young man from Birmingham.
COACH: Roy Hodgson
When England last played at the World Cup four years ago, Fabio Capello was the national team manager. Before him, it was Sven Goran Eriksson leading the English in 2002 and 2006. As such, the journeyman Roy Hodgson becomes the first Englishman to manage England in the World Cup since Glenn Hoddle in 1998. In a well-traveled career, Hodgson has previously managed the national teams of Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and Finland. He’s also been in charge at Inter Milan and Liverpool as well as smaller clubs in England, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and Italy. Two years ago he guided England to the quarterfinals of Euro 2012 and was unlucky to have his side fall on penalties; in World Cup qualifying, England was undefeated (6-4-0) in World Cup qualifying, and Hodgson has made the English a tactically sound squad..
England 23-Man Roster
|4 - Steven Gerrard|
|2 - Glen Johnson||7 - Jack Wilshere|
|3 - Leighton Barnes||8 - Frank Lampard|
|1 - Joe Hart||5 - Gary Cahill||14 - Jordan Henderson||9 - Daniel Sturridge|
|13 - Ben Foster||6 - Phil Jagielka||15 - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain||10 - Wayne Rooney|
|22 - Fraser Forster||12 - Chris Smalling||17 - James Milner||11 - Danny Welbeck|
|16 - Phil Jones||19 - Raheem Sterling||18 - Rickie Lambert|
|23 - Luke Shaw||20 - Adam Lallana|
|21 - Ross Barkley|
How Far Can England Go?
In any other group, we would be talking about how far England can go once they get to the knockout stage. This tournament, despite England’s talents, was simply not king. Uruguay is almost certainly going to get the upper hand in their group, Costa Rica is certain to leave every team they play physically exhausted, and Italy is certainly expecting to make it to the knockout stage itself. That match against the Azzurri could be the difference between advancement and an early trip home. Getting to the knockout stage is hardly a guarantee, but if they manage to get past Italy there is little chance that this England squad will make it beyond the Round of 16.