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.
4. Germany (Group G — 7/1 odds)
Few teams have shown such consistency at the World Cup over the years; the Germans consistently show up, threaten to win it all, and then either fizzle out or, more rarely, actually come through for the victory.
But that’s the thing — the history of German soccer, for the most successful portion of its history, is the story of WEST German soccer. Since the team was reunited under one flag at the 1994 World Cup for the first time since 1938, they have teased and threatened but never come through.
Is this the year that the German juggernaut finally finds its footing? Can the Germans break the curse of European teams in the Americas and win its first world title without the “West” in its name?
World Cup History
A German team has competed at every World Cup save two — the first one in 1930 that so many European teams passed up due to the length of sea travel across the Atlantic to Uruguay, and the 1950 tournament in Brazil for which they were still banned after World War II.
In 1934 they took third place, beating Belgium and Sweden in the first two rounds before falling to Czechoslovakia. They rebounded to beat Austria in the third-place match, but four years later they would have far less luck in France. Playing under the Nazi banner, they lost in the first round to Switzerland 4-2 in a replay five days after their first match ended 1-1.
In 1954 West Germany would make its first appearance under that guise, and promptly won the entire tournament. Facing a dynamic Hungary team that had won the Olympic title two years earlier, the Germans fell behind 2-0 just eight minutes into the match. But slowly clawing their way back in what became known as the “Miracle of Bern”, West Germany would prevail 3-2 for its first world title.
Little did they know it would take two decades for the second to arrive. In 1958 they would have to settle for fourth place in their title defense, and four years later the West German side could only reach the quarterfinals. They made it back to the final in 1966 against hosts England, where a late equalizer by Wolfgang Weber sent the match to extra time before a controversial Geoff Hurst strike off the underside of the crossbar was ruled a goal. Hurst would add insurance in the final minute of extra time, and England would win its first title.
West Germany would finally get its second title in 1974, winning the World Cup final over the Netherlands 2-1 as the host team of the tournament. East Germany also participated in 1974, crossing the line drawn between the once-unified country and actually beating West Germany in group play to win Group 1 ahead of the hosts. They would fall to the Netherlands and Brazil and draw against Argentina to finish sixth in their only appearance.
Finals appearances in 1982 and 1986 ended in defeat to Italy and Argentina respectively, but West Germany returned to a third straight World Cup final in 1990 and got its revenge on Diego Maradona-led Argentina. Then the country reunited, and have reached at least the quarterfinals in all five tournaments since. But except for their loss to Brazil in the 2002 final, Germany has otherwise faded in the late stages of the competition.
Four years ago they…
… finished third for the second straight World Cup after looking like the tournament favorite entering the semifinals. Germany lost its second match of group play 1-0 to Serbia, but wins over Ghana and Australia put Germany through to the Round of 16. There they methodically picked apart England 4-1 (with another goalscoring controversy as Manuel Neuer “saved” a shot that bounced off the crossbar and in, effectively selling his effort to the officials in an erstwhile restitution for 1966) and Argentina 4-0 to face off against Spain. The European champions knocked off the Germans 1-0 en route to the title, and Germany was forced to settle for a 3-2 victory over Uruguay to claim third place.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Miroslav Klose
There is younger, more dynamic talent on Germany’s roster. But for a team that needs finishing, few strikers have been more consistently clinical for Germany over the years than the 36-year-old Miroslav Klose. Selected by Joachim Low to the final 23-man-roster, this will be Klose’s fourth consecutive World Cup appearance.
In his first appearance, Klose scored five goals for the Germans as they advanced to the World Cup final in 2002. Four years later, Klose would score another five goals to win the Golden Boot as the top scorer in the 2006 tournament where Germany took third place as the hosts. And in 2010, the Polish-born striker added four more for his adopted country in another third-place finish.
Thomas Muller is back for Germany after winning the Golden Boot in South Africa, but Klose is the only pure striker on the squad. Despite his age, Klose continues to produce at a high level for Lazio after moving to Serie A in 2011. He will almost certainly factor on the score sheet at more than one point in Brazil.
COACH: Joachim Low
Joachim Low has been in charge of the German team since 2006, taking over after serving for two years as Jurgen Klinsmann’s right-hand man. He was in charge when Germany was the runner-up at Euro 2008 and in the semifinals at Euro 2012, and he was the leader of the team when they took third in South Africa. Before entering international football, though, Low made his mark managing Tirol Innsbruck to the Austrian title in 2002 and the Austrian Supercup after moving to Austria Wien the following year. Before that Low helped VfB Stuttgart claim a German Cup in 1997 and followed it up by nearly winning the UEFA Cup Winners Cup the next year. Low has gone 71-19-15 as the German manager, but he has also set a remarkably high standard to maintain and improve upon.
Germany 23-Man Roster
|2 - Kevin Grosskreutz||6 - Sami Khedira|
|3 - Matthias Ginter||7 - Bastian Schweinsteiger|
|4 - Benedikt Howedes||8 - Mesut Ozil|
|1 - Manuel Neuer||5 - Mats Hummels||9 - Andre Schurrle|
|12 - Ron-Robert Zieler||15- Erik Durm||10 - Lukas Podolski||11 - Miroslav Klose|
|22 - Roman Weidenfeller||16 - Philipp Lahm||13 - Thomas Muller|
|17 - Per Mertesacker||14 - Julian Draxler|
|20 - Jerome Boateng||18 - Toni Kroos|
|21 - Shkodran Mustafi||19 - Mario Gotze|
|23 - Christoph Kramer|
How Far Can Germany Go?
Germany seems capable of winning the whole tournament, or they seem capable of finally having the bubble of consistent success finally burst. Drawn in a group with Portugal, Ghana, and the United States, the Germans will be favored to advance atop Group G but will be battle-tested once they get to the knockout stage. As usual, they should manage to win a round or two, but with Brazil likely looking in the semifinals the Germans are probably staring at a third-place finish for the third straight World Cup.