Football wisdom has it that a South American team must win as it is a South American tournament - maybe - but it's based on stats from 3 tournaments in 1930, 1950 and 1978 ... and in the last 35 years the world of conditioning has moved on since then.
South America (COMNEBOL)Argentina have some great attacking players, but still look suspect on defence, and I'm not sure that Brazil's great local rivals will actually get huge support from Brazilian fans when playing against European opposition.
Brazil look solid, but not exceptional. Brazil's figurehead player is Neymar who has looked a wee bit ordinary in his first season in La Liga - starting 25 games for 9 goals in a Barcelona team that dominates 80% of the games they play.
Brazil won the Confederations Cup a year ago, and will look good again when they are winning - but may suffer stage fright in the knockout stages.
Chile might be a dark horse, they finished 3rd in COMNEBOL qualifying, but they did their best work at home, and lost twice to Argentina. Ecuador and Uruguay have variable teams, some world class players, some players of average level.
Europe (UEFA)Europe's main threat will come from the usual sources with Spain 6-2-0, Germany 9-1-0 and the Netherlands 9-1-0 all looking dominant in qualifying and they should go deep into the competition.
Belgium 8-2-0, England 6-4-0, Switzerland 7-3-0 and Italy 6-4-0 also finished the qualifiers unbeaten but with lower scoring victories and a handful of draws against the lessor teams. There could easily be a deep run from one of these teams.
Belgium could be a dark horse, they have some talented players, but it's hard to see a winning World Cup bid although the bookies have them as 5th favourites. Italy are ranked 8th favourites, they have the historic pedigree but this time around the team does look a bit average.
England have decided to throw their lot with youth, a good idea as the climate will make it a young players environment, but the squad is too inexperienced, and England's history with losing penalty shoot-outs makes it a patriotic longshot bet at best.
Any European team will be expecting to make the knockout stages, but then you need to win 4 games in a row (or win the penalty shoot-outs) in order to lift the cup - and that's where the top tier of European sides with very competitive league structures have the advantage.
Africa (CAF)Africa have long been touted as a continent of potential - even by legends such as Pele - but the truth is that African football lacks the structure to combine their talented players into a side that has the tactical nous to win at this highest level.
Ivory Coast and Ghana look the strongest sides to me ... while Nigeria have a favourable draw and I expect one of them to reach the quarter-finals and maybe the semi-finals ... but suggesting an outright win for Africa is just a longshot with sides rated at 125.00 and greater.
Asia (AFC), North and Central America (CONCACAF)Most Asian and North / Central American teams are just there as part of the geographic distribution of players and largely there to make up the numbers in Group play.
CONCACAF teams are improving - Mexico is usually competitive against all but the best World teams but nearly missed out this time which shows a slow improvement in regional standards - but a less generous ranking system would have no CONCAF sides in the top 25 spots.
That sounds harsh but CONCACAF has just three nations in the top 30 FIFA rankings - the United States (14), Mexico (19) and Honduras (30) while Asia has none. And the presence of the United States so high in the rankings is purely down to the "politically correct" nature of the system that rates regional qualification matches equally right around the globe.
Mexico MAY qualify for the second round but will need to beat Croatia to get there, while the United States have a tough draw with Germany, Portugal and Ghana in their group and it will take an exceptional effort for Uncle Sam to get past that trio.
Asia continues to struggle to bridge the gap with the elite sides, Japan (47) and South Korea (55) both produce technically good players if a little robotic but at National level these teams lack the strength and outright football genius to beat the taller European and South American sides regularly.
Australia (59) also have a good regional pedigree and also the strength to physically compete. But the Aussies do not have enough (any?) World Class players to get past a group draw that has pitted them against Spain, the Netherlands and Chile.
Iran (37) is actually the top ranked Asian side is 37th spot and have a group draw that MIGHT allow them to spring a surprise and qualify, but it wouldn't be a shock to see all five Asian qualifiers going home immediately after the groups are finished.
SUMMARYIf you are looking for an outsider bet, I'd like to see the Netherlands (34.00 at BetVictor and Coral) lift the cup. Just a country with a population of 16m - the Dutch play a good style of football - and have never won the World Cup - losing 3 finals now.
The Netherlands may have to face Brazil in the second round- but as I suggested earlier that might be just the right time to meet the Hosts and a shock Dutch win could be possible.
If push comes to shove and you are looking for a MOST LIKELY bet then I think that the winner will come from the top four teams :
- Brazil at odds 4.00 at BetVictor, PaddyPower and Ladbrokes
- Argentina at odds of 6.00 at BetVictor and PaddyPower ,
- Germany at odds of 7.00 at Coral
- Spain at odds of 8.00 at PaddyPower
That's no real surprise as the format rewards strong teams during the group phase with easier games, and group winners get a slightly easier time in the knockout stages. To win the FIFA World Cup - teams need to have skill, experience and a cool temperament to deal with tough situations.
As I rate temperament as being vital I think that Germany can do it - but a potential Semi-Final against Argentina looms as a big challenge.
So what do you think? Who is your favourite? IF you can write a comment without it including spammy links to porn sites or enlargement pills then I'd love to see YOUR views !