Belgium Some of the smaller nations at the World Cup have grafters and workmen, but Belgium is blessed with pure talent and imposing physique in equal measure. Fleet-footed youngsters like Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard are complemented by powerful, experienced leaders in Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen. It’s actually no surprise that a team with stars from Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Napoli and Atletico Madrid topped their qualifying group and are ranked above World Cup stalwarts France and the Netherlands.
England England go into the World Cup under relatively little pressure and this could be a blessing; after their disastrous outing in South Africa, many feel it can’t get any worse. If Roy Hodgson unshackles his quick, skillful talents—Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana, Leighton Baines and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain— we could see England give their tough group a really good go. It will be interesting to see how star forward Wayne Rooney is used, considering his underperformance in big tournaments.
Ivory Coast One of the unfortunate things about the 2010 World Cup, held in South Africa, was the disappointing show of African teams. The Ivory Coast got a tough group draw, including both Brazil and Portugal. A much more even group in 2014 will give the physically dominant Ivorian team a better chance to impose themselves. Manchester City’s linchpin Yaya Toure, Swansea’s revelation Wilfried Bony and talismanic captain Didier Drogba will lead a powerful yet deft attacking unit.
Bosnia & Herzegovina Serbia and Croatia may have flown the flag for a talent-packed Balkan region in recent times, but with established European stars like Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibisevic, Miralem Pjanic and Asmir Begovic, expect Bosnia & Herzegovina to push for qualification to the knock-out stages. Though they were able to top an easy qualifying group, they have a potent attack that group-mates and favourites Argentina cannot underestimate.