Conventional wisdom has it that European teams always find it difficult to win World Cups in South America. The intense heat, and the passion of the local crowds, always seems to tip the balance in favour of the South American teams, and while most of the post-war finals in South/Central America have featured a European team, their South American counterparts have always come out on top.
With that in mind, most people have written off the chances of a European team winning in Brazil, even though teams like Spain, Germany, France, Holland, and Belgium could reasonably lay claim to having squads strong enough to go all the way in a knock-out competition. So, much of the betting attention has turned towards speculating on which of the European teams will go furthest at this year’s World Cup.
One of the most intriguing prospects in this regard is Belgium, who look great value at 8/1 to be the top European team at the World Cup. They seem to have all the ingredients required to spring a major surprise at a world tournament – youth, a lack of expectation, and genuine world-class talent in the form of Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, and Thibaut Courtois. Aside from the star names, the squad is replete with young players making waves in Europe’s top leagues, such as Axel Witsel, Romelu Lukaku, Jan Vertonghen, and Steven Defour. There literally isn’t a weak spot in their team, and their youth and dynamism could help them succeed in the heat of Brazil where other European legs have tired.
A lot of the rhetoric about hot conditions undermining the style of play preferred by European teams forgets that there are some pretty hot countries in Europe, too. And with most of the star players from South America plying their trade in the Spanish league, it could be argued that Spanish players are at least on some kind of level playing field with their transatlantic counterparts in terms of their usual playing conditions.
Therefore, it’s quite surprising to see current champions Spain, who still arguably have the strongest team in world football, being installed as third favourites to win the competition behind hosts Brazil and Argentina. After all, there is a reason why they have won their last three major tournaments, and it could be argued that the current team is at least as strong, if not stronger, than the one that lifted the trophy in South Africa just four years ago. At the very least, they look good value at 5/2 to be the top European team, especially considering the fact that they have been given a relatively favourable draw for the group stages.
Having always traditionally looked strong in major tournaments, event when they haven’t been blessed with a bumper crop of world-class players, Germany look great value at 9/4 to be the top-ranked European team in Brazil. And this year, they seem to have a very strong squad indeed – and also, crucially, a young one. With a seemingly endless array of talented young attacking players such as Mario Gotze, Julian Draxler, and Max Meyer allied to a steely core of defensive players including Mats Hummels and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany seem to have all the ingredients required to go all the way in Brazil – or at least, further than any other European team.