The 2014 FIFA World Cup is set to kick off tomorrow in Brazil, and as the 32 competing nations get things rolling this week, let’s take a look at some of the pre-tournament predictions. Who will win the title? Who will be the top scorer? Let’s see:
The Golden Ball: Neymar
This trophy is given out to the tournament’s most valuable player, and often, it is given to a player who has significant influence in a team that places far into the tournament. For example, in descending order, last year’s winner of the trophy was Diego Forlan, and the runners up were Wesley Sneijder and David Villa.
This year, the trophy is Neymar’s to lose. If Brazil get far into the World Cup – or even win it – he will take the accolades, even if he isn’t necessarily the top scorer on the team. Neymar has the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders; if he performs, you can bet his name will go down in the history books, though if he doesn’t, his name may go in those books for a different reason altogether.
The Golden Boot: Cristiano Ronaldo
The tournament’s top scorer receives the Golden Boot, and it seems no player is better suited to taking home that title this year than Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese superstar had a quiet World Cup back in 2010 but in those four years since, he has scored hundreds of goals for Real Madrid and has become prolific under pressure.
This time around, Ronaldo will be motivated to prove his detractors wrong, prove himself the best player in the world and will score goals in bunches to do so. He could be ruthless against Ghana and the United States and could be the determining factor against Germany in the group stages. After that, it’s all Ronaldo, his burden to bear if Portugal is going to advance through the knockout stages. If anyone can do it, it’s him.
The Golden Glove: Hugo Lloris
I have a sneaky little suspicion about French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who may just pip the title of best goalkeeper in the World Cup from Iker Casillas’ hands with a strong World Cup performance this year. Lloris has been relatively quiet since coming onto the scene and while he had big shoes … well, gloves, really … to fill since Fabien Barthez retired, he has performed the task magnificently.
This could be the year of Lloris, though Toronto FC’s Julio Cesar is a close second. The safe bet would be either Casillas or German keeper Manuel Neuer, but Lloris seems to be set for a breakout year. It’s just too easy to give it to Neuer, as it were.
Best Young Player Award: Romelu Lukaku
Belgium bares the label “dark horses” this summer and that burden comes with a responsibility to succeed, lest the bookies in Vegas lose their minds. It seems everyone and their mother is betting on Belgium to succeed in the World Cup, though no one wants to say they think Belgium will win the title.
However, Lukaku is the one to watch for the young player award due to his influence, stature and potential for goal scoring in this World Cup. He’s hungry, motivated and wants out at Chelsea, tired of being loaned to here and there. His performances up top for Belgium will make or break the team and if he succeeds, he’ll most certainly get recognized for his work.
Winners of the World Cup: Argentina
Wouldn’t that be something, indeed? Argentina, winning the World Cup on Brazilian soil, Lionel Messi beating Ronaldo, Neymar and the rest of the world and lifting the trophy high – now that’s a sight to behold. It’s do-able, but also not, and requires the genius and influence of Messi to succeed.
Make no mistake about it, Argentina is a strong team; with Sergio Aguero, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Angel Di Maria, there are plenty of attacking threats to utilize. The defence and midfield leave something to be desired, but scoring in bunches could neutralize that concern. The reason Messi won’t overtake Ronaldo for the Golden boot is that Argentina, as a whole, would score more goals, whereas Portugal rely on Ronaldo to put them away.
When Argentina gets out of Group F, they will need to take on one of Portugal or Germany, and after that, one of England, Uruguay, Italy, Spain or Holland. There is no easy road to the final for Argentina, which should keep scores low, but in every match up, there’s just a little something, an X-factor that makes it hard to call. Against Spain, Messi and Aguero can destroy the slow Spanish backline; against Germany or Uruguay, an upset win; until the final, against Brazil, these two teams would meet, and what an epic showdown it would be.
Brazil vs. Argentina in the final is this writer’s prediction. Messi vs. Neymar.
In the end, Argentina.
Or maybe not – who do you think will win the 2014 FIFA World Cup?