By Mike Corasaniti
With the World Cup only moments away from taking over the world’s attention, it’s important to further recognize the special opportunity this year’s Brazil squad has: Cementing its mold even more as the best World Cup team of all time – on it’s home turf. But with this opportunity also comes a painful amount of pressure.
Brazil and its five World Cups are the most all time, but the country has also failed to emerge past the quarterfinals since its last title in 2002. A quarterfinal exit won’t please anyone this time around; a similar sentiment shared by Brazil’s South American counterpart and challenger Argentina.
Lionel Messi’s squad has not seen recent success past the quarterfinals either, a frustrating reality for a squad that has showed so much talent and potential over the past years. Is this the year both nations exorcize some demons to once again reclaim their status on the world stage?
A Word on Brazil
There may not be any other team in the history of the World Cup who has had more of a “Win or Bust” mentality than this year’s Brazil team. Even considering countries like Spain, Germany, and the other excellent teams the field is offering this year, nothing will taste as sweet unless the home team is securing it’s sixth World Cup.
Neymar, one of the game’s still-rising elite players, will be the backbone and lightning rod for this years lineup as he matches up against Messi, his opposing goal scorer and Barcelona teammate. The 22-year-old forward plays even better than his billing when he is free to improvise and create opportunities for himself and his teammates.
But there is promise there is also a good deal of caution to take too when evaluating Neymar and his potential for this World Cup season: How much can we take away from his last season in Barcelona where his goal scoring became less and less prolific? Fellow attackers like Thiago Silva and David Luiz will provide solid if not excellent support, but it’s hard to list them as unstoppable just yet.
Argentina was dismantling to the hands of Germany in the 2010 quarterfinals was nothing short of a shocker, which is why you would be hard pressed to find anyone betting against Argentina to make it further this time around. And just like Brazil, Argentina’s chances for another World Cup live and die upon the feet of their superstar.
Messi is already a hero to his come country but a successful World Cup showing would elevate him to further legendary status. Arguably the best finisher in the game right now and for the past few years, there really is no reason to bet against the 26-year-old now making his third World Cup appearance. And the scary thing for opponents to realize is that even without their goal scorer, Argentina is still a deep and threatening squad.
If you’re looking for a weak link from this team, then look no further than its defense. But between Messi and fellow goal scorers like Sergio Aguero, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Gonzalo Higuain, Argentina’s best defense is a terrifying offense, and they will bank on that for as long as they can.
Logistically, for both teams to meet in the World Cup Final they both need to come out on top of their respective groups. This shouldn’t be too difficult of a problem for either squad, but getting past the likes of teams like Spain, Germany, Portugal, etc., will be the real obstacles for a South American showdown on July 13.
Both teams have their weaknesses and they both come way back from their opponent’s goal. But whereas Argentina’s defense and goalkeeper offer some uncertainty, Brazil’s offer a much more serious threat to their chances. Look for their biggest question mark to be Julio Cesar, who hasn’t impressed many in his current state of play.
And despite its breadth of promise and young talent, Brazil’s attack has some question marks as well. And against them may be Argentina, where Messi and his supporting cast now have the chance to prove their post-2010 doubters wrong. And everyone should plan on them doing so: They may be one of the best of all time.