Teams to consider heading into the World Cup

GARETH WHEELER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:23 PM ET

Brazil and Spain lead the way as favourites to be crowned World Champion on July 11th.

But if there is an upset, if there are teams that can ruin the party for the big boys, who will they be?

Here are some dark horses to consider:

Chile: A country devastated by an earthquake just months ago has the ability to shake up this tournament. Chile is a team on the rise and the youngest squad at the event. La Rojas finished second in CONMEBOL qualifying, just one point behind Brazil. And their 32 goals in qualifying was also second best.

Marcelo Bielsaís team has a whole lot of attacking flair. Forward Humberto Suazo, the leading goal scorer in CONMEBOL qualifying, suffered a hamstring injury a week ago and will likely miss the tournament opener June 16th against Honduras.

Even without Suazo, Bielsa has plenty of attacking prowess at his disposal. Udinese forward Alexis Sanchez is a player who will be looked upon to fill the void. The 21-year old featured for Chile at the under-20 World Cup in Canada and has made a smooth transition to the senior side. Midfielder Matias Fernandez is the creative engine for the Chilean attack. The dynamic attacking weapons will make Chile a tough out for any team.

Chile has questions at the back and often reverts to a 3-4-3 system, given Arturo Vidalís ability to push forward and become part of the midfield. If Chile advances from the group stage, a meeting with South American foe Brazil predicts to be in the cards. If so, familiarity could breed success for the upstart Chileans, who also have an advantage in South Africa, playing in a similar climate and altitude conditions to their home.

Denmark: Donít sleep on the Danes. Morten Olsenís team was very good during qualifying, finishing atop a group with Portugal and Sweden. They play a very deliberate 4-3-3 and will be a tough out for any team.

This is a veteran side with very little youth, with the exception of forward Nicolas Bendtner. Ultimately frustrating for club side Arsenal, Bendtner sparkles for country. The strikerís size and pace make him difficult to mark. If Bendtner is on form and healthy come tournament time, look out.

Behind Bendtner, Denmark boasts a midfield with an average age just shy of 29. The midfield doesnít possess a whole lot of flash, but behind Christian Poulsenís lead, is very organized and effective. The veteran output is an ideal compliment to a solid back-line, only conceding five goals during qualifying. A recent injury to emerging star Simon Kjaer, however, is of concern.

With Cameroonís dip in form heading into the competition, Denmark should be the second best team in Group E. If the Danes do advance, a Round of 16 date with Italy awaits. The reigning world champ will hardly intimated the experienced Danes. A place in the quarterfinals is a realistic opportunity.

Mexico: Far and away, Mexico had the best preparation games heading into the tournament, playing very well against world powers England, the Netherlands, and Italy. Add wins against Senegal, Angola, Gambia and Chile to the fray, and Mexico is ready to go.

Playing at altitude shouldnít affect the side. Quite the opposite; this team should have plenty of legs, blessed with an abundance of young and emerging talent. Finishing atop Group A isnít out of the question.

The three-headed monster of Carlos Vela, Javier Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos are all young, fast and promise to be future stars. Their rise to prominence has been expedited and there is good reason to believe they will shine even brighter on the world stage.

The only concern for the team is a lack of height and physicality. But this shouldnít be much of a hindrance in a well-balanced Group A.

Nigeria: The best chance for an African team to advance from the group stage is the Super Eagles. Lars Lagerbackís team has enough physical presence to play with Greece and enough skill and pace to keep with South Korea.

Scoring shouldnít be a problem. Aiyegbeni Yakubu and Obafemi Martins both have a bevy of experience scoring for club and country. And Victor Obinna and Peter Odemwingie have emerged as key contributors to the teamís attack.

Nigeria has been dealt a blow, as Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel has ruled himself out of the World Cup, failing to recover from knee surgery.

The key for Nigeria is whether or not Lagerback can inspire and bring the team together to achieve something special on African soil. The talent and motivation is there, and Nigeria has the best context to succeed than any other African team.

Serbia: A strong defence is key for this physical and superiorly fit side. Serbia was given full marks finishing atop a qualifying group featuring France and Romania. Only conceding eight goals throughout qualification speaks to their defensive strength. Defensive strength will be all important in Group D, where goals will be at a premium.

Manchester United defender and team Captain Nemanja Vidic is a commandeering type, leading the backline. Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic is no slouch either. And American-born 21-year old Neven Subotic is one of the most highly coveted defensive commodities in Europe.

It seems like midfielder Dejan Stankovic has been playing forever. The Inter Milan player is always a threat to score and highly influential. Milos Krasnic also is of special quality, and will be essential to providing a thin forward line adequate service.

The 6-foot-6 Nikola Zigic is the main target man up front, with experienced talisman Marko Pantelic playing off him. If Zigic and Pantelic can find goals when needed, this team can go far. Itís not off base to consider Serbia the favourite to win Group D, even with Germany part of the equation. A Group D win would seemingly open the door to an easier path through the knockout rounds of the tournament.

gareth.wheeler@suntv.canoe.ca


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