As England learnt to their cost on Friday, South America boasts its fair share of footballing talent, with the relative unknowns of Chile putting Roy Hodgson’s team through the ringer and striking a blow for the hosting continent at the 2014 World Cup.
Though Germany and Spain remain in the mix of teams backed to win in Brazil next summer, with odds of 5/1 and 11/2 available respectively at Ladbrokes, Chile and Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez believes the winner may be closer to home.
Speaking to the Express, the attacker said: “It will be very hard for any team outside of South America to win in Brazil, but if two teams have a chance then it is Spain and Germany. Their teams are exceptional.”
With these comments in mind, here is a quick run-down of the six sides vying for the big prize.
Ecuador’s over-reliance on home form – Reinaldo Rueda’s team claimed 22 of their 25 points in qualifying at the Estadio Olimpico Atahualpa – has seen them priced as the big outsiders.
But La Tri are no strangers to World Cup shocks, with a David Beckham free-kick the only factor that denied them a quarter final place back in 2006 and in Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia they have a winger with genuine world class ability.
Throw in the talented Moscow-based pair of Christian Noboa and former Manchester City man Felipe Caicedo and a favourable draw could see Ecuador spring a surprise or two.
While Friday’s win over England should be taken with a pinch of salt, the match did showcase the talents of Alexis Sanchez, with the Barcelona man hitting form at the perfect time.
Chile were the second highest scorers in their qualifying group and boast plenty of attacking flair in the form of stars like Fiorentina’s Matias Fernandez and Jean Beausejour alongside steel and precision courtesy of Gary Medel and Juventus star Arturo Vidal.
Though question marks remain over the defence, with La Roja shipping 25 goals over their 16 qualifiers, they could easily be the team to “do a Uruguay” in 2014.
The presence of Radamel Falcao alone has seen many plump for Los Cafeteros as dark horses, but there are a number of other reasons to back the side ranked fourth in the world by FIFA.
James Rodriguez has the ability to turn a game while Fredy Guarin of Inter Milan is more than capable. Add Porto’s Jackson Martinez and defender Mario Yepes to the mix and the ingredients are there to progress, with Jose Pekerman keen to avenge the quarter-final exit he suffered as manager of Argentina in 2006.
Colombia qualified with a 3-3 draw against Chile that showcased both their strengths and weaknesses, going 3-0 down before Falcao inspired a fightback with 20 minutes remaining. Similar spirit will be required next summer.
They may have required a play-off victory to do it, but Uruguay will now be confident of mounting another World Cup charge given the players and experience at their disposal.
With an attacking front line that can utilise the talents of Edinson Cavani alongside Luis Suarez and veteran star Diego Forlan, the quality of La Celeste’s squad has never been questioned.
After a solid showing at the Confederations Cup, manager Oscar Tabarez will know he has a team with the potential to go far in Brazil and they are no strangers to upsetting the odds, having won the most recent Copa America, defeating hosts Argentina at the quarter-finals stage.
Top scorers in CONMEBOL qualifying and with Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria and Carlos Tevez just some of the attacking talents at their disposal, Argentina’s odds make them arguably the best value team in South America.
For Messi the tournament represents the perfect opportunity to put those Maradona comparisons to bed, while claiming the World Cup on Brazilian soil would be sweet reward for the host’s bitter rivals.
Argentina were the last side to win a World Cup played in South America and after dominating qualifying they will be relishing the chance to prove themselves again.
Neymar’s positive start to life at the Nou Camp will have given Selecao fans some encouragement ahead of next summer and though only friendlies, Brazil have only lost one of their last 17 matches in all competitions, with that run including a Confederations Cup win.
In Luis Felipe Scolari they also have a coach with experience in taking the Samba Boys all the way though question marks remain over the much-coveted lone striker role with Zenit St Petersburg man Hulk still some way off translating his club form onto the national stage.
Nevertheless, with the hosts reaching the semi-finals in four of the last six World Cups, they remain a worthwhile bet at 10/3 with Ladbrokes.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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