The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

November 21, 2013

World Cup crystal ball: 10 predictions for Brazil

— Either they're geniuses ... or about to look foolish. An Associated Press panel of reporters who have covered 28 World Cups among them peer into a crystal ball and take a stab at predicting who will shine or flop among the 32 teams next June in Brazil.

The AP also got second opinions from Raymond Domenech, who coached 1998 world champion France at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, and from a global panel of 14 non-AP journalists who vote in the weekly AP soccer poll. Their thoughts about our predictions are also published.

Of course, the Dec. 6 draw could blow some predictions off course. But if history proves our fortune-tellers right, then don't forget: you read it here first!

If not, well, hmmm. Better luck next time?

___

WILL BRAZIL WIN? Yes. Brazil's team, although average by its standards, will transcend itself thanks to the expertise of coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, Neymar's gift for scoring and creating goals and the added zest of playing for home crowds. Scolari is adept at getting teams and players to peak on schedule, essential for the monthlong World Cup. After winning the 2002 edition with Brazil and then managing Portugal, Scolari returned to club football. Brazil's football federation brought him back after firing much-criticized manager Mano Menezes in 2012. Scolari proved he hasn't lost his touch by leading Brazil to victory at the 2013 Confederations Cup. Neymar was MVP of that World Cup warm-up tournament, silencing critics' claims that the 21-year-old striker doesn't shine for Brazil in big games. Usually intolerant of imperfection, home fans threw themselves behind the team and will do so again in 2014, helping to carry Neymar and Co. to the final, which they'll win. By Tales Azzoni in Brazil.

PANEL SAYS: Evenly split, 7 of 14 panelists agree Brazil will win. "Historically, Brazil has benefited from refereeing decisions at WCs, a factor that might be even bigger at home" — Leonardo Bertozzi, ESPN Brazil .

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