The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

November 21, 2013

World Cup crystal ball: 10 predictions for Brazil

(Continued)

DOMENECH: Agrees. "The Confederations Cup confirmed they'll be tough to beat."

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OR WILL IT BE SPAIN? Yes. Spain will become the first team to win four major championships in succession. The World Cup winner in South Africa and two-time defending European champion has the necessaries to repeat: Quality, experience, youth and master coach Vicente del Bosque. It will likely be the last World Cup for midfielder Xavi Hernandez, who could have less of an impact. But Andres Iniesta, David Silva and Sergio Ramos are in their prime. Del Bosque has top goalkeepers, with Iker Casillas likely to start despite becoming second choice at Real Madrid. Striker Diego Costa's decision to play for Spain, his naturalized country, instead of his native Brazil could tip the balance. He gives Spain presence and a scoring threat with both feet. With the extra motivation of making history, Spain will become the first team since Brazil in 1962 to defend the world title. By Paul Logothetis in Spain.

PANEL: Overwhelming majority — 12 of 14 — say Spain will lose. "Teams will play counter-attack against them and when that happens they are beatable" — Mike McGrath, The Sun.

DOMENECH: Says Spain's "players are getting a bit old. It's the end of a cycle. I even see them being knocked out quite quickly."

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WHICH TEAM WILL BE THE BIGGEST FLOP? Spain's cycle of dominance will abruptly end in Brazil. Signs were there in qualifying that La Roja are no longer the menace they once were. Although undefeated in 30 straight matches at home, points were dropped to visiting France and, more surprisingly, Finland. In both games, Spain needed a goal from defender Sergio Ramos, highlighting how Spain's once free-flowing attack has grown wheezy. In only one of eight qualifiers did a forward score more than once — Pedro's hat-trick against Belarus. Teams are figuring out how to frustrate Spain, which needed late goals to beat Georgia away and in a scrappy win in Finland. Playmaker Xavi will be 34 and overworked trying to unpick packed defenses. A good counter-attacking team will send Spain home well before the final. By Jerome Pugmire in France.

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