The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

November 21, 2013

World Cup crystal ball: 10 predictions for Brazil

(Continued)

PANEL: Even split — 7 of 14 agree. "It's time for them to win it all. Bayern and Dortmund discovered the path in the last Champions League" — Ubiratan Leal, trivela.com, Brazil.

DOMENECH: "Completely agree. They've always been short of that extra something and they're not going to do better as they get older. Semifinals, yes. They'll lose against Brazil."

___

WHICH TEAMS WILL SPRING THE BIGGEST SURPRISE? It used to be that surprise teams could lay low until the World Cup. FIFA's rankings changed that. Belgium hasn't played a World Cup since 2002. It's been even longer for Colombia: 1998. Both might be considered dark horses in Brazil were it not for FIFA rankings giving their game away. Based on their results against other teams, they're now among the top 5 football nations. Despite lacking experience, they'll advance easily from group play. From there, a piece of individual brilliance or luck often decides games. In Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez, Colombia has a game-changing duo. Behind the playmaking of Eden Hazard, Belgium is a challenger. One or both will reach the semifinals. By Raf Casert in Belgium.

PANEL: Majority — 10 of 14 — agree. "Belgium will have a magnificent team ready for the World Cup — look out for Vertonghen, Hazard and Lukaku!" — Soren-Mikael Hansen, Politiken, Denmark.

DOMENECH: No. Expects Argentina, Brazil and Germany in the semifinals and "for the surprise, I'd always say Italy, my intimate friends." (Domenech's France team lost the 2006 World Cup final to Italy)

___

WILL ENGLAND REPEAT 1966? No. The nation with the world's No. 1 football league still won't have international success. Fans who long struggled to accept the diminished status of the 1966 world champion now realize that Roy Hodgson's side won't repeat that feat in Brazil or get to the semifinals like Bobby Robson's team in 1990. Even the English Football Association's chairman, Greg Dyke, only set England a target of winning the World Cup ... in 2022. The youthful energy of Jack Wilshere and Andros Townsend will unsettle teams. The matured Wayne Rooney will score his first World Cup goal. But off-field distractions and difficulty with relentless media attention have a habit of derailing England at major tournaments. England won't go further than the last 16. By Rob Harris in England.

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