If anyone had asked you a few weeks ago who was going to win this year’s World Cup, you might well have said Brazil, perhaps Spain – or maybe even Argentina? And you might well have been right. After all, it’s early days yet and the team that wins this competition is usually the one that’s playing the best football at the end of the tournament, rather than the start of it.
If you think back to the last World Cup in South Africa 2010, Spain lost their opening game to Switzerland – a capable side indeed but hardly one to match the giants of world football. Of course, we all know what happened after that; Spain stormed through all before them, ultimately ending the tournament as convincing winners, in what was quite a disappointing final against the Dutch who played what was, for them, an uncharacteristically cynical game.
So as Holland took to the field in what was the opening game of their current World Cup campagin, also against Spain, Dutch fans would have been forgiven for watching the match with what can only be described as great degree of trepidation. And history seemed to be repeating itself, as normal service was resumed after just a quarter of an hour, when the Spaniards went one nil up via Xavi Alonso’s penalty kick.
But then the Spanish crumbled, as the Dutch ran riot on their defence, ultimately thumping them 5-1 which is a comprehensive score-line at the very least. Robin van Persie scored a wonderful header to equalise, and then Holland ran rampant – led in particular by Robben and Sneijder.
Now a one-nil nervy defeat in South Africa is one thing for the opening game. But a five-one thrashing by the Dutch is another thing entirely and confidence within the Spanish side is likely to have taken a few blows. This just hasn’t happened at all since the Spaniards began their overall ascendency at Euro 2008 – since when they’ve won three major competitions in a row, which is completely unprecedented, by the way.
Meanwhile the pre-tournament favourites Brazil have looked very unimpressive in their opening two games, against Croatia and Mexico respectively. Perhaps the huge pressure and the fans’ over-optimism are beginning to take their toll on the hosts?
Then we have second favourites Argentina, who also looked pretty unimpressive despite bagging the necessary three points against a weak but well organised Bosnia-Hercegovina. Of course it was the little man Lionel Messi who made the difference with a superb solo effort before converting the decisive goal. But otherwise, the Argentinians didn’t look like world-beaters.
So that leaves Germany – the pre-tournament third favourites, who very much did impress with a 4-0 win over Cristiano Ronaldo’s’ Portuguese side.
Now if we look at World Cup history and the nations that have enjoyed the greatest success since the first World Cup back in 1930, then we’ve already mentioned the most successful of all nations bar one; Italy.
Before the current tournament began, the Italians were longer than 30-1 to win the World Cup with the betting exchange website Betfair. But Italy looked tremendously impressive in their opening game, as they beat a very tasty-looking England side 2-1 in the way that Italians are famous for doing; sitting back and scoring on the break. There would have been few sides in this competition that would have been able to limit a free-flowing attacking English side to one goal. But the Italians managed this with panache and are now genuine contenders for the trophy, having been dismissed as contenders just 90 footballing minutes earlier.
At the time of writing, the Italians are now down to 17-1 with Betfair to win the tournament, which still looks generous. Meanwhile the home nation remain favourites with Betfair at around 7-2, followed by Argentina at slightly bigger odds of 4-1 and then Germany at 9/2, with the Netherlands at more than 10-1 and holders Spain now out to a staggering 13-1.
But the question still remains; which nation will be lifting the trophy come July 13th?