With the 2012 UEFA European Championship and the World Cup in Brazil coming up in the next few years, I thought I would kick off the blog by talking a bit about some of the teams I think you should keep an eye on for the competitions. Here they are.
Montenegro: The tiny nation of Montenegro only became independent in 2006 and its national soccer team only participated in its first FIFA competition in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers. While the Montenegro team was second to last in their qualifying group, they still had a decent showing with 6 draws out of 10 games including drawing both matches against Ireland. However, Montenegro has shot up the FIFA rankings board from 74th in August of 2010 to 26th two months later, and at the beginning of 2011 have broken into the top 25 countries in the world ahead of nations such as Mexico and Japan. This great rise by Montenegro is due much in part to their steallar Euro 2012 qualification run thus far. While they are a team of few goals in the group, Montenegro has not lost any of their first four games and has capped off their initial victories over Wales, Bulgaria, and Switzerland with a shocking draw to England at Wembley in October of 2010. With Montenegro at the top of their group at 10 points (possibly moving down to 2nd after the next set of games in March), I am confident that Montenegro will be able to qualify for the 2012 European Football Championship either by winning the group or a playoff. If the current team can keep this level of play up, I think they also have a good chance of qualifying for their first World Cup in Brazil in 2014. This leap by a former Yugoslav country has been achieved before by Croatia, who not only qualified for the 1998 World Cup on their first attempt, but went on to reach third as well.
Chile: Chile has been on pretty good form recently and made a compelling performance at the World Cup in South Africa before understndably losing to Brazil in the round of 16. The Chilean team was second in the South American qualifying group along with Paraguay, only one point behind Brazil at the top of the group. While Chile was beaten soundly by Brazil in the World Cup, they had a rather young team which will have matured by 2014. One step to watch for the future prospects of the Chilean team will be the Copa America this summer in Argentina. They are grouped with Uruguay, Peru, and Mexico. While Peru should not hold much of a challenge for the Chilean side, Uruguay and Mexico will be tough sides to beat. Even if Chile does not do well in this year’s Copa America, by 2014 I think the team overall will have matured enough to qualify and do well in Brazil. As they will not only have a good team but also have the advantage of playing on their hoem continent, I predict that Chile will be able to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since they hosted the World Cup in 1962.
Ghana: After Ghana’s spectacular second place showing in the 2010 African Cup of Nations, the team continued to excel last year by becoming only the third African nation to reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Ghana almost made it to the semifinals were it not for a desperate gamble by Luis Suarez that saved Uruguay’s chances and sent the game to a penalty shootout. Ghana is now the top ranked team on the African continent and the only African team in the top 20 on FIFA’s ranking after the dramatic fall of Egypt after this month’s calculations. Ghana also has a fairly young team and a good crop of youth players coming up through the ranks. Their under-20 team won the 2009 U-20 World Cup in Egypt, so the next generation of Ghanaian football is already showing its prowess on the international stage.
Spain: I’ll admit, part of the reason that Spain is on this list is because I have a soft spot for them. But really, Spain is obviously going to be a powerhouse for the next UEFA championship and the next World Cup. They are coming into both competitions as the defending champions, as well as being the best team in the world right now. Besides staggering losses to Argentina and Portugal in away friendlies, Spain has had a very good string of games in the past few months. Their victories against Lithuania, Scotland, and Liechtenstiein have given Spain a good start to the Euro 2012 qualifiers and there really isn’t any question as to whether they will qualify. However, once they get to the competitions, their opponents in both upcoming tournaments will be eager to take them down. The Spanish team could suffer from complacency and overconfidence and suffer an unlucky loss during either of the competitions. I’m confident that Spain will go far in both Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup, but whether they can get back-to-back titles in either competition is difficult to say. If they do go all the way in Euro 2012, Spain will become the first team to achieve two consecutive wins in the tournament’s history.