An exciting World Cup is quickly approaching this summer as the world's best national sides battle it out for the ultimate prize in international football. The tournament only comes around every four years, and this time it's taking place in Brazil.
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We've seen what EA Sports has in mind for its 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil tie-in, but what about national teams in the major release, FIFA 14?
I recently ranked the best club teams in the game, and now I've done the same for international squads based on a combination of how good they are in FIFA, and where I think they'll end up finishing at this summer's World Cup tournament.
Key Players: Neymar, Oscar, Thiago Silva
Brazil are the hosts of this World Cup, which has a significant amount to do with them being touted as favorites to win. If the tournament were taking place in Europe, most peoples' money would probably be back on Spain, the dominant team of the last several international competitions. But, home advantage helps quite a bit as far as the crowd and climate goes. Add to that Brazil handily defeating Spain at the Confederations Cup in South America, and the balance is tipped.
Brazil have always been known for their dazzling flair and technical proficiency and it's present in the current team, though maybe not to the level it used to be for history's most famous and successful nation side. In FIFA 14 this translates to players who can be used to gleefully pull off a lot of fancy dribbles, flicks and quick passes. Neymar, Hulk and Oscar highlight the forward line with those skills and a good amount of speed. If you're a skilled player, you can make use of these players' qualities to devastating effect. There's no great striker on the real Brazil team, which I think is their weak point. But in the game, if you know what you're doing Fred is good enough to put the ball in the net.
The fullbacks are extremely fast and also good dribblers, so you can bomb forward all day with Brazil. Center back pairing Silva and Luiz has proven very solid, even if Luiz doesn't turn out the same level of performance for his club team. He's incredibly good in FIFA 14 for whatever reason, and almost always wins the ball. They have a solid if unspectacular central midfield, great technical attackers and a quick, skilled back line. This is the favorite for the tournament in my estimation, and the most delightfully fun and good teams to play as in the game.
Key Players: Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas
Picking key players for this Spain side is almost a useless endeavor as everyone on the team is so, so good. They for me still have the best roster in the world with no real weak points, but aren't in first because the cup is in Brazil and they aren't quite as easy to dominate with in FIFA 14. Some of, if not the, best midfielders of their generations are playing for this Spanish side in Xavi and Iniesta, Busquets and Fabregas. These are some of the highest rated players in the game in their positions, particularly the first two.
Add great playmakers like Silva, speed merchants like Pedro who can score and newly nationalized Diego Costa and in-form Llorente and this team is very threatening. The strikers are good on paper, but they have trouble playing with a real number nine and Costa's recent debut wasn't overly promising, which is why the position is listed as a trouble area. Spain not as quick or tricky as Brazil, which makes them a little less effective in game, similar to how Barcelona's style doesn't translate as well. The defense is top notch (Ramos is a key player in the sense that he also needs to control himself, as he's a yellow card magnet) and as with Real Madrid, Casillas makes superhuman saves in FIFA 14.
Key Players: Ozil, Lahm, Neuer
I know it's looking like a pattern here that strikers are the main weaknesses of the best national sides, and that's frankly because it is. You would think teams couldn't score without top strikers and thus wouldn't be good, but the supporting attacking midfield and winger casts are so strong that they make up for it. This is particularly true with Germany's glut of attacking talent behind the striker. You get fantastic attacking midfielders, a world class playmaker in Mesut Ozil, and a really solid group in the center of the park.
The much-vaunted fear factor the German national team has is alive and well, with Schweinsteiger, the Bender twins, Kroos, Mueller, Goezte, Schuerrle and Reus providing an impressive combination of strength, speed and skill in midfield. In FIFA 14, like real life Germany have a unique combination of technical ability and quickness from all of these players.
They may play Mario Gomez up front, or they may use any of those great attackers as a false nine or striker. Neuer in net is nearly as effective as Casillas in the game, and in Brazil he must show he deserves the title a lot of people give him as the world's best goalkeeper. Germany are extremely hard to play against and have only gotten quicker up front-you'll definitely frustrate your opponents.
Key Players: Messi, Mascherano, Di Maria
This team may very well have the straight-up best offense in the world, and I don't even think it's close. Sure, Germany Brazil and Spain all have amazing advanced midfielders and wingers, but they don't have those things, fantastic strikers, and the world's best player. Argentina is a great team to use in FIFA 14, and you should be worried and annoyed if your opponent picks them.
Messi, Aguero, Higuain, Tevez, Di Maria, Lamela and Lavezzi are downright unfair options up front. You can mix and move them around in FIFA 14 to get the most out of them-I recommend Messi as a CAM/CF and Aguero as a striker (depending on your formation) with any of the pacey wingers out wide. The midfield, defense and goaltending on this team are all just serviceable-to-good unfortunately, and it will be interesting to see if Mascherano is played as a DM or CB, where he's their best at either. If you want to play as Argentina, just score a lot of goals-they'll make it pretty easy.
Key Players: Balotelli, Pirlo, Buffon
Weakness: Wingers/Attacking Midfielders
Long one of the world's best national teams, Italy has seemingly seen a bit of a down period in their history. Their last great generation got older and though they've been relevant, have not nearly reached the heights of their 2004 World Cup win. Despite what wouldn't appear to be a great roster, they still did make it to the final in the last Euros where they handily lost to Spain. Still, it was a pretty good run in which they beat Germany, and there's enough solidity and upside in this team to have a good showing.
Defense is their strong point with top notch, no fuss center backs like Chiellini ahead of the former (and arguably still) unquestioned world's best goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. Italy might play a bit slow for your liking, but they're also really hard to score against. The maestro Andrea Pirlo pulls the strings and dictates the tempo of the game from the middle of the pitch with a decent cast around him. Balotelli is their best bet up front-the young striker can be inconsistent, but is capable of scoring incredible goals.
Where they struggle is in the wide and advanced midfield positions. They didn't have anybody quick or skilled on the wing, though El Shaaraway helps change that and is very good in the game. You might struggle a bit to score (unless you can harness Balotelli's skills to maximum effect) but you also shouldn't concede much. Italy probably will go far in the tournament despite what seems like a roster that doesn't shine like other teams, because they seem to raise their level in the games that matter.
Those are my totally unofficial rankings and predictions, but I like to think they're pretty fair and accurate. Chime in with your opinion or go put in your FIFA 14 disc and beat everyone with these teams!
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