South American favorites lined up for World Cup

With just about eight months left until the 2014 tournament in Brazil, 21 teams from six different soccer confederations have already qualified to represent their countries. Of these 21 teams, four are impressive South American sides with high hopes of winning the FIFA World Cup on their home continent. Argentina and Brazil are regulars to the tournament, but there is also an eye-opening team in Colombia that is making their return to the grand stage for the first time in decades. Meanwhile, Uruguay struggled to qualify in the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) tournament but still has hopes of qualifying.

Brazil automatically qualfied for the World Cup since they are hosting the tournament this year. It will be the second time Brazil has hosted the World Cup The team finished in 2nd place on that occasion. Neymar Jr., the most watched Brazilian player in recent years, will lead the Brazilian squad. While he leads the scoring frontline, center back Thiago Silva serves as glue to the defense of the team. Brazil won the last Confederation’s Cup tournament held last summer to preview the new and renovated stadiums in Brazil. The team hopes to gain similar results of those from the 2002 World Cup when the team last won the tournament.

Along with Brazil as CONMEBOL favorites is Argentina, who finished first in qualification in South America. The FIFA Ballon d’Or, given to the best soccer player in the world annually, has been awarded to Argentina’s star forward Lionel Messi for the past three consecutive years.  Messi has dominated all of his opponents playing for FC Barcelona and Argentina.

Colombia clinched a spot for the World Cup for the first time since 1998. Led by A.S. Monaco players James Rodríguez and Radamel Falcao, they’ve shocked the world the past couple of years in qualifying and are favorites for the first time since the 1994 World Cup in the United States. The team is currently ranked 4th in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Rankings behind Argentina. Colombia has been dominant in South America and will test their strengths in November against the Netherlands and Belgium. If the team wins on both occasions, the world will have their eyes pealed for Colombia.

Ecuador and Chile have also successfully qualified, while Uruguay will play a qualifier against Asian side Jordan. An agile and fit Chilean national team finished third in qualifying in South America. In the 2010 World Cup, the team lost to Brazil in the Round of 16. Chile is one of the squads that aren’t on the radar of many teams, but they could very easily surprise those who underestimate them this summer.  Ecuadorian captain and Manchester United midfielder, Antonio Valencia, led the Ecuadorian national team to finish fourth in South America just ahead of Uruguay based off of goal differential. Uruguay placed fourth in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and will again be a watched team if they qualify with Liverpool FC striker Luis Suarez and Paris Saint German’s Edison Cavani leading their goal scoring front line. The team placed fifth in the CONMEBOL qualifying tournament and have to play Jordan in a home and away playoff series to determine who gets in the tournament. The team has been criticized for having a team that’s “too old” with most of their players over 30 years of age. Uruguay has hopes of proving the critics wrong after beating both Argentina and Colombia in the last couple rounds of CONEMBOL play to finish the tournament and clinch a playoff position for qualifying.

With a number of successful and favorite European teams who have qualified, it is hard to predict which teams will to reach the final stages of the tournament. If one thing is guaranteed to spectators, it is that there will be an entertaining display of soccer for the world to watch this upcoming summer in Brazil.