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2014 World Cup Team-by-Team Guide

PARIS, Dec 6, (AFP): Ahead of Friday’s group-stage draw for the 2014 World Cup finals, AFP Sport casts a glance over all 32 qualified nations:
ALGERIA
Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic
Algeria qualified for their fourth World Cup finals after beating Burkina Faso on away goals in a play-off. ‘Les Fennecs’, who were eliminated at the first hurdle at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, have never previously made it past the group stage at a World Cup and are likely to struggle badly in Brazil. Veteran Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodzic, who qualified for the 2010 finals with the Ivory Coast but was sacked before the tournament in South Africa, has a team containing few established stars. However, skipper Madjid Bougherra leads from the back and there are talented players further forward, such as Sofiane Feghouli of Valencia and Ishak Belfodil of Inter Milan.
ARGENTINA
Coach: Alejandro Sabella
Argentina cruised through South American qualifying, topping the group by two points from Colombia after losing just twice, including in their final match in Uruguay after qualification had already been secured. World champions the last two times the World Cup was held in Latin America, in 1978 and 1986, Sabella’s side must be serious contenders to triumph in the land of their bitter rivals. Their attack, led by Lionel Messi but also featuring world-class talent such as Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria, is as good as any in world football but there are concerns in defence and in goal, where regular first-choice Sergio Romero is currently out of favour at club level.
AUSTRALIA
Coach: Ange Postecoglou
Australia are appearing at their third consecutive World Cup finals and their fourth overall, but the Socceroos head to Brazil with modest expectations. They struggled to convince in Asian qualifying under German coach Holger Osieck, winning just three of eight matches in their final group, and he was fired after a 6-0 friendly defeat to France in October. He has been replaced by Postecoglou, a Greek-born Australian who previously took Brisbane Roar to consecutive A-League titles and who will hope for a respectable showing in Brazil before leading the team in the 2015 Asian Cup on home soil. Veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer recently retired from the international set-up, but Bayer Leverkusen’s Robbie Kruse is one to watch from the new crop.
BELGIUM
Coach: Marc Wilmots
Hopes are high that the Red Devils can make a serious impression in what will be their first appearance at a major tournament finals since the 2002 World Cup. Under Marc Wilmots, who played at the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups, Belgium cruised through qualifying without losing a game and their squad is full of players starring in Europe’s leading leagues, from Thibaut Courtois in goal to Vincent Kompany in central defence, Marouane Fellaini in midfield and the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke in attack. Belgians are understandably optimistic, but matching their previous best finish of fourth in 1986 is a big ask.
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
Coach: Safet Susic
Just two decades after gaining independence, Bosnia will be the only team in Brazil making their World Cup finals debut. Under Susic, who played for Yugoslavia at the 1982 and 1990 World Cups, Bosnia finally qualified for a major tournament after losing twice to Portugal in play-offs for a place at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. They finished ahead of Greece on goal difference, after netting 30 goals in 10 games, and they boast a fearsome attack, with Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko and Stuttgart’s Vedad Ibisevic supported by the creative talents of Zvjezdan Misimovic and Miralem Pjanic. Could make an impact with a favourable draw.
BRAZIL
Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari
The pressure on the host nation is immense as they look to go one better than 1950 when they finished as runners-up in the last World Cup to be held on Brazilian soil. Amid concern about performances, Mano Menezes was sacked late last year, with Scolari, the coach of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning side, returning to the helm. And he led the Selecao to glory at the Confederations Cup on home soil earlier this year, with Brazil destroying reigning world champions Spain 3-0 in the final. The five-time previous winners can call on the likes of Thiago Silva and Neymar, although their squad perhaps lacks the depth of some of their rivals.
CAMEROON
Coach: Volker Finke
Veteran German Volker Finke took over in May and saw the Indomitable Lions through African qualifying, securing their place in Brazil with a 4-1 play-off victory against Tunisia last month. Cameroon have improved under Finke’s charge but the current team is unlikely to rival the achievements of the side that reached the quarter-finals in 1990. Samuel Eto’o has come back to captain the team and is very much the talisman, although there is quality elsewhere in younger stars such as Nicolas N’Koulou and Alex Song.
CHILE
Coach: Jorge Sampaoli
Jorge Sampaoli replaced fellow Argentine Claudio Borghi as coach of La Roja and steered them safely through the end of their South American qualifying campaign, five wins and a draw seeing them finish third behind Argentina and Colombia. Sampaoli enjoyed great success at club level with Universidad de Chile before taking the national team job, and his team promise to be one of the best to watch in Brazil, just as Marcelo Bielsa’s side was in 2010. Arturo Vidal of Juventus and Alexis Sanchez of Barcelona are the biggest stars in a good squad, and Chile were recently impressive winners in a friendly against England at Wembley.
COLOMBIA
Coach: Jose Pekerman
Colombia qualified comfortably behind Argentina in South American qualifying to reach their first World Cup finals since France 1998. Argentine coach Pekerman has developed an attractive side with Radamel Falcao leading the line but with the likes of Carlos Bacca, James Rodriguez and Jackson Martinez also featuring. Los Cafeteros have never previously made a major impression at a World Cup finals but they are currently ranked fourth in the world and are considered dangerous outsiders by many heading to Brazil. Pekerman coached his home country to the quarter-finals in Germany in 2006.
COSTA RICA
Coach: Jorge Luis Pinto
Costa Rica finished second behind the United States in the final CONCACAF qualifying group to return to the World Cup after missing out on a place in South Africa in 2010. Maverick Fulham forward Bryan Ruiz captains ‘Los Ticos’, who will do very well to progress beyond the group stage. Coach Pinto is a Colombian, but has close links to the Central American nation, having enjoyed success there at club level in the last decade. He previously took charge of the team for a spell during the qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup.
CROATIA
Coach: Niko Kovac
Croatia, with its population of just over four million, has regularly punched above its weight in international football, finishing third at France ‘98 and twice reaching the last eight at the European Championship. The current squad boasts the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic, although the Bayern Munich striker faces a suspension after being sent off in the decisive play-off win against Iceland. Croatia have other problems too, as their erratic form in qualifying indicated. They finished a distant second in their group behind Belgium before German-born former Croatia captain Kovac replaced Igor Stimac to lead them past Iceland.
ECUADOR
Coach: Reinaldo Rueda
Ecuador qualified for their third World Cup finals after finishing ahead of Uruguay on goal difference to take the final automatic berth from South America. However, while Reinaldo Rueda’s side were excellent at home, they failed to win any of their qualifiers away from Quito, where the altitude gives them a huge advantage. They were also shaken by the sudden death of striker Chucho Benitez in July, but they will go to Brazil with a squad captained by Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia and featuring powerful forward Felipe Caicedo. Coach Rueda is a Colombian who took Honduras to the 2010 World Cup finals.
ENGLAND
Coach: Roy Hodgson
England came through qualifying unbeaten, scoring 31 goals, but rarely have expectations surrounding the team been lower going into a major tournament finals. The 1966 winners, who have reached at least the last 16 at each of the last four World Cups, have concerns in goal, where first-choice ‘keeper Joe Hart has struggled for form recently. And recent friendly defeats to Chile and a Germany team missing a host of established stars suggest that Hodgson’s side will struggle when it really matters against top-class opposition in Brazil. There are good players, though, from Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge up front to Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere in midfield.
FRANCE
Coach: Didier Deschamps
After coming second behind reigning world and European champions Spain in their qualifying group, France seemed set to miss a major tournament finals for the first time in two decades when they lost 2-0 in Ukraine in the first leg of their play-off. Failure would have been just the latest chapter in a rather gloomy recent history for Les Bleus, but a superb performance in a 3-0 second-leg victory booked their place in Brazil. Deschamps, who captained France to glory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, must try to develop young talents such as Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba and get the best out of Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema. However, France will settle for a respectable showing as they build towards Euro 2016, which they will host.
GERMANY
Coach: Joachim Loew
Since coming third at the 2006 World Cup on home soil, Germany have continued to fall just short of major tournament glory under Loew. Runners-up at Euro 2008, beaten semi-finalists at the 2010 World Cup and at Euro 2012, they are expected to feature prominently again in Brazil. Germany cruised through qualifying, dropping just two points and scoring 36 goals in 10 games. And the three-time world champions have a wealth of attacking options, including Mario Goetze, Marco Reus, Thomas Mueller and Julian Draxler. The defence is more of a concern, although in Manuel Neuer they have one of the world’s finest goalkeepers.
GHANA
Coach: Kwesi Appiah
Ghana qualified for their third consecutive World Cup finals by beating Egypt 7-3 on aggregate in the African play-offs. The Black Stars memorably reached the quarter-finals in South Africa before losing on penalties to Uruguay and Appiah will call on some familiar faces for the finals in Brazil. Asamoah Gyan and Michael Essien are still there, while brothers Andre and Jordan Ayew have returned after a spell away from the national team and German-born Kevin-Prince Boateng has come out of international retirement. Doubts surround a team that lost in the semi-finals at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, but they could reach the knockout stages with the right draw.
GREECE
Coach: Fernando Santos
The 2004 European champions were characteristically difficult to break down in qualifying as they beat Romania in a play-off after finishing behind Bosnia-Herzegovina on goal difference in their group. They concede few goals, but they don’t score many either and rely on the talents in front of goal of Olympiakos striker Kostas Mitroglou. Greece have not made it past the group stage in either of their two previous World Cup finals appearances, so will be hoping to make it third time lucky under their Portuguese coach Santos.
HONDURAS
Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez
Honduras finished four points ahead of Mexico to take the final automatic qualifying berth in the CONCACAF zone after a campaign which featured a win away to the Mexicans at the Azteca stadium. The Central American nation of just over eight million people are through to their third World Cup finals, and second in a row, with Suarez following in the footsteps of his fellow Colombian Reinaldo Rueda, who took ‘Los Catrachos’ to South Africa in 2010. The squad features a handful of European-based players, such as Celtic left-back Emilio Izaguirre and Wilson Palacios of Stoke City.
IRAN
Coach: Carlos Queiroz
Iran are Asia’s top-ranked side and won their final qualifying group ahead of South Korea and Uzbekistan. Under Queiroz, they are through to their fourth World Cup finals and first since Germany in 2006. Queiroz, who took his native Portugal to the last 16 in South Africa in 2010, has a squad made up largely of domestic-based players, led by the captain Javad Nekounam, once of Osasuna in Spain. On an international level, ‘Team Melli’s’ most recognisable name now is probably the Fulham midfielder Ashkan Dejagah. Iran look set to struggle once again to progress beyond the group stage.
ITALY
Coach: Cesare Prandelli
Euro 2012 runners-up Italy cruised through qualifying unbeaten and will feature at a 14th consecutive World Cup finals in Brazil. Prandelli has done a fine job since taking on the team in the wake of their poor showing at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when they failed to make it out of the group stage. Prandelli maintains a strong Juventus influence in his side, with veteran Andrea Pirlo, who will be 35 come June, still the main source of creativity in the middle. Italy’s chances of equalling Brazil’s tally of five World Cup crowns might in large part depend on Prandelli’s ability to get the best out of Mario Balotelli, although there is hope that Fiorentina striker Giuseppe Rossi can stay fit and make an impact.
IVORY COAST
Coach: Sabri Lamouchi
Former French international Lamouchi has yet to truly convince as coach of the Elephants, who were unbeaten in qualifying but endured some nervy moments in their decisive play-off against Senegal. This will be a third successive World Cup finals for the Ivorians, and they will be hoping to finally get beyond the group stage after being hampered by difficult draws in 2006 and in 2010. It may well be the last chance for the golden generation of Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure, who notably lost the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations final on penalties to Zambia, to impress at a major tournament, although there are talented players coming through, including Serge Aurier and Wilfried Bony.
JAPAN
Coach: Alberto Zaccheroni
Japan will be appearing at their fifth successive World Cup, and will be looking to build on impressive recent performances at major tournaments. They reached the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup and then won the Asian Cup in 2011 and this year’s East Asian Cup, and the ‘Samurai Blue’ eased through qualifying under former AC Milan coach Zaccheroni. They have outstanding quality in midfield, including captain Makoto Hasebe, of Nuremberg, CSKA Moscow’s Keisuke Honda and Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa, but are a little short in other areas.
MEXICO
Coach: Miguel Herrera
Mexico will be appearing at their sixth straight finals, although they needed a play-off win against New Zealand to make it to Brazil after enduring a disastrous qualifying campaign. ‘El Tri’ only won twice and scored just seven goals in their final 10-game CONCACAF group, and there were three changes of coach before Herrera eventually steered the side through. Herrera, who has been in charge of Club America, will now stay in charge of the national team as Mexico, who won Olympic gold at London 2012, aim to reach at least the last 16. Herrera used a squad of domestic-based players for the New Zealand play-off but can also call on foreign-based stars such as Javier Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos. He must also try to convince Real Sociedad’s Carlos Vela to join the squad.
NETHERLANDS
Coach: Louis van Gaal
The beaten finalists in 2010 cruised through qualifying, dropping just two points and scoring 34 goals. That was a relief for Van Gaal, who returned for a second spell in charge of the ‘Oranje’ last year after failing to qualify for the 2002 finals. The Netherlands have passed largely under the radar ahead of Brazil, but there is plenty of quality at Van Gaal’s disposal. Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder are still important members of the squad, while others such as Kevin Strootman of Roma emerge.
NIGERIA
Coach: Stephen Keshi
Nigeria may have the best chance of all the African sides heading to Brazil. The Super Eagles won the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year in South Africa and then eased past Ethiopia in a play-off to qualify for the finals. Keshi, who also won the Cup of Nations as a player in 1994, has done a terrific job in difficult circumstances, including not being paid for several months. With a squad featuring Premier League based players John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses, Nigeria will look to match their previous best performance of reaching the last 16 in 1994 and 1998.
PORTUGAL
Coach: Paulo Bento
For the third consecutive major tournament, Portugal needed a play-off to qualify. Bento’s side, inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo, beat Sweden over two legs last month to book their spot in Brazil. In Ronaldo, they have arguably the best player in the world just now, but Bento’s squad lacks strength in depth and it remains to be seen which Portugal turn up in Brazil. Will it be the side that reached the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2012, or will they perform more like the team that disappointed in South Africa in 2010? That said, Portugal have pushed neighbours Spain close before eventually losing at each of their last two tournament appearances.
RUSSIA
Coach: Fabio Capello
Having qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 2002 by topping their group ahead of Portugal, Capello’s side must now try to do what no Russian team has achieved since the break-up of the Soviet Union and reach the knockout stages. Capello, who guided England to the last 16 of the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, has been in negotiations to extend his contract with the Russian team as they build towards the 2018 finals on home soil. This Russia team’s success so far has been built around a solid defence, featuring goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and his CSKA Moscow colleagues Sergei Ignashevich and Aleksei Berezutski.
SPAIN
Coach: Vicente Del Bosque
Spain are the reigning world champions and winners of the last two European Championships, so will head to Brazil with reason to believe they can see off the hosts Brazil and the other contenders to triumph again. They were beaten 3-0 by Brazil in the final of this year’s Confederations Cup, though, and key players from recent years, such as Xavi Hernandez, are on the wane. Goalkeeper and captain Iker Casillas has lost his place at Real Madrid, but plenty of others are still very much at their peak, including Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets. And Del Bosque has thus far proven adapt at integrating new faces into the squad.
SOUTH KOREA
Coach: Hong Myung-Bo
South Korea stumbled through qualifying, but they eventually edged past Uzbekistan on goal difference to reach their eighth consecutive World Cup finals. Hong Myung-Bo, the country’s most capped player and winner of the Bronze Ball in the 2002 World Cup as South Korea reached the semi-finals on home soil, was appointed as coach in June to replace Choi Kang-Hee. There will be a large contingent of domestic-based players in his squad in Brazil, but the star man is Son Heung-Min of Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. South Korea will do well to match their run to the last 16 in 2010.
SWITZERLAND
Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld
The Swiss qualified for the finals from probably the weakest European group, finishing top despite being held to draws by Cyprus and Iceland. This will be their second World Cup finals under Hitzfeld - in 2010 in South Africa, they beat Spain in their opening game and yet failed to make it out of their group. With a favourable draw, they will hope to progress this time, with Hitzfeld able to call on the likes of Napoli’s Gokhan Inler and Xherdan Shaqiri of Bayern Munich.
UNITED STATES
Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
The USA turned to Klinsmann, who won the World Cup with West Germany in 1990 and coached his unified country to the semi-finals on home soil in 2006, to lead them to a seventh successive finals. They finished top in CONCACAF qualifying and also won this year’s Gold Cup but they will do well to match their previous best performance of reaching the quarter-finals in 2002. Klinsmann’s team contains established European-based names such as Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones.
URUGUAY
Coach: Oscar Tabarez
A World Cup in Brazil will be special for Uruguay, who famously beat their neighbours in the decisive game at the Maracana to win the title in 1950. The current team are unlikely to match that remarkable achievement, but Tabarez’s side did reach the semi-finals in South Africa in 2010 before winning the Copa America in Argentina in 2011. ‘La Celeste’ struggled in qualifying, though, finishing fifth in South America and needing to beat Jordan in a play-off to go through. Tabarez, who these days walks with a stick, will lean on the world-class quality of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani in attack.

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