World Cup Draw: Colombia, Belgium, Chile more than dark horses | Soccer | CBC Sports

SoccerWorld Cup Draw: Colombia, Belgium, Chile more than dark horses

Posted: Friday, December 6, 2013 | 02:52 PM

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Colombian striker Radamel Falcao will be one of the stars to watch during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. (Christopher Lee/Getty Images) Colombian striker Radamel Falcao will be one of the stars to watch during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. (Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

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Only eight countries have won the FIFA World Cup in more than 80 years of competition, but a ninth member of the club could be crowned in Brazil, writes Scott Regehr after Friday's World Cup draw.
Think FIFA and you think old boys' club.

Like when Sepp Blatter and his cronies re-imagined women's soccer as a sport where tighter shorts and low cut shirts could help sell the game.

But old world elitism isn't just the domain of the board rooms.

On the field, just eight countries have ever won FIFA's World Cup. That's over 80 years of competition. Only another four countries have even made it as far as runners-up.

It's not like it's a small sample size either. FIFA has more recognized entities than the United Nations, with tiny Gibraltar being the latest to join the ranks of 209 national football associations. 


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Still, if you happen to live in a country outside of Europe or South America, you've never seen your country host the Jules Rimet Trophy or its successor.

Maybe some of you are saying that's a good thing. It's the ugliest trophy in global sport anyway.

But I'm assuming you stay up some nights like I do, longingly knowing your country will not hoist that golden ugliness in your lifetime, for all the planet to see.
 
For those who don't live in Canada (currently ranked 114th by FIFA) you may still dare to dream, and after Friday's World Cup draw, your dream has taken on a clearer path... even if that path is likely short and headed over a cliff.

Here are my top three best bets to become the ninth member of the World Cup winners club.

Belgium

Regardless of which group the Belgians were drawn in, they would have to be considered at least contenders to win the cup.

Money speaks volumes about talent in today's game. Belgium players represent the third-most expensive side at the tournament. They are deep at all positions.

Strikers Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke up front. Eden Hazard and Marouane Fellaini in the midfield. Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen on defence. And Simon Mignolet in goal. 

It's like a Premier League all-star squad -- and that's just the Belgians playing in England.

They breezed by competition that included Croatia, Serbia and Scotland during the qualifiers and went undefeated in 10 matches, giving up just four goals along the way.

Belgium will be part of Group H, along with Algeria, Russia and South Korea.

Chile

If it wasn't for its powerful footballing neighbours Brazil and Argentina, Chile would get a lot more attention.

From a talent perspective, the Chileans have a bit of everything.

It's starts in goal with captain Claudio Bravo.There's a reason clubs like Barcelona and Manchester City are sniffing around the Real Sociedad keeper. He was a major reason why his club made it in to the UEFA Champions League last season.

In the middle of the park is Arturo Vidal. If you attended the 2007 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Canada, perhaps you remember Vidal. He anchored his team's run to the semifinals that year. Today he suits up for Juventus where he's the heart and soul of Italy's best team.

Up front the strikers are led by Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez, who, after scoring two goals against England in a recent international friendly at Wembley Stadium, prompted English striker Wayne Rooney to call him "one of the best players in the world."

In qualifying, Chile finished behind Argentina and Colombia. That's stiff competition, and their opponents next summer will be even tougher: Spain, Netherlands and Australia.

With all due respect to the "Socceroos" it's the Dutch and Spaniards they'll be fearing.

You know, both finalists in the last World Cup.

So, why does Chile stand a chance?

First off, they'll have the comfort of playing on South American soil. Next, some of their top players play in Spain's top league. Sanchez, Bravo and midfielder Francisco Silva all play their trade in La Liga.

The Netherlands is a supremely talented team. It's also the best country never to have won a World Cup. That weighs on the nation like a big block of gouda. My lasting memory of the title match in South Africa 2010 is of Netherland's Nigel de Jong karate kicking Xabi Alonso of Spain. At the time it felt like Van Gogh and Picasso were commissioned to create a piece of art, and just as Pablo started applying some masterful brushstrokes Vincent kicked the easel down.

I see Chile and Spain coming out of this group and from there it's anyone's guess.   

Colombia

Colombia have not qualified for a World Cup since the 1990s.

It was an era remembered for Carlos Valderrama's huge bleach blonde afro and drug lord Pablo Escobar's influence on the sport.

Mercifully, much has changed.

The Colombians, led by superstar striker Radamel Falcao, finished runners-up to Argentina in South American qualifying.

Defence had just as much to do with it. They allowed just 13 goals in 16 matches thanks to veterans like Mario Yepes, Luis Amaranto Perea and David Ospina.

The key name for Colombia though is their coach: Jose Pekerman.

Since Pekerman arrived part way through qualifying, the Colombians have been on a roll. So much so, they're now ranked fourth in the world by FIFA.

Pekerman has brought so much positivity back to soccer in the country that president Juan Manuel Santos offered him Colombian nationality.

I can't imagine what the encore would be if Pekerman leads his team to the cup. 

Colombia drew Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan in its group. None of those countries have ever advanced beyond the Round of 16 at the event. Midfielders Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda make Japan a tricky opponent, but after physical matches with Ivory Coast and Greece, it's tough to envision them having anything left after the group stage if they do make it out.

With their nation behind them as well as the likelihood of thousands of travelling supporters in Brazil, Colombia is the best bet.

Honorable Mentions

Portugal (Ronaldo aside, the Portuguese are like the Dutch, overrated) 

Switzerland (a possible sleeper, although Ecuador and France are in their group).

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