Brazil Bracket Challenge: Which international power is most likely to bow out after the group stage?
It's happened in each of the last three World Cups: a tournament favorite has bowed out before reaching the knockout stages.
In 2002, there were three teams that defied expectations (and not in a good way): France, Argentina and Portugal, the last of which lost their first game of the tournament to the United States in a famous upset. In 2006, it was the Czech Republic, ranked No. 2 in the world by FIFA, who failed to advance from the Group of Death, which included the eventual winners Italy, Ghana and the US. Last time around it was France, who had an internal implosion, and Italy, who finished last in a group with Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand.
So who will it be in Brazil? Here are three possibilities based on our expert's predictions in the Brazil Bracket Challenge.
SPAIN (TO REACH ROUND OF 16: 96.7% OF BRACKETS) – Yes this may sound like crazy talk, but hear me out. The defending champs are in a group with Chile and the Netherlands, two of the top nine teams in the world according to the ELO ratings. Chile and Spain actually faced off in a friendly last September in Switzerland and Spain needed a 92nd-minute goal to come away with a draw. Also, in their last game at an international tournament, they got demolished 3-0 by Brazil. It's unlikley, but possible.
NETHERLANDS (TO REACH ROUND OF 16: 75.8% OF BRACKETS) – Did I mention how tough Group B is? The Netherlands return just seven players from the team that went to the 2010 World Cup final. They have 10 players who are 24 years old or younger and their star striker, Robin van Persie, was recently out for almost two months due to injury.
ENGLAND (TO REACH ROUND OF 16: 51.2% OF BRACKETS) – England come into this World Cup with some of their lowest expectations in recent history. The Three Lions are in a tough group with Italy, Uruguay, and Costa Rica, and they have to play in hot and humid Manaus. Players who might be too old (Steven Gerrard) or too young (Raheem Sterling) will asked for career performances from Roy Hodgson.
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