It's often said that the friendlies before the World Cup don't really matter. However, form is a thing, though it's not clear how much of a thing. Some teams have done well into qualifying, some times haven't. Usually, such form is an indicator. However, there's always at least one team that works like a 2010 Uruguay - last South American team to quality, but the one that went the farthest. With that in mind, here are some teams going into the World Cup with the kind of form that says "Watch Me' and others that say "Watch Me Explode".
The United States will be coming into the World Cup with some swing in their step after winning all three of their warm-up games. While it was not pretty at times, the US did manage to outscore their opponents 6-2, while only conceding from the spot. What's more, the Yanks have improved after each match and have seemed to have found the best line up for their coming games against Ghana. While Azerbaijan and Turkey may have represented rather limp competition, Nigeria are a decent opponent, current African Cup of Nations, and probably a similar side to Ghana, the US' first opponent. While the score might have read 2:1, the game probably was closer to a two or three goal margin of victory than the final score. With the US rounding into form, and with the traditional powers, Germany and Portugal dealing with injuries, a ticket out of the group and a deep run into the World Cup could be in place for the Yanks to seize.
Belgium are experiencing something of a renaissance thanks to a golden generation based mostly in the English Premier League. With Eden Hazard, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellaini, Mousa Dembélé, Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas, and Thibaut Courtois on loan to Spain, Belgium have a deep side across squad rooted in the Premier League's top half of the table. Belgium cruised through qualification without losing a single match, securing their first trip to the world stage since 2002 with 9 points above second place, Croatia. Belgium have continued to see success with their World Cup tune ups, crushing Luxembourg, and beating Sweden and Tunisia. With Algeria, Russia, and South Korea in their group, Belgium are almost definitely the most talented squad in the group. The one hitch would be how they do away from Europe, as each of their friendlies was played in the continent. If they can avoid wilting in the Brazilian heat, expect Belgium to go into the World Cup with a bang.
The Bosnian national team has only been in existence since 1995, but, not even two decades later, they will not just feature in their first world cup, but look to surprise those who have not been paying attention to the Dragons. During qualification, Bosnia was a goal scoring, ahem, dragon, dropping points only twice. The finished level with the defensive Greeks on points, but went ahead thanks to a 16 goal advantage in goal difference. With Argentina, Iran, and Nigeria in their group, Bosnia will look to deliver some offensive poundings, especially against the weaker opponents. Bosnia have played 3 friendlies for their World Cup tune-ups, winning all three. They beat African power house Ivory Coast, 2-1, before scalping Mexico 1-0 in Chicago, USA. Their final match was a 5-1 pounding on the Brazilian Club Santos' reserve side. Nigeria are almost definitely weaker than fellow African nation Ivory Coast and Iran should be relative push-overs. Argentina represent the only problem, but Bosnia should provide a stern test for them. If the Dragons can keep delivering their scintillating performances, the group stage should be a relative breeze for them.
Things have not clicked with the expected German efficiency in the Die Mannschaft camp. The Germans have spluttered a bit in their warm up games, with two consecutive draws and a win against very weak opposition. Arguably, their hardest test came in their first match against Poland, who are missing out in the big show this year. That was a 0-0 draw. The Germans drew again against Cameroon, this time 2-2. The Africans are considered by many (including me) to be on the short list for worst team in the World Cup. The Germans finally found got their offensive gears clicking against lowly Armenia, but the six goals only came after getting shut out for the entire first half. These teams are ranked 69th, 56th, and 37th, respectively (though Armenia's relatively high rating looks to be from wins against such teams as the UAE, Denmark, and Bulgaria, hardly footballing powers.) On top of that, each game was played in temperate Germany- the team have not been tested in the tropical heat. However, Germany are being crippled with even bigger issues- injuries across the board. The Dortmund phenom, Marco Reus, came out just before half time against Cameroon, hobbled by a an ankle injury. He will join İlkay Gündoğan and Lars Bender, with Neuer and Schweinsteiger limited to a role on the bench in the Armenia match. The likes of Mario Gomez and Holger Badstuber were held out due to long term injuries (with Gomez still to return). That said, the team did seem to click after Podolski came on for the injured Reus. With a very strong group ahead of them, Germany will desperately need that offensive synchronization to get out of their tough group, never mind advance to the final they have been aching for for so long.
If the World Cup had been held in 2012, Mexico might have won the whole thing. They did win the Olympic gold medal, with their U-23 team effectively beating the senior Brazilian national team in the final. Fast forward two years, and Mexico are lucky to even be in the World Cup. They wouldn't be here at all if hated arch rivals, the USA, hadn't scored two late goals against Panama in the last qualifying match (one that was effectively meaningless for the US.) During the final round of qualification, known as the Hexagonal, Mexico won only one match at home. These are games played in the gigantic fortress of Estadio Azteca, the concrete coliseum placed in the high altitudes of Mexico City. Prior to 2011, Mexico had not dropped a point in Estadio Azteca since they lost 2-1 against Costa Rica in 2001. Mexico have also seen their head coaching position become a rotating door, with 4 different people in the position since this time last year. Their current manager, Miguel Herrera, has found some more stability by depending on domestic players. However, this was only because so many players have dipped out of form, or shrugged off the national team entirely. Carlos Vela, probably the best Mexican player in the world, has been lighting it up with Real Sociedad in Spain, but has refused to join the national side due to a running feud with the federation. Javier 'Chicharito" Hernandez had barely featured with Manchester United and the midfield duo of Juan Carlos Medina and Luis Montes, part of the innovation that Herrara brought into the line up, went down injured. The lineup that has been announced looks to be deeply flawed. While Mexico easily brushed aside New Zealand in their intercontinental playoff, they have not entirely settled into good form. They won their first two warm up games agains Israel and Ecuador, but lost against Bosnia and Portugal. With Brazil, Croatia, and Cameroon in their group, Mexico certainly have a doable path to the knockout stage, but they will need to get their act together, and fast.
Historically, Korea has been the strongest Asian nation at the world cup. North Korea famously beat the Italians before putting Portugal to the sword in 1966. However, of late, it's been South Korea that has dominated Asia. In 2002, South Korea became the first nation outside of Europe and Asia to reach the semifinals of a world cup (excluding the 1930 edition where the US technically finished in third after winning their group.) They played surprisingly good football on home-soil. Even away from their homeland, South Korea have succeeded to get out of their group in each of the last two World Cups. However, that streak could very well end this June. South Korea struggled through qualification, finishing second in their group only through goal difference. Had they finished third, they would have had to beat Jordan in an two legged playoff match before facing Uruguay in an intercontinental playoff. Qualification went so poorly, the Korean manager, Choi Kang-Hee, resigned. Korean national team legend, Hong Myung-bo, replaced him, but results still have not come. Since the start of the new year, South Korea have only won two matches, against Greece and Costa Rica. They lost against both Mexico and the US this winter, and again against Tunisia and Ghana in their World Cup warm ups. With decent quality of European competition in Belgium and Russia (whom they lost against in November), along with Algeria, the team that beat Tunisia in qualifying, South Korea could find themselves on the outside looking in if they can't get their results in order.