Despite offering very little more in terms of entertainment or distraction from the lack of club football in our lives, this past international break brought with it two unusually compelling reasons to take interest. The first being the culmination of the group stage qualifiers and the confirmation of 21 of the 32 teams who’ll be competing in Brazil next summer; and the other being the plethora of goals and ‘qualification sealing’ performances from Chelsea players. Over both rounds of fixtures, our twelve outfield players (including loanees and Mikel) scored 10 goals, meaning Jose will have plenty of in-form forward players to select from for tomorrow’s game against Cardiff.
Many already, and quite rightly in my opinion, are hyping up and romanticising the upcoming World Cup as the ultimate competitive footballing occasion – as the impending epitome of sporting entertainment in the spiritual homeland of the ‘beautiful game’. The following is a breakdown of all the Chelsea players who’ll be gracing those hallowed Brazilian pitches next June…
Brazil – The host nation obviously haven’t been through a qualification process but their progress over the past two years has been interesting nonetheless. After Mano Menezes was sacked following defeat in the final of the Olympic Games in London, former Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has come in and established a pretty solid looking blueprint which proved its potential at the Confederations Cup just a few months back.
With the system and XI largely decided already, Scolari has afforded himself licence to experiment with his options in friendly games since his famous 3-0 victory over Spain. Two players who seem to feature without failure though are David Luiz and Oscar. The former of which vice-captains the team and will form (for my money) the best centre half partnership of the tournament, next to Thiago Silva. Oscar meanwhile remains as important to the team as he ever was, scoring in both of last week’s friendly matches.
The other top Brazil international at Chelsea, Ramires, faces a tough challenge to secure regular involvement though, next summer. After losing his place to Luis Gustavo under slightly arbitrary circumstances, the Wolfsburg player hasn’t done much wrong at all, meaning our #7 will probably only be used as backup. Finally, it’s also possible that Willian might make the team as a sort of wildcard selection. Few are in doubt he is one of the elite playmakers in world football and having finally moved to a top European league, his chances can’t be that bad, provided he plays well for Chelsea. Plus, with Hulk in Russia and Lucas Moura not doing great in Paris, there’s definitely a spot on the right wing open for a player of Willian’s class.
Belgium – Having failed to qualify for any major tournament since 2002, the Belgians walked through their group, dropping only four points along the way, two of which were after first place was already secured. The country’s current ‘golden generation’ aren’t so much of a secret anymore and so ‘dark horses’ might be a generous moniker to assign them – they’ll undoubtedly be a tricky draw for any side however, at virtually any stage of the tournament.
Most Belgium writers say the three key players in the side are captain, Vincent Kompany, Axel Witsel and Thibaut Courtois; the most important attacking players are most certainly from Chelsea however. Eden Hazard remains the poster boy #10 of the squad but the stand out player of the qualifying campaign by a distance has been Kevin De Bruyne, who has progressed under manager Marc Wlimots from a talented prospect to a top level international midfielder and the key creative outlet for his country, with four goals and six assists over the ten qualifiers. With Benteke having largely disappointed over the last year or so, there’s also a good chance our other loanee Romelu Lukaku could purloin his place in the XI permanently in time for June.
Spain – The only other team with a decent Chelsea contingent likely to get anywhere in the tournament are the defending champions. Unfortunately though, it seems all three of our guys likely to travel are some way from the first team at the moment. The Barcelona quintet of Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro and Fabregas all remain pretty un-droppable in Del Bosque’s squad, despite Juan Mata being better than at least two of them. Xabi Alonso will most likely take up the sixth space in midfield/attack, leaving no room for an orthodox striker. Cesar Azpilicueta’s lack of game time may mean he could even miss out on the squad all together, should Real Madrid right backs Alvaro Arbeloa and Dani Carvajal both have good seasons.
If the Confederations Cup wasn’t it, then this is surely the last tournament where this generation of Spanish players can be successful. Whether or not they win in Brazil I think it’s about time they ought to draw a line under this incredible era and focus on bringing in the next load of talent, i.e. Javi Martinez, Mata, Isco, Thiago and Cristian Tello – hardly a bad set of reserves to be promoting.
Other teams – Elsewhere, for England, manager Roy Hodgson has done an impressive job of helping to push down expectations to a remarkable low amongst the English public, despite having only lost once in his 23 matches in charge (over 90 minutes) the football has been abysmally bland. Gary Cahill is the only Chelsea man certain to start (if fit), with Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard facing competition from Leighton Baines and Michael Carrick respectively.
And finally, Andre Schurrle was brilliant for Germany last week with a goal against the Republic of Ireland and a hat-trick against Sweden. The young winger has always delivered for his country but with so much competition from the likes of Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus, Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos and Julian Draxler – I think he’s unlikely to start any games in Brazil.