Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Lionel Messi to finally deliver but Brazil will triumph

Our man, who has been there and done it, gives us his World Cup views

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi
Eden Hazard

I'm going to nail my colours to the mast straight away and say a European team will not win this World Cup.

So forget Spain, Holland, Italy, Germany, Portugal or even England lifting the trophy next month.

Three factors make me believe this: history, heat and humidity.

No European side has ever won on South American soil and that won't change this time. Quite simply, the European style is not suited to playing in South America – the 1986 World Cup in Mexico when I played with Northern Ireland taught me that.

You may say surely a team like Spain, with their passing game, will cope. Not enough for them to go and win the competition.

A big part of Spain's game is pressing and winning the ball back as quickly as possible. They've won the last three major tournaments but none of those came in South American conditions.

South American sides are better at changing their tempo which will be so crucial in this World Cup. They can be playing the ball around dead slow and it can be dead boring and then they'll go bang, bang, bang and they'll score. That will be the difference when the crunch games come around.

If I was certain that Luis Suarez was 100% fit, Uruguay would be in the mix for me as I rate the Liverpool forward so highly, but he won't be so that leaves me to believe it will be a straight fight between Brazil and Argentina to become World Champions.

There is a lot of expectation on Brazil being hosts, but they have a very good manager in big Phil Scolari who can help the players cope with that and harness the desire Brazilian players have to entertain with a responsibility to defend.

Scolari won't mind his players, like Neymar, expressing themselves but as a unit Brazil will be well drilled and organised and that combination, aided by home advantage, will see them go far – all the way to the final.

Of course, shocks can happen, but I believe they will be joined there by Argentina.

This will be the World Cup when Lionel Messi finally shines. In tight games he will make the difference.

People often question why Messi, so amazing for Barcelona, has never delivered for his country on the world stage.

My answer is that he's in a cocoon at Barcelona and when he is taken away from that comfortable environment he doesn't have the same confidence or swagger and consequently doesn't perform.

Call it a hunch but I feel this will be the World Cup when he finally shows his club form, so we are in for some wonderful entertainment because when Messi gets going there is no better sight in football.

With Messi firing, Argentina can reach the decider. Can you imagine Brazil v Argentina in the World Cup final in Rio?

It would be one of the greatest finals in sporting history.

That's my tip. The atmosphere would be incredible and the game would be explosive.

Who'll win it? I'll go for Brazil but we'll have much to enjoy before we get to that stage. This has the potential to be a fantastic World Cup.

What better way to finish it than with what would be the biggest game in history.

Hazard can join world's leading superstars

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez are the obvious players we'll all be desperate to watch when the World Cup starts, but let me throw another name into the mix – Eden Hazard.

Away from the three main men, I can't wait to see Hazard play for Belgium, who I feel are in for a good tournament.

Hazard is a super player for Chelsea – a real dynamo for them when he is given license to drive forward.

England's Raheem Sterling is another who could set the place alight.

These two young players ripped Premier League defenders to shreds last season. It'll be interesting to see them try to do the same against the best defenders in the world.

Van Persie may stutter on the greatest stage

There are always big names who fail to live up to all the hype at a World Cup.

I'm thinking Robin van Persie may fall into that category this time.

He comes across as the type of player who just thinks he can turn up and turn it on.

Like some other Holland players, I do wonder about his attitude.

I don't think he helped David Moyes as much as he could have done when the Scot was manager of Manchester United.

He certainly didn't get close to the levels he reached under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Van Persie doesn't enter the tournament in good form and if he thinks he'll be able to turn it on like a tap, he could be disappointed.

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