JOHANNESBURG SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 08: Brazilian Football Federation president Ricardo Terra Teixeira Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and FIFA President Joseph Sepp Blatter pose during the launch of 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Official emblem on July 8 2010 in Johannesburg South Africa. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
It's four years until the next World Cup, but the hype will begin shortly. When it does, these teams will be the focus, having already situated themselves to be threats in Brazil.
South Africa 2010's conclusion is less than 24 hours old and people are already looking toward Brazil 2014, the World Cup's first trip to South America since Argentina 1978 - a staggering thought. Not that FIFA has tried to avoid taking event back to the continent (Colombia, 1986), but facts are facts, Sepp: How can the continent that's given us Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay - Pele, Maradona and Francescoli - not host the event for 36 years?
Thankfully, that figure gets capped come 2014, and while we're bound to have 3.9 years of mind-shrinking stories about how the finals could still be moved to England or the United States (I'm sure they're still writing these stories about South Africa), in 2014, the tournament will return to Brazil for the first time since 1950.
That tournament was the second of Uruguay's world titles, noteworthy for 2014 because La Celeste - along with fellow 1950 finalists Brazil and Spain - are amongst the countries who, four years out, are currently situated to make an impact in the next World Cup. We also saw glimpses from young German and Ghanaian teams of potential powers for 2014, while a handful of countries who experienced moderate success in 2010 will reinforce with more young talent, mix that with the experience garnered in South Africa, and be true threats in four years.
As the focus starts to shift across the Atlantic, from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, we shift our focus to those nations who have a head-start in their quest for the 2014 World Cup:
Brazil - Beyond being the hosts and having to deal with four years of people reminding them that they did not win the other World Cup they staged, it's no surprise that Brazil has a number of young talents coming through their ranks, as evidenced by their finals appearance at the 2009 U-20 World Cup. The 2010 team, featuring nobody under 23 years old, will offer relatively little help to the quest for Brazil's sixth World Cup, so Brazil may be more vulnerable than currently anticipated, despite the potential emergence of young talents like Sandro, Paulo Henrique Ganso, Neymar and Alan Kardec.
Spain - Now possessing the world's deepest pool of elite talent, the world champions have a number of players established in the current team who will be linchpins of 2014's defense. The list of players who will still be 30 or younger come Brazil is frustratingly unfair to the rest of the world: Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fàbregas, Andres Iniesta, Javi Martínez, Juan Mata, Jesus Návas, Pedro, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Ramos, David Silva, and Fernando Torres.
Germany - While Miroslav Klose will not be back (currently 32 years old), he and Arne Friedrich were the only players over 26 that regularly started for the Germans in South Africa. Replacing the tournament's second all-time leading scorer will be difficult, but with the improvement to expect from players like Mesut Özil (21), Thomas Müller (20), Sami Khedira (23) and Manuel Neuer (24), Germany may be able to compensate should they not find somebody who can fill Klose's Adidas.
Ghana - Like Germany, the core of their South Africa team was all very young. Only left back Hans Sarpei (33) and goalkeeper Richard Kingson (31) may not return, with Kwadwo Asamoah (22), Anthony Annan (23), Andre Ayew (20), Kevin-Prince Boateng (23), Asamoah Gyan (24), Samuel Inkoom (20), Jonathan Mensah (19), Prince Tagoe (23), and Isaac Vorsah (21) all in their prime soccer years for Brazil. Dominic Adiyiah, the player of the tournament at last year's U-20 World Cup, could be a Thomas Müller-like improvement when integrated, and the pièce de résistance: Michael Essien - one of the world's best players, who missed this tournament with a knee injury - is only 27 and should be back for Brazil.
Uruguay - Diego Forlán (31) is probably gone, as is midfield general Diego Pérez (30), but every other key player will be back (if not improved) and emboldened by players from youth teams that have impressed at both U-20 and U-17 levels. Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani will each be 27 for Brazil, as will Fernando Muslera and promising defender Martín Cáceres. Nicolás Lodeiro (21) promises to be the playmaker this year's team desperately needed, and Palermo star Abel Hernández should emerge to further augment the strike force. The defense of Maxi Pereira, Diego Godín, Diego Lugano and Jorge Fucile should all have one more Cup in them, putting the Uruguayans in place to defend 1950.
South Korea - Some iconic players may have moved on by Brazil. Lee Young-Pyo is 33, as is Kim Nam-Il, and captain Park Ji-Sung, who could keep himself Giggs-esque in condition and be a factor in Brazil, is 29. But with a develop system that produced a team that made the U-20 quarterfinals complementing a senior side that already includes 21-year-olds Ki Song-Yong and Lee-Chung-Yong amongst its best players, Korea looks set carve its way into the ranks of world soccer powers.
Mexico - Though 31, it's not a certainty captain Rafael Marquez has played his last World Cup (considering his position, center half). Midfield linchpin Gerardo Torrado, the same age, is likely done. Even if they move on, Mexico still has a wealth of young talent that could improve upon the team's Round of 16 appearance. The attacking trio of Giovani dos Santos (21), Carlos Vela (21) and Javier Hernández (22) could be the best in the world in four years. Goalkeepers Guillermo Ochoa and Jonathan Orozco are only 24. Pablo Barrera and Efraín Juárez are only 22, while Andrés Guardado, though already capped 56 times, is only 23. The defense has a number of players between 28 and 30 who could become question marks, but the improvements El Tri will see at other places around the pitch will offset those uncertainties.
Netherlands - Maybe the Dutch don't have the players coming through the ranks to replace some of the talent that will age, but just think of what four more years playing this new Oranje style will do for the Netherlands. True, Mark van Bommel is an experienced heel and has likely reached the peak of his powers, but can you image the power Nigel de Jong will have in his kicks after four more years of practice? Robin van Persie clearly needs to refine his technique - his intentional fouls were too obviously so - while the hard work of Dirk Kuyt could be truly dangerous when devoted to more nefarious tasks. The sky's the limit for this Dutch team who, with Sunday's hint at what's possible, could be real threats come Brazil. Literal threats.