The World Cup: The Final Four

The World Cup: The Final Four

Taking Stock at the World Cup Breakup

It’s been four months since Spain, Germany, Portugal and Italy competed for the FIFA World Cup, and the excitement of the games has long faded. The real action—and, especially, the real drama—is over behind the scenes. The next World Cup begins in 2015, and while the players get down to their business, we’re left to mull over the decisions that will shape the next five years of soccer. Some are inevitable, some are still up for debate, and some need a new twist. Here is a look at some of our favorite, most interesting stories from the past half-year.

The World Cup is in Spain, but the Euro 2012 championship is in Ukraine. The soccer nations are locked in a battle to secure a place in the 2014 World Cup, despite several Euro champions failing at their first try.

Spain has won four times and is currently in the World Cup’s last 16. Portugal has also won four World Cup titles. And while Germany and Italy have reached the final four, neither team is favored to win.

If Spain, Portugal and Germany do qualify, each nation will play each other in the World Cup’s fifth knockout round, beginning in September. Whoever tops the table after beating its opponent will be awarded the tournament’s final berth.

While the teams’ performances throughout the qualifying rounds reflect the intense competition, the battles between the countries is just as important, and perhaps even more dramatic. Who wins this battle will determine which European nation will host the 2014 championship.

Germany vs. Portugal

Germany is already guaranteed a spot in Russia and has a three-year window to qualify. With a second consecutive title, Germany will have enough points to finish second and move up the standings.

Portugal has the best chances of finishing in the top two, but things could suddenly go in their favor. The next big games are in March (Portugal’s final group games) and June. Portugal is hoping to become champion and secure a spot in World Cup group play in 2013, but if Germany gets its hands on Portugal, the Germans could be waiting in the next round.

“In the end,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos told

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