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World Cup 2014--national team generations, introduction

Steven Gerard, 33
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil a number of national teams will be playing what may be the final major tournament with their current generation of stars. This year, for many of these national teams, their current generation is the best group of players to come from their country in decades if not longer. That golden national team generation may well not be around much beyond 2014. This puts added pressure and emphasis on Brazil’s cup as each of these generations wants to leave its mark.

The storied champions or near-champions of yesteryear had returning stars, such as the five Italy used as the foundation of their 1934 and 1938 World Cup winning teams, or Brazil’s 10 returning players for their winning 1958 and 1962 sides, or the 11 returning Dutch players of the 1974 and 1978 teams.

The 2014 World Cup has the distinction of being one of the few tournaments in history to have more than a couple of such once in a blue moon generational national teams. In the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, it was Hungary ( that had such a team—the Magical Magyars—and they were surprised by the wily West Germans in the finals.

In 1974 and 1978 it was the Dutch ( who were the dream generation team and they were beaten in the finals by the host nation both times. In 1982, in Spain, it was the Brazilians ( who had a one-cup great team which jelled at the right time. They who would entertain everyone with brilliant football but lose to eventual cup champions Italy in the second round.

In 2014, for Spain, Germany, and Argentina at the top level, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, Portugal, Italy, and France, at the next level down, and Ecuador, Croatia, Ivory Coast, Belgium, England, and USA, at the third level, this summer may be their current starting rosters’ last hurrahs. The last time fans will have a chance to see these players at or near the peak of their abilities.

Brazil’s Neymar may be around for the next World Cup, as may Oscar and Marcelo, but almost everyone else on their squad will be in their 30s in 2018. The following squads, listed with their number of players who will be at or under the age of 27 in 2018, follow the same pattern as Brazil: Uruguay (3), Chile (4), Colombia (4), Portugal (3), Italy (3), and the USA (4). Most of the current rosters for these teams will be in their mid to late 30s in 2018.

These are the ages of a cross section of current starters for their national teams: for Spain, Andres Iniesta (29), Xavi Hernandez (34), and Xabi Alonso (34), for Germany, Philipp Lahm (30), and Bastian Schweinsteiger (29), for Brazil, Dani Alves (30), Thiago Silva (29), and Robinho (30), for Argentina, Maxi Rodriguez (33), Javier Mascherano (29), and Pablo Zabalaeta (29), for England, Ashley Cole (33), Steven Gerrard (33), Frank Lampard (35), and for the USA, Clint Dempsey (30), Chris Wondoloswski (31), Landon Donovan (31), and Eddie Johnson (29).

In a forthcoming eight-part series, we analyze what the cup means to these sixteen teams, how they got to the cup and are preparing for the tournament, and what their aspirations and chances may be next summer.

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