2014 World Cup Preview
Brazil, Mexico, Croatia, Cameroon
The pieces are in place for the host nation to take the prize. With Neymar leading the way and Julio Cesar up to task, Brazil look every bit as strong as when they rolled to the Confederations Cup title last June. Mexico were in severe danger in September of watching this tournament at home before squashing New Zealand on aggregate 9-3 in a playoff to book their place. They will need a big effort from Giovani dos Santos and Javier Hernandez if they are to advance. Cameroon had a difficult time in qualifying and with Samuel Eto’o set to make his World Cup swan song, he’ll look to lead his country to the knockout stage, but it will be difficult as the Mexicans have more scoring depth. If Croatia can snatch a surprise result in the opening match against Brazil, they have a chance, but that is unlikely.
Netherlands, Spain, Chile, Australia
On July 11, 2010, the whole football universe was locked into the final between the Netherlands and Spain in Johannesburg and watched the Spaniards lift the trophy for the first time. On June 13, these two Kingdoms will face off again and it will set the tone for this group. Robin van Persie, who scored 11 times in qualifying, and Arjen Robben will make the Dutch a very formidable side and with Spain struggling a bit recently, they should challenge for the top of the group. Having said that, both teams should be wary of scrappy Chile, who fell to Spain 1-0 in the second round four years ago. Barcelona stalwart Alexis Sanchez will be called upon to help propel his side. Australia has experience from the last two World Cups, but they simply lack the firepower to keep up with the big kids.
Cote d'Ivoire, Japan, Greece, Colombia
Colombia earned a seed in their first finals in 16 years and finished second in South American Qualifying two points behind Argentina. But their chances at doing well took a major blow when their leading qualifying scorer Radamel Falcao went down with an ACL injury in January, so that leaves the door wide open in this group. Didier Drogba, who is 36 and was severely limited in 2010 with an arm injury, will return to provide any spark he can in his last finals before retirement. The 2004 European Champions, known for their defensive effectiveness, will have to put together a score-by-committee system to advance and the Japanese will rely on playmaker Keisuke Honda, who will turn 28 during the tournament and was Asia’s leading scorer in the last round of qualifying. It will be close, but Greece’s defense might not withstand Japan’s offense.
England, Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica
It has been 48 long years since England won the World Cup and they are desperate to return to the top pedestal. They are certainly capable with Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard leading the way. They are much better than their poor showing in 2010. Italy’s stunning last place finish four years ago was a fluke as proven by their second place showing in Euro 2012. If Mario Balotelli puts some goals in and Gianluigi Buffon, in his fifth World Cup, flashes his excellence in net, the Azzurri will be very difficult to take down. Luis Suarez’s 11 goals during qualifiers tied for the most, but the Uruguayans will not be able to repeat their stunning fourth place finish in South Africa as their backline will be their undoing. The one saving grace for Costa Rica will be goalkeeper Keylor Navas who did well in qualifying and the second place finishers in CONCACAF could play spoilers for one of the other sides.
France, Ecuador, Switzerland, Honduras
Hopefully for everybody’s sake, France have left their comical petulance of 2010 in South Africa. Manager Didier Dechamps, who led Les Bleus to victory in 1998, has helped make sure the wildly unnecessary episodes are in the past and though they needed a playoff to qualify and Franck Ribery will miss the tournament, newcomers such as Paul Pogba should lift France. Ecuador, who will be playing in memory of star striker Christian Benitez, should use a relatively potent midfield to go through. The Swiss breezed through qualifiers, but whether or not they can keep it up remains to be seen. Xherdan Shaqiri will be leaned upon to help the team. Honduras, who went goalless in their first tournament four years ago, can only hope to play spoilers for somebody.
Argentina, Nigeria, Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Clearly, this is Argentina’s group to lose and the question is who’s getting second place. A dangerous Lionel Messi, who turns 28 in a few weeks, will rise to his full potential and take the group by storm. Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero provide frightening depth. And they face a very familiar foe in Nigeria who they beat in the group stage in 1994, 2002 and 2010. It’s up to manager Stephen Keshi to help the African Champions and his side, who are a notch above Iran, who aren’t as well prepared. Newcomers Bosnia-Herzegovina is in their first major tournament and are hoping for a good showing for the future.
Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA
Talk about unluck of the draw. The USA’s opponents are currently ranked 2nd, 3rd and 38th respectively and they’ll be lucky to get as much as a point. While they are ranked 14th, the Americans are in a very difficult position and the much publicized omission of Landon Donovan in favor of a youth movement doesn’t bode well. The Germans, who didn’t lose a game in qualifying, are the favorites in the 2014 edition of the Group of Death. Even with Cristiano Ronaldo’s knee and thigh injuries, Portugal should have enough over Ghana, who need more production than just Kwadwo Asamoah and Asamoah Gyan, to advance to the Round of 16.
Belgium, Russia, South Korea, Algeria
Every World Cup has a dark horse to go deep and this year it should be Belgium. They dominated the competition in qualifiers, nine points ahead of Croatia and had many players score in the matches. With that in mind, this group will come down to second place between South Korea, managed by World Cup veteran Hong Myung-Bo, and Russia, managed by Fabio Capello, the no-nonsense former England manager. Capello’s experience should give his side a slight edge over the Asians. The Algerians come in as the outsiders, having clinched their World Cup ticket on away goals technicality in a playoff and are unlikely to get a result.
ROUND of 16
Brazil 2 Spain1
Last year, these two powerhouses met in the Confederations Cup final and the host ran all over La Roja, 3-0. This should be a closer match, but Spain’s reign will come to an end as they are just no match for Brazil.
Netherlands 2 Mexico 0
Five times in a row, the Mexicans bowed out in the Round of 16 and that is sure to stretch to six in a row. The Dutch, looking to get back to the final, get goals from van Persie and Sneijder to go through.
Italy 2 Cote d'Ivoire 1 (ET)
Italy went unbeaten in qualifying and their redoubtable defense will help them a long way. Drogba can only do so much and his World Cup career will come to a close here in extra time.
England 3 Japan 0
Japan’s firepower on the offensive side of the pitch is something to watch out for, but against England, it will be hard to get going as the side that was aggrieved by a Lampard goal not given four years ago take the first step towards making amends.
France 2 Nigeria 0
Nigeria, having made it to their first knockout stage since 1998, get the French, who show they are a different team than four years ago and two quick goals will send France through.
Argentina 4 Ecuador 0
In a matchup of South American teams, Lionel Messi and Argentina quickly will make a laugher out of this. Ecuador finished seven points in back of Argentina in qualifying and that should be telling enough.
Germany 1 Russia 1 (2-0 PS)
This could be the most evenly matched contest of this round. Germany are the more experience team having reached the semifinals three straight times so they will use that to squeak by an up and coming Russia side.
Belgium 2 Portugal 0
Belgium will be the candidate to make an unlikely long World Cup run in this tournament and this will be their statement. Ronaldo will have to be at full strength if Portugal are to go far, but if he isn’t, his team is bound to be disappointed.
Brazil 2 Italy 1
Italy’s defense is good, but Brazil is just good enough to crack that as much as they need to go through to return to the semifinals. Neymar needs somebody to back him up in the result and that man will be Fred as Brazil roll.
Germany 1 France 0
The Germans have made the semifinals three times in a row and against the French, a fourth straight time looks to be a good bet. Thomas Muller, who introduced himself to the world in 2010, will propel his country to the next round.
Argentina 4 Belgium 1
Belgium will look to give it a good shot, but Argentina’s star power is too much for any side with a score-by-committee approach. The Red Devils should take this in stride and build on their run to be a world favorite in 2018.
Netherlands 1 England 1 (3-2 PS)
With thoughts of getting back to the championship match, the Netherlands take a big step by beating England in a shootout. History will repeat itself for England, having been knocked out by penalties to Portugal in 2006.
Brazil 2 Germany 1
When Brazil beat Germany in Yokohama, Japan in 2002 to claim their fifth championship, the Selecao faced and beat their demons of 1998. This time, they will wash away the disappointment of two straight quarterfinal losses to beat Germany and move onto the Maracana.
Argentina 3 Netherlands 0
Another shot at the trophy isn’t in the cards for the Netherlands as Messi scores two goal and Higuain another to send Argentina to their first final since 1990. The South Americans, knocked out by Germany in the last two tournaments, look for their first championship since 1986.
Germany 3 Netherlands 2
Disappointed by coming up short yet again, Germany will settle for a third consecutive bronze medal. Typically, sides play this match freely with the pressure off having been eliminated. So things will open up a little and the Germans use that to their advantage over the Dutch.
Brazil 2 Argentina 0
Following two straight disappointing quarterfinal losses, the Selecao return to the top of the football world with their sixth championship and prove once again why they are the best. It is the eighth time the winners lift the trophy in their home country. Lionel Messi and company will give it a good try, but in the end, Brazil are not to be denied and the 20th FIFA World Cup ends the trophy in their hands.