My Explosion of World Cup Thoughts

So, I’ve been absolutely dying for June 12 to get here ever since my Anaheim Ducks were ousted from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the pesky LA Kings. With nothing to watch in the past month I’ve been pouring over World Cup articles, reading up on all the teams, looking up the official kits of each country, and watching every episode of “Road to Brazil” on Netflix, a 22 episode series covering most of the contenders and highlighting coaches, star players, captains, etc. I’m also a buff for fantasy sports when it comes to those that interest me most, and I love making predictions and filling out brackets (even for March Madness despite the fact that I never watch college basketball). For that reason, I’m stoked that ESPN has opened up their Bracket Prediction Game online. There are plenty of prediction websites for the World Cup, a few much better than ESPN’s, but the one thing ESPN has going for them is their group feature. For each bracket you make you can join up to three groups, public or private. So, I’ve joined myself to the groups for USA fans, Chile fans, and I’ve made a private group for my buddies and me to have a little friendly competition! Ergo (perhaps my favorite word in the English language), I’ve been obsessing a little too much over this whole prediction thing, and considering every possible outcome of each group, and what it could mean for the knockout stages of the tournament. And just now, I’ve decided to put my thoughts down on paper, so to speak. Sorry in advance for this rather off-topic post, in regards to my blog, but it’s been on my mind a lot so I figured, why not?

 

I’m going to post my thoughts on each group, listing my two choices to advance, and then predict the knockout stages below. The numbers in (parentheses) are FIFA’s world rankings.

 

Group A: Brazil (4), Croatia (20), Mexico (19), Cameroon (50)

Brazil is an awesome place to host the World Cup as it entirely embodies soccer and its passionate spirit. They play the game with grace and class, with strength and precision, the way it should be played. Brazil qualified automatically as host, and received a fairly soft group at the draw. They’re a world-class team and should easily win all three games here, especially with home advantage in every single game.

Croatia is a scrappy team with some true stars like Modric, Srna, and Mandzukic, but they recently changed coaches and haven’t been in great form of late. Playing Brazil in the opening match is almost a guaranteed loss so they’ll have to beat Cameroon and be ready when they take on…
Mexico, also in terrible form. They barely even qualified for Brazil, requiring a playoff with New Zealand. The question then, is which team will show up to Brazil. If they’re able to beat Cameroon in their opening match, they could gain momentum and confidence. Rafa Marquez, though aging, has been brought back into the side and he brings leadership, experience, and confidence to a team that’s been lacking all three.

Cameroon is no pushover, but the hill could be a little too steep to climb. I don’t like their chances to advance here, however an upset is possible. They do have a strong group of players with Eto’o at the helm. Maybe they won’t advance but could easily play the spoiler by stealing a point from Croatia or Mexico.

Prediction: Brazil gets through with 9 points, but I have a really tough time picking between FIFA’s #19 and 20 teams. I’ll give the slight edge to Mexico, based on schedule and climate.

 

Group B: Spain (1), Netherlands (15), Chile (13), Australia (59)

The way FIFA rankings work is beyond me, and the way they go about group seeding, so as to “separate” world soccer powers and “avoid” groups of death is pretty much a joke. The USA is somehow ranked higher than Netherlands, which simply just should not be. Anyhow, Spain should advance from this group without too much trouble. Their games with the Netherlands and Chile will be tough but not too tough. They should advance with either 9 or 7 points in tow.

The Netherlands were completely dominant throughout qualifying, but stars like Van Persie and Robben have had their ups and downs. If they arrive to Brazil on a low, they may struggle to leave the group. In one of the dubbed groups of death, Group B is one of the toughest.

Chile has a fast team and they often vary the pace depending on who they play and what their strategy is. In the first half of qualifying their defense was more than suspect, allowing 2 goals a game on average. However, since Sampaoli took over, that number was cut in half. I don’t doubt their ability to score, especially if Vidal recovers in time, but their defense worries me, especially going against the firepower of Spain and the Netherlands.

Australia was put in a pretty impossible situation and would honestly be lucky to steal a point. They may be stubborn but they’re in transition and have very poor depth. Don’t be too surprised if they leave with 0 points.

Prediction: Spain top the group and the Netherlands scrape by. As much as I want Chile to advance (I’m currently in Chile and will be for the World Cup), I have a hard time believing they’ll escape. Even if they draw Netherlands on points, goal differential will be their end.

 

Group C: Colombia (5), Greece (10), Ivory Coast (21), Japan (47)

Let me begin by saying this: Group C is not a group of death, but it is the group of my death. For the life of me I cannot predict this group. Groups B, D, and G may be groups of death for those countries, but Group C is the group of death for predictors. It’s very difficult to read and anything can happen.

Colombia has a stellar team, especially if Falcao is healthy. That remains to be seen, but I still like their chances even if he’s not 100%. They cruised through qualification and were on the heels of Argentina. They should finish first or second and advance.

Greece is an enigma to me. One year they’re a walkover and the next they’re incredibly tough. One thing is for sure: they can’t be underestimated. After all, they are number 10 in FIFA’s (albeit somewhat ludicrous) world rankings. I don’t know if they have the creativity to score an abundance of goals but they aren’t easy to score on. I could see them finishing anywhere from last to first in the group, but I’m leaning more towards 3rd or 4th.

Ivory Coast has had terrible luck in World Cup draws. Believe it or not, this is their nicest one, and their best chance of advancing. With some of their power players getting older, this may be the last shot for their golden generation with the likes of Drogba, Kalou, Gervinho, and both Toure brothers in the fold. If they can play consistently, I think they could advance.

Japan is a wild card here. They could go quietly or just as easily shock a few teams and squeak through. Like I said, this group is my nightmare.

Prediction: Now, don’t take this to the bank, but Colombia 1st and Ivory Coast 2nd.

 

Group D: Uruguay (6), Costa Rica (34), England (11), Italy (9)

I personally think that this may be the toughest group. And mathematically speaking, it is. This also makes it tough to choose which of the three former World Cup victors will advance and which one will go home with Costa Rica (sorry Costa Rica).

Uruguay is highest ranked but I’m not sure how much to rely on said number. They certainly have the strike force but I’m not sure they have the defense to back them up. Not to mention that England and Italy are notoriously defensive beasts, even if they have new looks this year.

Costa Rica is a beautiful country. I went there when I was 16 and would love to go back. But, I don’t think they’re getting out of this group. Coming from CONCACAF, they looked great in qualifying. I also think they’re a stronger team than outsiders realize. But they’re not good enough to upset all of these teams. Just maybe, they’ll ruin the hopes for one of them.

England has an interesting team this year, and people might not expect them to go very far. In fact, many pundits think they’re going home after three games. I think they’ll surprise those people.

Italy has a stunning team. They have a perfect balance of new and old, of composure and passion. I think they’ll top the group and go quite far in the tournament. They may have collapsed in the last World Cup but they’ve since turned things around and become a force to be reckoned with.

Prediction: Italy will take the group in my opinion, and I’m going with England to oust Uruguay, despite playing in South America’s climate.

 

Group E: Switzerland (8), Ecuador (28), France (16), Honduras (30)

This is one of the three softer groups in this year’s World Cup. Realistically speaking, I don’t think any one of these teams can win the Cup, or even make the semifinals for that matter. But who knows?

Switzerland are a fairly young team that’s known for its stingy defense. Last World Cup they were the only ones who beat eventual winners Spain. They probably have a 50% shot of getting through the group. And I think they’ll take it.

However, Ecuador have been generating a bit of hype. It would also be quite the Cinderella story if they were to make a run in the wake of the Christian Benitez tragedy. They are keen to play for his memory and won’t go down without a fight. They’re also natives of South American soil.

France has been on a rollercoaster the last few years. They may be in a good place though, for this World Cup. I like their combination of players and the coach is focusing on team harmony. Samir Nasri wasn’t left off the squad for lack of talent. We’ll see how cohesive they are, but their sheer talent should carry them at least through the group stages, if not a little farther, barring any disasters.

Honduras don’t instill much fear, if you ask me. They’re about as menacing as their polo shirt uniforms with the big H on them. They look like a team of boys in a league among men. They could pull off an upset but I bet it’s three and done for them.

Prediction: I like France taking the group, with Switzerland just behind. But I could just as easily see Ecuador getting through.

 

Group F: Argentina (7), Bosnia-Herzegovina (25), Iran (37), Nigeria (44)

Here’s another of the weaker groups, aside from Argentina, who should run rampant over these Group F opponents. If Argentina make a deep run, don’t be surprised to see the Golden Boot winner come from among their ranks. They don’t only have Messi, but also Higuain, Di Maria, and Kun Aguero, to name a few. The goals will come easily and often in the group stage as they should run the table.

Bosnia-Herzegovina are an interesting story, as it’s their first World Cup as a young nation. Edin Dzeko is their stud striker and he’s quite the force up top. They’ll be fun to watch but perhaps Cup inexperience will bite them in the end. We’ll see.

Iran are this year’s only competitor from the Middle East, and they’ll look to improve on past runs to the big show. They do have some talent in their squad and will certainly favor this year’s draw. I don’t think they have enough to advance, but it wouldn’t be unthinkable.

Nigeria have a long history at the World Cup, and they’re almost always among the top of the list when it comes to African football. They have some younger players this year, with the experienced John Obi Mikel as their anchor in the midfield. He’ll have to lead this rambunctious group if they hope to advance. And I honestly like their chances if they can pull it together.

Prediction: Argentina takes 9 points fairly easily, and Nigeria take second, just ahead of BIH.

 

Group G: Germany (2), Portugal (3), Ghana (38), USA (14)

Here we have ourselves another deemed group of death, given the plethora of talent here. In the last World Cup every one of these teams progressed beyond the group stages, and yet two of them will go home right off the bat.

Germany are absolutely solid from top to bottom. Despite the tough group, it’s hard to see them not advancing, and even not taking first spot. From Neuer to Schweinsteiger to Ozil, they have a star-studded lineup.

Portugal are also a strong team, despite the media spotlight fixated on their star, Ronaldo. However, he will have to be in top form for his country if they want to escape the group round this time. Given the draw, there is no room to mess around, and one poor game could cost them.

Ghana are surprisingly low ranked given their performance in World Cups past. They have twice been the undoing of the USA squad and they could be again. Ghana start off against the USA and will look to get a win off the bat for any hopes of advancing. It won’t be easy for them to survive but it’s not entirely impossible. Anything can happen, right?

Speaking of which, the USA also hope anything can happen. With their steep uphill climb, they’ll also focus all their energy on winning their opening matchup against Ghana. Only then can they hope to oust Portugal or Germany. Jurgen Klinsmann apparently has a plan but we’ll see how it plays out. I personally don’t like their chances this year.

Prediction: Germany should take control of the group, and I think Portugal hold off the other two hopefuls.

 

Group H: Belgium (12), Algeria (25), Russia (18), Korea Republic (55)

And to finish it all off we’ve got another of the softer groups in my opinion. If anyone is able to make a deep run from this group, my money’s on Belgium, who have been pegged so popularly as the “Dark Horse” that they no longer qualify as such.

Belgium, at further examination, have a young but stellar team. It’s actually quite ridiculous how many stars they have. All of their starting 11 play on top squads in Europe, and most of them star on EPL teams. Lukaku will be relied upon heavily, especially in the absence of Benteke, but he’ll still have plenty of help from the likes of Hazard and Co. They should control this group.

Algeria have improved since their last World Cup appearance, and they will certainly aim to improve their performance. While three-and-done is the most likely scenario, they’ll be licking their chops at the draw they got.

Russia have been an inconsistent team of late, but under Italian Coach Capella it seems that they’ve settled the ship, so to speak. In qualifying they came out just above Portugal to avoid a playoff matchup. They will also like the draw they got, but they shouldn’t sleep on it. Belgium will probably beat them, so their other two games are hugely critical.

Korea Republic have some good players, but I don’t think they’re strong enough all around to make it through here. You never know what could happen, but I’m not convinced by the squad they’ve got.

Prediction: I like Belgium to win the group and I assume Russia will get the job done for second.

 

Round of 16:

Brazil defeats Netherlands

Spain trumps Mexico

Colombia squeaks by England

Italy shuts down Ivory Coast

France beats Nigeria

Argentina douses Switzerland

Germany cruises by Russia

Belgium eliminates Portugal

Notes: Brazil will beat whoever comes their way, be it the Netherlands or Chile. Spain likewise will take out Mexico or Croatia. Colombia have high hopes and England is a beatable matchup for them to advance. Italy shouldn’t have a problem here. France shouldn’t either, but who knows with them. Argentina, no sweat. Germany, no problem. Belgium vs. Portugal is one of the two sexier ties this round and I really like Belgium’s chances. They have more creativity, more youth, and an experienced back line. If they can shut down Ronaldo, they’ll win.

 

Quarterfinals:

Brazil beats Colombia

Italy finally overcomes Spain

Argentina beats Belgium

Germany takes out France

Notes: Brazil will continue their run in front of their home crowd. And that leads me to my bold pick for this World Cup. I think that Italy will finally best Spain in a major tournament. Lately they’ve played each other twice, once in the EURO Finals and once in the Confederations Cup. Third time’s the charm for a stacked Italy squad against Spain’s aging midfield and beatable defense. I’m calling an Azuri upset of La Furia Roja! Argentina should beat Belgium here, but I’ll be rooting for Belgium to push through. And then Germany shouldn’t fall to the likes of France.

 

Semifinals:

Germany snuffs Brazil

Italy oust Argentina

Notes: I think of all the teams in the 2014 World Cup, Germany is the one who can snuff the Samba spirit of Brazil. They’re just too good, and Brazil has more question marks than the Germans do. In the other semifinal, Italy will continue their dream run by shutting down Argentina’s star attackers. Point for point, this matchup favors the Italians.

 

Third Place:

Brazil will go out with a win in front of their home crowd by besting Argentina in a battle of South American rivals. Brazil are just deeper, and too proud to lose again in front of their fans.

 

World Cup Final!

Germany outlasts Italy to become champions once again. To me, Germany has the right mix of speed and strength, youth and experience, passion and poise. While Italy look like strong foes, ultimately they’ll be cut off by Germany. It will be a sad exit for Andrea Pirlo, but the future looks bright for Italy.

 

The World Cup of Kits:
As I said earlier, I was even checking out all of the kits that each country will sport at some point during this World Cup tournament, and here are my conclusions…

1. First place goes to Nike for some absolutely sick designs, i.e. France, Netherlands, Korea, Brazil, Croatia, and even the USA. They do have a few lazy designs as well: England, Greece, Australia, etc, but they look clean at least.

2. Second place goes to Adidas simply because of what they did for Germany’s two kits and Argentina’s away kit. But, they also made some horrific choices, i.e. the barf on the back of Japan’s jerseys, and the 90’s trip on Russia’s jersey. What happened there?

–> Insert random companies here for countries that couldn’t afford Nike, Adidas, etc. (even Honduras’ polo T’s), plus an honorable mention for Belgium’s jerseys, made by Burrda. That black kit is legit.

F minus….  Very last place goes to Puma for the laziest, most terrible jerseys ever. I mean, come on. From Italy to Uruguay, from Chile to Ghana (the list goes on), they’re basically plain shirts with maybe one stripe on them. They didn’t even put the stars above the crests of Italy or Uruguay signifying World Cup victories. Sheer disappointment for everyone who has a Puma contract!

 

Final Thoughts:

This 2014 World Cup should be an incredible one, with lots of huge matchups early on, and many teams going home earlier than they should. Hopefully there will be an upset or two to make things interesting. I’d love to see my USA boys do the unthinkable and make it through. I’d also like to see an Asian or African team upset some European power. Hopefully one of the dark horses will make a deep run, like Belgium or Chile. And hopefully it will be a beautiful tournament, unmarred by scandals, referee shenanigans, or stupid red cards. Anything can happen this year, as always, and it will be a joy to watch such high-class football every day for a whole month. As you may have noticed, I can’t wait for it to start!

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