With a little under two hours to go until Brazil kick off against Croatia in the first match of this generation’s Brazilian World Cup, I figure it’s a good time to polish off my thoughts on the upcoming tournament. Let’s briefly look at each group and I’ll name the teams I think are going through to the next round. Maybe I’ll even tell you why.
Group A: Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia, Mexico.
Why? Host nation Brazil shouldn’t have any problems with their group and come through as winners; perhaps not a vintage side, but they strike me as being able to get the job done. Mexico looked a mess in qualifying and I’ve seen nothing since to convince me they’ll be anything like the Mexican sides that are usually so good at getting out of the group. That leaves Croatia and Cameroon. While the Croats have a better team, I just get this feeling with Cameroon that they’ll feed off the passion and atmosphere of being in the opening group with the hosts. They also have one or two older stars that know this is their last chance to make an impact; I fancy the Africans to qualify for the next round, and they may be the only side from that continent to do so.
Group B: Chile, Spain, Netherlands, Australia.
Why? Chile couldn’t have asked for a better opening match to get off to a positive start, against the lowest ranked side at the tournament. A win against Australia will give this Chile team confidence, and with that they can cause the European heavyweights more than a few problems. A lot could rest on the match between the Dutch and Chile when they face each other in their final group game. I’ll back Chile to claim a shock and snatch the group overall, with Spain going through in second to set up a rather mouth-watering second round meeting…
Group C: Colombia, Japan, Greece, Ivory Coast.
Why? Look out for Japan, who have been playing nice football and will take one or two by surprise. They boast an even better side than the one that qualified for the second round in 2010. Colombia shouldn’t have any real problems in the group. Once again, the Ivory Coast come overhyped and I’m personally not expecting much from them. Greece on the other hand may be underrated, but I still wouldn’t be brave enough to say they’ll get out of this one.
Group D: England, Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica.
Why? Uruguay’s recent overachievements have troubled people into thinking this group is harder than it is – I’d be shocked if Suarez emulates his Premier League form here, considering it’s been a long season and we’re now in a completely different climate. Just think that England could have been drawn with Spain, Brazil or Argentina; I think they got off relatively easily. Italy and England are my favourites to go through. Believe it or not I can see England’s balance of youth and experience being (whisper it) a breath of fresh air.
Group E: France, Ecuador, Honduras, Switzerland.
Why? France are another team for whom the draw could have been much worse. I expect their pattern of success (1998 winners), failure (2002 group stage exit), success (2006 final) and failure (2010 group stage mess) to continue, with a run to the semi-finals on the cards. Second spot is very much up for grabs; Swiss are favourites but I don’t really fancy them. Ecuador could surprise everyone who has been saying they can’t play away from home. Their draw against England tells me they’ve taken that into account and will have been training appropriately. They have a real chance of getting out of this group.
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Nigeria, Iran.
Why? Argentina should have little problems winning the group comfortably, but who to follow them… Cases could be made for all three; Bosnia will be up for it as it’s their first World Cup and I expect them to be as passionate as anyone, whereas Iran and Nigeria may be better suited to the climate. Ultimately however, getting Argentina out of the way in their first match may suit Bosnia and I think they will go through as runners-up to face old rivals France in the next round.
Group G: Portugal, USA, Germany, Ghana.
Why? Germany who? For certain on paper Germany should have no problems here. But I look at this group, I see a Ronaldo who looks more determined than ever, I see a former German star in charge of one of their group rivals, and I get the feeling this is not one that will be decided on paper. As a team Portugal may not look that great, but I really can see them putting in a fantastic one-off performance and shocking the Germans in their opening match. Need I mention the climate as well? Shrewd management will also benefit the United States. And as for Ghana, they may just be victims of an unfavourable draw this time around.
No really, Germany who?
Group H: Belgium, Russia, South Korea, Algeria.
Why? All games in this group will take place in the south of Brazil, which is supposedly a colder climate and will therefore benefit Belgium and Russia most, and Algeria least. Belgium should get a good start and top the group, playing some attractive football in the process. With Fabio Capello in charge, I would also expect Russia to get past South Korea and Algeria to finish in the runners-up spot. Should they do so, they would have another southern match in the next round (the Group G winners, on the other hand, must jump from a warmer climate to a colder one, with a lot of travel thrown in to boot). This could give them a valuable advantage – and I would have Russia down as possible quarter-finalists.
So that’s that for now. What, you were expecting me to name my overall winner? Well, I agree with most people in thinking that Brazil and Argentina are the two favourites. Argentina have (arguably) the easier side of the draw, and I feel perhaps Messi has been saving some part of himself this season in preparation for the tournament. But it’s nigh on impossible to make any picks for the knockout stages quite yet. Once the groups are over, I plan to do another short post on part 2, and I’ll show my final hand then.