The group stage draw for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil was made earlier this month and the draw sprang up several surprises, including several intensely tough groups and several key games to look out for. Let’s take a look at how the World Cup will kick off next summer.
Neymar will be Brazil’s man to watch next year.
Brazil will face Croatia in the first game of the tournament at Sao Paulo on the 12<sup>th</sup> of June. Mexico and Cameroon complete Group A. Brazil are favourites to top the group, boosted by their superior home ground advantage and massive fan support. Should star striker Neymar be on red-hot form and light up the tournament like he did in the Confederations Cup earlier this year, then Brazil would go far in the tournament.. Croatia may miss striker Mario Mandzukic for some of the group stages due to suspension, but they have other shining stars in Real Madrid’s midfielder Luka Modric, captain Darijo Srna and Everton striker Nikica Jelavic.
Mexico has Javier Hernandez in their ranks, and will be hoping that he bangs in the goals to ensure they progress in a rather tricky group. Cameroon are the underdogs in the group, boasting star forward Samuel Eto’o, and renowned defenders Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Nicolas N’Koulou.
Spain has won every major trophy available to them since Euro 2008.
Group B is where things get tricky. The group pits defending finalists Spain and Netherlands together, almost writing off Chile and Australia’s chances. The Spaniards might have on-form striker Diego Costa in their ranks, even without him they have Alvaro Negredo, Fernando Torres and David Villa as reliable options upfront. They have a rather complete team with decent reinforcements in every position. Netherlands, can rotate between Robin van Persie and Klaas Jan Huntelaar in attack, both being boosted by the likes of Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Ibrahim Afellay.
Chile, despite in a tough group, might spring a surprise and progress at the expense of one of the group’s giants. Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez will be the key men to look out for in the Chilean side, as they are attacking players who can produce goals and chances from out of nowhere. Australia are Group B’s underdogs. Regular goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer has retired just before the tournament, leaving Ange Postecoglou with limited options except for Reading’s Adam Federici and Borussia Dortmund’s Mitchell Langerak. They can, however, count on all-time Aussie top scorer Tim Cahill for the goals.
Group C sees seeded side Colombia grouped with Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan. Personally I think this group is split wide open and any team can progress to the next stage, however Colombia being the seeded team might have more chances. The Colombians also have the highly sought-after Radamel Falcao as an option. Ivory Coast have a wide range of attacking choices, ranging from “King” Didier Drogba, Seydou Doumbia, midfielder Yaya Toure, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho, WIlfried Bony to Arouna Kone.
Greece, hopefully can spring a surprise as they did nine years ago at Euro 2004, and progress as far as they can in the tournament. Giorgos Karagounis, capped 131 times by his country, will lead the Greek side out for the tournament, alongside players like Kostas Mitroglou and Vasilis Torosidis. Japan boast their foreign-based players, such as Atsuto Uchida, Eiji Kawashima, Yuto Nagatomo, Shinji Kagawa and Shinji Okazaki. They also have a speciality in set pieces, through their regular free-kick takers Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo.
D for Death. Group D has a huge reputation of being the Group of Death and indeed it was. Uruguay, England and Italy are in a group while Costa Rica round off Group D as possibly the deadliest and trickiest group this World Cup. To be honest, I cannot give you an assured answer if you ask me which two teams can progress. Costa Rica, having endured a eight year wait to finally land a World Cup berth again, have unfortunately been placed in a group of giants and they will be seen as underdogs among the other big guns.
Uruguay will hope that Liverpool hitman Luis Suarez be on scintillating form as he had been for Liverpool the past few seasons, alongside fellow star strikers Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan. For Italy, they have an extremely watertight defence where leaks are rather rare so their opponents have to up their game against the mighty Italians, who also have a dynamic midfield ranging from the hardest of defensive midfielders to the quickest and craftiest of wingers. England’s fate will lie in how well their star players gel together from different clubs and blend together under one name, The Three Lions. They do have on-form strikers Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge but they must click to form a truly deadly attacking partnership.
Can Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge form a lethal attacking partnership for England?
In Group E, seeded Switzerland are grouped together with European heavyweights France, Ecuador and Honduras. Of course, the French and Swiss are heavy favourites, but you can never write off Ecuador and Honduras. The Ecuador team are morally inspired to achieve greater heights to mourn the death of their star striker Christian Benitez during the qualification season, while Honduras have shown grit and true strength in a tough North American qualification stage, even managing to finish above regional powerhouses Mexico.
Argentina are the favourites for Group F, with one of the most lethal attacking forces in the tournament. Barcelona mega-star Lionel Messi has the likes Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi alongside him. Bosnia-Herzegovina have qualified for the World Cup for the first time and they will be hoping to start off their World Cup journey with a bang, possibly even out of the group stages. The Bosnians are spearheaded by Edin Dzeko and protected at the back by Asmir Begovic. Nigeria are also strong contenders for a spot in the Round of 16. Their Chelsea stars, Kenneth Omeruo in defence, Mikel anchoring in midfield and Victor Moses injecting pace and trickery into the flanks, will lift them up. Iran have to be considered the minnows in this group and are not expected to progress past the group stages. However as they always say, the underdogs face the least pressure and may perform better, possibly staging an extremely miraculous giant-slaying.
Will a World Cup triumph establish Messi’s claim as the best player in the world right now?
Group G can be considered another Group of Death, considering that respective continential heavyweights are grouped here. Germany and Portugal dominate Europe, Ghana in Africa and United States swept the CONCACAF qualification competition. Germany have probably the most dynamic of midfield of the tournament. Sami Khedira is a major injury doubt for the tournament, but fortunately for the Germans they have an excellent defensive midfield linchpin in Bastian Schweinsteiger. They are spoiled for choice in attacking midfield, ranging from Andre Schürrle down the wings to Mesut Ozil spraying crucial passes in the penalty box. It is still to be seen if Germany will regularly use the conventional forward system, which could see Mario Gomez, Miroslav Klose or Lukas Podolski book a berth in the starting eleven. Another very plausible alternative false nine system to fully utilise the depth in their attacking midfield ranks, which could see Schürrle or Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller deployed upfront.
Germany are hot favourites for the World Cup trophy.
Many critics are convinced that Portugal are merely a one-man team, spurred on by the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo. However, the other star names will be hoping to contradict these critics, by performing to their best. These names include Real Madrid players Fabio Coentrao and Pepe in defence. Ghana progressed all the way to the quarter finals at the 2010 edition of the tournament and will hope to repeat that feat again. After all, they are probably the strongest African team in this tournament, with their midfield maestros Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari in particular. Kevin-Prince Boateng, Christian Atsu and Asamoah Gyan, among others, too cannot be underestimated. Vice-captain Andre Ayew is a rapidly rising star who, at the relatively young age of 23, has been capped 47 times for the Black Stars. The group is completely thrown open with United States joining the fold. They showed what a force they were to be reckoned by storming through the CONCACAF qualifiers and finished top of the continent. This is another group to look out for.
Is Portugal really a one-man team?
Last but not least, Group H. Belgium are favourites to top this group. This is surprising given that the Belgians last qualified for this prestigious tournament 11 years ago and their biggest achievement to date is the 1920 Antwerp Olympics’ football gold medal on home ground. Their sharp rise is due to the wealth of talent at Marc Wilmots’ disposal. In fact, they are the dark horses for the World Cup trophy. Their striker options include Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas and Christian Benteke, all of whom star for their Premier League teams. In midfield, they can pick from Axel Witsel, Marouane Fellaini, Kevin de Bruyne, wing wizard Eden Hazard, brother Thorgan, Moussa Dembele and Nacer Chadli among others. They do have adequate replacement in every position as well. Their defenders are rock walls in their respective clubs and hope to translate their club performance for their country. Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany, Daniel van Buyten, Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Aldeweireld are likely to start ahead of others, though.
Algeria are the African representatives in Group H and will hope to keep the African dream alive. Russia are also hot contenders for a knock-out stage place, driven by Alan Dzagoev, Igor Akinfeev and Yuri Zhirkov and their Russian squad. South Korea has at least eleven players based outside Asia, which shows their individual strength, but whether they can play together as a perfect team remains to be seen.
As another article on next year’s World Cup comes to an end, we move closer to the quadrennial tournament. I am excited, are you? 🙂