World Cup Brazil 2014 Preview
By Greg Hudson
As the 2014 World Cup gets underway Thursday when hosts Brazil take on Croatia, let’s look beyond the buildup to the big event, the questions about whether the stadia, airports, and country itself would be ready for the biggest stage in world sports, and look at how the tournament itself might play out, and who, at the end, stands a chance to lift the golden ball.
Group A – Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia, Mexico
The hosts are certainly the favorites in this group, with the likes of Neymar, Hulk, Oscar, and Fernandinho. The Luka-Modric-led Croatian team are second-favorites, but don’t count out Samuel Eto’o and Cameroon. Mexico made a few big changes to their roster this year and just don’t have the firepower to match the big boys in this group.
Group B – Australia, Chile, Netherlands, Spain
It’s an unfortunate group in terms of the massive gulf in class between Australia and Chile and the powerhouses of the Netherlands and Spain, who met in the World Cup final just four years ago. Granted, neither team is as strong as it was in 2010, but both are still favorites to make a run well into the knockout rounds.
Group C – Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
This is a true toss-up. Colombia have the single best player in Radamel Falcao, but he’s injured and hasn’t recovered in time to make the team, and it’s not certain how well his country will fare without his goalscoring threat. Greece don’t have much star power but play well together. The Cote D’Ivoire stand a good chance with the likes of Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure proving that age doesn’t necessarily mean decline, while Japan play hard for all 90 minutes of every game but don’t really have much in terms of quality. Expect Colombia and the Ivory Coast to go through.
Group D – Costa Rica, England, Italy, Uruguay
It’s a mini group of death, with Costa Rica the only team certain to miss out. Uruguay have an incredibly strong team and the world’s premier in-form striker, Luis Suarez, but he is just coming off a minor knee surgery, and while he’s recovered well, fitness may prove a concern. England, once considered favorites in the group, have injury concerns of their own after the loss of Alex Chamberlain for at least the opening matches, and questions remain about the fitness of captain Steven Gerrard. Italy are also contenders, with legend Andrea Pirlo making his swan song on the world’s biggest stage. In the end though, expect England and Uruguay to move on.
Group E – Ecuador, France, Honduras, Switzerland
The French and Swiss teams are almost a sure bet this year, barring a French team strike like at the 2010 World Cup when half the squad quit halfway through the competition in protest over managerial policies. Ecuador and Honduras have some quality and will certainly force the favorites to play well in order to get the three points, but they just aren’t large enough countries to assemble the kind of squads that would get them past the group stage.
Group F – Argentina, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Argentina are the clear favorites to win the Group, with Bosnia and Nigeria a close call for the second qualifying spot. The Argentines have one of the strongest teams in the competition thanks to Lionel Messi, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Carlos Tevez, but the match between Bosnia and Nigeria is the one to watch is you’re looking for drama, seeing as the winner will most likely be the team to advance. Congrats to Iran for qualifying, but they haven’t a chance.
Group G – Germany, Ghana, Portugal, United States
Fans of the US men’s national team were distraught after the draw for this year’s tournament thanks in no small part to the fact that the USMNT were drawn into the group of death. In fact, all four of these countries advanced to the knockout stages of the 2010 World Cup, with Ghana reaching the quarterfinals and Germany reaching the semis. Germany are certainly the best team in the group, even without midfield star Marco Reus. The depth of talent in Germany is almost unrivaled and although Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo, his fitness is in doubt. Ghana and the USMNT will need to play perfect games against the two giants to stand a chance, and while it’s distinctly possible the Americans will go through, it’s no less likely that they’ll come home without a single point.
Group H – Algeria, Belgium, Russia, South Korea
The Russian team is aging but strong, and the Belgian team is young and improving. Look for these two teams to advance against Algeria, which sends most of its talented young players to France by age 12, and South Korea, who just don’t have the kind of talent to compete with the two European teams.
Once the group stages are complete, check back for our in-depth projection for the knockout rounds and our predictions for who will win the 2014 World Cup!