World Cup Preview and Analysis

-Varun Ravi

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Spain, Brazil, Argentina and Germany are widely regarded as favourites to win this World Cup, but who could be the Dark Horses?  Who should be expected to top their group?  Well read ahead to find answers to these questions.

2014 World Cup Draw

Group A

Despite this being somewhat a tricky group, Brazil is the out-and-out favourite to win it. Having won the Confederations Cup convincingly, Brazil is a team brimming with confidence and have hit fine form winning 9 of their last 10 games in their preparation to the World Cup, with the only loss coming against Switzerland.

The second spot here is what makes the group a little tricky. Mexico and Croatia are two teams who could both challenge for the second spot: Cameroon seems heavily over matched here. However Mexico, unlike Brazil, heads into the tournament with a shaky morale. They changed their coach twice in the space of four months and almost failed to make it to Brazil. A playoff was required to book their berth in the finals. Croatia has had a similar run up to the World Cup, changing their coach just before their two-legged playoff against Iceland. Another huge setback is the unavailability of Mario Mandzukic for the opener against Brazil.

Players to watch out for:
Brazil: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Oscar
Croatia: Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic, Darijo Srna
Mexico: Giovanni Dos Santos, Javier Hernandez, Raul Jimenez
Cameroon: Samuel Eto, Alexander Song

A crucial game would be the decider between Mexico and Croatia. Croatian midfielders Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric have had spectacular seasons with their clubs and those along with Mario Mandzukic could tip the balance in favour of the Vaterni.


Group B

This, in my opinion, is one of the three “Groups of Death”. Spain heads into the tournament as one of the favourites having dominated at the International stage since 2008, winning 2 European Championships (2008,2012), A World Cup (2010) and finishing 2nd in last year’s Confederations Cup. Netherlands and Chile however, are no pushovers. Spearheaded by Captain Robin Van Persie Netherlands qualified in style winning all their qualifying matches except the draw against Estonia while Chile finished 3rd in their qualifying group. Australia, like Cameroon, is dramatically over-matched.

What makes this a group of death?
Kevin Strootman’s injury has forced Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal to adopt a 5-3-2 formation rather than his usual 4-3-3 formation, implying how important the player was for the team. The Orange has also been very unpredictable, from runners-up in 2010 world cup to a shocking group exit at the European Championships in 2012.  Chile, on the other hand, is a team that could definitely cause upsets, a win against England and a draw against Spain in their preparation for the World Cup makes it the Dark Horse of this group.

Key players:
Spain: Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos
Netherlands: Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie
Chile: Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez
Australia: Tim Cahill, Mile Jedinak

Group C:

This is a really intriguing group as feasibly all four of these teams could advance. Even the unquestioned favourites, Colombia, will have questions to answer, one of them being “how they’ll fare without star striker Radamel Falcao?”

Japan is a technically sound side led by creative midfielders Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, but can they stifle the attack-minded Colombians or the athletic and talented players littering Ivory Coast’s roster? Yaya Toure Wilfried Bony and Didier Drogba are good enough to lead Ivory Coast to top billing in this group.

And then there is Greece, the sleeper team. The Greeks traditionally play a stifling brand of defence, but goals can be hard to come by. Still, those close results mean just about anything can happen. They nearly escaped a tough group in the 2010 World Cup that included Argentina, Nigeria and South Korea, and they proved their mettle at the 2012 Euros. Their qualifying campaign is enough proof of their defensive prowess, conceding just 4 goals in 10 games.

Key players:
Colombia: James Rodriguez, Freddy Guarin, Juan Cuadrado, Jackson Martinez
Greece: Georgios Samaras, Konstantinos Mitroglou
Ivory Coast: Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Wilfried Bony
Japan: Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki

Group D:

This for me is “The” group of death. Any one of the three teams, Uruguay, Italy and England could top the group. Uruguay secured their place in Brazil only after a two-legged playoff against Jordan as opposed to England and Italy who qualified from their groups by not only finishing first but also undefeated. Costa Rica would have very little to say in this World Cup.

Uruguay however is the current Copa America champions, spearheaded by the deadly strike force of Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez.  The latter’s injury concerns however could put Uruguay’s qualification in jeopardy.

England heads into the tournament with a perfect mix of young talents and experience.  However, a weak link in the team is their right back position. While Glen Johnson is most likely to get the nod he had a very poor season at Liverpool. England also lacks a proper cover for the full back should he get injured. An injury to Danny Welbeck, one of Roy Hodgson’s preferred players, is another problem.

Italy has had their fair share of injuries with Rossi and now Montolivo. Italy, similar to Netherlands, has also been really unpredictable – from World champions to an exit in group stages in the 2010 World Cup and then a sensational run to finish as runners-up in the European Championships in 2012.

Key Players :
Uruguay: Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, Diego Godin
England: Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge
Italy: Andrea Pirlo, Mario Balotelli, Gianluigi Buffon
Costa Rica: Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz

Group E:

Boy, did France luck out, drawing the weakest Pot 1 team (Switzerland) and a very winnable group overall. Switzerland was very impressive in their qualification run and are no pushovers either and could upset a volatile France.

Ecuador is an interesting team to watch. Led by Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia, they finished fourth in South American qualifying, forcing Uruguay into the playoff round. But while they are incredibly difficult to beat on their home soil, they are less dangerous away from Ecuador. It remains to be seen if they can bottle some of their home magic for Brazil.

Key players :
France: Karim Benzema, Matheiu Valbuena, Paul Pogba
Switzerland: Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Josip Drmic
Ecuador: Antonio Valencia
Honduras: Wilson Palacios

Group F:

Argentina is an overwhelming favourite to win the group and anything short of top spot would be a disappointment.  Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria are not poor teams but they lack the quality to finish ahead of Argentina.

As if having arguably the world’s best player, Lionel Messi, wasn’t enough, they also have Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria, a group of attacking talent most countries simply can’t match.

Despite being this their first World Cup, Bosnia-Herzegovina are better than they are given credit for. Led by Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic and Vedad Ibesivic they are most likely to finish runners up. But Nigeria is a very dangerous side, the African champions have all the fire power to prevail

Key Players:
Argentina: Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic, Vedad Ibesivic
Nigeria: John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses, Emanuel Emenike, Ahmed Musa
Iran: Javad Nekounam

 Group G:

Three times World Cup winner – Germany is the favourite to top the group. Germany has rightly been labelled “chokers”, being the only team to make it to the semi-finals in their last 4 major tournaments (WC 2006, 2010 and Euro 2008, 2012) and not winning any of them. Having a plethora of talents with the right mix of youth and experience, Germany is definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Portugal is led by the Captain and prolific goal scorer Crisitano Ronaldo. Ronaldo was at the helm for Portugal in Euro 2012, leading them to a 4th place finish. He was also very instrumental in Portugal securing a berth in the finals at Brazil after scoring all 4 goals in the playoffs against Team Zlatan.

Ghana is definitely the Dark Horse of this group, led by striker and captain Asamoah Gyan, Ghana has been one of the most successful African teams in recent World Cup history, making it past the group stages in their last two world cups. USA coached by Klinsmann is a very determined team, who finished ahead of England in the 2010 World Cup group stage. Led by Clint Dempsey and Micheal Bradley, USA topped their qualifying group ahead of the likes of Mexico and Costa Rica.

Games to look out for:
Portugal vs. Germany:

This could decide who tops the group, while Germany are widely considered favourites , a good day for Cristiano and co could definitely see off the Germans.

Germany vs. USA :

While this game isn’t a proper match up,  USA coach Klinsmann who was then at the helm of the Germany side between 2004 and 2006 played a significant role in the country’s ‘fairytale’ World Cup in 2006. After Klinsmann stepped down, his former assistant Joachim Low took charge and has since taken Germany’s game to another level.

Germany vs. Ghana :

A lot of emotions in this game would be exciting to see how Kevin Prince Boateng fares against his brother Jerome Boateng.

Key Players :
Germany: Mesut Ozil, Miroslav Klose, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller
Portugal: Joao Moutinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe
Ghana: Asamoah Gyan, Kevin Prince Boateng, Michael Essien
USA:  Micheal Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore

Group H:

The Belgium team booked their place in the finals with superb performances in their qualifying campaign going undefeated and winning 8 out of their 10 games. Being a team that comprises of a lot of talented and experienced players who have performed exceedingly well at club level in recent years has made them the biggest sleeper team in this tournament.

Russia, just like Belgium, topped their group in the qualifying campaign against the likes of Portugal, pushing the latter into playoffs. Populated mainly by CSKA Moscow players, Fabio Capello’s defence let in just five goals in 10 qualifying matches, and have conceded only once during their three warm-up fixtures. An injury to their star man and captain Shirokov is definitely a huge blow for the Russians.

But Korea Republic could make some noise. They surprised many  by advancing to the knockout phase in 2010 over the likes of Greece and Nigeria, and they could do so again this year. Led by Sunderland’s Ki Sung-yueng and Bayer Leverkusen winger Son Heung-min and bolstered by new manager Hong Myung-bo, South Korea could surprise some folks in Brazil.

Key Players :
Belgium: Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Vincent Kompany
Russia:  Aleksandr Kokorin, Igor Akinfeev, Igor Denisov, Alan
Dzagoev
Algeria: Sofiane Feghouli, Saphir Taider
Korea Republic: Park Chu-Young, Ki Sung-yueng, Son Heung-Min

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