Monday, June 9, 2014

World Cup Preview - Group by Group

No doubt the country hosting the world cup has a decided advantage besides the automatic entry bid. However this time around it may be more of a hindrance to the host country as in addition to expectations that hoisting the trophy is simply a matter of time, there are also concerns that the stadiums may not be 100% ready and outside those facilities there may be a bit of civil unrest. Fortunately they play in a group they should control so making the knockout round will be rather easy and might ease some of the tensions felt by both the team and the country. However things have not gotten off to a good start as striking subway workers in Sao Paulo needed to restrained with tear gas and several high traffic stations have been shut down. Union officials are threatening to maintain work stoppage through Thursday’s opening matches. So it appears there will not be a dearth of drama either on or off the pitch. That said, lets get to the afore mentioned and take a look at the Groups starting with the host Group. Group A (Group Metric Strength 62.25 – (Brazil #2 Fifa World Ranking), Mexico (25), Croatia (18), Cameroon (38) Brazil - We’ve already established the fervor that will be a tail/head wind for the host nation and no one questions their talent on the pitch itself, but just how Luiz Felipe Scolari will deploy the talents of Neymar, Dani Alves, and Oscar to achieve the maximum potential? They should win the group but beyond that all of the off the field distractions and the national pressure will determine how far they go. Mexico – Hard to believe this is a side that was on life support in regards to their chances of simply qualifying until they got a stoppage time gift from their neighbors to the North and now they’re in and moreover should make the final 16. After an impressive run over the last 8 national matches (barring the exception of an 0-2 result in their last friendly) the question for El Tri will be between their ears. Do they have the mental game to put together a solid string of games and build some consistency that we haven’t seen from them literally in years? Croatia – This is a balanced team with plenty of experience, nine players have 50-plus caps, led by captain Darijo Srna, Lika Modric, Niko Kranjcar, Ivan Rakitic, and striker Mario Mandzukic. They’ll need to blend some youth to go along with the experience if they’re going to get through the group stage and make it to the knockout stage where anything can happen. A place they haven’t seen since 1998. Cameroon – The wild card with enough athleticism to give the others a scare if they get a lead in the 2nd half but they’re best striker Eto’o has proven he can score at the highest level but at 33, he’s not what we’re used to seeing from the Indomitable Lions so they’ll need to unveil a secret weapon to assist him if Cameroon is going to shock the world and move on to the round of 16. The Smacchat take, Brazil and Mexico advance. Group B – (Group Strength 52.5) (Spain #1)(Chile 14)(Netherlands 15)(Australia 40) Spain – Top to bottom the best side in the tournament, David Villa, Cesc Fabregas, Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, it reads like an EPL all-star team, if they had one, and look to be the first repeat winner since the host nation Brazil in 1958 and 62 but it won’t be an easy as it may not be the toughest group in the eyes of many but a trip to the knockout stage is not guaranteed. If they do manage to pull it off they’ll go down as the greatest side ever. Chile – A sleeper pick to win the group as they have steadily moved up the world rankings and will be playing not too far from home. Under new coach Jorge Sampaoli the Chileans play an aggressive style of football that will cause incessant pressure and possibly force mistakes that could lead to easy scores. Netherlands – The Dutch have always been famous for a high scoring game and in years past have been a sexy pick to win the whole thing. That paid off four years ago and they’ve grown wiser after the heartbreaking lose against Spain in the 2010 cup but unfortunately they’ve also grown 4 years older and Arjen Robben and Wesley Sndijder will have to have to be creative to get good looks. A 3-point result against Australia is a necessity but not guaranteed, and in any of the top 3 slip then they’re going home. Australia is coming off their best showing ever in the last World Cup making the round of 16 but many of those players are still on the squad but their mental edge that comes with experience will come back to hinder them in the 2nd half when they need fresh legs to stave off the younger, quicker, compeers in the group. The Smacchat take, Spain and Holland advance in a surprise. Group C – (Group Strength 59.25 – 4th) (Columbia #8), (Ivory Coast 23), (Greece 12), (Japan 36). Columbia - Attempting to return it’s glory days of 1990 when they made the round of 16 Columbia has totally turned around a program that has been absent of the tournament all together let alone getting out of the Group Stage, which they didn’t do in their last two cup appearances in 98’ and 94’. Over the past 16 years the “Los Cafeteros” has made a youth movement literally starting at the beginning, and have come full circle. They come in as the group favorites in a tough group and should make a deep run including marquis matchups with England and Brazil where we thing the winner makes it all the way to the final. Ivory Coast – The “Post Dragba” era is still on hold as the 36 year old striker will still try to be a force in the middle but this time he has a very good supporting cast, perhaps the best in Africa, featuring a trio of dangerous forwards Yay Toure, Giovanni Sio, and Salomon Kalou. Cote D’ivoire should make it out of the group stage where it will probably face the consensus sleeper pick Uruguay who will end their cup run and send the legend into retirement. Greece – This side has played the same way since it won the Euro in 2004, but that defensive style doesn’t fit well in today’s game or particularly with this field. The midfield still relies on the team’s captain, Giorgos Karagounis, and others that have been on the pitch for the “Pirate Ship” for the past few years, whom couldn’t make a deep run and this won’t be any different. Japan – Although a strong team in Asia, very creative and dynamic they may fall short on the world stage. It’s pace of play is fun to watch, especially going forward. It had the best final-round differential in the Asian Football Conference thanks to 16 goals in 8 games so they can put the ball in the back of the net, and they’ll need to do it as they give up a ton and there will not be many shootouts in this group. Group D – (Group Strength 40.5 – 2nd) (Uruguay 7)(England 10)(Italy 9)(Costa Rica 28) This group easily could make a case for carrying the “Group of Death” scarlet letter around their necks but we also gave the nod to Group G, but this was a close runner up. If it were solely based on names and tradition then this would be the clear winner, but a couple of sides have lost a step and are not as strong as they’ve been in previous years. Uruguay – Let’s not bury the lead, we believe they will win the group and make it all the way to the semi-finals where they will face the defending champions and the winner will hoist the cup as the overall winner in a dramatic rematch of the classic 1950 final. How is that for anti-climatic? They are our not-so-sleeper but upset pick as they have the pace, finesse, and skill to beat the host on their home soil. They’re pace is relentlessly aggressive and this side has always had great defenders so it’s hard to score against them. They now have added strikers that are among the most formidable in the world Diego Forlan, Stuani, Luiz Suarez and Edison Cavani. Under the radar due having to qualify via a playoff but the strength of the CONMEBOL was the best in the world. England – The Lions have a history of oscillating between not qualifying for the cup and playing their best football on the biggest stage. They have only failed to get out of the group stage once since 1962 but have not qualified 3 times over that same span. This time around they bypassed the drama of sweating the qualification process and have looked strong. England will have to work to keep their streak of 16 appearances going as somethings gotta’ give between Uruguay, England, and Italy, someone’s going home. Italy – The Italians will be in every match they play because of how strong they are defensively. In qualification they were undefeated in 10 matches with only 9 goals scored against them. It may not be exciting but it gets results and that’s all anyone will remember if they move on. Age will be a factor and if they get behind will they have the firepower to make up a deficit? Costa Rica – Los ticos are proud of their stingy defense, so they’re not going to be embarrassed, but in the end they’re not going to create enough goal-scoring chances to make up for the ones that slip to the cracks. Coach Jorge Luis Pinto traditionally uses five players in the back line, but that often leads to a limited attack and still might not hold the likes of Suarez or Rooney. Pick your poison, and they will be 3 close matches but CR will be doing well if they can get even one result. The Smac take? Uruguay and England advance. Group E (Group Strength – 61.25 5th)(France 17)(Ecuador 26)(Switzerland 6)(Honduras 33) France – The French have been in damage control mode sine the 2010 World Cup were they were embarrassed more for their drama off the pitch than on it. Burdened with the task of repairing the French reputation in addition to making a run worthy of their ranking is quite a bit on their plate but lost in the smoke is the fact that this is a deep and talented side that could surprise the pundits and make a very deep run. Winger Frank Ribery and striker Karim Benzema can score from any situation, meaning they’ll be within striking distance in most matches. Ecuador – The offense is better than the defense although Ecuador scored only 20 goals in qualifying. Captian and man U. midfielder Antonio Valencia is the point of focus he’ll need to elevate the game of rest. However the team has struggled since losing striker Christian Benitez, who died of cardiac arrest last summer. The players my band behind his memory and put together a Cup for ages for them. Switzerland – A young side that is full of confidence at their high seeding in the group which has been the subject of some controversy but they will do their best to show why FIFA has such a lofty view of their skill enough to give them a #6 world ranking. They are capable of adapting to the style of their opponent and will poach goals when facing the upper echelon of the field, and against the rest they will try to take the match to them. Honduras – The Achilles heel for this side will be putting the ball in the back of the net, in the last Cup Los Catrachos game up only three goals in the group stage, which was among the best in the field, but couldn’t put any across the line for themselves, which is a solid recipe for an early ticket home. Their main attacking threat will come from striker Carlo Costly, who had seven in qualifying, but the team’s overall quality might not be there just yet. The young players are a little unseasoned while the veterans might be a little too old. View previews of every group here.

No comments: