For one month every fourth year, millions of people from every corner of the globe watch as 32 countries each send 23 athletes to play for their nation’s pride and to accomplish one goal: win the FIFA World Cup.
According to ESPN, during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa there was an average official rating of 188.4 million per match and almost 1 billion people watched the World Cup final. As a result of its popularity and world-class level of play, the World Cup stands as soccer’s… scratch that, football’s grand stage.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Rio, Brazil is set to be one for the ages. Will the current World Cup and European champions, Spain, continue their world dominance? Will either of the two best players in the world, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, lead their countries to World Cup glory and solidify their place as the world’s best player? Will Neymar and Brazil live up to the pressure of winning the World Cup on their home soil? Will the U.S make it out of the Group of Death?
I’ll answer these questions and break down each group of this summer’s World Cup.
Brazil is the clear favorite to win this group, and having a home field advantage throughout the tournament, they are favored to win it all. The Brazilians are dangerous on both the attacking and defensive thirds; they have a solid backline with center backs David Luiz and captain Thiago Silva. They’re also able to create goals and chances with the pace and creativity of Oscar in midfield, the finishing power of Hulk on the frontline, along with the always-mesmerizing playing of Neymar. Neymar didn’t always live up to expectations playing for his Club team Barcelona, but he always comes up big for Brazil, recently leading them to the 2013 Confederations Cup crown.
Cameroon, Croatia and Mexico finish up Group A. I’m giving midfielder Luca Modric and Croatia a slight advantage over Mexico to lock up the number two spot in the group and make it to the knock out stages. The loss of Luis Montes after the midfielder broke his leg playing in a friendly for Mexico against Ecuador, will greatly hurt them in midfield, which will be exploited by Croatia and Brazil.
In this group it’s a two-team race between reigning champs Spain and the Orange of Netherlands. The Spanish join Brazil as one of the favorites to win the tournament and are the expected winner of Group B. For the past 3 major tournaments, 2008 Euros, 2010 World Cup, and 2012 Euros, Spain has remained unbeaten as the rest of the world just watched, still unable to solve Spain’s Da Vinci Code. Spain’s success doesn’t lie with one of its many star players, it’s a collective effort on their beautiful one touch style of play.
In contrast, the Netherlands success lies behind its star players, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. Robben’s left foot is one of the most lethal weapons in world football and although it’s predictable what he’s going to do with the ball, very few can stop him. The Orange will also look to van Persie, their all time leading scorer with 41 goals, to continue doing what he’s done many times for his clubs and the national team: score.
This is the most unpredictable group of the tournament. Honestly, anything can happen. Colombia was the favorite to win this group going into the tournament, but after their star striker and best player, Radamel Falcao, was ruled out of the World Cup due to an ankle injury, the direction of the group was shaken up a bit.
Behind the leadership of veterans Didier Drogba upfront and midfielder Yaya Toure, Ivory Coast is poised to win the group despite a poor showing during World Cup Qualifiers. I do expect Colombia to come in second in the group, however, I wouldn’t count out Greece or Japan to shake things up again.
Although Uruguay is a worthy opponent, Italy should be in control of this group. Andrea Pirlo leads the Italians in midfield and although he is a seasoned player at age 35, he makes something magical happen every time the ball is at his feet. The Italian squad also features Mario Balotelli, and although his antics always attract the spotlight, his game does as well, and he should be one of the most entertaining players to watch in Rio.
Uruguay is led by its three-headed monster: forwards Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan, and Luis Suarez. Suarez is bouncing back from a surgery to repair his meniscus in his left knee and Uruguay’s journey through the World Cup depends on his health. Yet they should easily beat out England and Costa Rica for the number two spot in the group.
Despite the firestorm that came with leaving Samir Nasri off the 23 man squad and losing Ribbery to injury, France has enough firepower to make it out as Group E winners. The French are led into Rio by their young stars Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba, who are both two of the brightest talents in their respective positions.
Switzerland is one the most underrated teams in the competition and although they lack the firepower of France, they play disciplined and organized football, which is enough to put them through the knockout stages in this group.
Led by one of the best players in the world, Lionel Messi, Argentina is the best team in this group and should have no problem winning. However, the Argentines will go as far as Messi will take them, but the mesmerizing and dominant play we see from Messi when he plays for Barcelona does not always translate to the international game. If Messi plays at the level he does for Barcelona this summer for Argentina, the Argentines can make it all the way to the World Cup final, although I still don’t expect them to win it all.
I’m picking Bosnia and Herzegovina to wrap up the second spot in the group. Although their team isn’t packed up with multiple household names, they scored 30 goals in 10 games during World Cup Qualifiers. As a result I think they have enough weapons on the attacking third to push them over Nigeria and Iran for the points they need to advance.
Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States make up “The Group of Death.” The Germans are the most talented in this group on each side of the ball and they have all the pieces to make a realistic run at winning the entire competition.
Depending on the health of Christiano Ronaldo, Portugal can make a deep run into the tournament. With Nani and a healthy Cristiano Ronaldo running the wings for the Portuguese, they are going to be a headache for opposing defenses. 2014 has been Ronaldo’s year thus far, the reigning FIFA Player of the Year has the creativity and goal scoring ability to take his team over the hump and win the tournament. It all depends on him.
This group is too good for the U.S to get out of it into the knockout stages. The United States are going into the tournament with a shaky back line and forward Jozy Altidore is not a consistent goal scorer for the national team, despite scoring twice in a friendly against Nigeria on Saturday. The U.S. will be lucky to come in third as Ghana’s good enough offensively to take advantage of their defense.
Belgium is flying under the radar but they have the star power to make some serious noise this summer with Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Kevin de Bruyne, just to name a few. I expect Belgium to not just win, but dominate this group and shock the world as they make a deep run in the knockout stages.
Russia will be the final team making it into the knockout stages by beating out South Korea and Algeria for the second spot in the group. The Russians have adopted a new defensive philosophy, allowing only five goals in qualifying, and that will be enough to see them through.