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Dec 082013

At long last we have our field of 32 set!

The 2014 FIFA World Cup draw has finally been announced and we know the fate of our favorite (and least favorite) nations. The tournament won’t start until June, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take an early look at all eight groups and some of the story lines presented by each one. Let’s get started!

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Biggest Question: Who will finish 2nd?

Must See Match: Brazil-Mexico

Best Player: Neymar (Brazil)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Dejan Lovren (Croatia)

Predicted Finish: 1) Brazil 2) Mexico 3) Croatia 4) Cameroon

It’s a fairly easy draw for the hosts, but there’s legitimate confusion over who could take second. Croatia probably has the most individual talent, but they didn’t look convincing in qualifying and outside of their 1998 semifinal run they haven’t had much success since gaining their independence. Mexico also looked weak in qualifying, but they’ve got Brazil’s number at the moment having defeated them twice in 2012; once in a friendly and once at the gold medal match of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. Cameroon have qualified more than any other African nation, but they fail impress when they get to the final and star striker Samuel Eto’o is a shell of his former self.

Look for Mexico to finish second and keep an eye on Croatia center back Dejan Lovren who has impressed with England’s Southampton so far this season.

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Biggest Question: Who fails to advance?

Must See Match: Spain-Chile

Best Player: Alexis Sanchez (Chile)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Matthew Leckie (Australia)

Predicted Finish: 1) Spain 2) Netherlands 3) Chile 4) Australia

This is about as close as it gets to a true “Group Of Death”. We open with a re-match of the 2010 final while Chile, led by Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez, will challenge for second place and the Aussies will be a difficult matchup for the favorites. The Dutch breezed through qualifying and are still a bit of an unknown quantity because of it. Spain and Chile finished 2-2 in a recent friendly and should provide another thrilling match when they meet again in June.

Spain are advancing out of this group, it’s simply a question of who will join them. I like the Netherlands to beat Chile in what will prove to be the decisive match in this group and advance with the defending champions. This would give us Spain-Mexico and Brazil-Netherlands in the Round of 16 and that’s an incredibly enticing prospect!

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Biggest Question: Who is the favorite?

Must See Match: Colombia-Greece

Best Player: Falcao (Colombia)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Konstantinos Mitroglou (Greece)

Predicted Finish: 1) Colombia 2) Greece 3) Japan 4) Ivory Coast

This group is completely up for grabs. All four are capable of advancing and they all have very different playing styles. Colombia are led by strikers Radamel Falcao and Jackson Martinez. Greece have a rock solid defense and one of the hottest strikers in Konstantinos Mitroglou. Ivory Coast are led by veterans like the Toure Brothers (Kolo and Yaya) and Didier Drogba. Japan have a very technical side that values possession and features creative playmakers Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa.

Ultimately I think Colombia are the only team good enough to score on Greece (thanks mostly to Falcao’s ability) and the winner of that game could wind up deciding who wins and who comes in second. If you’re high on tactical variety this is your group.

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Biggest Question: Which Mario Balotelli Shows Up?

Must See Match: Uruguay-England

Best Player: Luis Suarez (Uruguay)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay)

Predicted Finish: 1) Uruguay 2) England 3) Italy 4) Costa Rica

If you ask me, this is the best group from top to bottom. Costa Rica came in second in CONCACAF qualifying and feature a handful of players playing in Europe while the other three members of this group are very much known quantities. The key to this group is how Mario Balotelli plays. If he performs like he did at the Confederations Cup, Italy can win this group. If he loses his cool and can’t score, Italy will have a tough time advancing past England and Uruguay. All eyes in England will be fixed upon their match against Uruguay and their polarizing striker Luis Suarez. Keep an eye on Uruguay central midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro who, somehow, still hasn’t made a big money move to Europe and currently plays for Botafogo in Brazil.

The potential Round of 16 matchups would give us Luis Suarez against what is possibly the best defense in the tournament as well as England and Colombia doing battle.

Group E: France, Ecuador, Honduras, Switzerland

Biggest Question: How Good Is Switzerland?

Must See Match: France-Switzerland

Best Player: Franck Ribery (France)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Granit Xhaka (Switzerland)

Predicted Finish: 1) Switzerland 2) France 3) Ecuador 4) Honduras

I’m sure I’m in the minority on this, but I think Switzerland are pretty darn good. They’ve got a great mix of veterans (Juventus’s Stephan Lichsteiner, Fulham’s Philippe Senderos) and youth (Borussia M’Gladbach’s Granit Xhaka, Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri) and I think they’ll shock us all by winning this group; assuming they get the necessary result when they face France. France are easily the most talented team, but they’re national team fortunes have been on a steady downturn ever since the 2006 Final when they lost to Italy. I’m not sure they’ve put it together enough to win this group.

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Biggest Question: Will Lionel Messi finally shine at the World Cup?

Must See Match: Iran-Nigeria

Best Player: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Uche Nwofor (Nigeria)

Predicted Finish: 1) Argentina 2) Bosnia-Herzegovina 3) Nigeria 4) Iran

Will all due respect to those involved, this is the the worst group in the tournament. Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina should advance comfortably. Nigeria and Iran help open this group and I’ve highlighted it only because Iran have qualified before back in 2002 and should manage to shock Nigeria and steal three points it could make this group a bit more interesting.

The real story line from this group isn’t about the group itself as much as the tournament. We’re all waiting for Lionel Messi to have his World Cup “moment” and this draw gives him a great opportunity to do so. If predictions hold, we get a tantalizing France-Argentina showdown in the Round of 16.

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States

Biggest Question: How Good Is Portugal?

Must See Match: Portugal-United States

Best Player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Aron Johannsson (United States)

Predicted Finish: 1) Germany 2) United States 3) Portugal 4) Ghana

Another “Group Of Death” that is stacked from top to bottom. Germany should have no issues winning this group, but who comes in second is still up for grabs. The US got the best of Portugal in 2002 and will look to do so again this time around. They need to get a win in their first game against Ghana and that’s entirely possible given they’ll want revenge after the Black Stars knocked them out of the Round of 16 in South Africa. Much like Italy, Portugal are dependent upon their one proven star: Cristiano Ronaldo.

If anything happens to him between now and June (and for some reason I have a sneaky suspicion it will) they will be left with a lot more questions than answers.

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

Biggest Question: How far can Belgium go?

Must See Match: Russia-South Korea

Best Player: Vincent Kompany (Belgium)

Most Likely To Land A Big Summer Transfer: Faouzi Ghoulam (Algeria)

Predicted Finish: 1) Belgium 2) Russia 3) South Korea 4) Algeria

Belgium should win this group, but everyone wants to know how far they can go in the knockout rounds. The battle for second between Russia and South Korea should be a lot of fun to watch and Algeria has done a good job producing players via France. If my predictions hold we’ll get some great Round of 16 matchups between USA/Belgium and Germany/Russia.


Nov 202013

I love the internet. Thanks to the internet we can simulate the group draw for the 2014 FIFA World Cup because some kind soul took the time to create such a simulator.

And now that the field of 32 is set after Uruguay tied Jordan 0-0 in the second leg of their playoff, we can starting to look ahead to some potentially mouth watering groups. Let’s get to it!

Group Of Death (Host Edition)

Brazil, Japan, Ivory Coast, Netherlands

There will probably be two legitimate “Groups of Death”. Since Brazil is the host, they get one of the top seeds. Japan is the best team from Asia, Ivory Coast is the most talented team from Africa, and the Netherlands are the best team in Pot 4, which is comprised entirely of European teams who aren’t one of the Top 8 seeds. The last two were paired in a “Group of Death” in 2006 with Argentina and Serbia, but this group might just top that one. Japan is better than people give them credit for and the Ivory Coast is full of veteran stars like Didier Drogba who will likely be playing in their last World Cup and will want to go out on a high note.

Group Of Death (Non-Host Edition)

Spain, South Korea, Chile, Italy

This one doesn’t look like a traditional Group of Death on paper, but it’s stacked from top to bottom. Here we have a rematch of the 2012 Euro final as well as two of the world’s most underrated teams. South Korea is a very disciplined, cohesive unit and Chile feature some of the best players you may not have heard of; not to mention they might be the most entertaining team in this field. The last hurrah of Spain’s “golden generation” squaring off against Asia’s second best team, South America’s most thrilling, and the ever polarizing Mario Balotelli. Every match in this group is must see and all four have a legitimate chance to advance.

The Snoozer (Most Boring Group)

Switzerland, Iran, Algeria, Greece

Switzerland is the least exciting of the seeded teams in Pot 1, Iran and Algeria might be the two least talented teams in the entire field, and nobody plays with more of a bunker-mentality than the Greeks. Next!

The Track Meet (The Fastest Group)

Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria, Portugal

There’s no real way to quantify this, so I’m just going to view it as the most “athletic” group. These teams have some of the fastest players and have the potential to score the most goals in one group. Colombia features the likes of Falcao and Jackson Martinez. Mexico, despite their qualifying troubles, are a very technical side with some great wingers like Andres Guardado and Javier Aquino. Nigeria trots out Liverpool winger Victor Moses and MLS prospect Bright Dike. Portugal gives us the great Cristiano Ronaldo plus Manchester United winger Nani. Usain Bolt would be proud of this group.

Group Of Stars (USA Edition)

Argentina, USA, France, Portugal

Yes, there is a possibility we could see Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the same group. Throw in the other Ballon d’Or candidate (Franck Ribery) and you have plenty of star power to satisfy casual American fans. Of course, advancing out of such a group would be a daunting task for the Yanks. This group also has some lesser known stars like Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero and Juventus wonderkid Paul Pogba. This one’s also a Group of Death candidate and it’s all thanks to the individual brilliance that would be on display.

Study Your Colonial History (Most Political Rivalries)

Germany, Australia, Ghana, England

The rivalry between Germany and England obviously stems from World War II. Australia was a British colony until the early 20th century as was Ghana, although they didn’t manage to secure their independence until after World War II ended. Colonialism and political animosity abound in this group for history nerds.

The Dark Horses (Least Talked About Good Teams Group)

Uruguay, Costa Rica, Cameroon, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Uruguay may have “snuck in” via a playoff after finishing fifth in South America, but they still have a very talented roster that is capable of repeating their 2010 run to the semifinals. Luis Suarez might be the hottest striker on the planet, Edinson Cavani is a proven threat, and the midfield is anchored by 24 year old Nicolas Lodeiro, who (shockingly) plays his club ball in Brazil. Costa Rica finished second behind the US in CONCACAF and finished with a goal differential of +6; just one off from USA’s +7. Cameroon has made more World Cups than any other African nation and Bosnia-Herzegovina features the likes of Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko, Roma’s Miralem Pjanic, and Stuttgart’s Vedad Ibisevic. 

World War II Group

Germany, USA, Algeria, Russia

In a different take on the Colonial History group, we have the three biggest forces from World War II as well as the only North African squad.

The Pope’s Favorite Group

Spain, Mexico, Ecuador, Italy

The current pope is from Argentina, but Spain gets the nod from Pot 1 as the more traditional Catholic power. You won’t find more fans of the Holy Father and one of the oldest denominations of Christianity outside of this group.


Mar 212013
Arg Ven

While the European competition is just starting to find its feet, we are already well under way in the Southern Hemisphere as nine teams fight to decide who will be joining Brazil in the first World Cup to hit the continent since 1978. Argentina were the hosts and winners of that competition, and as Alejandro Sabella’s merry men prepare for their 10th clash of the Conmebol qualifiers at home to Venezuela they are looking very comfortable indeed at the top of the pile. We take a look at Friday’s blockbuster in River Plate’s Estadio Monumental, as well as the rest of the action across South America in the first qualifiers of 2013.

Argentina vs. Venezuela

It is bound to be an extremely emotional night in Buenos Aires, whatever happens on the pitch. Venezuela take the field for the first time since President Hugo Chavez, bombastic scourge of the west and also football fanatic, passed away from cancer; an event that appeared to be mourned almost as enthusiastically in Argentina, at least among the politicians, as in Caracas. A few heart-wrenching tributes are almost a certainty before hostilities get underway.

Back to the football, and both teams are battling with absentees. Argentina are without attacking stars Angel Di Maria (suspended) and Sergio Aguero, who despite his injury still filled television screens all week in his home nation thanks to a budding new relationship with honey-tongued Cumbia superstar Karina ‘La Princesita’ (The little princess). After traversing the Atlantic and catching up with his paramour, Kun decided that he wasn’t in fact ok to play and promptly returned to England; Walter ‘The Squirrel’ Montillo and Ezequiel Lavezzi are the most likely candidates to fill the vacancies. The Vinotinto, meanwhile, are without the man who sealed their first ever victory over Argentina, Fernando Amorebieta, back in 2011; Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and Andres Tuñez look set to start in defence due to the Athletic man’s absence.

Prediction: Not an easy game at all for Argentina, against an ever-improving rival who find themselves chasing a first-ever place in the World Cup. They should have just enough about them, however, to record a narrow victory.1363851550 extras noticia foton 7 0 South America prepares for battle in latest World Cup Qualifiers

Look out for: Lionel Messi’s left leg (right). ‘The World’s Best Player’ (copyright every Argentine journalist) took the time on his return home to tattoo son Thiago’s hands on the back of his thigh. If I was a Venezuelan defender, I know where I’d  be aiming my kicks.

Colombia vs. Bolivia

Jose Pekerman’s men host the Andean strugglers in the only game of the day that kicks off at a sociable hour for Europeans. The Cafeteros have been on a roll since Jose took over, racking up three straight qualification wins which included a 4-0 destruction of Copa America holders Uruguay. For good measure, the youngsters showed their mettle by beating out the whole continent to lift the South American Under-20 Championship, making for an impressive start to the Argentine coach’s life in Colombia.

The Cafetero team is an intriguing mix of youth and experience, with captain Mario Yepes old enough to be the father of talented upstarts such as James Rodriguez, Luis Muriel and Pescara sensation Juan Fernando Quintero. The one and only Radamel Falcao is also present, and the hosts should be looking to score a hatful against arguably South America’s worst side away from their home in La Paz.

Look out for: A drenching. Torrential thunderstorms are forecast for Colombia’s tropical home Barranquilla, which would at least bring down the temperatures a little – the thermometer habitually reaches 35° with 80-90% humidity.

Uruguay vs. Paraguay

‘The Battle of the Guays’, as it is known by absolutely no-one, brings together the two sides which contested 2011′s Copa America final. Since then, however, things haven’t exactly gone to plan for either the Guarani or the current South American champions. Paraguay have struggled to find their way since losing coach Gerardo Martino following the Copa America, and lie rock-bottom of the Conmebol standings – below even Bolivia. Four consecutive defeats cost Francisco ‘Chiqui’ Arce his job and put Paraguay in serious danger of missing out on the World Cup, although a subsequent 1-0 win over Peru was the faintest glimmer of light in an otherwise dark, depressing 2012.

 South America prepares for battle in latest World Cup Qualifiers

Will Suarez be smiling come Friday?

Uruguay, meanwhile, haven’t fared much better in recent months. For a team that prided itself on defensive solidity, shipping 12 goals in four matches definitely was not part of the plan as they fell to defeat against Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia, rescuing just one point against Ecuador in a run that saw them plummet down the table. Currently teetering in the play-off position ahead of Chile on goal difference, the Celeste should still qualify but they need to find the form of 2010 and 2011, fast – a win against poor old Paraguay should at least soothe some of the pain.

Look out for: Some tasty tackles. Friday’s competitors have the reputation within South America of being the continent’s ‘dirtiest’ sides, and although this is a little unfair we have to admit there is at least a grain of truth. Diego Lugano and Diego Perez  are the hardmen to watch on the home side, while for the visitors Jonathan Fabbro combines silky skills with a love of the game’s darker arts.

Peru vs. Chile 

New coach, new era for Chile, who unceremoniously dumped Claudio Borghi at the end of 2012 after a serious of painful defeats. The new man, Jorge Sampaoli, is the third consecutive Argentine to take the post, a hero in Santiago thanks to his wonderful work with Universidad de Chile and, most importantly, a disciple of ‘El Loco’ Bielsa and his no-holds-barred approach to the beautiful game. Universidad alumni weigh heavily in the squad – 11 players starred under Sampaoli in the U as they dominated domestically – and this familiarity could weigh heavily as they start as favourites to defeat a Peru side that is yet to find consistency.

Look out for: Twitter bile flying between the two nations. This Pacific rivalry is one of the fiercest in South America, and it doesn’t just stay on the pitch; one of the focal points of the rivalry comes down to the liquor Pisco, which both nations claim as their own with almost terrifying vigour.