June 11, 2014

2014 World Cup preview Part 1: Groups A-D

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

The greatest tournament in sports kicks off Thursday night when Brazil and Croatia go at it in Sao Paulo. 65,000 yellow-clad supporters will scream their lungs out for the host nation as the World Cup finals begins. It’s a spectacular month-long journey that will crown the world’s best team at the world’s most popular sport.

It’s truly a tournament for the world, when you consider that nearly every country in the world takes part in qualifying, trying to make it to this point.

Well, after nearly four years of buildup, here we are with the 32 finalists.

But enough of the preamble, let’s dive right into the groups.

Group A

The team to beat in not just Group A, but in the entire tournament is hosts Brazil. The home team usually has a big advantage and when you have one of the most talented sides in the world, it only magnifies that … There is questions about if the whole country is truly behind them due to strikes and protests, but inside the stadium I don’t see that affecting them … You can’t forget last year’s stellar performance at the Confederation Cup. Brazil walloped Spain in the final, showing it can handle the pressure at home … There’s nothing quite like Croatia’s checkerboard home kit. It’s terrible yet awesome at the same time … What is up with Mexico? Once powerful, El Tri barely qualified for Brazil. Now, it’s best player – Chicarito – will likely be coming off the bench. I guess that’s not too much of a surprise considering he barely played with his club, Manchester United … This will be the fourth World Cup for Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o. What’s even more incredible: This could have been his fifth. Cameroon didn’t qualify for Germany 2006 after its row with FIFA over those one-piece uniforms … The trend in World Cups is that the opener is usually a draw, but I don’t see that happening.

Prediction: I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brazil pick up all nine points with the other countries battling for second. Standings: Brazil, Croatia, Cameroon, Mexico.

Group B

It doesn’t get much better than having a rematch of the previous World Cup final on the second day of the tournament. Let’s just hope that the refs have more control of this one and we don’t see the Netherlands try to kick Spain off the pitch … You have to wonder what type of reaction Diego Costa will get from the Brazilian fans. He was born in Brazil, but chose to play for Spain. What a tough choice to make … Can Spain defend and continue its ticky-tacka ways? Controlling possession and defence will be keys with the heat turned up … If Spain wins, it will be the first time a champion has defended its title since Brazil did it in 1962. It will also be the fourth major tournament in a row the Iberians have won, including Euros 2012 and 2008 … Underestimate Chile at your own peril. It’s a solid team that can score, defend and will have home-continent support … The Netherlands will reportedly be trying a formation with five defenders, a 5-3-2. It should be interesting, but I don’t think it has the wing backs to pull it off … Will Louis van Gaal be able to concentrate on the task at hand, knowing that his Manchester United duties are waiting for him? If he bombs out early, how will that affect his club? and will an extended run affect his ability to do business with United? … A big question with the Oranje is always chemistry. There have been rifts in this team at almost every tournament. Can it hold it together now? … Poor Australia might not score a goal. Although, if it can defend well enough, it could steal a much-needed point from a contender. Maybe.

Prediction: I think Spain will go far in this tournament, but may just barely win this group. A three-way tie at five points is realistic, with goal differential being the difference. Standings: Spain, Chile, Netherlands, Australia.

Group C

Colombia is the clear favourite in Group C, even after losing all-world striker Radamel Falcao. That gives Jackson Martinez and Luis Muriel a big opportunity up front while James Rodriguez will be the playmaker in the midfield … For all the talent Colombia has up top, you can’t discount its defence either. It had a stellar record defending in qualifying and should be used to the climate in Brazil … The biggest question marks for Cote d’Ivoire is the Toure brothers. One is on the outs with his club, which could be distracting, while the other is recovering from malaria. Yes, malaria … The core of the Elephants is also aging, with 37-year-old Didier Drogba expected to play a big role. It must also be said that this star-studded team usually disappoints on big stages … Greece is constantly underrated because it doesn’t possess any true world-class players and all of their names are hard to pronounce – and fit on shirts … The Greeks will defend well, but should be hard-pressed to score enough to advance … Japan is a sneaky team in Brazil and could surprise a few. It will get outmuscled by just about everyone, but its smallish team will use a lot of finesse to get chances in the box.

Prediction: Japan shocks many by advancing ahead of the other two bigger sides while Colombia runs right through to the next round without much trouble. Standings: Colombia, Japan, Ivory Coast, Greece.

Group D

Luis Suarez is obviously the key player for Uruguay, it’s not like its attack will die if he’s out while recovering from knee surgery. Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan can provide plenty of goals … Can you imagine the front pages of the tabloids in England if Suarez pots the winner against them? I have my fingers crossed for that situation … Italy is one of the most adaptable and athletic teams in Brazil, something that should serve it really well in this unpredictable tournament … England has a young team that should excite many fans this year, but I wouldn’t count on much from it. This is a team that will do really well at the next Euro and in Russia 2018 … Wayne Rooney is set up to become one of the goats of the World Cup, which of course means he’ll play well … Poor Costa Rica. They won’t be the worst team in Brazil, but I don’t see it grabbing any points.

Prediction: England has never failed to make it out of the group stage, until this year. The two other teams in this group are stronger than the Three Lions and their youth may not be ready for the big stage. Standings: Uruguay, Italy, England, Costa Rica.

Come back later for the other four groups and our knockout phase predictions and follow on Twitter @danbilicki as well as QMI’s @KurtLarSUN for his on-the-ground coverage in Brazil.

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