On the World Cup Draw – Part 1

This post will indulge my soccer mania. If you don’t care about soccer, the World Cup, or sports, you can safely ignore this post.

The draw for the 2014 World Cup was just made. Since, after a draw, everyone makes their comments and predictions, I figured I’d do the same.

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Brazil: They should top this group with ease. Actually, Brazil should win this World Cup with ease. That’s about all that needs to be said about Brazil.

Croatia: They have been a solid, European side since their emergence at the 1998 World Cup, where they finished 3rd. They’re a perennial dark horse. This side boasts talent like Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic; however, this Croatia team seems to lack the overall quality of years past. Names like Ivica Olic, Niko Krancjar, and Eduardo are still important parts of this Croatia team, and that is a problem. Croatia are probably favorites to finish second in this group. I won’t be surprised if they finish third.

Mexico: Mexico, in many ways, was the team of 2012. Their star peaked when they beat Brazil in the Gold Medal game at the London 2012 Olympics. The thing was, Mexico beat that highly admired Brazil side with style. Then everything came crashing down. Mexico fell so far that their current presence in the World Cup comes down to Panama loosing their minds and giving up a late lead to the US in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying. Mexico, by all rights but the fates of sport, should not be here.

Mexico has talent. On paper, they are the best team in North America and probably by some distance. On their day, Mexico can beat Brazil, in Brazil, at the World Cup. Mexico, in fact, has a tendency to play well against the giants of South America. Their Achilles’s heel has always been the better teams from Europe. But I have little confidence in this Mexico side. If Miguel Herrera can get the band back together (I’m looking at you, Carlos Vela) and get them in tune, Mexico could be a real threat. And, to be honest, I want this to happen. Unlike many American soccer fans, I actively support Mexico. I grew up watching El Tri and the Mexican league on Univision throughout the 90s. When you look at my list of heroes from the ’90s, you’ll see names like Hermosillo, Aspe, and Garcia. Unfortunately, I’m just not sure Mexico will get it together in the next 7 months.

Cameroon: I don’t much fancy Cameroon. Yes, Samuel Eto’o is one of the best players Africa has produced, and he was one of the best players in the world for a time. But that was the past. There is talent on this squad, but Cameroon hasn’t been a dangerous side in nearly a decade. Truth be told, I think the explanation is simple, they lack creative talent in the middle. Alex Song, Stephane M’Bia, and Jean Makoun  are all talented midfielders…defensive midfielders. In fact, in their second leg qualifier against Tunisia, all of the players called up that could reasonably play in central midfield were defensive-minded players. By virtue of being in Group A, there’s a good chance Cameroon will be the first team officially knocked out of the 2014 World Cup, just as they were the first team officially knocked out of the 2010 World Cup.

Jeff’s Predicted Outcome:

1. Brazil
2. Croatia
3. Mexico
4. Cameroon

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Spain: Spain are probably second favorites to win the World Cup. Truth be told, there is a part of me that wants Spain to win this one, too. Never has a nation been so dominant for so long, and it would be impressive for Spain to win the European Championship and the World Cup back-to-back, back-to-back (i.e., EC 2008, WC 2010, EC 2012, WC 2014). I’m not sure this actually is my favorite outcome, but I would be very happy if it happened.

Netherlands: They will lose to Brazil in the knockout rounds. That’s about all that needs to be said. The Dutch will win the World Cup some day…I think.

Chile: This is a very good squad, and their keeper plays for Real Sociedad – my second favorite club. They are more than capable of topping Spain or the Netherlands to get out of this group. I just don’t expect it to happen.

Australia: Think of it this way, the Australian players can do the post-match kit swap with some amazing players. That’s kinda cool.

Jeff’s Predicted Outcome:

1. Spain
2. Netherlands
3. Chile
4. Australia

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan

Colombia: I quite fancy this Colombia side. They have talent in spades. They’re in a group where they are, arguably, the best team. They’ve played well recently. This has 1994 written all over it, and ’94 didn’t end well for Colombia. On the one hand, I really do think Colombia is the most talented side in this group by some margin. On the other hand, I would not be surprised if they lost to any of the other teams in this group. I don’t think this group is a Group of Death, but it is pretty evenly balanced.

Greece: Greece are in a manageable group. They’re not an impressive team, and they lack for glamour and flair. However, they have consistently qualified for major tournaments over the last decade. That is impressive, and they seem to have accomplished this feat by taking advantage of their unassuming quality. I said the exact same things about Greece before the 2010 World Cup where they crashed out at the group stage. This could be their year to progress, but I suspect they’ll fall short.

[A quick aside: the best things about Greece’s 2010 World Cup appearance were these two goals scored against them by DPRK’s Jong Tae-Se in a pre-tournament friendly.]

Côte d’Ivoire: In the last two editions of the World Cup, Côte d’Ivoire were a highly fancied team out of Africa that found themselves in the Group of Death. They were not able to get through the group stage either of those years. This year, they find themselves among weaker competition. Unfortunately, Côte d’Ivoire is, themselves, a weaker side. They still have much of the same talent as those other World Cups. They’re just 8 years older. It is the refrain of this group: I wouldn’t be surprised if they progress, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they crash at the first hurdle. A lot of people will have Côte d’Ivoire progressing in this group, but I suspect they’re assessing the past as if it were the present.

Japan: This will be a fifth consecutive appearance at the World Cup for Japan. In this way, they are the elder statesmen of this group. What makes this Japanese side more dangerous than in their prior appearances is that they’ve got experienced players with top-level skill and creativity. Like in 2010, the knockout rounds are not a bridge too far for Japan, but a deep run through the tournament is highly unlikely.

Jeff’s Predicted Outcome:

1. Colombia
2. Japan
3. Côte d’Ivoire
4. Greece

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Uruguay: Uruguay were semifinalists in 2010, and they won the 2011 Copa America. Uruguay are the top ranked team in this group. They’ve got talent the likes of Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani. However, they had to beat Jordan in an Intercontinental Playoff to qualify for the World Cup. They secured 5th place in CONMEBOL qualifying quite late, losing an important match to Ecuador in the penultimate round of qualifying. Uruguay will get through this group, though. They have the talent, and I suspect they’ll be able to handle England, Italy, or both.

Costa Rica: A couple years ago, on a sunny weekend afternoon, I met the father of Costa Rica’s Rodney Wallace.

[Quick aside: This goal by Costa Rica legend Paolo Wanchope endeared me to Derby County. I’ve suffered ever since.]

England: Remember this? Well, the 2014 World Cup draw has placed England in one of the most difficult groups. England lost both of their recent friendlies against Chile and Germany. Uruguay are probably a better team than Chile. Italy are probably not a better team than Germany. Somehow, I feel like one can scrape a bit of negative and positive out of that. Look, England is probably good enough to reach the quarterfinals. I just think they’re gonna lose to Italy and Uruguay, resulting in a group stage exit.

Italy: The Azurri can keep England from scoring. England cannot keep Italy from scoring. That about sums it up. I suspect Italy’s fortunes rest at the feet of Pirlo. Luckily, Pirlo is Italian. Somehow, Italians are endowed with the ability to play at the highest levels of football well into their 30s and even 40s.

Jeff’s Predicted Outcome:

1. Italy
2. Uruguay
3. England
4. Costa Rica  

Part 2

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