This post will indulge my soccer mania…part 2. If you don’t care about soccer, the World Cup, or sports, you can safely ignore this post.
Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
Switzerland: There are a number of interesting teams that made it into Pot 1 for the World Cup draw. Colombia and Belgium seem to get all the attention for being teams full of young and exciting talent just waiting to be unleashed on the global stage. Well, Switzerland is in a similar situation with a lot less fan fair. Their potential is high. Their 2006 and 2010 World Cup appearances were defined by defense. Switzerland set the record for consecutive minutes without conceding a goal in World Cup play over the course of those two tournaments. If the 2014 version of Switzerland can capture some of that solidity, it could provide the foundation their young offensive talent needs for a good run in the tournament.
Their last two friendlies are very telling of this team. They beat Brazil and lost to South Korea. Switzerland could be that team finally knocked out at the semifinal stage. It’s a matter of the performance meeting the potential.
Ecuador: Set Antonio Valencia aside, pop quiz: name a single player that has played for Ecuador recently. It’s difficult, isn’t it? There’s no Hurtado, Delgado, nor de la Cruz. And, quite tragically, no Chucho Benitez. I really don’t know what to make of this Ecuador team. During World Cup qualifying, Ecuador went undefeated at home and winless on the road. However, they managed a 1-1 draw at Uruguay. Likewise, they beat Uruguay at home in the penultimate round of qualifying to all but ensure they finished 4th in CONMEBOL and sent Uruguay to face Jordan for the Intercontinental Playoff. Were they in a different group, I might give them an outsiders chance. I wouldn’t be surprised if they give the bigger nations a scare, but I just don’t see Ecuador having enough to top Switzerland and France.
France: Let’s go back to 1994 (well, technically, 1993). With the seconds waning, France has a corner kick. They are tied 1-1 with Bulgaria, a result that will see France qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Then this happens. Perhaps relevantly, a well-pated Yordan Letchkov would help Bulgaria finish a respectable 4th in 1994.
Jump to 1998, and France is hosting the World Cup. They boast a wealth of talent that fulfills its potential. They cap off of the tournament with an impressive 3-0 win over Brazil in the final. It was a great tournament for France, and a great tournament for the footballing bald. Barthez and Leboeuf were key to France’s solid defense, and the Golden Pate himself, Zizzou, scores two headers from corners. Sure, Emmanuel “The Ponytail” Petit scored the final goal, but that was in second half stoppage time. It doesn’t really count.
Reigning world champions and European champions, France made their way to Japan and South Korea to play their part in one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history. France were so abysmal they finished 28th of 32 teams, and they joined China and Saudi Arabia as the only teams not to score a goal at the 2002 World Cup. But, the Golden Pate was injured.
2006. Germany. Closer to home and four years of demon exercising. France had some very fit and athletic demons. This tournament was the swansong for the Golden Pate, Zinedine Zindane. His brilliance shown throughout the tournament, winning the golden ball for best player. He led France to the final. France would ultimately lose the final to Italy, but it was an impressive and unexpected performance from Les Bleus. Of course, it may also mark the low point in footballing baldness, as the Golden Pate once again delivered a massive header in the final. Unfortunately, this header was of the ignominious sort.
His Pateness was now retired, but France were still a formidable side going into the 2010 World Cup. Everyone’s favorite was Spain, but no one would have been shocked if a team the likes of France upset the favorites to win the tournament. To be fair, France battled very hard through the 2010 World Cup. They just contained all the fighting to the locker room and training pitch. Once again crashing out at the group stage, France topped their previous flop by finishing 29th out of 32 teams. However, they did manage to score a goal. Of course, as the minnowest of minnows, North Korea scored a goal in the Group of Death. So, France’s solitary goal is probably not much of a consolation.
Why have I recounted the last two decades of World Cups for France? Because we will finally solve one of world football’s great questions: do France alternate between successful tournaments and complete disasters OR is France only successful when carried on the shoulders of a bald man? Look at those players above. It is upon their becoifed heads that France’s fate resides.
Honduras: Honduras once finished 3rd in the Copa America. In 2001. I bet you didn’t know that, did you? They’ve qualified for the World Cup on two prior occasions, and Honduras has yet to record a win. I would not be surprised if that continues. 3rd in the group would be respectable for Honduras, and they have it in them to beat Ecuador. Anything above 3 points in the group stage would be a great success for Honduras.
Jeff’s Predicted Outcome:
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Argentina: Argentina boasts the best player in the world in Messi, some of the best attacking talent in Aguero, Lavezzi, Higuain, and Di Maria. They have solid defensive players like Mascherano, Zabaleta, Fernandez, and Garay. Argentina have the talent to win this World Cup. They won’t. Why? It’s in Brazil. However, if things click, this Argentina team to could put on a performance for the ages. That would be wonderful to see, and it would befit the career of Leo Messi.
Bosnia-Herzegovina: The Bosnians finally got over the hump and qualified for a major tournament. The current crop of players is a bit of a golden generation for Bosnia, and they have some real talent in the likes of Dzeko, Pjanic, and Misimovic. I could see Bosnia making a run to the quarterfinals. However, I suspect finally reaching the big stage will get to their heads, and Bosnia-Herzegovina will fall short of reaching the knockout rounds.
Iran: I can remember the names from 1998: Daei, Azizi, Mahdavikia, Minavand, Khakpour. Aside from Nekounam (who had a good spell with Osasuna) and Beitashour (who plays in the US), I don’t know too much about this Iran side. However, they did finish above South Korea in their World Cup qualifying group. That is worth noting. Likewise, Queiroz is a capable manager. Nigeria are ever inconsistent, and Bosnia are new-comers. Who knows, Iran may be able to put a couple decent results together. I doubt it. But, hey, apparently Iran got Obama to surrender to them. You never know what can happen.
Nigeria: It is rare that you cannot read off a list of quality Nigerian players, and the current crop of players is no different. However, Nigeria is inconsistent. I really do rate them as the second best team in this group. They should have no chance against Argentina, but they are more than capable of beating Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is a matter of execution. Personally, I think the future is Bright or Nigeria (though I am a bit biased).
Jeff’s Predicted Outcome:
Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA
Germany: This is a quality, dangerous looking German side. I’ve just summed up every single German team ahead of every single World Cup ever. This team, however, is also fun and exciting. The pure soccer fan in me is happy about that. The USA and Ghana fan in me is not. Like Argentina, Germany has all the pieces to upset Brazil and win the 2014 World Cup. It has been over two decades since Germany has won a World Cup. Germany are due, and there’s every reason to think this team is capable of winning it all.
Portugal: To be completely honest, I’m not all that impressed by this Portugal side. To be sure, they are dangerous. However, they are surprisingly limited in attack. It just so happens that their limited attack includes one of the greatest players to play the game, Cristiano Ronaldo. It would be considered failure if they didn’t get through the group stage. However, this is because I do not see Ghana nor USA having the quality to beat Portugal. This side does not have the quality to get through the quarterfinals, however. So, anything beyond that stage is gravy.
Ghana: My partner is from Ghana, so I am romantically required to say that Ghana will definitely get through this group, and they may even win the World Cup. Most importantly, she wants it known that Ghana will beat up the United States. Ghana are assuredly the most talented and deepest of the African nations in the World Cup. They have been producing a seemingly endless supply of young talent over the last 10 years. The thing is, there hasn’t been a core of players building a consistent foundation and identity. Aside from Asamoah Gyan, and maybe Sulley Muntari, many of Ghana’s more experienced players have been in and out of the national team. It may be beginning with Dede Ayew, Kwadwo Asamoah, and Agyemang-Badu seeing some consistent play the last few years.
Interestingly, in the past, Ghana’s biggest issue has been scoring goals. They have lived and died at the feet of Asamoah Gyan. However, I think this tournament will come down to defense. Ghana finally has some offensive firepower. The question is, can they keep Germany, Portugal, and the United States off the score sheet. If the likes of Inkoom, Afful, Mensah, and Vorsah can keep opponents from scoring, Ghana may well find themselves in the knockout rounds for a third World Cup in a row.
USA: If 2013 was a low point for Mexico, it has been bright for the United States. Don’t get me wrong, it started bleakly with a 2-1 lose to Honduras. This followed anemic performances against Brazil, Canada, Jamaica, and Guatemala in 2012 and early 2013. The Jurgen Klinsmann reign as USMNT manager has been one of mixed results. Wins over Italy, Germany, and Mexico at the Estadio Azteca have highlighted the progress the United States has made. They won the 2013 Gold Cup and Santo Zusi gifted Mexico the lifeline they needed to ultimately secure their place in this World Cup. Alternatively, the two recent friendlies (0-0 draw against Scotland and 0-1 loss against Austria) suggest that USA’s depth is just not there.
United States fans seem aggrieved that they’ve been drawn into such a difficult group. We will go out of our way to make sure all know we’re in the most difficult group. FIFA’s ranking system hasn’t suddenly become a fair measure of team quality. This isn’t the most difficult group. Group B and Group D are the Groups of Death. Here’s why, you’d expect at least 3 teams from Group B and D to go through. Since they’re pitted against each other, one big team will miss out. You only expect two teams from Group G to go through – Germany and Portugal. Sorry USA and Ghana, I love you both, but you’re not the world beaters you aspire to be.
However, all of these teams in Group G are capable of beating each other. This gives the United States a lifeline the likes of Australia and Costa Rica just don’t have. If I’m being honest, I’d be happy if the US pick up a win and ecstatic if they got out of the group. It is possible, but I suspect it is beyond them.
Jeff’s Predicted Outcome:
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic
Belgium: Belgium are a proper dark horse in this World Cup. They are stacked with young talent from back to front. They’re not quite as solid as Brazil, Argentina, Spain, or Germany; however, they’ve got enough quality to leave their mark on this tournament. They’ve also been drawn into a manageable group. Much like Colombia and Switzerland, you just wonder if they will reach their potential.
Algeria: They’re the weakest member of a middling group. At best, the can hope to play spoiler to a bigger team. Progress to the knockout rounds would be a major victory for Algeria.
Russia: Russia topped their group in European qualification. They finished above Portugal. Russia has a talented set of players, and this has been the case for some time. However, they seem to under perform in tournaments. I’m not sure this will be much different. If they can get consistent production from their offense, they’ll get out of this group and may even top it. Their opening match against South Korea is probably the make or break match for both teams.
Korea Republic: The Park Ji-Sung era is now passed. South Korea no longer have name-recognizable players to fans outside of Korea. However, they are still a solid team. 2013 has not been a very glamorous year for the Koreans, but they’ve played a numbers of matches against quality opposition. By the summer of 2014, Hong Myung-Bo may have his team steeled and ready for a group that truly is manageable. Getting to the knockout rounds has to be their goal. They’re outsiders for now, however.
Jeff’s Predicted Outcome:
3. Korea Republic
Whew. There you have it.
Congrats to SKC, champions of MLS Cup 2013.
Who I think will win the 2014 World Cup (no surprises here):
Who, hope beyond hope, I want to win:
4. Netherlands – finally, right?
5. Korea Republic
6. Any of the other African nations, Nigeria foremost among them.
7. Any other nation not previously winning the World Cup
9. Any nation that hasn’t won a World Cup recently, excluding Uruguay
10. Any nation that doesn’t fit in above, excluding Uruguay
11. Uruguay – as punishment for the Suarez handball in 2010