The World Cup is almost well and truly upon us, folks. With the draw taking place last week at the fabulous Costa Do Sauipe resort in Brazil, realisation has dawned that the greatest footballing spectacle on earth is now just around the corner. While there may be problems, with stadiums racing to be ready on time, and the tragic accident a couple of weeks ago, one thing that is for certain is that the passion and fervour of the fans will make this World Cup one to remember. Let’s have a look at the groups and predictions for each of the groups.
Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Cameroon, Mexico
Can anyone stop Brazil on the way to their sixth crown? Well, not in this group, they can’t. The hosts find themselves with an easy group to start their quest for an unprecedented sixth crown in front of their adoring home fans and should easily top the group. Second place though is up for grabs among the other three teams.
Croatia have been a regular feature at World Cups since their debut appearance in 1998, but had to scrape past Iceland in a playoff to get here, while Mexico and Cameroon are also a shadow of their former selves, the former having to beat lowly New Zealand in a playoff to get here while the latter depend too heavily on their talismanic striker Samuel Eto’o. Conditions may play a major factor here though, with Cameroon and Mexico likely to adapt better to the conditions than the Croats.
Prediction - Group winner: Brazil. Group runner-up: Mexico(yes, despite having to play New Zealand)
Group B: Spain, Netherlands,Australia, Chile
The Dutch kick off their campaign against the Spanish in what is undoubtedly one of the biggest games of the Group Stage and will be itching to exact revenge, having lost their third World Cup final to the Spanish armada in 2010. Spain are however, looking to become arguably the best team in football history as they seek their fourth consecutive international triumph and start off as slight favourites in this group.
Chile though, might well have a say in who finishes where in this group. The South American side performed strongly in qualification and recently recorded a famous win away at Wembley against the struggling English. With superstar Alexis Sanchez in their ranks, they could well upset the ‘established order’ in this group. Australia are not expected to do much in what is their third straight World Cup and would do well to provide ‘nuisance value’ for the other three teams.
Prediction - Group Winner: Spain. Group Runner-up: Netherlands(sorry Chile, I’m sure Ivory Coast will empathise with you)
Group C: Ivory Coast, Greece, Colombia, Japan
This has the potential to be one of the most exciting and watchable groups of the World Cup. If you leave aside Greece, that is. Ivory Coast have finally got a favourable draw after having nightmare draws at the past two World Cups and will be hoping their ageing golden generation will finally fulfil their potential. Colombia were narrowly pipped to the top spot in qualification by Argentina and have grown from strength to strength over the past two years.
Euro 2004 champions Greece (yes, no one still knows how that happened) cannot be discounted as they always seem to grind out an upset from somewhere or the other, though that is normally reserved for the Euros while the Japanese are disciplined and could pose problems if they manage to frustrate the Colombians and the men from the Ivory Coast.
Prediction - Group Winners: Colombia. Group runner-up: Ivory Coast
Group D: England, Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica
This has been called the ‘Group of Death’ and perhaps rightly so, with traditional powerhouses England and Italy drawn together against the flamboyant Copa America champions, Uruguay. England have flattered to deceive through their qualification campaign and face Italy and Uruguay in their first two games, which could mean their campaign could be over by the time they play their ‘winnable’ game against Costa Rica.
Italy will bring a much younger and fresher team to this World Cup, with most of their World Cup winning team from eight years ago having hung up their boots and will be looking to make a fresh start after the debacle in South Africa four years ago. Uruguay may not have impressed in qualifying, but have a strong team who know the conditions well, and in my book, start off as favourites to win the group. Costa Rica performed brilliantly in qualifying, but playing among the big boys may prove to be a bit too much for them, even for their talented marksman Bryan Ruiz
Prediction - Group winner: Uruguay. Group runner-up: Italy(Well atleast England won’t go out on penalties this time).
Group E: Switzerland, France, Honduras, Ecuador
France are one lucky team. Having had to come from behind to beat the plucky Ukrainians to even get here, they now find themselves with perhaps the best draw among the traditional favourites. Switzerland, Honduras and Ecuador should not put up much of a fight against the French, but then again, this is the French we are talking about, brilliant one moment and shockingly inept the next. The draw perhaps had something to do with the Swiss inexplicably being a seeded team in the draw, and they would probably struggle to live up to their seeding, despite having topped their group in qualification.
Ecuador will know the conditions better than anyone in this group, and that could play a part, with Honduras likely to make up the numbers in what is their second straight appearance at the World Cup.
Prediction - Group winner: France(if they manage to not give up midway through the group stages). Group runner-up: Ecuador
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nigeria, Iran
Messi and his band of merry men will be happy with their draw in what is a huge opportunity for them to capture their third world crown. The Argentinians find themselves in what should be a very winnable group for them, with Bosnia and Nigeria expected to battle it out for second place.
The Bosnians are making their maiden experience at the World Cup and will be relying heavily on Edin Dzeko to fire if they are to make any headway in the tournament. The Nigerians will benefit from their appearance at the Confederations Cup in Brazil earlier this year which could well prove to be the difference as conditions will play an important role. Iran are appearing on the world stage after having missed out last time and will be keen to make an impression, though unlikely to have any real impact.
Prediction - Group winners: Argentina. Group runner-up: Nigeria(done through a toss of the coin)
Group G: Germany, Portugal, USA, Ghana
The real ‘Group of Death’ in my opinion. Germany will look to finally, and I mean finally, win something internationally after coming close in tournaments for close to a decade now. They will not find it easy though against Portugal, who are not a one-man team, and even if they are, they are a pretty strong one-man team with the world’s joint best player, Cristiano Ronaldo spearheading their challenge in the form of his life.
The USA and Ghana meet yet again after meeting in the previous two editions and will be cursing their luck at the group they have got. Both teams impressed in the last edition but will find it hard to get past their established opponents and get out of this group.
Prediction - Group winners: Germany. Group runner-up: Portugal (or should I say Ronaldo?)
Group H: Belgium, Russia, Algeria, South Korea
If Belgium don’t make an impression at the World Cup, consider it a massive underachievement. If they don’t make it out of the group they have been drawn in, well then it should count as a major failure. The Belgians have a strong and youthful team, and performed exceedingly well in the qualifiers and start as favourites in this group.
The Russians are talented, but will find themselves very out of place in the Brazilian climate. With South Korea not being the team they once were with their powers on the wane, expect the well-conditioned Algerians to cause a potential upset in this group.
Prediction - Group winner: Belgium. Group runner-up: Russia (They will lose against Germany in the second round)
If the groups go according to my predictions, the second-round fixtures will be as follows:
Brazil v Netherlands
Spain v Mexico
Colombia v Italy
Ivory Coast v Uruguay
France v Nigeria
Ecuador v Argentina
Germany v Russia
Belgium v Portugal
And the rest, well we shall have to wait to see whether this materializes to predict the rest! Happy viewing!