So the 2014 World Cup draw was made in Brazil last night and it’s thrown up many stories, as expected. There’s some stunning groups, plus a couple of weak ones. Rematches galore, with climate playing more of a role than in recent World Cups. Personally, I’m incredibly excited for the tournament and, whilst the English media will be rueing their group, I was very happy from a neutral’s perspective. Here I’m going to sum up the groups, analyse the locations and try to predict what will happen next summer. The countdown has officially begun and I can’t wait to get started!
Headlined by Brazil, Group A has three fairly weak teams. Mexico, Croatia & Cameroon all struggled to qualify, so the hosts should be pleased with the draw. However, as shown in 1950, the pressure that comes with Brazil playing at home could become overwhelming. It was seen as a national tragedy when Uruguay shocked the Maracana in 1950 and the public will expect Scolari’s boys to come flying out the traps. Yet most World Cup winners seem to pace themselves during the groups, before peaking in the knockout rounds. If Brazil can somehow handle these expectations, they have a very good chance of going all the way. The tournament kicks off on Thursday 12th June, with Brazil facing Croatia in Sao Paulo.
Prediction: 1. Brazil, 2. Mexico, 3. Croatia, 4. Cameroon
A titanic group and a contender for the ‘Group of Death’ title, Group B is headlined by a rematch of 2010’s final – Spain vs Holland. But what makes this interesting is the presence of Chile, another Spanish opponent from South Africa. The Chileans showed at Wembley how good they are and they’ll be quietly confident of finishing ahead of one of the goliaths. The Dutch have a weak defence and are transitioning to a wonderful collection of youngsters, whilst Spain are ageing and could suffer in the heat. However, Spain have an incredible depth of talent and they’re blessed with outstanding depth in every position. The group is topped off with Australia, who aren’t capable of surprises this time. With no outstanding individuals and no pedigree, they’re clear favourites to finish bottom.
Prediction: 1. Spain, 2. Chile, 3. Holland, 4. Australia
To me, this is a very interesting group. 4 teams with similar ability but different styles. Seeded Colombia finished second in South American qualifying and have the climate to their advantage, as well as one of the world’s best strikers – Falcao – up front. Their ageing defence is a weakness though, with Mario Yepes, Luis Perea and Aquivaldo Mosquera all over 30 and back-up keeper Faryd Mondragon aged 42. Jackson Martinez, Fredy Guarin and James Rodriguez are fantastic talents who will be looking to meet the most hyped Colombian team since USA ’94. As for the rest; Greece are boring but efficient, whilst Japan are an exciting team that is easy on the eye. Honda, Kagawa, Nagatomo, Kiyotake and Uchida are part of a vibrant team that I fancy to go through. Ivory Coast will be relieved at avoiding another ‘Group of Death’ but their golden generation is ending and they’re carried by the Toure brothers and Didier Drogba.
Prediction: 1. Colombia, 2. Japan, 3. Ivory Coast, 4. Greece
On the surface, this group is a disaster for England – everything Roy Hodgson didn’t want. He was given two marquee teams, a tricky Costa Rican prospect and a match in the Amazon’s 99% humidity. Luckily for them, the match in Manaus is against fellow Europeans Italy, who prominently features older players such as Pirlo, Barzagli, Buffon and De Rossi. Rather than be a problem, the heat could turn out to be a great equaliser for Hodgson, who has a poor squad full of average players. Uruguay’s devastating strike force of Cavani and Suarez is propped up by a lacklustre team of journeymen and underachievers. The bonus for England is that, even if they finish second in the group, they’ll have a kind draw for the Round of 16 by facing a Group C team. So, whilst England would’ve certainly preferred Groups E or H, their draw isn’t as bad as it first seems. Plus, an 11pm Saturday night kick off for the Italy match will see wild parties throughout the country. Who wouldn’t like that?
Prediction: 1. Uruguay, 2. England, 3. Italy, 4. Costa Rica
Groups E to H will follow soon – I’ve already done it but wanted to split it all into two digestible chunks! Remember to check out the podcasts.