Yesterday, I was so giddy at the World Cup draw that I posted my immediate thoughts on what transpired. Now, I preview the final four groups for the Brazilian party.
Considering that France did all they could to NOT qualify and accidently wriggled though qualification, they’ll be ecstatic with how lucky they got on Friday. If they avoid the internal spats that they’ve become famous for over the years, the French should qualify from a group of Ecuador, Honduras and controversial seeds Switzerland. Ecuador looked strong in qualification and, despite the sad death of striker Christian Benitez, have a solid squad of players including Antonio Valencia and the talented Jefferson Montero. The Swiss shockingly beat Spain in 2010, the sole blip on the Spanish path to glory. They’re an unspectacular but well-drilled team coached by double Champions’ League winner Ottmar Hitzfeld. Honduras are most likely there just to make up the numbers.
Prediction: 1. France, 2. Switzerland, 3. Ecuador, 4. Honduras
Forget Spain vs Holland, England vs Italy or anything involving Brazil, the most eagerly anticipated clash of the group phase is Shola Ameobi vs Lionel Messi. Two strikers that have inspired kids all around the world, their clash in Porto Alegre on 25th June will settle the Ballon D’Or debate once and for all. Of course, Argentina and Nigeria are practically siamese at these tournaments – the Nigerians will have faced the Argentinians in four of their five World Cups! Messi’s quest to win a World Cup and complete his trophy cabinet adds an interesting layer to proceedings. He’ll be happy with not only this group, but facing a Group E team in the Round of 16. By winning this World Cup, he’ll become the undisputed greatest player of all time and I sort of hope he does it. If you think he’s good at Barcelona, just wait until you see him play with Sergio Aguero! Bosnia are debutants and will fancy their chances of second place after a superb qualifying campaign. Nigeria are the reigning African champions but often flatter to deceive on the biggest stage, whilst Iran look like the weakest of the 32 teams.
Prediction: 1. Argentina, 2. Nigeria, 3. Bosnia, 4. Iran
In my eyes, this is the true ‘Group of Death’, comprised of the team 2nd in FIFA rankings, the strongest African threat, the only CONCACAF threat and a team with Cristiano Ronaldo. USA lost to Germany in 1998 and 2002 whilst being eliminated by Ghana last time around. The interesting sub-plot here is Jurgen Klinsmann, the legendary German striker that now coaches the USA. His recent squads contain many German-Americans such as Jermaine Jones, Timothy Chandler, John Brooks and Fabian Johnson. Despite struggling to make the finals, Portugal are usually a good tournament team that give few goals away. After single-handedly getting his country to Brazil, Ronaldo will surely rise to the occasion and be his clinical self. Truth be told, Ghana aren’t likely to get out of this group – their status as Africa’s greatest threat is just an indication of how poor their sides currently are. Germans are the ‘in’ thing in football right now, with a wonderful league, fantastic fan culture and an outrageous generation of talent. Their second or third string sides could give this tournament a good go, that’s how good they are. I tip them to go far in this tournament, with attacking talent like Ozil, Muller, Reus, Gotze, Kroos and Schurrle. An exciting group, for sure.
Prediction: 1. Germany, 2. Portugal, 3. Ghana, 4. USA
Clearly the weakest group on paper, Belgium – the hipster’s choice – will be very happy with their selection. Everyone talks about their eye-watering collection of individuals such as Kompany, Hazard, Lukaku, Fellaini, Vertonghen, Courtois, Benteke, Witsel and De Bruyne. Yet their big weaknesses are their lack of tournament experience and their lack of good – or even decent – full backs. I don’t expect Belgium to go far in this World Cup but they’ll still emerge from Group H before losing to a Group F team. I like the look of Russia – a solid team coached by Fabio Capello , although they don’t traditionally travel well. Algeria shouldn’t pose a threat to anyone, but South Korea will be pushing all the way for a top two spot. The Koreans are a talented team but their defence may let them down. One advantage for the Belgians is they barely have to travel and they got lucky by playing in Belo Horizonte, Rio and Sao Paulo. With little travelling and thus jetlag, I expect them to scrape through.
Prediction: 1. Russia, 2. Belgium, 3. South Korea, 4. Algeria
The excitement is set to snowball over the next six months and there’ll be several more blogs in the buildup, looking both to the past and present. Maybe even the future! Make sure to check back regularly and listen to the Kevin Phillips’ Piano podcasts – they’re starting to gather momentum and the quality continues to improve.
Thanks for reading.