Welcome to the preview of the World Cup in Brazil for 2014. It’s no doubt going to be a massive tournament with plenty of pressure on a number of sides and players to perform for their countries. It’s also looking like being a pretty tight race to the final with plenty of sides vying for a spot with the favourites among Brazil, Germany, Spain, and Argentina with a few other sides such as Belgium, Uruguay, Italy looking to crash to party. As a means of previewing the tournament I’ve had a look at the favourites, the Dark Horses, the next best performers, and finally some teams that may surprise and go further than people may expect. Whilst there will no doubt be surprises and underdog performances it’s still hard to look past a Brazil and Spain final at this stage. They look the most rounded and well balanced sides of all nations competing, perhaps besides Germany as well. It could well end up that we have a Semi-final with Brazil and Germany which in reality could go either way but the home team Brazil would have a slight edge there. Either way we’re in for a cracker month of football.
Some World Cup stats:
- The last time the World Cup was in Brazil it was won by Uruguay (1950)
- Germany (including West Germany) and Brazil have appeared in the most World Cup finals (7)
- The record for the most goals scored in a single World Cup is 27 (Hungary, 1954). No other team has scored over 20 goals since 1958 with the most since then being Brazil with 19 in 1970.
- Biggest winning Margin is 9 goals when Hungary beat El Salvador in 1982 with a score line of 10-1.
World Cup Final: Brazil versus Spain (Odds: $14 for these two to reach the final)
Golden Boot: Obvious selections in Neymar and Messi with a dark horse for me in Lukaku given Belgium’s easier group and potential to get past the last 16. Fred is also another chance given he could take chances from Neymar’s creativity and he’s ahead of Jo to start up front. Thomas Muller of Germany is another option given Germany should go deep into the tournament and he also won the award back in 2010.
My Top 5 choices:
- Neymar ($12)
- Fred ($19.5)
- Messi ($8.6)
- Lukaku ($30)
- Muller ($36)
Golden Gloves: Neuer of Germany an obvious selection for me. (Odds: $6.6)
Best Young Player: For me it’s one of Paul Pogba ($3.65), Raheem Sterling ($13) or Lukaku ($5.6). Quite like the look of Lukaku as an outside chance.
World Cup Groups:
*Current world rank as at June 5th 2014
Ivory Coast (23)
Costa Rica (28)
Bosnia & Herzegovina (21)
South Korea (57)
**Odds as at 8th June from Betfair.
Group A – Brazil ($4.2)
This Brazilian side for 2014 under Scolari are rightful favourites for the World Cup given that it’s firstly on home soil as well as they are undoubtedly one of the strongest sides in the tournament. When you look at this Brazil squad you can see quality all over the pitch in the form of Neymar, Hulk, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Fernandinho, Dani Alves, and the list goes on. This team will want to reclaim their winning history which saw them win the 1958, 62, 70, 94, and 02 World Cups, and with this being a home tournament there is no better time for them to reclaim the World Cup for a sixth time. If you go off their Confederations Cup form where they breezed past their opposition which ended in a 3-0 win over Spain in the final which really reinforced their favouritism for this World Cup. Add to this a favourable draw with Croatia, Mexico, and Cameroon, they should have a relatively smooth path to the last 16 followed by a tight battle between Mexico and Croatia.
If there are question marks over this side though, it would perhaps be in the form of keeper Julio Cesar. There is no doubting his quality but there’s no doubt he perhaps would have preferred more football in the lead-up to the World Cup. He was virtually frozen out of the QPR side upon relegation last season and had to venture on loan to Toronto in the MLS to get some matches under his belt. On the positive though is that he’ll have a well-established and experienced defensive unit in front of him in the likes of Luiz, Dante, Marcelo, and Alves. So on the flipside, there is perhaps a bit of opinion on who Brazil’s most important player is. Whilst there is no doubt players such as Neymar are very important to their chances, I dare say Paulinho is an important cog in the makeup of Scolari’s side. Maybe a surprise to some but when you look at his performances at the Confederations Cup last year it’s easy to see why. He’s the engine of their midfield with license to push forward and provide support to Neymar, Fred, and Hulk but with the ability to provide support the other way in defence when required which makes him a crucial link between defence and attack. Two goals during the Confederations Cup and Bronze Ball as the competitions third best player was enough to announce himself as a crucial link in this Brazilian side.
There will no doubt be a few nerves come the opening game against Croatia but at the end of the day these Brazilians are born to play football and rightful favourites.
Qualify from Group: $1.05
Group F – Argentina ($5.2)
A team hot on the heels of Brazil and arguably just as strong is Argentina. You need really only start with Messi to see why this team is in for a shot but when you then consider other attacking options in Aguero, and Higuain with added support from attacking midfielders in Di Maria, and Lavezzi just to round things off nicely. Perhaps the weak link in this side though is in defence where you can see a on the makeup of their side that it’s fairly well focused on attack which is all well and good but they’ll need their defence to really be in good touch if they are to have a run towards the final. Whilst there’s no doubt they could win by kicking more goals, perhaps in the way Liverpool played some games this season, a sound defence will go a long way to increasing their chances. I’m definitely not saying they are the weakest defence, not by a longshot. They have some fantastic defenders in particular Ezequiel Garay from Benfica, and perhaps the best Right-Back in the EPL in Zabaleta.
So whilst there’s a bit of doom and gloom on their defensive unit, Argentina will still be a formidable side at this World Cup. During qualifying they showed how damaging they can be. 9 wins, 5 draws, and 2 losses during qualifying whilst piling on 35 goals to 15 conceded in a relatively tough group including Chile, Uruguay, and Colombia. If they can replicate that sort of record this World Cup, it’d put them in a good position come the latter stages. Compared to Brazil they probably have a similar level of competition in their group with Nigeria, Iran, and Bosnia & Herzegovina to play. Bosnia will be their main threat but their first game against a potentially dangerous Nigeria will be of particular importance. If they drop points there it’ll put them on back foot for their final 2 games. With a likely last 16 meeting with an Ecuador or Switzerland (and potentially France if they struggle), you’d imagine they’d have a pretty good run up until the Quarter Finals. The Quarter’s is where it gets tricky with potential opponents in Belgium or Portugal to provide a really tough test. At the end of the day though, if Messi hits unstoppable form early then the confidence will rise and there’s no reason why this side can’t get to the Semi’s and beyond if they play at their best.
Qualify from Group: $1.05 to qualify, $1.25 to top the group
Group B – Spain ($7.8)
The reigning World Cup holders from 2010 Spain will be looking to repeat their efforts in 2014 and when you look at their squad and depth it’s not hard to see why they are on the of contenders again. They probably have the strongest squad in the tournament on par with Germany when you consider their strength in defence, midfield, and attack. I could spend all day reeling off the names but there just isn’t enough time or space. It was a little surprising though to see Fernando Torres named in the final 23 given his tumultuous couple of seasons at Chelsea where he’s really failed to live up to the hefty price tag that was paid to bring him over from Liverpool with 20 goals from 110 appearances. There’s no doubting his quality though and I’m sure the opposition would be wise not to underestimate him. One player who’ll be closely watched though will be Diego Costa who looks likely to end up at Chelsea for the 2014/15 EPL season. A supreme talent that could have well been playing for Brazil this World Cup, he’s come off an excellent season with Atletico Madrid scoring 27 goals from 35 appearances. With support from midfield from the likes of Silva, Xavi, and Iniesta he’s no doubt going to have plenty of support to knock in the goals if afforded the opportunities.
Spain will be hungry for success this tournament not only to defend their 2010 crown but to also perhaps avenge Brazil for that 3-0 Confederation’s Cup Final defeat last year. Whilst they sit in a tough group with the dangerous Chile, the Netherlands, and the less threatening Australia, they shouldn’t have too much trouble getting through to the last 16. The Netherlands will be a tough test but with some injury worries and a young defence they could be found out. A finish on top of the group will likely pit them against Croatia or Mexico in the last 16 which you’d imagine they’d be able to deal with comfortably once again. Regardless of who this Spain team faces throughout the tournament it’s hard to see them not going right through until the Semi’s at the very least with a likely meeting with an Argentina or potentially Belgium.
Qualify from Group: $1.18 to qualify, $1.73 to top the group
Group G – Germany ($7.8)
The last of the real contenders for 2014 is the formidable Germany. Much like Spain, this squad looks incredibly strong all over the pitch with perhaps their one weaker area in that of the striking department. But with players in the midfield that can play in the final 3rd such as Andre Schuerrle, Draxler, Kroos, and Ozil, there’s really not a lot to worry about from that point of view. It’s great to see Germany’s all-time leading scorer Miroslav Klose in the squad at the age of 35 but still a more than capable threat up front. The major concerns for Germany in the lead-up to the World Cup are some injury clouds over key players in Phillip Lahm and Schweinsteiger though both should be right to go come their first game. Marco Reus is another who was injured in a friendly against Armenia and at the time of writing it’s unknown if he’ll be able to take his place in the squad. It’d be a blow for Reus and Germany but at least they have some incredible depth to cover him if he has to pull out.
Whilst all the talk has been about the group of death being Group B with Spain, Netherlands, Chile, and Australia, Group G is just as dangerous if not more even on paper. Germany are no doubt faourites to finish on top of the group, but with Portugal and the dangerous duo of Ghana and the USA, this is not as easy a group as some might think. All the sides will provide a test for Germany which in a positive way should serve them well for the latter stages. A last 16 meeting with Russia looks likely at this stage who they should account for to move onto the Quarter Finals and likely to the Semi’s for a potential meeting with Brazil which would is a mouth-watering prospect.
Qualify from Group: $1.17
The Dark Horses
Group H – Belgium ($23)
Belgium are a side that has been talked up for some time now and it’s easy to see why when you look through their squad. The amount of talent plying their trade throughout Europe’s top leagues is just incredible and they’ll be a scary prospect for oppositions this World Cup. They qualified for the World Cup without losing a match and finishing top of their group whilst keeping a tight defence with just the 4 goals conceded. For me, Belgium have one of the strongest looking defences outside of a Germany or Spain. They arguable have one of the best central defenders in the world at the moment in Vincent Kompany and he’s well supported by Vermaelen, and Vertonghen. With a top class keeper in Courtois who has had some fantastic seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid to win the title and make a Champion’s league final, oppositions sides will find it tough to score against this Belgium side who have the potential to go as far as the Quarter Final if not further. It’s not just their defence that should worry the opposition but a fantastic midfield littered with qorld class quality in Eden Hazard, Axel Witsel, and De Bruyne who will no doubt provide plenty of opportunities to the fearsome Lukaku up front.
Watch out for this side as they have huge potential to go deep into this World Cup.
Qualify from Group: $1.21 to qualify, $1.77 to top their group
Group G – Portugal ($32)
The main reason course that Portugal can push deep into this World Cup will be that of Christiano Ronaldo. We’ve all seen what he can do and how incredibly damaging he can be but I don’t think he’s the sole reason why this team can be a threat in 2014. Apart from the obvious talisman in Ronaldo, this Portuguese side possess some great talent and solid players throughout. In defence the likes of Pepe and Coentrao will be important and they fact they play with Ronaldo at Real Madrid doesn’t hurt either. In the middle of the pitch they are well served with Joao Moutinho and the rising star in William Carvalho who should find himself at one of the top clubs in Europe next season. So whilst there will still be a heavy reliance on Ronaldo, this side still has plenty of quality and on their day can be troublesome. World Cup qualification was a tricky process finishing second in their group just behind Russia by the one point which setup a meeting with Sweden where they won both legs in a tight contest thanks to 4 goals from Ronaldo over both legs. If Ronaldo can play at his unplayable best then watch out for Portugal to potentially setup a meeting with Belgium or Russia in the last 16 and from there anything is possible.
Qualify from Group: $1.54
Group D – Uruguay ($30)
The last of the sides who I feel are a dark horse at this year’s world Cup is Uruguay. They’re quite similar to Argentina in that they are top heavy in the final third with the likes of Suarez, Cavani, and Forlan, but they do look a little lacking in defence and midfield. That’s not to say they don’t have good players in midfield and defence, you need only look at players such as Cristian Rodriguez and Diego Godin of Atletico Madrid as to some of the other quality in this squad.
Uruguay’s chances however could be dictated by the fitness of Suarez as he recovers from a knee injury as he looks like the most crucial player to their chances especially when you look at what a devastating impact he had with Liverpool this year. If they can get him fit and if he can pick up where he left off then this team will cause a lot of trouble in a tough looking Group D. With England, Italy, and Costa Rica they have a daunting task but there are weaknesses that they can exploit especially against England who look a little light on defensively. The advantage of playing a weaker opponent in Costa Rica first up could put them on the front foot if they can get a win whilst England and Italy battle it out.
Qualify from Group: $1.55
Group D – Italy ($28)
In a group with England, Uruguay, and Costa Rica the Italians are perhaps the strongest within their group along with Uruguay. Facing off against England first will clearly be a crucial game for them as a win gives them a massive chance of making the last 16. If Italy successfully make the last 16 then they will become a serious contender for the latter stages. Qualifying for the last 16 here will likely pit them against Ivory Coast or Colombia where you’d fancy their chances to then push on for the Quarter Finals where it gets a little more difficult potentially against Spain. When you look through their squad though it’s easy to see why they are a good shot. They have quality throughout and some incredibly damaging players when they are in form. The key player though will be Mario Balotelli. Controversial and hot headed there is no doubting his talent and ability to take a game away from you. If he starts well against England he could well push Italy towards the Quarters and beyond.
Qualify from Group: $1.46
The Next Best
Group D – England ($29)
England have always been an interesting team in recent times. Full of talent and potential but they seem to have lacked cutting edge and an ability to perform on the biggest stages. They had a fairly easy run through qualifying where they were really only challenged by Ukraine where they topped their group by 1 point. They’ll need to up their game though for Brazil as they face one of the toughest groups in the tournament facing off against Italy, Uruguay, and Costa Rica. With that group they face a tough ask to make it to the last 16 especially if they succumb to Italy in their first game and Uruguay get off to a flyer against Costa Rica. In terms of their squad there’s a lot to like but there’s also a few question marks. It looks like a good blend of youth and experience with the likes of Sterling and Barkley sure to feature throughout with stalwarts in Gerrard, Lampard, and Rooney to provide invaluable experience.
A good chance at making the last 16, but perhaps not the best option given their tough group.
Qualify from Group: $1.67
Group B – Netherlands ($42)
The runners up in 2010 look a little weaker this time around with some key outs also hampering their preparation for 2014. Kevin Strootman is a big loss for this team after a good season with Roma and it may force Van Gaal to play around with his formation setup. I think the biggest reason why the Dutch are perhaps falling outside of favouritism this time around is the fitness and form of Van Persie. He is no doubt one of their most crucial players for this World Cup and after a poor season with Manchester United ruined by injury he’ll be hoping he can turn the corner and have an injury free World Cup. There is plenty to like though about this squad with a good blend of youth and experience with the likes of Van Persie and Robben supported by a young cast of rising stars in Daley Blind, Joel Veltman, and Memphis Depay.
If the Dutch can somehow get something from their first game against Spain they’ll fancy themselves to make it through to the last 16 with a game against Australia and Chile to follow. A loss, and perhaps a heavy loss in their first game could open the door for Chile to finish in 2nd place with a crucial meeting between Chile and the Netherlands in their final group game likely to decide their fate.
Qualify from Group: $1.73
Group C – Colombia ($48)
An incredibly talented side the Colombians would be a little down that star man Falcao had to pull out with injury. All is not lost though as they still have a huge amount of attacking talent in this squad to push their way into the last 16. It’s probably a good thing that they are in a relatively easy group in comparison to others where they face off against Ivory Coast, Greece, and Japan with their first game against Greece a great opportunity to get off to a flyer. It will be left to Jackson Martinez of Porto to fill the void left by Falcao and it’s a good thing he’s a star striker. 46 goals in 60 games for Porto says enough about his scoring prowess and he’ll be hoping to add to his 8 international goals thus far. It’s not just Martinez who will be a threat though as James Rodriguez of Monaco is another attacking player that can be particularly damaging on his day and had a good season knocking in 9 goals and 11 assists.
So whilst Falcao is out, all is not lost. This team is still a massive threat and should make the last 16.
Qualify from Group: $1.34
Group E – France ($29)
Another side that have always looked a threat at the World Cup is France. France had to do it the hard way to make it to this World Cup where they finished second in their qualifying group behind Spain. They were then pitted against Ukraine in a playoff where they lost their first leg away 2-0 only to make an incredible comeback and win their home leg 3-0 to advance to the World Cup Finals. There is however a massive blow with Franck Ribery ruled out through injury a week before the start of the World Cup. He’s undoubtedly one of their best players and is incredibly dangerous in the final third. Despite this though, this French side is still dangerous with plenty of attacking options to still cause a threat. A solid defence, a world class keeper in Lloris, a world class midfield with the likes of Pogba and Cabaye and threats up front in Benzema and Loci Remy shows me there is enough depth in this side to be considered a Smokey.
One player to watch for is Antoine Griezmann who could well be in the Premier League next season. Quick, agile, and a great dribbler, he’ll provide Honduras, Switzerland, and Ecuador defenders with plenty of headaches. With 20 goals from 49 appearances last season with Real Sociedad, there’ll be plenty of clubs looking at him this tournament if not already.
Qualify from Group: $1.25 to qualify, $1.9 to top their group
There are some really solid teams that round out the remaining competitors in this World Cup. Whilst there’s a number of teams here that I’m look forward to watching throughout the tournament there’s only a handful here that I feel really have any chance of making a splash in this competition in the form of an upset results and pushing further than people may expect. Whilst the more fancied nations above are a good shot at advancing through to the final 16, there will no doubt be a couple of sides here that will break the trend and push through to the final 16. If the World Cup has shown one thing over the years is that some stronger sides littered with stars does not always guarantee success. You need only look at France as evidence where they didn’t advance past the group stage in 2010 or 2002. They’ll perhaps feel a little more optimistic this time around in a favourable group.
Here are a couple of teams to watch out for that may surprise and break into the last 16 given they are in tough groups.
Group G – Ghana ($330)
Ghana are an interesting team and are one of those that fly under the radar a little. Whilst their biggest name is no doubt Michael Essien, who will be looking for a big tournament after missing 2010 through injury, there are plenty of other names in this squad that could have a big impact. Asamoah of Juventus, Kevin-Prince Boateng of Schalke, and Muntari of Milan add plenty of quality to this midfield in support of Essien. They also have some promising young guns such as Christian Atsu, who scored 5 goals along with 6 assists on loan at Vitesse from Chelsea this season. Perhaps their most important player though will be Asamoah Gyan, formerly of Sunderland and now plying his trade in the UAE Pro League. Different level of competition, but he knocked in 28 goals in 25 games last season and was their leading scorer during qualifying with 6 goals.
Placed in a tough group with Germany, Portugal, and USA they’ll be up against it but if they get a win on the board first up they could be a shot at the last 16 if other results go their way in the final group games.
Qualify from Group: $3.85
Group B: Chile ($50)
A tough group faces Chile with Spain and the Netherlands a daunting prospect, but with Australia first up they have a great chance at getting off to a flyer and pushing into the last 16. Spain will be a tough ask but they’ll fancy themselves against the Netherlands who have a blend of youth and experience from the 2010 World Cup which could open up opportunities for them to exploit in defence. A lot will depend on the fitness of Vidal and Sanchez after injury but if they’re fit and firing this Chile side can certainly hold their own.
Qualify from Group: $1.95
Group F: Nigeria ($360)
The holders of the African Cup from 2013, Nigeria certainly have the personnel to get to the last 16. Whilst they have to face Argentina in their group, they’ll at least not have to face them until their last group game which could play in their favour if they are to qualify for the last 16. There is quality in this side as well with Obi Mikel and Victor Moses perhaps the best known. Emmanuel Emenike is another to watch out for after 12 goals in 28 games for Fenerbache. A team that has experience winning the African Cup could prove invaluable as preparation for this World Cup.
Qualify from Group: $2.7
Group C: Ivory Coast ($130)
Perhaps a little stronger than in comparison to Nigeria and Ghana and in a favourable group with Japan, Greece, and Colombia, the Ivory Coast have a great shot at the last 16 and with the potential to upset any team on their day, we can’t discount them pushing even deeper. With Drogba still more than capable, and a solid midfield lead by Yaya Toure, you easily see them monstering some teams. They’ll need to ensure they’re playing as a team though and not as individual Hero’s though if they are to succeed but certainly a team to watch.
Qualify from Group: $2.02
- Russia ($120)
- Switzerland ($120)
- Mexico ($240)
- Bosnia & Herzegovina ($200)
- Japan ($190)
- Croatia ($220)
- Ecuador ($280)
- USA ($350)
- Greece ($390)
- South Korea ($640)
- Cameroon ($980)
- Australia ($950)
- Algeria ($750)
- Iran ($990)
- Honduras ($800)
- Costa Rica ($600)
All of the above are the opinions of the author and are not recommendations or advice. The author may not be taking every bet listed above. Bet at your own risk.
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