By Charlie Caron
As the summer begins, the action of the sports world tends to stagnate as the seemingly everlasting season of baseball begins to dominate the sports networks. Every four years, however, the rest of the world tunes in to the highlight of the soccer calendar: the World Cup. The ECHO helps you identify important trends and information ahead of the most anticipated sports event of the summer.
Group A: The host country Brazil is expected to ease past their mediocre opponents in the group phase, and should be able to treat their first few games as a warmup for the knockout stage. Led by 22-year old Barcelona man Neymar, the Brazilians are a creative group that should be able to create some highlight goals. Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon will vie for the second qualification spot from the group. All three teams contain some stellar players – Luka Modric, Javier Hernandez, and Samuel Eto’o to name a few – but Croatia seems to be the best all-round team.
PREDICTED QUALIFICATIONS: BRAZIL and CROATIA
Group B: This is the true group of death in the World Cup this year, with three teams that would be able to finish first in many of the other groups. Spain and the Netherlands featured in the final of the 2010 World Cup, with Spain narrowly snatching a win in extra time. Chile is another team that could make it out of the group, with a very young, yet talented squad. Unfortunately for Australia they will emerge battered with potentially no points. Spain should be able to take it out thanks to their sheer talent, and Chile can triumph over a Netherlands team that is past its prime.
PREDICTED QUALIFICATIONS: SPAIN and CHILE
Group C: In group C a number of mediocre teams will face off to reach the knockout rounds. Colombia is the favorite to win the group, and their odds have only increased with the news that their star striker Radamel Falcao may be ready to play in the World Cup after a serious knee injury. Greece tends to upset teams in large tournaments, as evidenced by their victory of the Euro 2004 and quarterfinal appearance in the same tournament in 2012. Ivory Coast is another team that maintains a number of speedy wingers that could hurt teams on the counterattack. Their defense, however, is shaky at best. Finally, Japan could cause some ripples in the upcoming tournament. With a solid midfield group, they could make it to the knockout stage of the tournament.
PREDICTED QUALIFICATION: COLOMBIA and JAPAN
Group D: Group D is another difficult group for the teams involve. In truth, Uruguay, England and Italy could all advance from this group, but, one will face elimination in the group stage. Star Liverpool striker Luis Suarez will draw attention from defenses with good reason, by he is well supplemented by another top-tier striker in Edinson Cavani. Italy always posts a very complete team with stellar players at all positions, yet, since their 2006 World Cup victory they have struggled to gel as a team. England’s squad in the 2014 World Cup looks vastly different than their team of the last decade. Manager Roy Hodgson has elected to rid the team of older players and look towards future success in his selection. However, England still has a formidable team that will threaten other’s in Group D. Costa Rica is essentially a non-factor in this loaded group.
PREDICTED QUALIFICATION: URUGUAY and ENGLAND
Group E: France should be able to easily advance in what is an extremely soft group. France barely escaped the World Cup Qualifying phase after a comeback against Ukraine, but should be able to slide into a great position in the knockout phase. The other three teams in the group are Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland, three teams that would have no chance in another group. Instead, Switzerland will likely make it through thanks to some budding stars in its midfield.
PREDICTED QUALIFICATION: FRANCE and SWITZERLAND
Group F: Argentina should be able to cruise through its group on its way to the knockout stages. Led by a very strong attack with Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, Argentina has a wealth of options up front. Furthermore, it has improved its midfield and defense since the last World
Cup, and should threaten many teams by the time of the World Cup. Although, the three other teams in this group are not as strong as Argentina, Nigeria should be able to make it out of the group stage alive. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran contains some stars but likely don’t have the necessary ability to beat the top-tier teams.
PREDICTED QUALIFICATION: ARGENTINA and NIGERIA
Group G: Americans will consider this both the most important and most difficult group. The United States stands little chance of advancing when pitted against the likes of Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Much has been made out of the nearly 9000 miles that the US will travel from stadium to stadium in Brazil, however, they would still have trouble advancing from this very talented group of teams. Germany is loaded in the midfield and defense, and is one of the favorites to win the World Cup. Their undoing could be a weakness at striker, yet there is always the option of playing a midfielder in that position. Portugal will be fun to watch simply because of their star man Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo can produce moments of magic at the drop of a hat, and it will be interesting to see just how opposing defenses try to contain him. Ghana could be a dark horse team in this group, and will cause fear to Americans, as Ghana is the team that has knocked the US out in the past two World Cups.
PREDICTED QUALIFICATIONS: Germany and Portugal
Group H: The final group of the World Cup contains the most improved team since the last World Cup: Belgium. With such young stars as Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku, Belgium has won over many young fans of soccer and will hope to translate their talent to World Cup success. Russia should be the second team to make it through to the knockout stage. Algeria and South Korea will likely go with a whimper.
PREDICTED QUALIFICATIONS: Belgium and Russia