In what was the most eagerly anticipated World Cup draw in four years, with FIFA throwing in curveballs left, right and centre the tension pre-draw was at fever pitch. One of Pot 4 was moving to Pot 2, they in turn would be placed in a group with a seeded South American team for geographical purposes, and once we got to the live draw there was a Pot X. Pot X! I still don’t know what Pot X was, all I know is England sniffed round there. Anyway, we made it through the draw and it threw its usually mix of ‘group of deaths’ and ‘oh my god did you see the group that France got, how did that happen they only just qualified!?’
I am going to take you through the groups that have been drawn and how I feel it will pan out at this incredibly early stage. I have listed in brackets the FIFA Rankings of the teams participating.
Shall we start with Group A? Lets, I wouldn’t want to disrupt alphabet karma.
And the award for potentially the most underwhelming first game at a World Cup goes to….Brazil vs Croatia
Brazil couldn’t have asked for a better draw for their home tournament. Croatia scraping through the qualifiers, losing a manager on the way, they also annoyed a lot of neutral fans by ruthlessly slaying those plucky Icelanders. Mexico are no longer the same Mexico as they once were, they were minutes away from elimination until the USA saved them with 2 late goals against Panama, and Cameroon are the reliable family member at these World Cups, they don;t really add anything to the party, but they turn up, they don’t cause any problems, they leave their present on the table and they bugger off until the next event.
This should be a relatively simple 9 points for Brazil and a great chance for the home team to play themselves into some form approaching the latter rounds. As for 2nd place, well, it’s a guess isn’t it, all 3 of these teams have the potential to win their remaining games, they also have a great chance to go home battered, bruised and completely devoid of dignity. Purely due to an underwhelming qualification campaign I’m ruling Mexico out. I also don’t see Croatia making any form of impact at this tournament. Cameroon are coming off the back of relatively impressive qualification campaign and are no strangers to the World Cup, ignoring their remarkably low world ranking I am going with Cameroon to qualify.
Team Qualified – Brazil & Cameroon
Oooooof, what an absolute beauty of a group. Chile are a journalistic wet dream with regards to some classic headlines. I can see it now ‘Spanish left out in the cold by Chile’, ‘Aussies frozen out by Chile, ‘The dutch prove too hot for Chile’. Basically, it’s cleverly replacing the word ‘Chilly’, which signifies the weather is cold with the word ‘Chile’ which is the country drawn into Group B. I’ve gone on enough about the name Chile now, it might be a ‘Ice’ idea to start analysing Group B.
I’m eliminating Australia immediately here, I won’t even be discussing their chances because they don’t have any. If they manage to score a couple of goals and keep the opposition total down to about 2 or 3 each game then I’d say that would be a successful tournament for Australia. With regards to Spain, Chile and Holland/Netherlands this is possibly the worst group that either could have hoped for. This is the tournament where I believe the Spanish cycle ends, they have had a hell of a run atop of the international footballing pyramid but it’s time for them to climb down and let someone else have a go.
You never know which Netherlands is going to turn up, they always seem to dominate European qualification, they reached the final in South Africa, yet Euro 2012 handed the real identity of the Dutch back over to the people with a shambolic tournament display.
Chile are a wildcard, they totally dominated a second string England side and I feel the main advantage Chile have is they are still being overlooked by a lot of people. People do not realise how good this Chile side is, you cannot finish 3rd in South American qualification, which is by far the toughest qualification section, and be a bad team. They also have the advantage of being South American, this advantage should not be discounted. The guy who lives within walking distance from the pub always seems to be more relaxed, he strolls down in his own time, sinks a few jars and stumbles home when his wallets empty with envious abandon. The people who are hopping in a taxi are separating their money into two piles before they even get to the pub, beer money and taxi fare, that tough decision of whether to dip into the taxi fund for one more beer is on your mind all night, it’s not an enjoyable or settled way to spend an otherwise lovely evening. I believe this analogy explains Chile’s advantage of being South American rather well.
Based on World Rankings this is one of the toughest groups on paper to call with 3 teams in the top 15.
So the Aussies are out, and I believe the Netherlands will join them. Spain will go through, a good tournament for them will be reaching the semi-finals, and Chile, well wrap up warm because Chile are in for the long haul.
Teams Qualified – Spain & Chile
Ivory Coast (16)
Personally, this group annoyed me. It’s a lovely melting pot of countries from all over the globe yet I always follow the Ivory Coast and Japan in these tournaments, and I really like the look of Colombia, so on a personal level I’m greiving…just maybe not as much as the Greeks.
Colombia has this group won, they had an extremely impressive qualification campaign finishing 2nd and only 2 points behind Argentina. A large majority of this was down to their home form, a factor which won;t come into play in Brazil, but like Chile, they are certainly more accustomed to South American locations than the other 3.
Greece, how do this team keep qualifying for these things!? Sure Euro 2004 was a great underdog story but come on guys, that was almost 10 years ago now, you’re not going to win anything ever again and you knocked out Romania who are one of the most attacking teams in Europe at the moment. Shame on you, now pack your bags and bugger off.
Ivory Coast have been a victim of the clichéd ‘Golden Generation’ for some time now, everyone refers to Ivory Coast as a decent team. Even before the draw I heard people saying ‘I wouldn’t fancy getting the Ivory Coast’. Why? They have never done anything. They never really get the luck of the draw, always ended up in some form of Group of Death so this will be there best chance to qualify in a World Cup for a long time. I just don’t see it happening.
And then we have Japan, ahhh Japan. I remember sitting down pre match when Japan were playing in the Confederations Cup not quite knowing what to expect, and sure enough they lost all 3 games in their group, but that’s not the point. They were a revelation, charging up the field ate every chance with absolute recklessness. The difference then was that they were paired with Brazil and Italy with squads loaded with players that can punish this gung-ho (japanese word?) attitude. I don’t see Greece and Ivory Coast punishing them in the same way, so, completely ignoring the FIFA Rankings, Japan gets my vote.
Teams Qualified – Colombia & Japan
Costa Rica (31)
Let me set the scene, I was sitting with my wife and 2 daughters, we had treated ourselves to a chippy dinner, the works, chips, scallops, I think there was a battered sausage in there, there was certainly curry sauce and fresh Warburtons bread. It was bliss. Then our name came out of the hat to join Uruguay and Italy and my natural reaction was a pained cry. ‘Nooo’ I bellowed, startling my bewildered family, my mouth aghast as curry sauce oozed its way down my chin onto my crisp white England shirt. I’ll stop setting the scene now. I took a minute or two to digest what had just happened (the draw not the food) and realised this group is not as bad as I first thought.
Italy will be tough no question, they always are, and alongside Germany are a tournament team. They know exactly when to show up. Yet this team drew with Denmark, Bulgaria and Armenia in qualification. They are in the same boat as England when it comes to playing in the jungles of Manaus (potential embarrassing typo) and being the first game of the tournament for both teams then I really don’t worry too much about Italy.
The name Uruguay conjures up horrific images of Suarez and Cavani dueling with Cahill and Jagielka but diving deeper into the Uruguay team shouldn’t worry England. Uruguay clocked up some horrific results in qualifying, losing 4-1 to Bolivia is not a good result and it was their home form which secured a 5th place finish and a play off with Jordan. Once again, the South American factor should not be ignored and they will be an incredibly tough team to beat.
Costa Rica you can see above with Australia. I hold no worries about facing Costa Rica, they qualified relatively easily in a weak region and have been to World Cup before, yet I don;t see them doing anything.
I think what makes this group so hard to call is the fact that no team stands out. England, Italy and Uruguay are all kind of the same and that will make for some uncomfortable viewing for England fans. I have to support my team and I genuinely believe they will qualify, and lets throw Uruguay in there too.
Team Qualified – England & Uruguay
Well that is just classic France isn’t it. The rules of the draw change the evening before which effectively shifted France into Pot 4. Where they are in-turn placed with the weakest top seed in the tournament and arguably the weakest team. It does throw up a mouth-watering Blatter vs Platini tie.
I don’t see it being total plain sailing for the French. Switzerland are no strangers to tournament football and will go into Brazil as perhaps the most underrated team. You will remember the Swiss also beat Spain in the previous World Cup so under-estimate them at your peril.
Ecuador and France is effectively a coin toss based on world rankings. France didn’t set the world alight during qualification finishing second to Spain and made beating Ukraine incredibly difficult work. Ecuador did well to finish above Uruguay but again, failed to really dazzle anyone. France will enter the tournament as favourites for the group which is odd for a side from Pot 4.
Honduras are a novelty, fair play to them and all that jazz but seriously? We have Ibrahimovich sitting at home this summer whilst Honduras laces up their boots. Shocking. Will lose every game convincingly and may score a goal or 2.
I don’t really know what else to say on this group, each of these bore me ever so slightly and I will admit I may find it difficult to sit through Honduras vs Switzerland at 11pm.
Teams Qualified – France & Switzerland.
Finally the world has the match it sorely craved. Argentina vs Bosnia. Messi vs Begovic. This is by far the most exciting match in the group. Bosnia have been a breath of fresh air in qualification scoring 30 goals in 10 games, whilst Argentina need no introduction at all.
Argentina are the favourites in my eyes, virtually on home soil, Messi in the side and were impressive throughout qualification. They are becoming stagnant in tournaments and appear to have caught the England quarter-final bug yet this year I feel they are going all the way.
Bosnia as mentioned are a powerhouse, a relentless stream of attacking football played at a high pace with minimum regard for opposition defenders. Being their first tournament they arrive in Brazil with no pressure at all and that can be a great position to be in. If they can get through their opening game against Argentina at the Maracana (welcome to the World Cup Bosnia!) relatively unscathed then they are odds on for second.
Nigeria, for some reason are still considered an African giant, and I’m not entirely sure why. Decent qualifying campaign, they beat some teams they were expected to and knocked Ethiopia out in the play off round. Impressed? No, ok, what if I tell you they have Victor Moses and Shola Ameobi playing for them, impressive? Still no, then I don’t really know what else to give you. It’s a basement battle between Nigeria and Iran I’m afraid for this one.
I was gutted Iran were not drawn alongside the USA. I always like a nice political element to a football game that Clive Tyldsley can remind us about every 2 to 3 minutes. Iran pipped South Korea to top spot in qualifying with some impressive results (4-0 against Lebanon anyone?). It;s hard to big these teams up as their qualifying sector seems incredibly weak. Iran’s group consisted of Lebanon, Qatar, South Korea and Uzbekistan. It’s a farce really, but they’re here, they get a months break in Brazil, will have a bit of a kick around and jet back home, decent summer in my eyes
Teams Qualified – Argentina & Bosnia
If we are focusing purely on world rankings then this is the toughest. All four teams are in the top 25 in the world and you have arguably the best team in Europe at the moment in Germany, the best player in the world in Ronaldo and the best African team in Ghana. And the USA.
Germany will be the strongest European nation at these finals, they have the best opportunity I believe to win the whole thing than any other European team. They were frightening at times in South Africa and with the squad gaining 4 years in experience I see them going one better this time around reaching the final.
Portugal are a little bit ‘Francey’ at the minute. You never really know what they are going to do and they never really set the world alight, however, any team with Ronaldo in automatically requires respect. They stumbled through qualification finishing second to Russia, beating Sweden in a play off, and will arrive in Brazil with no-one really expecting anything from them
Ghana, what to say about Ghana, often lauded as one of the best teams in Africa (ignoring previous African Cup of Nations results) and were impressive in their 7-3 demolition of Egypt. This is a huge step up from African qualifications and although they will be looking to avenge their cruel elimination in South Africa this group is just too tough for them.
The worst possible group that the USA could have been drawn into. They are a team that could easily be eliminated in the group stages with no points, or could make a decent run into the quarter finals. Klinsman finally appears to be making his mark on the national team and the interesting angle of Klinsman facing Germany should be entertaining. I see USA finishing bottom of this group and Ghana joining them on the plane home
Teams qualified – Germany & Portugal
South Korea (54)
Imagine Belgium were not the current hipsters choice of team, how bad would this group look on paper had Belgium not saved the day. It’s a stinker.
Belgium should walk this, if they harbor any hopes of making an impact on the international scene then they should be winning these games. They will do well in this tournament, I think quarter finals will be a fantastic effort on return to international competition.
Russia, Algeria and South Korea. 3 teams that invoke absolutely no feeling in me whatsoever. What can we get out of this? Capello coming face to face with Algeria again? Have South Korea bribed anymore referees since the 2002 debacle. I think Capello will steer the Russians out of this group and onto the second round, where elimination awaits. Apart from that I have nothing to say on Group H
I once saw a Russian man when I was on holiday go and pick his breakfast everyday from the impressive breakfast buffet selection. He would choose some pastries, a big of scrambled egg and a small bowl of cereal. Little bit of everything. Yet, he then went and got himself the biggest bowl of onions you will ever see in your life. I began to observe what he was planning with this and lo and behold after every bite of breakfast he would shove a big spoon of onions into his mouth. He did this every day for 2 weeks, I will never know why. Do all Russians do this?
Teams Qualified – Belgium & Russia.
So, there’s an overview of what the World Cup draw has thrown up, and some very early drafts of who I feel will qualify. Nearer the time I plan to look at each team in much more depth and submit my final final predictions.