Jeevan wanted me to start this off with a quick "Editorial Note": This preview wasn't intended to be 7700 words. It was written around 2AM English Time on a phone, so please disregard any errors in grammar or other constructs. Onto the preview!
The World Cup is here!
I can't believe it's been 4 years since World Cup 2010. It was the year of Spanish domination, their football was incredible. I remember where I watched most of those games, I was thinking about some of the moments I could remember from that tournament and couldn't believe it has been 4 years.
World Cup memories are great, you wait so long for the tournament to come, and it ends up staying in your head for years. I still remember World Cup '98 like it was yesterday, I still remember watching Cristiano Ronaldo in the final and wondering what was wrong. World Cup 2002 with France losing to Senegal, Ronaldo's hairstyle and him scoring in the final. 2006 - We will never forget that headbutt!
There has been some bad press around the World Cup and FIFA,but I'm not going to talk about that. I'd rather talk about the beautiful game we call football/futbol/soccer.
This is a great sporting event, only the Olympics can get so many people around the world following the tournament. It's great that so many people who don't follow the sport actually follow the World Cup; I just hope we can get as many of them as possible falling in love with domestic football (MLS).
I'm really happy to see so many MLS based players travelling to the World Cup. It's great for the league.
I want to quickly talk about the players who won't be at the World Cup this year. I can only imagine what it's been like for players like Franck Ribéry, Marco Reus and Falcao, Theo Walcott, Kevin Strootman, Stuart Holden, etc who are having to miss the World Cup due to injury. I just hope that all of those players (and ones I didn't mention) come back better next season and don't let this experience impact their mentality. It's also a shame for neutrals that the World Cup is missing great players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gareth Bale, Marek Hamsik, Arda Turan etc - Football lovers will certainly miss seeing players of that quality not competing in this World Cup
And then we also have the chance to watch players who could be world-class in the future, players such as Paul Pogba, Ross Barkley, Julian Draxler, Marco Verratti etc
Onto my predictions and thoughts ahead of the World Cup. I could be completely wrong with my predictions! I'm just going to be open and honest with how I think it goes. That is the beauty of tournament football. Switzerland beating Spain - how many people predicted that result at World Cup 2010? Tournaments have seen reigning champions failing to get out of the group stage etc
(Predictions and thoughts are based on what I know of the players and teams, and the squads as they are listed on paper. I could be completely wrong, and players/teams don't perform to the best of their ability or play better than I thought they would. Or I could just be talking rubbish! And I hope you understand that I will be talking about certain teams in greater detail than others, and I am going to try and avoid talking about every individual player I know of, otherwise this preview would rival that of the SBNation World Cup 2014 Preview which is roughly 40 thousand words long.)
Group A - Brazil and Croatia to go through. I think Mexico could get that second spot, but I don't think they've been at their best & this Croatia squad has a great spine. You have to think that the other 3 teams know that Brazil should win this group.
Brazil - This Brazil squad isn't as exciting as the squads that had Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka etc. I wasn't sure how well they would do before last year's Confederations Cup, I was very surprised. The attacking trio of Neymar, Fred and Hulk is great. Fred isn't a world-class striker, but he does his part for the team and had a great time during the 2013 Confederations Cup. Hulk, I always wonder how good he could have been if he had a manager like Wenger or Ferguson coaching him, and it is incredible how he can still defeat defenders even though they know that he is always going to cut inside. He really is a monster on that right wing, and I can see him having a very good World Cup. Neymar, he is their star, their poster-boy. I love watching him play. He should have more freedom than he does at Barcelona, and I just hope that the pressure helps him and doesn't hinder him. Julio Cesar in goal, he desperately needed that loan spell at Toronto to help him with match fitness. Marcelo and Dani Alves are great full back options. Thiago Silva is an incredible centre-back, I'd like to see Dante partner him, but I imagine David Luiz (his new PSG teammate?) will have that role. Brazil will need Oscar and Paulinho in form and creating chances, and possibly scoring a few.
Croatia - Rakitic had an incredible season for Sevilla, it's essential that they use him in an advanced midfield role. It would be a waste to have him in a deep role. That role is for Luka Modric, and I hope they pair him with a defensive minded midfielder. It is possible that we will see Kovacic used in an advanced role, either central or out wide. I think they will be focusing on the matches after the Brazil game, that is where they really need to perform to get out of this group. Their defence looks adequate, Lovren was very impressive for Southampton (and rumours are that his performances might have earned him a move to a club that will play in the UEFA Champions League). They have some decent strikers in Mandzukic, Olic, Eduardo and Jelavic. They should pose a threat to Mexico and Cameroon.
Mexico - I still can't believe that Vela decided to stay away from the Mexico squad. Playing in the World Cup is the goal for most players. I hope he made the right call for himself. Onto the squad, Peralta and Hernandez are essential to this squad, and Dos Santos is to a lesser extent. MLS fans know all about Marquez, (do I need to say anything else?). I was impressed with the U23 squad they sent to London 2012 ( Herrera looked like a quality player - at least I think it was him ), I thought they would turn into a real force, but the qualifying campaign wasn't great. Strikers need goals to get confidence, and you need games to get goals. Hernandez hasn't played as much as he would have liked this season, and it will be interesting to see how he performs, especially as a good World Cup will encourage big clubs to bid for him. Does the manager drop him in favour of someone who played and was in-form?
Cameroon - Cameroon have a decent squad (players like Mbia, Song, Eto'o, Nkoulou etc), but I can't see them having a good time in this World Cup. Kameni hasn't made the squad, because of the fact that he is now second choice at his club. Samuel Eto'o is still a threat to most defences , and their best route to success will be to play on the counter-attack. Vincent Aboubakar had a very good season with Lorient, and will certainly improve Cameroon's attack. They have a good combination at CB & CM. They don't have a creative midfielder, and that will be an issue for them, their midfield will have to work very hard. They will need Alex Song to be accurate with any long passes that he attempts.
Group B - This is a very difficult group to predict. I think most of us see Spain winning this group. I kept going back-and-forth between Chile and Holland as to who would take that 2nd position, I decided to go with Chile.
Spain - I can't wait to see how Costa reacts to the reception he will face from Brazilian fans. This Spanish squad has accomplished everything! Well, almost everything, they will be motivated by the fact that they could become the first team in a long while to retain the trophy. Their star midfielder has aged (as you would expect, it has been 4 years since WC10) and quite a few are coming off long seasons that weren't as successful as they hoped. They have a great back 5 (Casillas,Azpilicueta, Ramos, Pique, Alba) with 2 deep midfielders (Alonso, Busquets) just in front of them. Xavi will be deeper than he used to be, and he isn't as good as he was (thought he is still pretty darn good). Silva and Iniesta will be key to their attack in the final-third, and then add that they can call on players like Fabregas, Mata, Pedro and others if they need to . We also have to consider the fact that Costa is not fit, would they use a false-9 (Cesc) or give Torres/Villa a chance? I was really impressed by him this season, and it was awful seeing him getting subbed in the two biggest games of season due to injury, I hope he is fit for this tournament.
Holland - I enjoy watching Holland play, their 3-5-2 formation is interesting. Robben and Van Persie are world-class attacking players, and they should trouble all 3 defences they face in the group. The midfield is solid, with 2 wing-back/midfielders. We all know about Wesley Sneijder, he is a top level midfielder. I haven't seen too much of Clasie, but judging from that pass that set-up RVP in a friendly game, he looks like a real talent (I'm not really judging him off one pass). De Jong is best known to World Cup fans for a tackle in the 2010 final that should have resulted in him being sent off. It is a real shame that Kevin Strootman is injured, his energy and ability will be missed. Roma were happy to let Bradley move on because of Strootman, he is a world-class midfielder. I don't think their defence is good enough to get them into the next stage. This World Cup might have come too soon for some of their promising centre backs.
Chile - The movement of Vargas and Sanchez is going to be key to how Chile perform. Their weak point is their defence. I saw Jara at West Brom, he should do an acceptable job for Chile. I liked Medel when he was in La Liga, he's a pitbull who gives 100% and will battle any player that is near him, but the centre back role is not his best position. They will need their wing-backs, Isla and Mena, to be bombing up and down the sides. Alexis Sanchez was magnificent in South Africa, his time at Barcelona has been hit-and-miss due to different reasons, but I expect him to be at his best. Alexis Sanchez in form has the movement, pace and attacking ability to threaten any defence he faces. I have to mention Arturo Vidal, one of the best midfielders on the planet. And to think that Bayern Munich wanted him. There are rumours that Man Utd and Real Madrid are willing to pay up to $60m for him, and I understand why. A tremendous talent in the middle of the park, can score goals and can also help out on the defensive side. These are their two world-class stars, and they will need both on form. I hope Vidal is fit, he recently had surgery. I was impressed with Chile against England in an international-friendly, and they were missing players! I also think the climate will help them, as the European teams could struggle with the climate.
Australia - I became a very big fan of Mile Jedinak this season. He was outstanding for Crystal Palace in central midfield. They will need him to lead by example, especially in the games where they won't see much of the ball, and chasing after the team with possession is very tiring and can impact your attitude. Any real attacking threat will probably come from Tim Cahill, and that will be strongest on set-plays.
Group C - Ivory Coast and Colombia to go through to the last 16 stage. I was split on who would go through in first position; I decided to go with Colombia.
Colombia - It's a shame that Falcao is out. He is a joy to watch. A world-class striker missing from the World Cup hurts the World Cup. He is their star player. I can't explain just how excited I was about watching him play in this World Cup. I still think they have a very strong squad. They can call on Jackson Martinez, Gutierrez, Ramos and Bacca to replace Falcao, 4 very good strikers. I can't wait to see Cuadrado bombing down the right side, I've enjoyed watching him play for Fiorentina (and he's now being linked with Barcelona). And James Rodriguez of Monaco doing the same on the left. Then you remember that they also have players like Guarin and Aguilar in the middle . My worry about Colombia is that their defence isn't as good as it could be, I imagine that one of the bigger teams in the tournament would be able to score a few against them. I'm hoping to see Quintero get playing time. He was outstanding in a youth tournament last year, he looked like the kind of player who would have a flair and creativity rating of 20 on Football Manager.
Greece - Greece are a very weird team (in my opinion). I genuinely don't know what to think about this team. I can see them getting out of this group ahead of Ivory Coast if they are at their best, but I imagine they will take 3rd place. They need Mitroglou to be over the knee injury that meant he played very little football for Fulham. He's too good for the Championship, I am sure he will move to a good club, but an impressive performance this summer could help him move to a bigger club. They have wide players who will leave it all on the pitch, and will have an extremely high work-rate. I am a fan of their centre back pairing (Sokratis and Manolas), it will be interesting to see how they play. I don't know too much about their midfield, but I am a fan of Karagounis, even if he is reaching the end of his career.
Ivory Coast - Yaya Toure is the best central midfielder in the world, in my opinion. I think he can get them out of this group. It's crazy to think that he made his name as a defensive midfielder. We could throw around descriptions such as "big, powerful and energetic" to describe Toure. I would rather talk about his intelligence and technical ability. I love watching Manchester City play, not for Silva or Aguero, but for Yaya Toure. He is the complete midfielder, the only thing he can't do is header (according to his MCFC mates). I have to say that I am pleased for Gervinho. He looks to be back to the form that got him a move to Arsenal, and I'm glad that he is enjoying his time with Roma .And we can say the same about Kalou, who has taken his game to the next level with a move to Lille. Drogba isn't the same player he was, but I still expect him to bully defenders, and they do have decent alternatives if he isn't performing. This is most likely Drogba and Yaya Toure's last World Cup, I think they will be determined to get through to the next stage. They need to make sure that Tiote and whoever occupies the slot next to him protect the defence, they look like they could concede a few goals, Kolo Toure and his CB partner will need that protection. I'll be keeping an eye on Aurier ( he has been linked with Arsenal), who has taken Eboue's role.
Japan - Japan are an interesting team. They have Kagawaand Honda as their star midfield players, and the two of them would be great additions to almost any squad in this tournament. This team relies on Honda, and it is understandable, his left foot is superb, as is his dead ball delivery. I'm also interested in seeing how Kiyotake performs when he comes on (assuming he will be a sub as Okazaki will most likely occupy his position). They have defenders with Bundesliga , Serie A and Premier League experience. The full backs take advantage of the space that the wide attacking midfielders leave when they move towards the centre.I can't see them getting to the next stage, they have some fantastic technical talent, but I don't think they will perform well.
Group D - I spent a lot of time thinking about which two teams would progress. I had to choose England, I know we aren't going to win the World Cup, but this squad has lifted fans. I think Italy have enough about them to win the group (just about). It was difficult to choose England over Uruguay, but I think England will do it. I'm going to be optimistic about our chances.
Uruguay - Uruguay have two world-class talents leading the line. They will need Luis Suarez to be fit, I don't see them doing well if he plays games with an injury. I think they are doomed if he isn't able to play with the energy he usually plays with. Cavani wasn't at his best this season, though he was playing second fiddle to Ibrahimovic, and he still managed to get a respectable number of goals. Cavani certainly has the ability to be a matchwinner. The weather conditions might help Uruguay and could make it difficult for the two European teams. Lugano is their weak link. I think a striker with pace, agility and intelligent movement will love playing against him. Godin is a different story, he was great this season. I think the other teams will be able to score goals, they just have to make sure that Cavani and Suarez are kept quiet, which will be easier if Suarez isn't 100% fit.
Costa Rica - I feel bad for their players, they will want to make sure that they don't concede too many goals, as I don't see them getting a single point. I've been very impressed withNavas, I saw a few La Liga games that he was playing in, and he looked magnificent. He will need to be in similar form to help Costa Rica. Costa Rica's squad is technically inferiors to the other squads, so they will need to make sure that their work-rate is superior. Bryan Ruiz is capable of doing something great, and Joel Campbell looked excellent in the UEFA CL games I saw him play. I really hope they shock the world and perform better than most of us expect.
England - I was very happy when I saw the 23 man squad announced. I do wonder if we will miss the goal scoring ability of Defoe, but we have to trust Roy Hodgson. Henderson and Gerrard should start as the 2 deep central midfielders; they were great for Liverpool this season. It's good to see Daniel Sturridge performing for Liverpool, I'm glad that he has found a manager who trusts him to lead the line, he has the ability to be a real threat for England if he is trusted with that central role. The Southampton contingent in this squad is great, and it tells players that you don't have to be playing for a big team to get a call-up to the national squad. You have a young player like Shaw who will become a star, Lambert who had to work his way up the football league pyramid, and then Adam Lallana showed great loyalty by sticking with Southampton when they went down to League 1, and it's great to see him being rewarded. He had a great season for Southampton. Our defence isn't as strong as it was, but I think they will do well. I'm a big fan of Cahill and Baines, Jagielka is a very solid defender. I am expecting most of our opponents attacks to come down our right hand side, Glen Johnson's defending isn't where he excels, he would be much better in a wing-back position. I would like to see Jones or Smalling occupying that role against stronger teams. The attacking midfielder options are exciting. I love watching Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling play, and Ross Barkley has the potential to be a world-class player. I think most of us were worried that Roy Hodgson would go with experience, but the vast majority of the squad are here on form and age isn't an issue. I also hope that people don't put too much pressure on Wayne Rooney, he is our best player. We need to show him support. I hope the sports psychologist (Steve Peters) who England have with them can help Rooney. This could be his last World Cup (especially if you believe Paul Scholes, who thinks Rooney may have peaked), and he should be determined to prove his doubters wrong. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if we don't make it out of the group, it is a tough group. I would like to think that we have the players to get us out of this group, and I can see us reaching the quarter finals if we play to the best of our ability.
Italy - Which Balotelli will show up? The crazy player? The wonderful player who is capable of destroying teams? I am a big fan of Balotelli, he is a very entertaining character and has a very interesting background, and he's a very good footballer. The question is whether he is ready to take his game to the next level and fulfil his potential. I would like to see Italy go with another forward if Balotelli isn't at his best.I've only seen Immobile play once, but he looked very impressive. And add the fact that he scored 20+ goals in Serie A & then add that Klopp believes he can replace Lewa, I would like to see Immobile get minutes. They have a good defence (Chiellini and Barzagli are a great duo) and have Buffon protecting their goal. They will be expecting Pirlo to dominate games from deep, and you have to imagine that most teams will look to man-mark him. It will be interesting to see if Italy decide to give Verratti a bigger role or move Pirlo into an advanced role. To be fair, they could leave him in that position and he would still dominate most games. I believe Italy will win this group.
Group E - France will win this group, and I hope/expect Paul Pogba to be the star. I would love to see Honduras get through to the next stage (OBG!) , but I am expecting Switzerland to take 2nd position.
Switzerland - The Swiss have had a good team for a few years, their weakness was the fact that they didn't have a real goalscorer. I think most of us felt that way before the start of the season, it now looks like Josip Drmic is the man to fill that void. He had a great season in Germany, and I'm surprised that Arsenal didn't make a move for him, especially as he moved for a low transfer fee. I can't wait to see Shaqiri play, he looks like he could be a real star, I'm not sure if he will get to fulfill his potential at Bayern. I've seen Xhaka play a handful of times, and he looks like a very tidy player. And then remember that they have Inler and Behrami in deep midfield roles, they have a nice midfield. They have a solid defence, it will be interesting to see how their full backs cope with Ecuador's wingers. I have to admit that I am a big fan of the left back Rodriguez, I've been impressed with him when I have seen him play.
Ecuador - I don't know too much about Ecuador, and I could be completely wrong about them. I don't think they have the quality to get out of the group. I can't see them getting through to the knockout stages like they did in 2006. Antonio Valencia will need to be in better form for his national team than he was for his club team, that injury a few seasons back was very unfortunate. I watched one of their recent games and was impressed with their left winger, Jefferson Montero, and it is clear that they are going to be relying on their two wingers. They will need Caicedo to be in fine form..
France - It must have been devastating for Ribery, being ruled out of the tournament with only a week to go, he might never play in another World Cup & that is a great shame. I think this team will do well and will survive without him. That's not to say that they won't miss his world-class ability. They look like they have gotten past the internal issues that have harmed the squad at previous tournaments. I can't wait to see how Paul Pogba performs. Juventus were very smart to take him from Man Utd. He looks like the midfielder that ManUtd have been missing for years. He has everything you want from a midfielder. He has the intelligence and physical attributes to make him a tremendous ball winning midfielder, and then add his attacking play, control, intelligence etc - I would be shocked if Paul Pogba isn't one of the best players on the planet by the time World Cup 2018 comes around.Then add Matuidi and Cabaye to the midfield, that is a great midfield. I am expecting Benzema to start on the left & Giroud to start as the centre forward. I am hoping that Benzema starts as the centre forward and Griezmann gets a chance to take that left wing slot, I was very impressed with his performance for Sociedad this season. I am a big fan of the players they have available at the back. Lloris is one of the best keepers in the world. Sagna and Debuchy are quality full-backs, and Evra looked decent this season. I don't know too much about Mangala or Digne. I like Sakho, I think he is a very promising defender and has so much room to grow.Varane is going to be one of the best in the world. And I can't believe how good Koscielny has become. This French squad could go far if they stay focused.
Honduras - aka Oscar Boniek Garcia's team. I'll be paying special attention to this group. OBG is representing his country. I love watching Boniek, his energy reminds me of Ramires. I think he's very underrated, and I believe he could surprise quite a few people. Honduras have one of the weaker squads on paper, and they will need to make sure that they work hard to make up for that. They do have some very good players in Palacios, Espinoza, Figueroa, Bengtson etc - I am hoping that they can shock the world and get out of the group!
Group F - Argentina will get out of this group with ease. I think Bosnia will just about secure the 2ndspot.
Argentina - What a squad Argentina have. And to think thatTevez didn't even make the squad! (I know that wasn't because of football reasons, but how he could disrupt squad harmony). Argentina also have one of my favourite defenders, Pablo Zabaleta, he's been fantastic for the last few seasons. I also like the look of Garay, you can see why Real Madrid spent money on him when he was younger, he just wasn't ready for that level. I've been very impressed with his performances for Benfica. The rest of the team is superb. Mascherano is an excellent defensive midfielder, Gago is a very good playmaker and will make some great passes from deep if he is given time on the ball. Di Maria was absolutely outstanding for Real Madrid. He is now one of my favourite players, I love how creative he is on the ball & how he likes to dribble at and past players. Then we get onto the 2 strikers and the man with a free-role. Higuain and Aguero as a strike combination should be deadly, especially in this group. And then we remember that the player many consider to be the best in the world is going to be on the pitch in a roaming role. The question Messi always faces is whether he can perform on an international stage, and I really hope he can shut up any of those doubters. Argentina could win the World Cup, I see them getting to the final.
Bosnia - I don't know the majority of the Bosnian squad, but I think they will get out of this group as they do have quality players . I'm a big fan of Asmir Begovic, I still remember watching him play for Portsmouth, I had no idea how good he was. He's been fantastic for Stoke. They have a superb striker in Edin Dzeko. He can't be happy with his role at Man City over the last few seasons, but he had a good end to the season and he can be superb in front of goal. Ibisevic is a solid partner/deputy. The most important player in this squad is Pjanic, a fantastic attacking midfielder. I am a big fan of his technical ability, especially his passing ability. And I am happy to see Kolasinac being linked with good teams, he is a very good defender (left back), though I think he would make a fantastic defensive midfielder.
Iran - I have to admit that I don't know too much about the Iranian squad. I know that Carlos Queiroz manages them, so they will be better than I expect. I know that Dejagah plays for them, I enjoyed watching him play for Fulham, he looked like a very bright wide midfielder . I'm not going to pretend that I know about them and Google search their squad, I will tell you that I think finishing 3rd in this group would be an impressive finish, in my opinion.
Nigeria - I'm not sure about this Nigeria team, it's not unrealistic to think that they could take that 2nd spot. I do wonder if Obafemi Martins received a call from Nigeria, I think he would have been a good addition to the squad. I'm not sure what to think of their midfield, the only player I know if defensive midfielder John Obi Mikel, though he is given more freedom with Nigeria. And I only really know Joseph Yobo when looking at their defence, I liked what I saw of Omeruo when he was on loan at Boro. I am a big fan of their goalkeeper,Enyeama impressed me when I saw him play this season for Lille. I like their attacking players. I've always been a fan of Victor Moses, I remember his days at Crystal Palace. Ameobi is a solid striker,he will work hard for the team, but I don't think Nigeria should use him as anything but 4th choice striker. Musa looks like he has a lot of potential. Emineke is going to be very important to them, especially after his performances at the last ACN. And I am happy to see Peter Odemwingie in the squad, he fell out with the Nigeria manager, but he is a very good striker, especially when he is enjoying his football.
Group G - Germany should win the group, and Portugal to take second position (though I am hoping that the US can get through, and that is a strong possibility if Ronaldo is kept quiet)
Germany - Where do you start with this squad? There seems to be criticism that they only have one real striker (Klose) in their squad, and it was surprising that one of the other talented German strikers didn't get an opportunity to provide forward depth, but Muller can also play as a striker, and Schurrle, Podolski and Gotze can also do a reasonable job in that role. Klose could take Ronaldo's record, a part of me will be sad about that, but what an accomplishment that is if he does manage to set the new record. There are quite a few players in this squad who aren't 100% fit. The incredible thing is that they have enough quality depth to cope with that. The injury to Reus is awful news, and I hope he is ok (physically and mentally). Marco Reus has been one of the best players in Europe for the last two seasons, it is very unfortunate that he won't be participating in this tournament. It's also unfortunate that Bender and Gundogan couldn't make the squad. I think Toni Kroos will be their most important player, especially with Schweinsteiger not being 100%. I love how he always wants the ball, his passing ability and vision is fantastic. And he has one of the best long range shots I have seen in football. I'm interested in seeing how Ozil performs, especially after his debut PL season. It's difficult enough playing in the Premier League, but to move from a foreign league and then have a World Cup tournament at the end of the season on top of that is asking a lot of the player. I hope he plays well this summer, I love watching him play when he is in form. I am a big fan of Neuer and Hummels, and Lahm is the best full back in the world (though he might be operating as a defensive midfielder).
Portugal - Their progress depends on how fit Ronaldo is. Ronaldo is in the peak of his career, what an extraordinary football player and athlete. Arguably the best player in the world, it is a blessing and a curse that he is playing in the same era as Messi. They had to rely on the playoff system to get to the World Cup. His performances against Sweden were phenomenal. I would still expect them to get out of the group if Ronaldo wasn't fit, but it would make things easier for the US. They've yet to find a top class centre forward, and they still use Nani on the wing, who needs to find consistency. These two issues could makes things difficult for Ronaldo, as the pressure will be on him. Moutinho is their midfield maestro, Portugal will want him on form to help create chances for the attacking trio. They have a very decent defence, Pepe being the best defender they have. Pepe is a good defender, but he's an even better villain. And Fabio Coentrao will provide great energy down the left.
Ghana - I imagine Gyan still has nightmares about that penalty miss in South Africa. I am keen to see if he is still a good player, I wasn't a fan of the transfer move he made. I want to see how Kevin Prince-Boateng performs this summer. I remember watching him play against Derby County, he didn't impress me. I have been impressed with how he has progressed since then, and I see why Tottenham purchased him. He is a very good attacking midfielder. I want to see what position Asamoah occupies, will he play in central midfield, on the wing or as a left back? They could do with his energy to partner Essien, who is past his best. I also want to see how Atsu performs and I have to admit that I am surprised that Andre Ayew is still playing in Ligue 1. I'm not a fan of their defence, and I would be shocked if they managed to get out of the group.
United States - This is a difficult task for the USMNT. I hope they can get out of this group, it certainly isn't impossible. US fans need to trust Klinsmann and show him support. I can understand why he would face criticism if the U.S didn't perform to an acceptable level, especially with his decision to leave Donovan out of his squad, but I can understand why he did it. I'm not going to go any further into the Donovan issue, all I will say is that he is a superb footballer and US fans are lucky to have had such a quality player representing their country. I'm happy to see Brad Davis in the squad. The USMNT should be happy they have his delivery and passing ability on the team, and I hope he gets a chance to show his worth. I have to admit I wasn't a fan of Brad Davis, then I started watching Dynamo games. He has his flaws, but I can't believe just how important he is to the Dynamo, and that's because of his ability. The addition of Green could help the US, as he will be an unknown quality to two teams. And I look forward to seeing how Zusi performs. Altidore had a difficult season at Sunderland (he wasn't the only player to do so). I think he would be the first to admit that he wasn't at his best, and I was worried that the lack of goals would have a negative impact on his confidence going into the World Cup. I am happy to see that he has been scoring goals in the build-up to the World Cup, it was essential to the USMNT that he regained that confidence. Dempsey is a fantastic talent, and I hope he plays just off Altidore. I like the centre back pairing of Besler and Cameron, though I can understand why JK could go with Gonzalez. I've been very impressed with Besler, he is a very good centre back and deserves that starting role. I think Michael Bradley will be the most important man on the pitch, I think his energy and quality are key to the US. I hope he leads by example and can encourage other players. I have mixed feelings about him playing MLS football, I hope he made the right call. This really is a difficult challenge for the United States, but it is not impossible. The US should hope that Germany beat the other teams, and that leaves the second slot wide open. And Ghana's defence is open, and Portugal need Ronaldo, the US have a decent chance.
Group H- Belgium should have a pretty simple route out of this group. I think Russia will secure the runner-up position, but I wouldn't be surprised if South Korea or Algeria take it.
Belgium - It's incredible that they didn't qualify for the last two World Cups. This should be a pretty simple group for Belgium, though Russia might put up a fight. They have one of the best goalkeepers around in Courtois, an outstanding goalkeeper. Chelsea would be foolish to let him go. They have an issue with their full-back positions, but I think Verthongen and Alderweireld will do a reasonable job in those roles, and their defensive minds should help that backline. I'm a huge fan of Vincent Kompany, and I hope he has a great partnership with Vermaelen. This defence would obviously be focused on protecting their goal, so wingers and attacking midfielders will need to make sure that they are creating chances. I can't wait to see how Janzaj performs; he looks like he will become a world-class midfielder in the future. And is a very good addition to the Belgium squad. I have to admit that I was surprised that Nainggolan didn't make the 23. DeBruyne will also add quality to the starting 11. Axel Witsel will be the anchor of the midfielder, and then expect someone like Fellaini or Dembele to play alongside him. Eden Hazard has been mesmerizing this season,now he needs to do it for his national team. I loved watching him play for Chelsea. He's dangerous when he has the ball, and I love the fact that he wants to beat the defender. I was a bit sceptical about the price tag that came with him when Chelsea signed him, but he was brilliant for Chelsea this season. The injury to ChristianBenteke is unfortunate, they are lucky that they have Lukaku leading the line. I remember looking at Belgium a few years back, and thinking that they could be a great team if they found a top level striker. Benteke breaking through was great for them, and the same for Lukaku. Lukaku has really grown over the last 2 seasons, and I think his time at WBA and Everton shows how important loans can be for player development. It will be interesting to see what happens with him after the WC. It will also be interesting to see how teams defend against him. He has the ability to run into space if teams push up, and also has the physical attributes to cope with a defence that pushes back into the box. And Kevin Mirallas is a great player to have available.
Algeria - They have decent players occupying midfield roles (Taider, Bentaleb, Brahimi) . I don't see the Algerians having a good summer, they should be happy if they manage to get a draw or two. They have a decent attack, but their defence has far too many holes in it for them to get ahead of Russia. I don't know too much about star striker Islam Slimani except for the fact that he plays for Sporting Lisbon. Their star player is playmaker Sofiane Feghouli. The Valencia midfielder will either operate in the hole or on the right wing, and Algeria will be hoping that he can use his pace and creativity to create some chances for Slimani. I guess I could see Algeria qualifying for the next round if Russia have a terrible time in Brazil and that the Algerian defenders stay strong.
Russia - Russia are the second strongest team in this group, but I could see them messing it up due to numerous issues.Fabio Capello's experience will be essential to this Russian squad. The only team in the World Cup with a squad made up entirely of players who play in their domestic league. They will benefit from the CSKA Moscow connection between the keeper (Akinfeev is world-class) and two centre backs. I am a fan of Aleksandr Kokorin, Capello rates the versatile youngster very highly. It will be interesting to see where Capello plays him, I suspect he will be out on the left wing, though it is possible that he will be used as their main striker. I've always liked Dzagoev, he was excellent at Euro 2012, but he's not been that impressive in the games I've seen him play since then, hopefully he has a good tournament.
South Korea - I was very impressed with their U23 squad at the 2012 Olympics. They showed great technical ability. Their defence isn't good enough to help them progress. And it doesn't help that Ki Sung-Yeung (Swansea player) is usually pushed back into a deep midfield role. He isn't a defensive midfielder, and he can't have the same impact in that position.He showed how good he can be during his loan spell at Sunderland. A very tidy player who is comfortable on the ball in most positions . I was impressed when I first saw Lee Chung-yong play for Bolton, that was a long time ago. I don't think he's the type of player that shines in the Championship. I've seen players struggle in the Championship but excel in the Premier League. He should be using this tournament as an opportunity to sell himself to clubs. I liked what I saw of Kim Bo-kyung at Cardiff, he looked like a very good player. I am very interested in seeing how Ji Dong-Won performs, it didn't work out for him at Sunderland, but Jurgen Klopp has seen enough in him to sign him. And then there is Son Heung-Min, the youngster is highly rated in Germany and in South Korea. It will be intriguing to see how he handles a big tournament. I am looking forward to seeing what Park Chu-Young can offer on the international stage, his time at Arsenal has been a real mystery. I'm a fan of the few South Korean players I know, but they just aren't good enough as a unit. Their defence will let them down.
Top Goalscorer - Sergio Aguero. I think Aguero will be presented with many chances. They have a weak group. And then remember that he will have Messi and Di Maria creating chances.
Young Player Of The Tournament - Paul Pogba will take this in my opinion. I can't believe just how good he is. He is going to be one of the best players in the world. He has everything you want from a central midfielder. I think Man Utd fans will always wonder why SAF refused to use him or give him the contract he wanted.
Player Of The Tournament - I was stuck on this. I can see Argentina getting through to the final, and I would like to see Messi get this award. I hope he shows the ability that has made him devastating for Barcelona. Argentina have a very strong squad, and that should take pressure off him.
"Surprise Package" = Belgium
I'm not sure if I should call them a surprise package, we all know that they have an excellent squad. They've assembled a magnificent squad of players and they have to be the strongest team outside of the top tier favourites. I don't see them getting past the quarter-finals, but I think that would be a solid performance for this team, this is their first World Cup in a while. I think anything less than getting through to the quarter-finals would be poor for this squad, they could go further when you look at the players they have available and if they develop great team cohesion.
Real surprise Package = Colombia
They have a very good attack, and it is unfair to dismiss them because they don't have Falcao. I don't know how far they can go, but I do know they have enough quality in the squad to make people realise they are more than Falcao. The two wide players will be key to how they progress, and they some good strikers in the squad.
Semi-Finalists - Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany
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