We are now only hours away from the first group match between hosts Brazil and Croatia. Prior to that we of course have the opening ceremony. Let's just hope that the Brazilian equivalent of Diana Ross turns up and does something similar to this:
I am going for within 10 seconds until we see the first feathery head dress. And if Blanka from Street Fighter doesn't feature then we may as well all go home.
Bosnia & Hercogovina could be the dark horses of the tournament. Traditionally teams from the break up of Yugoslavia have particular characteristics; tough, difficult to break down, physically imposing, and technically sound. They qualified in style, with Eden Dzeko banging in the goals, only second behind Van Persie in the European leading scorer charts, and for me he's a good outside bet for top scorer here in a weak group. In goal they have Stoke keeper Begovic, a player of real quality. Look out for midfielder Miralem Pjanic of Roma.
Argentina have the strongest forward line in the competition, of that there can be little argument. Higuain leads the line, flanked by Aguero and Messi, supplemented by the exceptional Angel Di Maria (PSG's Lavezzi in reserve). With the exception of Zabaleta and Garay (Benfica) there is not really a lot beyond that. And as we saw with Maradona's side four years ago, it's one thing having a formidable attack, but what use is that without a stable defence? The jury's out for me. I still think they'll dominate this group, but I'm not convinced they are the threat others do. In their favour, they should be relatively accustomed to the conditions on their home continent (albeit parts of Argentina are anything but Amazonian).
|These men will take some stopping!|
Iran are another side that are unknowns. They'll more than likely stay that way.
Prediction: Argentina, Bosnia & Hercogovina, Nigeria, Iran
A close group this one. Aside from Germany, who should romp home, all the other teams could take points off one another.
That said, having looked at the US squad, I can't help but feel they're going to really struggle. Much was made of Landon Donavon's omission, but by all accounts he has been gorging on pies and is nowhere near fit. They contain the worst striker in the Premier League, Jozy Altidore, in the their squad. He'll be one of the worst we'll see in the next couple of weeks. I am so convinced that he won't score that I might have agreed never to watch football ever again if he does. In his last run out (a friendly against Nigeria) he bagged two goals to bring to an end a 28 (yes, you read that right!) game goalless streak, matching his total output for Sunderland last season. Useless. Elsewhere, they have the evergreen Clint Dempsey, now getting a run out at Seattle Sounders. I wouldn't be at all surprised if they finish on nil points.
|Don't expect to see this in the next few weeks|
Germany are one of the favourites, and look the most likely of the European teams, but they face a tough task if you look at the form books when the tournament has been in South America. They have a scarily good squad, with a number of the best players in the world. There is particularly an abundance of talent in midfield, and they arguably have the best keeper in the world in Manuel Neur. Up front is where they're a bit thin, including only two strikers, assuming you don't include Thomas Muller. One of those, Miroslav Klose is one goal behind (the fat) Ronaldo as the top ever scorer in World Cup history, and if he starts all three games you have to fancy that he'll achieve that. Good luck to him.
Portugal are the interesting inclusion here. I'd argue that they are more or less a one man team. And with Ronaldo an injury doubt for the opening games, are they going to make the mark he will be desperate for? I'm not so sure. I'd think the winner between Ghana and Portugal will be the team to qualify in second position, and I fancy Ghana to shade it.
Prediction: Germany, Ghana, Portugal, USA
Two teams called the Red Devils make up half of this group. It's been hell to predict who will win (geddit?!). Not really, Belgium will canter through this weak looking group.
Belgium seem to the football hipsters choice this summer. And whilst they do have some very good individuals, look beyond that and they're not that special (a similar level to England I'd suggest). Eden Hazard will need to find his best form, and the goals of the beast that is Lukaku (biggest player I've ever seen live) will be crucial with Benteke out injured. They are led by the rock that is Vincent Kompany at the back, and have a number of other players familiar to us from the Premier League. It'll be interesting to see whether Januzaj, who looks absolutely sensational to me, gets a chance having finally decided on which of the 18 countries he was eligible for he wanted to represent. Will the Spurs duo of Chadli and Dembele stink the place out, much like they did last season, or will they have to watch from the sidelines? And who will be the first player to be on the end of an elbow from Fellaini (red card waiting to happen) in their opening match against Algeria?
Hopefully Algeria will be a better side than the dour side that we watched grind out a bore draw with England last time, the worst England performance I've ever seen. The Algerian side is not an area I'm particularly knowledgeable about, but they have called up Bentaleb from Spurs. I think they'll be rubbish.
Russia under that old misery Fabio Capello are the only side at the finals with a squad made up of players plying their trade in their own country (England aren’t far off with Forster the odd one out). I hope they fail simply because I can't stand the manager, but they'll likely be good enough to progress to the next stage. The squad is made up of unknowns and unpronounceables. They have sustained a big loss in the shape of captain Roman Shirokov to injury, but you can never tell with the Russians, they do tend to play some attractive stuff, so who knows how strong they will be?
At the bottom South Korea will contest Algeria for the wooden spoon. Incredibly, they were semi finalists in their own country in 2002, but I don't expect them to make anything like as much of a mark this time. Everyone in their squad seems to be called Park, Lee or Chung.
Prediction: Belgium, Russia, South Korea, Algeria
So, there you have it, a run through of each of the groups. And my predictions on how they will pan out.
Just before the tournament starts, I'll go out on a limb and say where my money's is going:
Winners - Brazil
Surprise package - Chile
Golden Boot - Neymar (I do think Dzeko is a good each way bet)
Biggest disappointment -Holland, followed by Portugal.
And England will get to the quarter finals where it will depend who they face as to what happens?
Whatever lies ahead, I'm sure it's going to be a fantastic and dramatic few weeks. I'll be doing a daily blog throughout the tournament, so please do look out for those.
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