Saturday, December 07, 2013

Saf's 2014 World Cup Predictions: Group Stage

Group A: Brazil, Mexico, Croatia, Cameroon

Croatia is in a tough spot.  They open against the host country in Sao Paolo.  Call me naive, but the entire country will be on FIRE.  I'd expect Brazil to put on a clinic.  Maybe 4-0.  I think they'll be one of the few teams to run the table and get the full 9 points.  Then, Croatia has to play Cameroon in the rainforest climate of Manaus (the city in the heart of the Amazon).  They may have grungy, talent, but I think the Croats will fold early with 2 quick losses.  

Mexico was atrocious in CONCACAF qualifying, needing to win a bizarre playoff against New Zealand to slip into the tournament.  Nonetheless, they still have plenty of talent.  I think their fan base reignites and they rebound strong in South America.

Brazil - 9
Mexico - 6
Cameroon - 3
Croatia - 0

The headlines from group A: Croatia's early exit.  Brazil romps.  Mexico rejuvenated. 

Group B: Chile, Spain, Netherlands, Australia

I think just about all the South American teams will exceed expectations in 2014.  I think the early games set the stage.  I'd look for a draw in the Spain vs. Netherlands match.  Both teams share a point.  Meanwhile, Chile kicks Australia in the outback. 

The decider game will be Spain vs. Chile in Rio De Janeiro.  Whoever wins that game should win the group.  Could be a high scoring tie (3-3).  I think this will be one of the highlight games of the entire World Cup.  Call it a hunch.      

Spain is in the dominant position because they finish the round against Australia (who, by then, will likely have nothing to play for).  I suspect Australia will not even salvage a meaningless point (even if Spain is comfortably on top and can rest their marquee players).

The Dutch have to finish the group stage against Chile in Sao Paulo (not an enviable position for the pot smokers).  I think they'll fold.

I think Chile wins the group.  Spain a close 2nd.  Netherlands fade.  Australia is way out of their league.

Chile - 7
Spain - 5
Netherlands - 4
Australia - 0

Group C: Ivory Coast, Japan, Columbia and Greece

The Ivory Coast are the only African team with a legitimate opportunity to win their group.  They are loaded with solid veteran players from top European club teams (Eboue & Drogba - Galatassary, Toure & Toure - Liverpool & Man City).  Plenty of star power, good mix of youth and endurance but a lack of world class goal-tending could be their achilles heel.

Columbia is the star of the group and FIFA has them ranked #4 in the world.  They fared unbelievably well in the arduous South American qualifying process, but I think they're a bit overhyped.  Columbia vs. Ivory Coast should easily determine the outcome of the group.  I think Ivory Coast wins a thriller.  Give Greece and Japan one point each in their head-to-head. 

Ivory Coast - 7
Columbia - 6
Greece - 1
Japan - 1

Headline shocker - Ivory Coast top Group C.

Group D: Uruguay, England, Italy, Costa Rica

Uruguay barely qualified.  They had to engage in a lopsided "win and you're in" versus arch nemesis Jordan.  Who comes up with this shit and how on earth is "Jordan" in a position to reach the World Cup.  Who was their last opponent???  The vestigial remains of the Syrian chemical weapons disposal unit?  Call me crazy, but Michael Jordan may have been a stronger opponent.  Nonetheless, I suspect they'll come on very strong in neighboring Brazil.  I'd look for them to come out of the gate blazing against Costa Rica. 

The much heralded England vs. Italy match-up (in the muggy rainforest of Manuas) will be a disappointing 0-0 tie.  Remember - you heard it here first.

Italy is always a slow starter.  Then, they somehow manage to finish second and slip into the knock-out phase.  I think that same scenario plays out again.

I like Uruguay to top the group.  They know the terrain.  Italy snags second, as usual.  I think England disappoints big time.  I have a weird hunch they'll lose to Costa Rica.  They'll have their bags packed before the final match.

Uruguay - 5
Italy - 4 (advance on a tight goal differential)
Costa Rica - 4
England - 1

Headlines: England finishes dead last, coach fired, team in disarray.  Costa Rica exceed all expectations but get screwed in the end.

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras, France

Switzerland had a surprisingly good qualifying run but I think they're the "best" team that everyone "wouldn't mind" playing.  They're definitely at a disadvantage having to open against Ecuador and then France.

Honduras is a capable team (in CONCACAF) , but their first two matches against powerhouses Ecuador and France will not bode well.  I just don't think they have enough international star power.

I think Ecuador sweeps.  France is uninspired and stale, but gets some narrow 1-0 victories.  Honduras shows up, but it will be too little, too late.  The Swiss come up completely empty with the exception of some hot cocoa for the plane ride back to Bern (where my parents tied the knot).

Ecuador - 9
France - 6
Honduras - 3
Switzerland - 0

Headline:  Ecuador is for real.  If it's not cold, the Swiss fold.

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzgovinia, Iran, Nigeria

Definitely an oddball group.  Historically, Iran can be a quirky team.  But having to open against Nigeria and then shift to the dominating Argentines will be too much.  I expect they'll collapse.  The same with Bosnia who had an incredibly weak European qualifying group (Latvia, Liechtenstein, all kinds of strange teams you've never heard of).  I usually look for a European underdog to over-perform on the grand stage.  Bosnia won't be that team.

The final match between Argentina and Nigeria could be a thriller.  However, I think both teams will know their fate and settle for a tie.  The outcome might hinge upon who's jockeying for position with the winner and runner-up of Group E.  Would Argentina rather face Ecuador or France?  Hard to say.

Argentina - 7 (by way of a convincing goal differential)
Nigeria - 7
Iran - 3
Bosnia - 0   

Group G: Germany, Portugal, United States, Ghana

 Yep - it's the alleged group of DEATH.  I can see it.  Good intrigue with U.S. coach Juergen Klinsman facing his old national team in the group stage.  Ghana surprised last time around.  I don't think lightning strikes twice.  I think U.S. beats Ghana in the opener and Germany sneaks a close win against Portugal.  Portugal sticks around though.  U.S. has plenty of talent... but just not enough.  They falter against the Germans and Chancellor Merkel gets her revenge against the USA for tapping her cell phone.  The NSA fucks us again.

Germany - 6
Portugal - 4
United States - 3
Ghana - 0

Group H:  Russia, South Korea, Belgium, Algeria

Probably the weakest of the groups.  Whoever wins Group G will be salivating if their opponent turns out to be South Korea.
I expect Russia to dominate.  South Korea always has a great work ethic but when you advance to the World Cup on the backs of Taiwan, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, etc... well, that's not really saying too much.  Still, I think they make it to the round of 16.

Although Russia doesn't really "fit in" that well in Brazil, they've got the chemistry and talent.  I expect them to gradually steamroll through the group.  Plus, they have the luxury of closing against Algeria whom I suspect will be thrilled just to "be there."  I think South Korea will bounce back from an opening defeat and finish a strong second.   

Russia - 9
South Korea - 6
Algeria -  1  
Belgium - 1


Final synopsis - I think the major, general headline will be the strong performance of the South American teams and the lack of showing from the Europeans.

Going home early - Belgium, Switzerland, Bosnia, Netherlands, England, Croatia, Greece and maybe France.   

I think the South American teams will dominate the latter stages in the quarters and semis.

2014 will be a big year for South American football.  Their teams will NOT disappoint.  Much will made of the climate, elevation, heat and humidity.  In its aftermath, I suspect you'll hear some renewed bitching regarding the utter absurdity of Qatar hosting the World Cup in 2022.  And rightfully so - Qatar securing the World Cup is hands down the worst decision every made by FIFA.  None of the governing body's other bullshit even comes close.


Predictions aside, this will be arguably the biggest party on the planet earth (possibly all-time).  I'd have difficulty conjuring up a better scenario.  An entire month in Brazil for the World Cup.  Doesn't get any more entertaining than that.  If you've got the cash and a penchant for taking a ride on the "wild side," my advice is to skip the Motley Crud concert and hit Rio or maybe Sao Paulo.  Porto Allegro will be a scenic, hot spot too - it borders Argentina and Uruguay with lots of fans likely to make the trek (not the best early match-ups though).  To be honest, anywhere in Brazil would do nicely. 

The only problem - all the host cities are 8-10+ hours apart.  So you'd probably have to fly if you want to check out multiple destinations = $$$.

My advice - go for the early games (June 12-16) or the early knock-out round of 16  (June 28-July 1).

My next blog will focus on predictions for the round of 16, the quarters, semis and eventual champions.  I'm sure everyone is salivating with excitement.

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