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Thursday, 12 June 2014

World Cup Preview; Groups G & H

In the final part of my preview ahead of this year's World Cup in Brazil, I explore both Groups G and H.

Group G:

Germany: The Germans are being tipped as widely one of the favourites to go far, and maybe even win the tournament. They've finished in third place at the last two World Cup's and came second in 2002. It will be up to Joachim Low's 'nearly men' to go further and win their fourth world title. It's extremely hard to pick a weakness in their squad. They have arguably the best keeper in the world, a mix of youth and experience, a solid defence, a vast amount of creative players and Miroslav Klose who is just two goals away from scoring the most goals at a World Cup finals by an individual player. Aside from Brazil, I think Germany are one of the teams with the most pressure on them at this years tournament. Prediction: I think they will at least makes the semi-finals and could possibly go onto reach the final and maybe even win it.

Portugal: They go into this World Cup with possibly one of their worst crop of players they have ever had. Saying that, they do have the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo who has the potential to win games on his own for Portgual. They reached the finals through a play-off win over Sweden and their side not having a renowned striker means they may not live up to their full billing. Their defence looks decent but in Bruno Alves and Pepe they may pick up a lot of cards, meanwhile their midfield will probably be ran by Joao Moutinho of Monaco. Prediction: Behind Germany it's a three horse race to see who will qualify in what is being named the Group of Death. However, because of Ronaldo I think they'll just about scrape through.

Ghana: In 2010 the Ghanians managed to reach the quarter-finals and have the potential to perhaps go far again but will probably come unstuck against Germany and Portugal by their leaky defence. They have a great midfield and attack with incredibly depth though which means they should be fine when it comes to scoring and creating goals. Kevin Prince-Boateng, Asamoah Gyan, Essien, Muntari and the Ayew brothers will be big players for them. Prediction: Have the potential to harm Portugal and therefore may make it out of the group, I think they'll just fall short and finish third though.

USA: The Americans may have a tough time at this years World Cup but have plenty of experience. However, their defence could be exposed against the greatness of the attacks of the other teams in their group. They themselves have a decent attack in Dempsey and Altidore. They meanwhile have Jermaine Jones who used to play for Schalke and also Tim Howard in goal. Landon Donavon was surprisingly not included in the squad and that could prove to be a mistake. The US managed to draw with England in 2010 but you feel that Germany and Portugal will be a bridge too far for them in Brazil. Prediction: Bottom of the group having not won a game, a dismal tournament for Jurgen Klinsmann's men.

Group H:

Belgium:  Belgium could prove to this years surprise package and are filled with some amazing talent that could see them go far in the competition. The finished top of their qualifying group having not lost a game and they'll look to take that form into Brazil. For all their amazing talent, Hazard, Kompany, Witsel, Courtois etc, they could struggle due to Benteke being out injured and Lukaku only just returning from an ankle injury. Therefore their hopes could rest upon young Divock Origi to score the goals. What could get them far though is their extremely solid defence and the strength in depth in the midfield department. Prediction: I think they'll top the group but the last 16 could be the limit for the Red Devils.

Algeria: This time round the Algerian's will be hoping that they can actually score a goal at this year's tournament, let alone get any points in their group. In South Africa they didn't score a single goal but this time round a lot of their players play in Europe's top five leagues. The man to watch for them will most likely be Valencia's Sofiane Feghouli. Their forward line doesn't look great but they have depth in midfield and that could be crucial if the Algerian's want to progress. Prediction: Like with 2010, I think they'll finish bottom of their group having not won a game.

Russia: The Russian's go into this World Cup managed by former England boss Fabio Capello and could cause an upset along the way. It's a very interesting group and it's hard to tell who will probably follow Belgium into the last sixteen. Like with a few of the other teams in Brazil, they have a good mix of youth and experience to call upon. Ignashevich is a very experienced defender whilst their goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev isn't too bad either. Alan Dzagoev impressed at Euro 2012 and is their main creative outlet. Meanwhile, they will be relying upon Alexsandr Kerzhakov to bag them the goals needed to progress. Prediction: Second in the group, but knocked out in the last 16.

South Korea: With the group the South Koreans are in, they have the potential to get out of it but they don't usually seem to click when it matters. They're in poor form going into the World Cup and a 4-0 defeat to Ghana proved that. Their defence will probably be their man downfall but their midfield and striking department isn't all that bad. Park Ji Sung usually seems to perform well for South Korea whilst the also have ex-Sunderland player Ji Dong-Won and Leverkusen's Son Heung-Min to call upon. Meanwhile, Ki from Sunderland and Lee from Bolton have both been included in the squad. Prediction: I've said with many teams that they have potential and South Korea are one of those nations that definitely fall into that category. I can see them getting out of the group, but I can also see them failing, and that's what I think they'll do by finishing third in what looks an interesting group on paper.

World Cup preview; Groups E & F

Carrying on from my previews of the first four groups yesterday, I now take a look at groups E & F at this year's World Cup in Brazil.

Group E:

Ecuador:  This will be just the South American's third appearance at a World Cup final's and they've been placed in a pretty interesting group that could become quite tight with the teams in it. They're a team with plenty of pace in their attacking areas and that is outlined by former Man City striker Felipe Caicedo and Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia. Frickson Erazo should bring them some solidity at the back and will be used to the conditions as he currently plays for Brazilian side Flamengo. They recently drew 2-2 with England which means on their day they could perhaps cause an upset for the French and Swiss. Prediction: Fourth in the group having lost every game.

Switzerland: The Swiss are ranked pretty highly in the FIFA World Rankings, and are one of the seeded teams believe it or not. They are an extremely efficient side and were the only team to beat the 2010 winners Spain at the last World Cup. I wouldn't be surprised if they went far in the competition but with people favouring the American sides, they may come unstuck later in the tournament. They have a nice mix of youth and experience which should serve them well. Barnetta is one to watch, as is Bayern's Xherdan Shaqiri. Their defence meanwhile consists of Djourou and Senderos which some might feel is a big fault. However, in Diego Benaglio they have a solid goalkeeper. Prediction: Second in the group behind France but to bow out in the last 16.

France: The French go into this competition off the back of a disastrous 2010 campaign which sparked a lot of controversy within the French national side. They only qualified for these finals through a play-off too and even with that they were 2-0 down to Ukraine after the first leg. However they now look a rejuvenated side and their worst looks to be behind them. You feel they will be a little short when it comes to the latter stages but they do have some real quality in the team. They'll have to live with the absence of Frank Ribery though who will miss the World Cup through injury. They look very solid at the back, have some good creative outlets and have Giroud & Benzema up front. Prediction: Despite their recent troubles I'm tipping them to top the group and go onto reach the quarters.

Honduras: Like Ecuador, this will be Hondorus' third appearance at a World Cup. They managed to finish above of Mexico in qualifying which is an achievement but you can't see them doing particularly well in Brazil. They drew 0-0 with England meaning, like with Ecuador they could perhaps spring a few surprises knowing they can match one of the better sides in World football. Their ability to score goals will be reliant upon Carlo Costly whilst they also bolster Stoke's Wilson Palacios, Hull's Maynor Figueroa and Wigan's Roger Espinoza. Prediction: Won't get out of the group but will win their only game against Ecuador to finish in third.

Group F:

Argentina:  Argentina are being tipped as one of the favourites to win the tournament but I personally can't see all the hype. The conditions are being talked about a lot and that's probably why pundits see them going far. Many of their renowned players don't seem to perform on the biggest stage of them all though. Lionel Messi will be absolutely pivotal but he is yet to really show what he can do internationally. Their star studded attack is obviously one of the main reasons they could go far, Aguero and Higuain with of course Messi is freighting. Their midfield is perhaps the only weakness in a squad with Di Maria being their main creative outlet. Zabaleta, Garay and Mascherano means they should be solid at the back though. Prediction: Definitely have the potential to go far in the competition. I think at most they can reach the semi-finals but other people seem to think differently.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: This is Bosnia's first appearance at a World Cup finals as an independent nation but it's difficult to predict how they'll do. They do have some extremely good talent and if they play well then they could be a team to watch in Brazil. Edin Dzeko of course will be pivotal to their side, as will midfielder Miralem Pjanic. They meanwhile boast goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and if he has a good tournament, then Bosnia could be a difficult team to score against. Prediction: May well make it out of the group but their lack of major tournament experience could prove to be their downfall. I think they'll finish second in the group though but get knocked out in the last 16.

Iran: Now, I'm going to admit, my knowledge of Iranian football isn't very extensive, and that probably just about sums up their chances at this year's World Cup in Brazil. They are managed by former Manchester United assistant manager, Carlos Queiroz which means they certainly should be tactically astute. Their main player will probably be Fulham's Ashkan Dejagah whilst they also have former Bolton man, Andranik Teymourian in their squad. Prediction: Not really difficult to predict how they'll fare in Brazil, bottom of the group without winning a game.

Nigeria: The Super Eagles come into this tournament off the back of a continental win with the African Cup of Nations at the beginning of last year. They meanwhile also participated in the Confederations Cup so will have already had experience of what to expect in Brazil. They could perhaps make it out of their group but they will be reliant on their attack which consists of Emenike and Odemwingie whilst also bolstering the non-scoring Shola Ameobi. They have pace on the wings in Moses and Musa but their defence, against Argentina, will probably be ripped to shreds. Prediction: Third in the group, just behind Bosnia.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

World Cup Preview; Groups C & D

Following on from my take on Group A and B, here's a preview of what's in store in terms of Group C and D in Brazil.

Group C:

Colombia: Colombia’s first World Cup since 1998 will see them have to go through a campaign without their talisman Falcao. They are expected to do well at this year’s tournament and that’s even without their star man who scored nine teams in qualifying. In attack they still have Jackson Martinez, Bacca and Adrian Ramos who will guarantee you goals though. Meanwhile, they have a talented midfield with the likes of Guarin, James Rodriguez and Barca bound Cuadrado. Prediction: Will safely get out of the group but will get knocked out in the last 16.

Greece: Group C has the potential to be very interesting and Greece will be one of the teams trying to finish second in the group to Colombia. They are a well organised group of players but they could struggle in the intense Brazilian heat. They are an extremely experienced side as well and bolster the likes of Samaras, Karagounis, Salpingidis and Katsouranis. On paper they don’t look like such a bad side but lack that extreme quality that is needed on the big stage. They will probably be over reliant on Mitroglou’s goals. Prediction: Despite what I’ve said about them, I think they’ll finish bottom of what will be a tight group.

Ivory Coast: The elephants never seemed to have lived up to expectation despite the fantastic array of players they have in their squad. They’re deadly going forward but their defensive capabilities could be questioned, and if they are to perform they need to sharpen things up defensively. Gervinho, Drogba and Yaya Toure are all big players and if they do well Ivory Coast should do well. Prediction: Second in the group but knocked out in the last 16.

Japan: Japan seemed to play fairly well at last year’s Confederations Cup and therefore may fancy their chances in Group C. On their day they are an extremely dangerous side but many of their players have proved to be extremely inconsistent. Honda and Kagawa are great creative outlets meaning Okazaki should score goals throughout. They meanwhile have the hugely experienced Endo in midfield and Southampton’s Maya Yoshida at the back. Prediction: Third just behind Ivory Coast. 

Group D:

Uruguay: The South American side are expected to do quite well, providing they get out of their group of course. In South Africa they finished in fourth place, and arguably, many of their players are now a lot better. Luis Suarez of course will be crucial, as will Cavani. Their defensive, like a few sides at the World Cup, can be questioned but in Godin and Muslera they have some reliability. Prediction: Will get out of the group in either first or second place.

Costa Rica: Costa Rica, as one of football’s minnows probably have, aside from Australia, the toughest group if you consider their football status. They have only qualified for three World Cup’s aside from Brazil and you can’t see how they’ll get any points in this group. Their defence doesn’t look great but in Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz they have quality going forward. Prediction: Bottom of the group with no points.

England: Perhaps the lowest expectation for an English World Cup squad in a very long time means we could actually surprise a few teams. Our preparation hasn’t exactly been amazing but our team is very exciting if you compare it to the one we took to South Africa. Wayne Rooney is yet to show what he’s made of at international level and he’ll be crucial to whether we go far in the competition. What is encouraging though is our defence looking solid, and our pace going forward. The conditions definitely don’t suit us though and we’ll have to be extremely patient and take our chances in this tough group. Prediction: We’ll just about scrape through the group, and could go onto reach the quarter-finals.

Italy: Before preparation began for the World Cup I saw Italy as a serious threat to our position in the group, however, on second thoughts they don’t actually look a great side. Their form isn’t great and their opening fixture against England could fizzle out into a boring 0-0 draw. They have obvious qualities in the form of Pirlo, Balotelli and Chiellini but seem to lack that deadly end product. Prediction: I’m going to be brave here and say they won’t get out of the group like four years ago. It’s certainly all up for grabs in Group D though.

World Cup preview; Groups A & B

Although this is an Arsenal blog, it’s come to that time of the year where it’s hard to take your eyes off of international football with the world uniting in Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Over four parts, I’ll be previewing the teams, two groups at a time, playing in this year’s football festival.

Group A:

Brazil: The hosts and possible World Cup favourites go into this world cup under the expectancy of a nation. Their last triumph came in 2002 and they’ll be eager to put all the political unrest behind the country as they bid to win the competition for the sixth time. They won last year’s confederations cup which if that is anything to go by, then they’ll have a very successful tournament. Neymar will be pivotal to any success they have and their defence is very solid with the likes of Dante and Thiago Silva at the back. If there’s one issue, it’s in the forward department; Jo and Fred are their main outlets ahead of a very talented midfield. Prediction: I think they’ll reach the final, and may well go onto win the whole thing.

Croatia: The Croats reached the finals via a play-off victory over Iceland. As far as I’m concerned Group A is wide-open in terms of who will finish behind hosts Brazil. Croatia have a very tough start as they face the hosts themselves and because of that could face an uphill struggle against a Mexican and Cameroonian side who the conditions will be favourable for. They do have a very talented squad but whether they can cut it at international level on the biggest stage of all remains to be seen. Their strike force consists of Mandzukic, Jelavic, Eduardo and Olic so they won’t be short going forward. Meanwhile they have the creative talents of Modric and Rakitic. Srna, Dejan Lovren and Vedran Corluka mean they aren’t too shoddy at the back either. Prediction: It’s tough to predict who will finish second but looking at their squad I think they might just make it through to the last sixteen.

Mexico: The Mexicans have gone into this year’s competition in poor form and for that reason may not do that well when it comes to Brazil. The conditions will favour them but their best has yet to be seen. Carlos Vela is still refusing a call-up to the national side so the hopes rest on Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez. A few of their players seem to be growing old, Rafeal Marquez who used to play for Barca had a good 2010 campaign but is past his best, as is ex-Fulham full back Carlos Salcido. They do have a reliable centre-half in Espanyol defender Hector Moreno though. Looking elsewhere, Guardardo, Giovani and Herrera will be looking to provide Hernandez with the chances. Prediction: 3rd in Group A.

Cameroon: Their golden era of talent seems to be coming to an end and their squad looks very thin on the ground in terms of quality. They’ll most likely be battling it out with Mexico for the wooden spoon in the group but their brand of football and lack of creative players mean they could be in for a very troubled World Cup. Their goals will be relied upon by record scorer Samuel Eto’o. Their defence doesn’t look altogether that bad though, and you can’t help but feel their best tactic would to be ‘park the bus’. Alex Song and Mbia will be holding whilst N’Koulou, Chedjou, Bedimo and Assou-Ekotto will probably line-up at the back, all of those four play their trades in Europe. Prediction: Hard to see them winning any games, will probably finish bottom of the group.  

Group B:

Spain: The 2010 winners go into this World Cup as perhaps the only European side that can realistically win in Brazil. They arguably have a greater pool of players than in 2010 but it can be argued that some of those players lack experience. Saying that, it didn’t seem to matter for the Germans in South Africa with their youthful squad. The Spanish however seem to have the perfect mix of youth and experience within their ranks. The 2013 Confederations Cup showed that they can’t play with the same tempo that they’re so used to and therefore a change in tactic will perhaps be needed if they’re to retain their title and continue their dominance. Xavi, Iniesta, Ramos/Pique and whoever they chose to play upfront will be crucial. Prediction: At least the semi-finals, have the potential to go on and lift the trophy.

Holland: Under the stewardship of new Manchester United manager, Louis van Gaal, the Netherlands have a manager with huge experience and that could prove crucial in what could be a tournament to forget for the Dutch. Their first game is a repeat of the 2010 final against Spain which is an incredibly tough fixture. They didn’t lose once in qualifying though which is an encouraging sign. There’s no doubting their attacking quality with the likes of Robben, van Persie and Sneijder creating and scoring goals but their defence remains an issue. Prediction: Will face a tough battle to get out of the group and I think they’ll finish third.

Chile: They’re being tipped by many to go far in the competition due to the fact that the competition is being held in South America. That’s fairly understandable and they have some players that could really shine at this year’s competition. They managed to finish third only to Argentina and Colombia qualifying and even finished above Uruguay. They meanwhile beat England 2-0 in November 2013. With players such as Barca’s Alexis Sanchez and Juve’s Arturo Vidal they have the potential to go far. Other notable players include David Pizarro, Gary Medel of Cardiff, Beausejour of Wigan and Isla from Juventus. All of the players above should mean Chile are a threat going forward, especially with Eduardo Vargas up front. Prediction: Second in the group, ahead of Holland. Could be worth putting a couple of quid on.

Australia: You have to feel sorry for the Aussies with the group they’re in. They’re highly unlikely to win a game and the Socceroos are probably in for a dismal time in Brazil. The players they fielded throughout qualifying were of a higher quality and experience than the ones going to the World Cup. Many of their notable players haven’t been picked but they still bolster Mile Jedinak, Mark Bresciano and of course Tim Cahill. You can’t see them having anything but from a disappointing campaign and they could leak a few goals on the way too. Prediction: Bottom of the group.