2014 FIFA WORLD CUP PREVIEWS – GROUP H

BELGIUM

belgiumThe hype surrounding the Belgian national team ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been a little offensive. The Red Devils are everyone’s “dark-horse” and considering the Belgians boast some of the most talented youngsters in Europe, it’s perhaps not as surprising as it may first seem. Potential has now become a matter of expectation.
Wilmots’ team cemented their place at the top of their group with a game to spare, beating Croatia to the automatic qualifying slot.
Looking ahead to the tournament, there is a sense that not only is Belgium a strong outsider, but they have evolved into a genuine contender. Granted, there were many who noted a long time ago that players like Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard destined for stardom. But they have been joined by the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Thibaut Courtois, Axel Witsel and Vincent Kompany; all players who have developed way beyond expectations in recent seasons. Wonderful for Belgium, and the result is a squad packed with high-calibre, hungry players.
They have been drawn in a relatively easy group but there is a dearth of tournament experience in Wilmot’s team. Their last international tournament was twelve years ago during the World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
With so many talents abound, finding the star man in this young side shouldn’t be farfetched. Manchester City skipper, Vincent Kompany will be expected to lead this side and calm nerves. The Anderlecht academy graduate is a leader of men, his motivational skills, organization and the manner in which he leads by example will all be crucial qualities in the highly stressful atmosphere of a major tournament. de Rode Duivels can expect to make it to the last 8.

 

ALGERIA
Algeria will make only their fourth appearance at the World Cup this summer, and will go into it with growing confidence following the positive strides made by the country since their last appearance at the tournament in 2010 when they failed to score a single goal. Pitted against Burkina Faso in the compulsory African section playoffs, Algeria were facing the very real prospect of missing out on the 2014 World Cup. The Fennec Foxes fell to a 3-2 defeat in Burkina Faso, but were able to sneak through on away goals after a 1-0 win in Blida, with a goal from skipper Bougherra. algeria
Coach Vahid Halihodzic has done his best to integrate some promising young players, especially in attacking areas. Players like Yacine Brahimi, Islam Slimani and Sofiane Feghouli have talent, and they are complimented well by the physical influences of Bougherra and Adlene Guediora. However, Halilhodzic has struggled to introduce similar quality in the defensive positions though, and this is arguably the biggest challenge facing this team ahead of their fourth World Cup bow. But he will be hoping the team can maintain similar solidarity and togetherness to the 2010 side, who were notoriously difficult to break down.
Sofiane Feghouli is the key player for the Fennec Foxes after discussions with the Algerian FA in 2011. The Valencia man is capable of playing from the right-hand side or just off the striker and is without doubt the most potent attacking force for this team. His excellent work-rate will be a key attribute too, especially when the Algerians come up against stronger, technically superior opponents.
The solidarity and togetherness is very unlikely to see them qualify from this group. The North Africans have two strong European teams in Belgium and Russia to contend with. A first round exit is almost certain.

 
RUSSIA
Russia topped Portugal in Group F to qualify for the World Cup and have evolved into a team thoroughly resembling their manager Fabio Capello. Perhaps the biggest indicator of this is the axing of former Russian captain Andrei Arshavin who as you might expect, doesn’t really compliment Capello’s pragmatic approach to management. The Sbornaya will be making their third FIFA World Cup appearance since the breakup of the old Soviet Union and will be aiming to reach the latter stages of the World Cup in 2014. Performances have been positive under the former England manager, his team normally sets out in a 4-2-3-1 formation but Capello isn’t afraid to switch things around should he feel the need to do so. The likes of Igor Akinfeev, Yuri Zhirkov and captain Igor Denisov complimenting the younger talents of Alan Dzagoeve and Aleksandr Kokorin provide a much needed blend of experience and youth. russia
Capello will be looking to better his previous World Cup performance with England in 2010. In South Africa the Three Lions were down right boring to watch and were given a lesson by a vibrant young Germany outfit in the last-16.
Alan Dzagoev is the chief playmaker for the side, taking over from Andrey Arhavin, who failed to make the squad. Dzagoev can play in a number of positions behind the striker but is best deployed in a central role, where his passing and dribbling skills greatly benefit the side.
With a glittering CV, the one thing missing from Capello’s resume is a success with an international team. Luckily for Capello, this Russia side should be hungry for exactly that. They looked the business after their first match in Euro 2012, but faltered in their other two group games and ultimately failed to qualify. Making it to the next round should not be a problem in this fairly decent group.

 

SOUTH KOREA
South Korea are making their seventh consecutive appearance at the FIFA World Cup and have been pitted against Algeria, Belgium, and Russia in Group H; the Taegeuk Warriors, who are currently ranked 55th in the world face a real challenge if they want to qualify out of their group. Memories of their fairy tale run to the semi-finals in 2002 as co-host is still fresh in the Asian country. While the crowd back home always expects Korea to put on a decent showing at any international event, the FIFA World Cup in Brazil may not be a particularly rewarding adventure for Bo’s men. Kim B0-Kyung and Ki Seung-Yeung are the midfield generals of whom a lot is expected, but when you put players like Andrea Pirlo or Xavi Hernandez in perspective, it’s easy to see that Korea are still a long way off the mark in terms of quality. One thing the Koreans do have is the legs; however the summer heat in Brazil is expected to be another factor that will weigh down the warriors of the eastern hemisphere.
Aside from that, there is little genuine quality within their ranks. Much depends on Son Heung Min, who has the capability to create and score goals. Ki Sung Yeung is coming into the World Cup after an excellent season with Sunderland too.
Explosive attacker Son Heung-Min is the Koreans’ most lethal weapon going forwards. His versatility and clinical finishing offers Bo a different dimension in attack while his slaloming runs are sure to cause concern amongst opposition defenders. At 21, the pacey two-footed former Hamburg man notched up ten Bundesliga goals in 31 appearances during the 2013-14 campaign, and currently has six international goals in his account. The world is expected to keep a close eye on the prodigy and see whether or not he can live up to his potential and burst onto the big frame in classic fashion.
South Korea’s exit from the group stages won’t ring many bells around the footballing world. An early exit beckons. south korea

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2014 FIFA WORLD CUP PREVIEWS – GROUP G

Germany.

germanyDie Mannschaft enter the 2014 World Cup as one of the favorites, but first they must survive possibly the toughest group in the tournament. The Germans had an almost perfect qualifying run except their 4-4 draw with Sweden. Germany has won three World Cups and with their incredible depth, a fourth is not unexpected. However, a number of challenges stand in their way, including a daunting travel schedule within the group, a more difficult potential schedule than their main competitors, a climate much different than the one they are used to in Europe, and a recent history of being good but not quite good enough.
Joachim Loew is now approaching his tenth year in charge of Die Mannschaft. Despite having overseen the recent renaissance in German football, there are quiet murmurings emerging that suggest it is about time Loew won something with this marvellous crop of footballers.
Loew has fashioned a squad that has a sprinkling of everything. Their first XI is difficult to pick, but that’s because of the riches this German team have in pretty much every position on the pitch.
This German team is blessed with several talented players but there is one who slightly edges other in the absence of injured Marco Reus, Thomas Muller. The Bayern Munich man can play anywhere across the frontline and has an incredible knack of scoring hugely important goals at vital times. He was drafted in as a late starter in the last Word Cup, replacing the injured Michael Ballack. And boy did he impress. Muller won the Golden Boot and the award for best young player at the tournament. Since then, he has gone from strength to strength for club and country.
Their group draw helps Germany to kick start their campaign on a very high and competitive note against Portugal. It’s 24 years since Germany last won the World Cup and the expectation back home is huge but I feel the Germans have one mental hurdle between them and the trophy. They are a sure bet for the semi finals if not the finals. Anything less would be seen as a disaster.

 
Portugal.

portugalFor the third successive time, Portugal have qualified for a major tournament via the playoffs. The 2006 semi finalist required a Cristiano Ronaldo inspired 4-2 aggregate victory to secure them a place on the plane to Brazil. The Real Madrid forward practically dragged them there, scoring all four goals over the two legs and turning in a pair of stunning displays.
Paulo Bento’s team looks great on paper, but there are still chronic problems which plague this Portuguese team. The back four is pretty settled, but they have regularly struggled to garner a suitable balance in the middle of the pitch.
Nani and Ronaldo provide threat from the wide areas, but questions linger as to whether Helder Postiga has the class to lead the line. This team are a supreme counter attacking outfit. They will sit in their own half and allow teams to come onto them before springing from deep positions and exploiting the space in behind. Miguel Veloso is expected to take up the role of a defensive midfielder but he faces competition from William Carvalho. Raul Meireles is expected to provide balance and experience to this team while Joao Moutinho is the source of creativity in this team.
Portugal have their hopes pin on current Ballon d’Or winner – Cristiano Ronaldo.
Arguably the best player in the world today, Ronaldo has been nothing short of extraordinary over the last few years. CR7 has netted 49 times in 110 games for the Selecção. The former Manchester United man scored 17 goals in the Champions League and 31 in La Liga this season. Fitness permitting, Cristiano will drag his team as far as possible. They should qualify out of the most difficult group alongside Germany.

 

Ghana.

ghanaGhana were inches away from being the first being the first African side in the semi-finals of a FIFA World Cup four years ago. Luis Suarez and Asamoah Gyan stopped that dream. The Black Stars destroyed the Pharoahs of Egypt during the African qualifying play offs to earn their third consecutive appearance at the World Cup.
It was a result that made people sit up and take note of this side. And Ghana certainly have some players capable of doing some real damage in Brazil. It’s in the midfield, where they have a glut of excellent options. Michael Essien is the most familiar of these names and he always seems to perform when pulling on the Ghanian national shirt. He’s ably supported by the likes of Kwadwo Asamoah, Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng; three players who have played and performed well on some of Europe’s biggest stages in their careers to date. In coach Kwesi Appiah, the West African side have a coach who has worked his way through the Ghanaian ranks, coaching the Black Stars’ Under 23 team to victory in the 2011 All-Africa Games but, more pertinently, acting as assistant coach to the full national side for a number of years before being given the job as first-team coach in 2012.
Asamoah Gyan will represent the Black Stars greatest goal threat once again. As a man who scored more than 30 goals for his club last season, and was regularly on the scoresheet in the South African World Cup, that is not such a surprise. With Gyan being Ghana’s main forward, a lot will depend on his ability to adapt to high-level competition quickly, as the first game Appiah’s side play, against the USA, is pivotal.
Ghana have been placed in a cruel group. Making it out of this group for the third consecutive time will be a huge success. Sadly, the Black Stars will be exiting the competition at the first stage.

 

United States.

usaAfter losing the first game in the CONCACAF qualifiers, questions arose over Klinsmann’s regime. A win over Costa Rica helped The Stars and Stripes get on track while securing qualification in September with a 2-0 victory over Mexico.
The squad that the United States are expected to take to Brazil are a gritty group, brimming with experience, energy and enormous work-rate. Klinsmann has created a togetherness within this squad which not many teams in this tournament can match .
However, the everlasting problem of a real lack of cutting edge bugs Klinsmann’s team. They are without any real impetus in the final third and don’t have a player with the ability to unlock stubborn defences. Clint Dempsey is a proven goal scorer, but not overly creative or capable of playing that killer pass.
Michael Bradley, the AS Roma midfield enforcer probably typifies the tenacity and industrious nature of this American side more than any other player. He is their key player. Bradley is a player who is making a name for himself as a box-to-box midfielder; consistent in the tackle, a strong runner and neat and tidy in possession . His role will be crucial when the USMNT come up against technically superior sides and he offers a good defensive shield which allows the like of Dempsey to go and effect the game.
Klinsmann’s understands the big competitions, and America’s experience on the World Cup stage will no doubt aid their conquest to escape the “group of death” but the lack of a top class playmaker will see them struggle to progress any further. A group stage exit is almost certain.

2014 FIFA WORLD CUP PREVIEWS – GROUP F

ARGENTINA

argentinaTwo time world champions Argentina qualified for this summer’s world cup with relative ease. La Albiceleste will be playing on their home continent, and their familiarity with the heat and concentrated humidity will serve them well against teams. Argentina were largely inconsistent at the previous World Cup under the stewardship of football legend Diego Maradona but under Sabella, they look better organised, much more pragmatic. He has named a largely experienced squad which is well balanced and fully adapted to the different styles on their group opponents.

Players like Ezequiel Garay, Pablo Zabaleta and Javier Mascherano will provide solid platform for the attacking stars to operate. Angel Di Maria who had a fantastic season in his midfield role for Real Madrid will play a pivot role between the midfield and attack. His energetic runs and dribbles makes him a difficult opponent to stop.

Argentina need not look further than Lionel Messi for inspiration. He is definitely their star man. His 327 goals in 395 appearances for Barcelona is an outstanding goal return which all La Albiceleste supporters will be looking for him to replicate in the blue and white stripes.

Under Sabella, he has been operating in an advanced role on the right-hand-side, with Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero joining him in a fearsome looking triumvirate of attacking players. But they are a flexible trio; giving Argentina’s attacking forays wonderful flexibility.

Winning the World Cup will definitely make Messi one of the greatest that ever played the game. Argentina have the offensive fire power to go all the way. Failure to at least reach the final and then ultimately win it will be a bitter disappointment for Sabella’s side and Lionel Messi.

It’s probably now or never for Messi at the FIFA World Cup.

 

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

bosniaAfter missing out on qualification for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 at the play-off stage to Portugal on both occasions, Bosnia and Herzegovina will be making an appearance at the finals of a major tournament for the first time in their history in Brazil. The Dragons qualified by finishing on the same points as Greece in UEFA Group G, but with 30 goals scored in 10 games their superior goal difference of plus 24 ensured that they finished in first place. They have been grouped with favorites Argentina, African champions Nigeria and Iran in Group F. Whilst it will be their first ever appearance in at the FIFA World Cup, when you look at their squad it is no surprise that they have qualified; it is packed with technical players and well established goal scorers. The team played a dynamic brand of attacking football. Their preferred 4-1-3-2 formation allowed offensive talents like Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibisevic and Senad Lulic freedom to express themselves, whilst Miralem Pjanic knits everything together wonderfully in the middle of the park.

Edin Dzeko is his country’s all-time top goalscorer and highest profile player, but Miralem Pjanic performance could be key to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s success this summer. The 24-year-old AS Roma midfielder is the team’s most creative player and will look to reproduce moments of individual brilliance shown in Serie A this past season such as the ‘cucchiaio,’ spoon-like lob, from outside the box against Hellas Verona and the slalom run through the AC Milan defence on the international stage.

With Argentina favourites to win Group F, Bosnia and Herzegovina are expected to rival Nigeria for the runner-up spot. The pivotal game in Group F is their meeting with the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations winners in the second group game in Cuiaba. It’s a winner take all game. A second round berth is not beyond reach.

 

IRAN

iranTeam Melli emerged from qualifying as the number one ranked team in Asia. They are slowly establishing themselves as a force in the international game. This is Iran’s fourth appearance in the competition, and they are yet to make it out of the group stages. This trend looks set to continue as they are many people’s pick to become the whipping boys of Group F.

Head coach, Carlos Queiroz knew he had a tough job when taking on the Iran national team in 2011. Queiroz has given Iran a clear strategy. Iran are well organised and difficult to break down. Yet with exciting attacking players going forward, they can be deadly on the counter and will aim to exploit any gaps left in the opposition defence. The former Portugal coach is a hard task master who insists on high standards but he has created a siege mentality around the side which has helped to form a very close knit group of players. Since taking the job, Queiroz has always defended his players, especially when they have been written off by the press.

Javad Nekounam is the country’s captain and plays as a defensive midfielder, breaking up opposition attacks and starting attacks with simple but effective passes. Scoring the solitary goal in the home win against South Korea, he went on to net a further three goals in the qualifying phase, including a brace against Indonesia. For the 4-2-3-1 formation to be effective, Iran will need Nekounam to have more possession than any other player within their ranks. If Iran can afford him the time to lift his head, expect Nekounam to caress the ball around the park and hammer the occasional strike towards the opposition goal.

Iran have been to three World Cup finals, but have fallen at the group stage each time. They are likely to fail for a fourth time to reach the knockout round of the World Cup.

 

NIGERIA

nigeriaThe West African giants conquered Africa during the last African Nations Cup, the Super Eagles dispatched Ethiopia during the World Cup play offs to secure their place in Brazil. Nigeria’s preparation to the World Cup has its hitches already; dispute between the football federation and head coach on selection of players, players seeking clarification on bonuses, etc.

Stephen Keshi sets up his team in a defensive manner, then looks to counter attack with plenty of pace and power. This team has an abundance of talented athletes but is also young and hungry. While this is an exciting prospect, it can often lead to the abandonment of what can be a sound defensive structure. Getting a balance right is crucial. The midfield symmetry is a puzzle yet to be solved by the technical crew. The team needs a creative mind that will make dazzling runs and offer the wingers option while supporting the lone striker in Keshi’s 4-3-3 system.

John Mikel Obi is Nigeria’s key player. The athletic Chelsea man has been much improved for his club over the past few seasons and this form has translated into his international play, where he has been a key man in the heart of the Nigeria midfield.

He is the anchor in midfielder, a skilled passer and a tough tackler. These attributes help release and accentuate the qualities of players around him. Most notably blocking off the midfield and releasing counter attacks for his quick and powerful front men. He needs to be switched on defensively and seamless in transitioning the ball from defence, through midfield and into attack.

The Super Eagles are expected that the battle with Bosnia to finish as runners-up of the group behind Argentina. They would either be a hit or miss at the World Cup.

2014 FIFA WORLD CUP PREVIEWS – GROUP E

Switzerland.

Switzerland are World Cup regulars, but have not qualified for the quarter finals of the tournament since they hosted it back in 1954. Switzerland’s qualifying campaign for Brazil was convincing as they came top in their group whilst remaining unbeaten throughout.

In Ottmar Hitzfeld, they have a highly successful and respected coach. He is very precise with his tactics, with discipline being a fundamental of his methodology. Hitzfeld has fashioned a team comfortable both on and off the ball with a midfield containing remarkable work rate and industry. The major concern is that they don’t have a proven goal scorer at the highest level.

Xherdan Shaqiri is the one carrying the Swiss hopes offensively. The Bayern Munich man, a dynamic playmaker who does not command a starting XI place in Pep Guardiola’s team, but donning the Swiss jersey seems to bring out the best in him. Shaqiri is a player in the mould of his Bayern Munich teammate Arjen Robben. Left-footed, playing from the right-hand-side, much of his game is about beating his man, cutting inside and unleashing left-footed efforts towards goal. switzerland

The group stage of the World Cup is a big step up from the qualifying group. But they have no fear and should play with freedom and vigour. Expect the Swiss to reach the last 16 but no further.

 

 

 

ECUADOR

Even with one of the easiest possible groups, Ecuador will still struggle to match their best-ever World Cup result of a second-round exit in 2006. Despite qualifying with relative ease – as they so often do with the significant advantage of altitude on their side – now the playing field is level it is difficult to see how La Tri can make inroads into a group featuring two strong European sides. Implementing their fast and intense style of play, Ecuador will be a tricky team to come up against, especially if their talented wingers are on song. ecuador

Their key man Antonio Valencia is an extremely talented winger who has it in him to cause big problems for opposition fullbacks but he is somewhat inconsistent. He has skill, pace as well as being an excellent crosser of the ball. Over the past few years for Manchester United, Valencia has proven that on his day he can be one of the best wingers in the English Premier League. But an inability to be productive consistently makes him a hugely frustrating asset.

An overall lack of organisation, a lack of talented defenders and central midfielders implies that, while they may be capable of causing a large upset, it is doubtful they will progress past the group.

 
FRANCE

franceA fifth consecutive World Cup outing for Les Bleus, who have fluctuated between finalists and first-round flops in the last four tournaments. World champions at home in 1998 and runners-up in 2006, the French failed to get beyond the opening stage in both 2002 and 2010. France qualified via the play-offs and required a massive game to turn around a 2-0 first leg deficit against Ukraine.

After an atrocious World Cup last time round and since taking over in 2012, Deschamps has fashioned a fluid 4-3-3 formation, with the primary goal of using France’s athletic players. The French deep pool of talent is extremely enviable for the majority of the nations partaking in Brazil. They have exceptional cover in every position, with every player active in successful teams in the upper reaches of major European leagues.

As usual, France have a plethora of attacking options but it could be Karim Benzema who holds the key. The Champions League winner with Real Madrid won’t be short of confidence. Benzema will be required to carry on his club form in the Blue shirt for France.

Les Blues will need to eradicate their constant lapses in concentration, which have impeded them in big games. Not to mention maintaining a harmonious team spirit in what is an often fractious group of players. France will either implode or explode in Brazil. They should progress from this group with relative comfort.

HONDURAS

hondurasLos Catrachos qualified for their second consecutive World Cup finals. Heading into what will be the nation’s third World Cup, their primary objective will be to win a game. In their six World Cup outings to date, that has escaped them: having drawn three times and lost on a further three occasions. This time around, Honduras will face a tough opening match against group- favorites France, while Ecuador and the Swiss should at least give Suarez and his side an opportunity at three points.

The game with Ecuador is especially intriguing considering Suarez led Ecuador to the round of 16 at the 2006 World Cup. In order for Honduras to have any success this summer the team must find a way to score goals, a task that will fall to Carlo Costly and Jerry Bengtson.

This squad certainly has the personnel capable of picking up that maiden victory. They have a host of experience within their team, including long-standing Premier League players like Wilson Palacios and Maynor Figueroa. Celtic left-back Emilio Izaguirre is arguably their best player and his blistering forays up and down the left flank will be the Honduran’s primary attacking threat.

Whilst Izaguirre is probably the best player in this Honduras side, veteran Palacios remains the most important. Having found himself in the Premier League wilderness for a couple of seasons at Stoke City, Palacios has seen much more game time under current boss Mark Hughes. At his peak, the Stoke City man was one of the most ferocious and athletic defensive midfielders in the Premier League. His performance levels have dwindled significantly, but he has recaptured some form this season and remains the heartbeat of this Honduran team.

Manager Luis Fernando Suarez lead Ecuador into the last 16 back in 2006, but the people of Honduras would surely settle for that first ever victory. Anything surpassing that would be a huge bonus and massive surprise.

2014 FIFA WORLD CUP PREVIEWS – GROUP D

Uruguay.

uruguay

El Maestro – Oscar Tabarez has pulled Uruguay out of footballing obscurity, and into the forefront of the world stage. Uruguay made it via play-offs to Brazil. La Celeste are capable of producing magical, inter-flowing football between their regular front two of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. They are able to trouble any team at the tournament with their explosive front two. Cavani is the battering ram and a stunning finisher. Suarez is the schemer, causing problems with his wonderful dribbling and phenomenal work-rate. They remain something of an unknown quality and as such it is hugely difficult to make an educated guess on what Tabarez’s team can achieve. Without the defensive soliditiy of the 2010 side though, it would be some effort if they were to repeat their fourth place finish from South Africa.

With Diego Forlan age, Luis Suarez has become the key man for Uruguay. The Liverpool man is struggling for fitness presently but he is one of the hottest property in world football at the moment. Possessing pace, exquisite dribbling and a cool head in front of goal, Suarez is able to change the course of the game in an instant. If Uruguay can capitalise on Suarez’s mercurial streak and willingness to chase every ball, he should make up for their distinct lack of attacking talent in midfield. He’s grown into a genuine world class talent this season and if he can recover from his injury, he’s one of the biggest candidates for the golden boot.

We know we’re not among the favourites,” said Oscar Tabarez. “But we also know that if we prepare well we can be a very difficult team to play against, and that’s going to be at the centre of our thoughts.” They poured water in Brazil’s champagne in 1950, and spoiled things for the hosts in 2010, as well as in the last two Copa Americas. Whose party will they ruin this time?

 

Costa Rica.

Los Ticos were pretty impressive throughout their qualifying campaign. They finished in second place in the CONCACAF hexagonal stage and in doing so progressed to Brazil with relative ease. Although Costa Rica are seen as the group whipping team, it would be ludicrous to think they don’t pose a threat. Ranked 34 in the world by FIFA, Le Sele have no intention of going down quietly. They go into the tournament with a tricky attacking duo and an excellent goalkeeper; one who could easily become their busiest player at the mundial. costa rica

Under their boss Pinto, they play variations of a system which is primarily focused around three central defenders, with the team flexible in whether they play a flat-back five or three centre-backs and a pair of wingbacks. He has fashioned a distinctive, solid and progressive young team ahead of next summer’s showpiece. But for all their defensive qualities, Costa Rica must find a goal scoring touch if they are to match their sterling effort from 1990. Jorge Luis Pinto will feel he has something to prove in what is his second spell as Costa Rica boss. He was relieved of duties in his previous spell back in 2005 despite overseeing the countries successful qualification for the 2006 World Cup.

Bryan Ruiz is expected to captain his nation to a dignified World Cup campaign. Ruiz has spent half of last the season in Holland with PSV. The 28 year-old will likely be Costa Rica’s best form of attack. If there is anyone who can save Costa Rica’s bacon, it’s Keylor Navas. Following an extraordinary season in La Liga with Levante, Navas will be keen to showcase his goalkeeping credentials in footballs greatest event. The 27 year-old kept 16 clean sheets with a saves to shot ratio of over 80 percent. Hid proven particularly effective when it comes to penalties, which England will be terrified to hear.

Sadly for Costa Rica, the group stage is the limit to their expectations in the World Cup.

 

England.

Every four years, tales of 1966 come flooding back to England fans. However with a young squad and a tough group, the wait for a second World Cup title will probably go on a little longer. England left it late before confirming qualification for Brazil leaving many fans very nervous.

For the first time in many a major tournament, the hyperbole about England potentially lifting the trophy is absent. As the ‘Golden Generation’ is ushered out, young players are coming in, and with that has come an acceptance that England aren’t really major contenders for the title. But they are by no means the no-hopers many in the English media make them out to be. There is pace, power and a little bit of genius in this team. Progression from a tough Group D will be viewed as success here, and the experience gained by players like Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Jack Wilshere will be key to their developments.

Wayne Rooney is England’s talisman for this campaign. For many, the Manchester United man is England’s only world class talent and a big performance at a major tournament is long overdue. Indeed, it is hard to believe this World Cup will mark ten years since the then-Everton player took EURO 2004 by storm. Since then, problems with fitness, form, indiscipline and off-field dramas have plagued his major tournament build up. But he seemed mature, fit and settled at Old Trafford this season and there is no reason why he can’t carry his glittering form into the World Cup. When he’s on it, Rooney is a hugely inspiring figure for England, and some strong showings in Brazil will go a long way to the Three Lions achieving their ambitions.

A difficult call on whether they can make it out of the group or not. I think they will. england

 

Italy.

La Nazionale’s trip to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa didn’t go quite as planned for the defending world champions. Marcelo Lippi’s Azurri emulated the 1998 World Cup champions France at the 2002 tournament by being eliminated in the group stages. The 2006 winners came through the qualifiers undefeated, topping a group that contained Denmark, Czech Republic and a resurgent Armenia. Winning this group ensured that the Azzurri have now qualified for every World Cup since 1962. Looking ahead to the championships, the Italians are expected the have one of the most experienced squads of any side. Figures like Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Giorgio Chiellini still make up the core of this side, but youngsters like Marco Veratti and Mattia De Sciglio could be blooded in to give the first XI a revitalized feel. Revitalising a fallen giant is never easy, but Italy coach Cesare Prandelli done just that by picking the best and most inform players he has had at his disposal.

Who else do the Italians have to rely on if not Andrea Pirlo… Having earned 108 caps for his country, it seems like Pirlo has been around for an age and at 35-years-old, this looks set to be his last ever major tournament. He is still masterful in this position and has a massive influence on games with expert passing, unparalleled vision, unnerving composure and pin-point set-piece ability.

While Brazil and Spain are the current favourites, Italy are slightly behind them. Italy could even be considered an underdog team, much like in 2006. And when Italy are not considered favourites, it tends to work in their favour. However, the combination of heat and a forward line that could be hit or miss on the day should prevent Italy from making it to the final. italy

2014 FIFA WORLD CUP PREVIEWS – GROUP C

COLOMBIA

colombia

The last time Los Cafeteros had high hopes going into a World Cup was in 1994. Colombia crashed out of the group stage and defender Andres Escobar was murdered due to a costly own goal against USA. Under Jose Pekerman, Colombia finished second in the CONMEBOL region and are highly ranked by FIFA as one of the top ten football nation presently.

Pekerman has managed to mould a host of high calibre attacking players into a system that facilitates some captivating play. Radamel Falcao is the team’s biggest name, but he misses out due to injury. But in his place, there is a group of stellar attacking players that Los Cafeteros are set to unleash on the world stage this summer.This team is brimming with pacey, and powerful talents. Jackson Martinez and Carlos Bacca are quality players who can nick results even when they aren’t playing that well.

Doubts linger over the defence too, where they have little in terms of squad depth. It is perhaps less of a concern when you consider they do have the attacking talent to outscore any team in the competition, though.

In the absence of Falcao, club teammate James Rodriguez will have to carry this team. The Monaco man is an exhilarating player to watch. His dribbling is tricky and tight, and when this is combined with his supreme agility and powerful frame, it makes him a undeniably tough prospect for opposition defenders to deal with. The attacking midfielder is also remarkably quick off the mark and possesses a thunderbolt of a left-foot. He will offer the chief supply line to the centre-forwards and has a huge role to play in Pekerman’s progressive outfit.

This World Cup represents their best chance of progressing to the quarter finals which beats their best record of a second round berth at Italia ’90.

GREECE

It’s ten years since The Piratiko stunned Europe and won the Euro Cup in Portugal. With two World Cup appearances , Greece qualified for this World Cup after a hard fought victory against Romania in the playoffs. A pulsating first leg saw the job pretty much done, with prolific forward Konstantinos Mitroglou bagging a brace in a 3-1 win; they went on to draw 1-1 in Romania.

The Ethniki are a team that remain tough to beat ten years on from when their resolute defence and unequalled togetherness saw them overcome the odds in Portugal. Fernando Santos has tried to introduce a little more fluidity into this side, their footballing principles has been built on Otto Rehhagel’s model for the past decade. They conceded just four goals in their ten qualifying games and have two outstanding young central defenders in Kyriakos Papadopoulos and Sokratis Papastathopoulos. Being solid is all well and good, but keeping the ball will be an issue in Brazil. They don’t have an abundance of technical players and could yet start the tournament with thirty-six-year-old Giorgos Karagounis at the heart of their midfield.

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Greece does not have a top quality centre-forward, which means scoring goals will be an issue in Brazil. Fulham striker Konstantinos Mitroglou is the player to get them goals but considering his limited playing time since he moved to England in February, this might prove difficult. Greece will not make it out of this group but they will definitely have an influence on those progressing.

 

 

 

 

IVORY COAST

Can this group be called the Golden generation? Les Elephants have some unfinished business at the FIFA World Cup, having been dumped out at the group stage on the two occasions they have qualified. The highest ranking African team qualified by beating Senegal in a two-legged playoff. 2014 World Cup draw has been a little more favourable, and they’ll fancy their chances of getting out of Group C, where they’ll face Colombia, Japan and Greece.

Coach Sabri Lamouchi has set up a solid team. The Elephants are pragmatic and press the opposition well, but when they’ve got the ball they are capable of expressing themselves and playing some fluid, attacking play but it’s at the back that their problem lies. Get through the midfield and the opponents should have some joy, though. Ageing centre backs and a dearth of quality in the full back position mean the Ivory Coast defence are easy to pull apart.

This has got to be his final swansong. Didier Drogba, the giant striker is a joy to watch when at his brutal best, brushing off defenders, powering his way through tackles and finding the net with aplomb. The Ivory Coast captain will lead the West African nation as they look to progress beyond their first round exit this time. He will be supported by Yaya Toure, Gervinho and Salomon Kalou.

A second round berth is the least from Lamouchi’s team.

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JAPAN

Japan is competing in its fifth consecutive World Cup and looking to repeat the successes of 2002 and 2010, when it advanced to the Round of 16. The “Samurai Warriors’” squad includes a number of Europe-based players, and head coach Alberto Zaccheroni is hoping their experience at club level will transfer to the international stage. The Samurai Blue were the first team to qualify for the competition when Keisuke Honda scored in injury time to secure a  1-1 draw against Australia. That late strike ensured they finished the group with a four point lead, and they suffered only one defeat in their entire qualifying campaign. Japan, like their fellow Asian qualifiers, know that while it is one thing to reach the World Cup finals, it is another matter entirely to do well once there. Alberto Zaccheroni knows that the team’s defensive frailties need to be addressed if they are to equal or surpass their best outing which is the Round of 16.

For Japan to better their last-16 appearance from the previous World Cup, Zaccheroni must make full use of Blue Samurai’s hugely creative forward players and the dynamism of flying fullbacks Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida.

The Japanese talisman – Shingi Kagawa has been criminally underused by Manchester United. During his time at Borussia Dortmund, Kagawa was named in the Bundesliga Team of the Season, along with the set-piece wizard Keisuke Honda, Kagawa is Japan’s main attacking outlet, combining wonderful vision, intelligent movement, and exceptional technique.japan

The former Dortmund man is at his sparkling best ‘in the hole’, a position he’s been unable to nail down for Manchester United. For Japan, he and Honda drift between wide-right and central attacking midfield areas, making both players notoriously difficult to pick up. Japan have it all to do to progress from this group.

2014 FIFA WORLD CUP PREVIEWS – GROUP B

AUSTRALIA
Australia peaked at the 2006 World Cup. Loaded with Premier League players, the Socceroos advanced from the group stage and were a controversial penalty decision away from taking eventual champs Italy to extra time in the Round of 16. The socceroos have found themselves in a difficult group with the defending champions Spain, Netherlands and a very tricky Chile side. Putting up good performances rather than getting results against every other team in the group.

australiaPreparations have also had its hitches as Coach Postecoglou only came into the job after qualification had been achieved. The time for his team to get use to his tactics is very short. The team has a lack of talented ballplayers so will look to disrupt opposition teams through a physical style and direct style of play. Mile Jedinak will be key to this, and he was absolutely crucial in Crystal Palace’s late season renaissance under Tony Pulis. He is a player who relishes the physical battle.
The former Everton man – Tim Cahill is still the player which Australia look to when they need a goal. He lacks the speed and agility of days past due to his age, but given sufficient space he will still punish opposition with clinical shooting and stunning aerial ability.
Cahill scored the nation’s first ever World Cup goals in 2006, and he is a talismanic figure for this Australia team. He will be desperate to make an impression in what looks to be his third and final World Cup appearance. If he can inspire the Australians to any kind of positive result from their three games, it’d represent a major achievement for the Socceroos. A first round exit looks a sure bet.

HOLLAND
After the disastrous Euro 2012 campaign, the Dutch team qualified for the World Cup in style, where they went unbeaten. Oranje will start their Group B campaign by meeting reigning World Champions – Spain who edge them out by one goal in South Africa.
Louis Van Gaal has assembled a team with an encouraging blend of established squad members and blossoming youngsters. It means that world-class players like Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben still remain key figures, but they are supported by lesser-known burgeoning talents like Kevin Strootman who will miss the tournament through injury, Bruno Martins-Indi and Jordy Clasie.
Holland having a good tournament rests on the injury prone shoulders of Robin Van-Persie and Arjen Robben and the tactical mind of Louis Van Gaal. Although the Dutch FA expect the team to reach the semi finals, LVG has played their chances down of reaching the semi-finals thereby eliminating every form of being complacent. The Oranje have it in them and can beat anyone on their day. For them to make it out of this tough group, they need those days on their match days. holland

 

CHILE
If there is a team likely to cause an upset in this group, it is Jorge Sampaoli’s men. The Argentine has revived Bielsa’s practice, he loves his team to play in an aggressive and attacking manner, meaning players like Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas pop up in various attacking positions and cause mayhem in the opposition backlines. But they also play a key role when pressing the ball, as the front three spread and hassle the opposition very high up the pitch.

chileThey have been to eight World Cup finals, they have got experience under their belt. We can safely call them one of the tournament’s dark horses. After finishing third in the South American qualifiers, their hopes will rest on the trickery of Alexis Sanchez and midfield powerhouse Arturo Vidal if he is fit. The Juventus man is an all round midfielder; his passing is exceptional, tackles very well and his ability to read the game is magnificent. Vidal is an inspirational figure for Sampaoli’s team and his teammates in turn will look to him.
The Chileans need to work on getting that balance right, but if they come up against teams not accustomed to the humid conditions then their intense style could see them get to the later stages of the competition.

SPAIN

spainjpgWill Spain be dethroned? La Roja, the defending champions are one of the favorites for the golden price in Brazil. Qualification was not as smooth as the road to South Africa in 2010. 18 of the victorious Euro 2012 squad have been called by Vincent Del Bosque for Brazil. Will complacency not set in for La Roja? The 3-0 defeat to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final only emphasized the difficulty of the task facing them and has left many doubting whether they can maintain their stratospheric levels of performance in Brazil this summer.
Write them off at your own peril. Winning a fourth international trophy in a row must serve as enough motivation for them. Performing such feat means this golden generation for Spain will become the greatest side in international history.
Spain can call on so many players for inspiration starting from skipper and goalkeeper, Iker Casillas to Sergio Ramos, Xavi Hernandez and new convert Diego Costa. No one has the magic more than Andres Iniesta, the Barcelona playmaker’s influence at club level is often undervalued due to the brilliance of Lionel Messi. But Iniesta is without doubt Spain’s man for the big occasion. La Roja are overwhelming favorites for the mundial.