Friday, December 6, 2013

World Cup Group Stage Predictions 1

Early to be doing this? Nah, this is my Christmas and I only get this once every four years.

The criteria I'm using for who can qualify is how good the teams are on paper, where they're playing, (since Brazil has several different climates), and recent form for individual players.

Group A
Brazil - 9 points
Croatia -4 points
Mexico -2 points
Cameroon-1 point

Brazil is by far the best team in this group and they haven't lost a competitive match at home since 1975.  I wouldn't expect anything different especially because Scolari (Brazil's coach, and he won the WC in 2002) knows his best group of players and has a variety of options on the bench, much like Spain.  They have physicality in central midfield with Paulinho and Gustavo to go along with Neymar's and Oscar's creative brilliance.   The reason I dropped Mexico is not for a lack of fitness or climate issues but the main reason is that none of their best players in European leagues are getting games.  On one extreme it's bad if certain players are playing too much (like what typically happens to England) but on the other if they're putting their eggs into the Gio dos Santos/ Javier Hernandez basket, they'll be disappointed.  If they don't use their European players though they lose a bit of quality.  Overall a very bad tradeoff to face.

I'd pick Croatia since they have a solid defense, a very much in-form Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric to choose from.  Climate issues could be a problem for them.  Cameroon's best players are all over 30 and in this group they will struggle to get points.
Group B (Group of Death 1)
Spain - 9 points
Netherlands-4 points (goal difference)
Chile- 4 points
Australia- 0 points

This was a nightmare scenario for Chile. I said I expected them to qualify in most scenarios but in this group it doesn't seem very likely. Chile can dominate matches and the climate will favor them but it may come down to how many goals they score against Australia who are unfortunately the whipping boys. They are a bit questionable defensively too. They will face the Netherlands on the final day which will likely be a do-or-die for both teams.  The Netherlands forwards just about edge them there but I could end up changing this one based on injuries or interesting developments  If van Persie or Robben gets hurt or loses form for the Netherlands, I'd give Chile the edge.

Spain is being written off a bit due to the thrashing Brazil gave them in the Confederations Cup Final, but let's not forget they probably have the deepest attacking midfield set in terms of quality. Juan Mata, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, Pedro, Isco, and Jesus Navas to name a few.  Javi Martinez is also one of the best all-round midfielders in the world, and can offer a degree of physicality that has been lacking in this side.

Group C
Colombia -7 points
Cote d'Ivoire -5 points
Japan -2 points
Greece- 1 point

Colombia is the best-equipped team to win the group.  Falcao, Juan Quintero and James Rodriguez form a solid attacking trio, but they have some questions at CB which will only pose a problem in the knockout stages perhaps.  Cote d'Ivoire has an aging defense but it's not as much of a weak point as it is for Japan whose CBs could really struggle against intelligent and powerful forwards like Falcao and Drogba. Greece is fairly predictable in their play and are too reliant on Samaras and Mitroglou for creativity.

Group D (Group of Death 2)
Italy- 5 points (GD)
Uruguay - 5 points(GD)
England -5 points
Costa Rica- 0 points

When looking at it England and Uruguay are actually very similar sides.  Roy Hodgson has tried a variety of different personnel and systems to combat bigger teams much like Oscar Tabarez has done with Uruguay the past 4-5 years. Finely balanced group overall, and I could see all 3 teams playing for draws against each other and really going for it against Costa Rica. England does play Costa Rica last, so in theory they could have an advantage if they can get decent results against Uruguay and Italy. Uruguay does have a climate advantage although playing in the Amazon will be tough for everyone. Their performance will depend on how Suarez and Cavani keep going and whether they can play together. Italy's got the most technical quality out of the group and Cesare Prandelli is quick to adjust his tactics.  I wouldn't expect a lot of goals from this group though.

Group E (Group of Life)
France- 5 points (GD)
Switzerland-5 points
Ecuador - 3 points
Honduras- 1 point

This group starkly contrasts the other groups and France and Switzerland should fancy their chances. France typically starts slow in the Group Stages and tries to become dangerous later on. Karim Benzema's international form leaves questions about who can come up with goals, and they've experimented with their CB pairing a lot; however they're still good enough to qualify if not win their group.  Ecuador was formidable in qualifying but lack creativity through the center.  Antonio Valencia's their best player but as a winger, he can be marked out of a game. Switzerland has a talented defense and have gotten impressive results against big teams in the group stage before. The road will likely end in the round of 16 because they are most likely to face Argentina.
Group F
Argentina-9 points
Bosnia-Herzegovina-6 points
Nigeria-3 points
Iran-0 points

Argentina started out as one of the tournament favorites already but they got a really good group and a favorable match in the round of 16. Lionel Messi will run the show, but more importantly Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain have been in excellent form for their respective clubs too. Alejandro Sabella's tactical flexibility and a hard-working midfield trio in di Maria, Mascherano, and Banega will definitely help them win the group.  Bosnia has some very talented creative players and Edin Dzeko, but they don't have a solid defense so they may have a very open game with Argentina.  I previously pointed to Nigeria's lack of cohesion even though they have several talented individuals.  In a group like this, a side that stays even somewhat organized will earn points.  Iran is unfortunately is out of their depth.
Group G (Group of Death 3)
Germany-9 points
Portugal-4 points
USA-2 points
Ghana-1 point

This was a nightmare draw for the US; however, they do have a chance at qualifying. Ghana has somewhat regressed the past 4 years so if they can get a big win against them, and a draw against either Portugal or Germany, they can make it to the next round. At central midfield, Michael Bradley and Jermain Jones have improved greatly and overall the US looks more comfortable.  They have evolved from a purely counterattacking side into one that can break teams down and play intricate one-twos around the box. I'll go into more detail about how they can qualify some other time.  They do also play Germany on the final day so they will need everything to go right in the first two games.

Germany has an enviable depth of midfielders. Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos, Marco Reus, Thomas Muller, (I could really just keep going here), so they will be able to impose themselves on almost any side on the world. Mats Hummels and Philip Lahm are top defenders and Bastian Schweinsteiger brings a lot of experience. At striker they risk leaving themselves a bit short, but their midfielders will score goals.  I think Portugal can hold them to a draw.

The reason I think Portugal goes through over the US is that, contrary to popular belief, they have a very solid team including a formidable back 4 with Pepe, Coentrao, Bruno Alves, and Joao Pereira; a good defender-runner-passer model in midfield with Veloso, Moutinho, Ruben Micael; and of course Cristiano Ronaldo.  They lack a clinical striker but when you have Ronaldo, who needs one?

Group H
Belgium-7 points
Russia-5 points
South Korea-2 points
Algeria-1 point

Belgium at the moment is a team of individuals They don't have great chemistry yet, and are susceptible at fullback since they're using a back 4 of centerbacks. That being said, the potential is there and on talent alone they will likely win this group.  Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, and Moussa Dembele all offer different points of attack for Belgium.

Russia got a favorable group that could pan out for them.  Fabio Capello has a point to prove after leading England through a disappointing World Cup in 2010 and they will fancy themselves over South Korea and Algeria. Can't see them going much farther than the round of 16 considering that they will likely have to face Germany.  


  1. Hm…I think I agree with most everything you've said.

    Group B will be very interesting, especially if the difference will be goals vs Australia. Mitchell Langerak (if he gets playing time) is my x-factor for Australia. He's been consistently good for Dortmund in both Bundesliga and Pokal play and very rarely loses when he's given an opportunity. Australia could steal a draw from the Netherlands or Chile (bizarre as it may sound) and that makes the difference.

    I'm surprised you have Italy, Uruguay, and England being equal in points. They all beat Costa Rica and draw each other? I don't know that it will go down like that, unless they all play for ties. You have to imagine Italy or Uruguay will try to take advantage of an England that continues to underwhelm.

    Group G is a nightmare for the USA. To see them improve so much and then get drawn into such difficult group stinks. That said, Klinsmann seemed confident that his squad would be fully competitive in Brazil. The US have a (very slim) chance to go through.

    The thing that interests me about Germany is their versatility and depth. Because of all their midfield players they should have the ability to adapt to any circumstance and Löw will obviously have them well prepared. I'm really interested to see how Die Mannschaft will mesh. Will Reus and Götze be allowed to reignite their chemistry, or will Reus be used simply for energy; how will Lahm be employed; will Klose and Gómez be enough; can Mats Hummels finally impress Löw? Lots of things to think about.

    I'd love to know more about Belgium. They have the potential to do very well, and are so talented individually (as you said). You mentioned Dembele but I actually don't know if he gives them the best chance to win if they play a 4-3-3. He's so creative but absolutely has no "killer instinct," but I don't really know who would be better in that spot. Fellaini? Witsel?

    Good read, Pranav.

  2. Thanks for the comment Andy.

    England isn't that underwhelming. The British press expects more from them but the truth is they are defensively well-organized and can be dangerous from set-pieces. They have done okay against the best sides in the world, but I think that Uruguay's forward play is more dynamic and Italy's just a better team overall. Costa Rica's best players are Bryan Ruiz and Oviedo so they are easy to mark out of a game. Costa Rica can keep it tight, but against these top defenses it will be hard.
    I think Chile's consistently being underestimated. They got as many wins as Argentina in qualifying and dominated Colombia in a recent match. Arturo Vidal is an extremely versatile midfielder and Alexis Sanchez is hitting top form at Barca so they could be very dangerous. If the Netherlands isn't at the top of their game, Chile could grab second. Australia's got a couple talented players, including Robbie Kruse who plays for Leverkusen but I don't think it's enough for them to get points. In another group they might have qualified. I could be wrong though.

    Mats Hummels was a regular at Euro 2012 so I'd expect him to start as long as he's fit. Yes Germany do have a variety of options, but it's up to Loew to figure out how to use them. At the 2010 World Cup he didn't make enough changes to his team and at the Euro, he tinkered too much. It's an interesting balance to try and maintain. Their Dortmund players are crazy injured right now so they would all need to get back to full fitness

    As for Belgium, it's amazing how much talent they have put together. 5 years ago, I didn't know any of these players. I've only seen some of their play but they remind me a lot of Argentina at the 2010 World Cup. A bunch of brilliant attackers who haven't played much together but only need to put together two or three good moves to rip opponents apart. They don't have a lot of structure so an organized and talented side can hurt them especially if they've got strong wingers.

  3. Hm..perhaps. I don't follow England enough to know what is fact or fiction in the news - there's always so much pressure on them - so I will defer to you. No question about the ability of Uruguay and Italy (I want Balotelli to do something cool so bad). Also can't really argue with your assessment of Costa Rica. Ruiz is a special player but if teams only need to mark him, he's not going to do much.

    Chile or Netherlands has been an weird debate. I think the Dutch are very good, but I've read a lot of things saying they may not even go through. And truthfully I just don't know enough about Chile to assess what they might do. I have seen Vidal and Sanchez, and they're impressive, but I don't know much about the rest of the team. Also, I never thought Australia would go through but I think they have the potential to be underestimated.

    The reason I mentioned Hummels is that Löw doesn't always seem to be pleased with him (or is just trying to push him). It's something Klopp has talked about in interviews this season and the second half of last season. Löw will have a lot of options there so if Hummels doesn't start it wouldn't surprise me. If the US go out in the group stage (which is likely) I'll probably be rooting for Germany. Well, and Russia because their kits are always great.

    Yeah totally agree about Belgium. Do you think they're out in the Round of 16?