Tuesday, December 3, 2013

World Cup Scenario Draws #1

All 32 teams have qualified, but the groups have not yet been drawn.  I realize what I'm about to do is as useful as pre-Thanksgiving Christmas decorations, but I don't care and I'm making a scenario draw  This is my Christmas, don't ruin it since I only get to celebrate every 4 years. Since there's no fun in just going by the FIFA rankings (in which everyone would just want the lowest ranked teams), I'm going to try something a bit different based on tactics/playing styles, climate adjustment, players available, etc.

Here are the Pots drawn out.

Pot 1: Host + Seeded Teams
Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland
Japan, Iran, Korea Republic, Australia, USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras
Pot 3: CAF, CONMEBOL + France
Chile, Ecuador, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon, France
Pot 4: UEFA
Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Russia

Pot 1: Best and Worst Case scenarios

For Brazil, Spain, Germany, and Argentina, they should all feel pretty comfortable playing anyone in Pots 2 and 3 and most of Pot 4.  Needless to say the two teams they most want to avoid are the Netherlands and Italy.  Italy has the tactical tools needed to combat Spain and has a very impressive record against Germany. The Netherlands is starting to integrate some of their younger, more talented players such as Kevin Strootman, and Erik Pieters, along with Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben as experienced players who are in-form.  Qualification Chances: >97%

For Uruguay they have a couple of teams to worry about in addition to the Netherlands and Italy. While they have a talented striking partnership in Cavani and Suarez as well as a resilient defense, they can get overrun by teams with good central midfield duos.  USA, France, Chile, and Portugal fall into this category.  They struggled pretty heavily in South American qualifiers until the past couple of months and are only seeded due to a semi-final run at the Confederations Cup along with winning the Copa America recently.  Qualification Chances: 75%

Colombia and Belgium are roughly on the same boat.  Both teams are appearing at the World Cup for the first time after a long layoff and are brimming with attacking talent. However neither team is particularly strong at fullback. Belgium frequently uses CBs in those positions and it doesn't come as naturally. They could struggle against teams who have very good wingers. Portugal, Cote d'Ivoire, and Ecuador are teams they probably want to avoid.  Qualification Chances: 85%

How Switzerland got in Pot 1 is somewhat of a travesty given that the Netherlands and Italy are better teams by far, but they aren't a bad team and have a quality defense. Stephan Lichtsteiner is very good at getting forward from his RWB/RB position, but if he's forced to play a more defensive role against advanced wingers, the team could struggle to get forward. In addition to the teams above, they would probably not want to face England, Ghana, or France. Qualification Chances: 50/50

Pot 2
This isn't a very strong pot when looking at it.

Asian teams: Japan was the first team to qualify for the World Cup (not counting Brazil who automatically qualify as hosts), but since then they haven't had a great run of games, including a disappointing Confederations Cup. Their CB pairing is still a bit shaky, but they have an impressive attacking trio with Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, and Shinji Okazaki and are relatively comfortable with the ball.  They are organized enough to do well against many teams in Pot 3 but need a favorable matchup with a team from Pot 4 to progress. . South Korea is in Japan's boat but doesn't quite have the same attacking power.  Their back 4 plays in the Korean league which could be a cause for concern. They are a side that presses energetically. Qualification Chances: ~40%

USA has been in very good form throughout qualifiers but could face a tough group.  They have the physicality to keep up with many teams, they're looking more comfortable playing with the ball, and they'd probably fancy themselves against anyone in Pot 3 when in form. That being said, beating teams in CONCACAF while playing well is a totally different thing than taking on some of the best from Europe and South America. One concern is Jozy Altidore isn't playing very well for struggling Sunderland in the Premier League. While there are very few outcomes in which they can win a group, finishing second might not be too far-fetched. Qualification Chances: 50%

As for the other teams, Mexico just about squeaked into the World Cup and several of their starters, including Chicharito, Andres Guardado, and dos Santos have been unable to get games in Europe's top leagues at the moment.  Starting players from the Mexican league are more likely to be in form, but their talent level will likely be insufficient considering how many teams are.  Iran, Australia, Honduras, and Costa Rica are sides built primarily around one player and that doesn't bode well since they are easy to mark. I can't really see a scenario in which any of these teams would qualify.  Mexico might be able to if their players in Europe start playing more games. Mexico's chances: ~30%.  Australia 10%, The Rest <3 b="">

Pot 3:
The theme for this group can be summed up as strong attacking play but questionable defending.  France was in a group with Spain in UEFA qualifiers and that's the only reason why they had to enter a playoff against Ukraine. While Franck Ribery is the standout player for Les Blues, there are plenty of talented attacking and defensive midfielders to choose from; however, there are some issues that can surface.  Many French players play for English clubs and that could potentially lead to burnout.  Plus Didier Deschamps still hasn't figured out what his best CB pairing is and that nearly cost them a spot at the WC against Ukraine.  Karim Benzema's lack of form for the national team is slightly worrying but if Olivier Giroud keeps playing at a high level, like he is for Arsenal, then they might go far. 75% chance of qualifying

African teams: Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria have had awful luck with draws in the past being put in either the Group of Death or the second hardest group.  With the strength of the opposition at the World Cup this year, it looks likely to continue. Nigeria has several energetic young players but are rather erratic going forward and too often resort to individual quality to score as opposed to cohesive team play.  Cote d'Ivoire are nearing the end of a golden generation but still have very talented, powerful attackers like Yaya Toure, Wilfried Bony, Gervinho, Seydou Doumbia, and of course Didier Drogba.  Their first choice defense is aging, but as a team Les Elephants can hold their own against some teams in Pot 4, and would fancy themselves against many teams from Pot 2.  35% chance of qualifying

Cameroon and Algeria are unlikely to qualify due to a lack of depth or inability to hold out teams from other groups. Beyond Samuel Eto'o who's 31 years old, there isn't much going for Cameroon.  Ghana still puts out several young players and with Kevin-Prince Boateng and an organized defensive structure they can play well and limit some of the big teams. However,with the level of attacking talent present at the World Cup, it may not be so easy for Ghana to qualify. Qualification Chances: Ghana 50/50, Cameroon/Algeria 15%

South American teams: Chile continues to be a high-pressing and ball-retention side, in the same pattern that former coach Marcelo Bielsa established at the 2010 World Cup.  Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal are probably the biggest threats. Gary Medel is a tenacious defender and has carried that over to Cardiff.  They ran the show at Wembley in a friendly against England, and recorded as many wins as Argentina and Colombia in qualifying.  They can be exposed on counter attacks though and would be unlikely to impose themselves on a team in Pot 1. I expect them to qualify for the knockout stages in most scenarios.  They can definitely play their game against teams in Pot 4 due to a climate advantage and a cohesive starting XI.  Ecuador's chances are limited due to a lot of their play being concentrated around one or two players.  Antonio Valencia and Felipe Caicedo are their best attacking outlets.  Qualification Chances: Chile 60%, Ecuador 25%

Pot 4:
These are all UEFA teams who won their group/playoff match but weren't seeded.

The Netherlands and Italy are probably the teams best-equipped to qualify for the knockout stages either as group winners or runners up.  Italy did struggle a bit at the Confederations Cup as their players had to cope with the climate and a few injuries but they gave Spain a tremendous game and did fairly well against Brazil despite conceding 4 goals.  The Dutch have been revitalized under Louis van Gaal and have a good mix of youth and experience but there might be one or two defensive issues which could surface.. Italy under Cesare Prandelli are very tactially adaptable and look comfortable with a back 3, a back 5, a midfield diamond, or a straight 4-3-3/4-3-2-1.  They don't often use width in their attacks however. Both their respective problems might only surface in the knockout stages however. Qualification chances: > 95% for both teams

Greece, Russia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina are sides based around one or two good players but not much of a team dynamic.  For Bosnia, Edin Dzeko is the main source of creativity and danger but he isn't getting many games at Manchester City and unless that changes he might struggle and the team will lose its edge.  Greece has Kostas Mitroglou. but again the lack of form of other players means he's an easy target to mark out of games.  Russia's main source of danger is Alan Dzagoev but he is rather streaky and gets frustrated when pitted up against a good defense.  It's hard to see how these teams will qualify as they might struggle even against teams from Pot 2.  20% chance of qualifying

Croatia's form has been indifferent in 2013, similar to Mexico but they did manage to win their qualifier against Iceland.  Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic are probably the most talented players and Dejan Lovren has been very solid for Southampton at the back so there could be hope for them. They can probably handle most teams from Pot 3 and Pot 2.  Qualification chances are around 50/50. 

And now we come to England and Portugal.  Portugal has pretty much everything except a proper forward to support Cristiano Ronaldo.  A strong midfield, a strong defense, but no one apart from Ronaldo to finish. If they can make it out of the knockout stages then they could be a dangerous proposition for many teams. England took qualifiers fairly seriously and Roy Hodgson has them playing as a unit; however with the increasing strain of English football, a lot will depend on how Wayne Rooney plays.  A lack of dynamism in central midfield could hurt them if they have to face one of the top teams.  In most cases I'd expect Portugal and England to qualify for the knockout stages.  75% chance

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