I previously made predictions about who I think would qualify from the Group Stages here and since I made those predictions in December, it was inevitable that I would have to make changes due to injuries, dips in form, transfers, and perhaps controversy.
There have been a couple of important developments in January as we are about 5 months away from the World Cup:
- Radamel Falcao (Colombia) has been effectively ruled out of the World Cup with an ACL tear during a French league fixture with Monaco.
- Also on the subject of ACLs, Theo Walcott(England) tore his during an FA Cup tie against Tottenham.
- Juan Mata (Spain) completed a transfer to Manchester United from Chelsea
- Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium) left Chelsea for German club Wolfsburg
- Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero (Argentina) both make their returns after long injury layoffs.
Radamel Falcao has been talked about in glowing terms over the past two seasons he's been in the top 3 for goals scored across all European leagues only behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Many pundits considered him to be the best pure striker in the game He left Atletico Madrid for the nouveau riche French club A.S. Monaco this past summer and since then he's fallen off the radar somewhat.
It's not that uncommon but Monaco had very few commitments at the time and Falcao's a truly brilliant striker so his injury is a big deal considering he is Colombia's biggest threat. Anyone who loses a player of that quality is bound to be in trouble. However, Colombia's a bit different. They've got players who have been in very good form and can still make them a formidable threat at the World Cup this summer.
Jackson Martinez and James Rodriguez (who also moved to Monaco) are still top quality players and Freddy Guarin has been very good for a struggling Inter side at the moment. Teofilo Gutierrez is also a good quality forward who's playing his club football in Argentina but this team has plenty of quality relative to its group so I'd expect them to qualify at least as runners up in Group C.
Theo Walcott was quite impressive for England at Euro 2012 as he came off the bench to inspire a comeback and he's improved his finishing. His pace makes him a dangerous outlet on the right flank for counter attacks. So his ACL tear could put a pretty big dent in England's preparation for a very difficult group.
I didn't really rate England's chances well because while Roy Hodgson is pretty competent at setting up his sides against bigger teams, so are his counterparts from Italy and Uruguay. Cesare Prandelli and Oscar Tabarez have been with their teams longer than Hodgson has and they know what they have to work with. Italy has more talent and Uruguay has better forward depth. At this rate, England's hopes will (once again) rest squarely on Wayne Rooney's shoulders.
Juan Mata leaves Chelsea
Normally, getting rid of your two-years running player of the season is considered a bad thing but in this unusual case, it's a win-win for everybody involved. Manchester United get a fantastic player who can lift their spirits instantly after half a season of substandard performances and bad injury luck. Mata can increase his World Cup selection chances, and Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, in typical trolling fashion, has figured out a way to make United a more dangerous team against Chelsea's immediate title rivals Arsenal and Manchester City.
If Juan Mata weren't Spanish, he would get onto almost any international team instantly. But this move makes sense for him, since he'll definitely get more games and if United are able to achieve their targets for the season with him, it will do him a world of good considering that David Silva has been injured on and off, and Spain might try to phase out Xavi.
Kevin de Bruyne also leaves Chelsea
Another discontent attacking midfielder at Chelsea (there are a lot of them) has figured that the best way to increase his World Cup chances is to leave for a team that will use his talent. Kevin de Bruyne has featured even less than Juan Mata has, but he struggled a bit to cope with the physicality of the Premier League so he's opted for a return to the Bundesliga club Wolfsburg which may suit his style better.
This was also a good deal for a talented player and while Belgium is pretty competitive for places at the moment, de Bruyne has a little less pressure on his shoulders to perform which can help him a lot.
Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero return from injury
For their respective clubs and Argentina, this seems like very positive news. Messi scored a brace in his first game back and looks to be back to his best after a rough 2013 where he suffered two hamstring injuries. As long as he can maintain this type of level before the World Cup, Argentina will have their main man ready to run the show.
Aguero's return is also a huge lift for Manchester City as he's continued to score goals at an amazing rate, enough to put him back in the discussion for Premier League Player of the Season along with Luis Suarez. However, the intial suggestion that he would miss two months makes his return after just one montha little bit concerning as there might be a risk of recurrence. There is no need for Manchester City to rush him back as they were scoring buckets of goals without him, but I guess it can't hurt to restore the Aguero-Negredo strike partnership as they chase the league title.