Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The 20th World Cup Finals

Four Years ago, most of the commentariat were tipping Spain or Brazil for World Cup glory.  For this tournament, most of the commentariat are going down the same route.  With Brazil hosting their first World Cup in 64 years, they will be among the favourites, but are they the favourite?
Spain, World Champions 2010

Brazil are already aware of the pitfalls of hosting the tournament having fallen at the final hurdle in 1950.  To try and ensure that this time they emerge victorious on home ground, they have appointed Luiz Felipe Scholari as manager.  His previous term in charge saw him rescue a disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign by scraping into the 2002 World Cup and then went on to win the tournament.  Of course it helped that Scholari managed to successfully shoehorn Ronaldo & Rivaldo into his side and find space for Ronaldhinio.  This time there’s only really Neymar & Oscar that you could describe as being in that class.

Brazil do have a solid looking midfield, but it looks like an awful lot of the creative workload will fall at the feet of those players.  Neither Jo or Fred really fit the bill as Brazil standard.  Then again, Serghino in 1982 never really looked like a Brazil forward either. Past the first Round, Brazil has an awfully difficult Second Round tie ahead of them (in either Spain, Netherlands or Chile) and possibly Germany in the Semi’s.  They might find that the World Cup is a level further than the Confederations Cup.

Spain were many people’s tips four years ago, their victory wasn’t as much of a surprise as the at times sterile play from Spain.  Their bid to become the first team to successfully defend this tournament will rest on how much they learned from the Confederations Cup from last year.  Brazil beat them in the final when it looked like Spain had run out of steam.  One of the first changes Spain will have to make will be to their pressing game – the brand of boa-constrictor-tiki-taka though will be an asset to them as they grind teams down.  The World Champions remain a tough team to beat & with David Villa back (after missing Euro 2012) and the addition of Diego Costa, Spain may well reach the semi finals at least.

Four years ago, I thought that in spite of their barking coach, Argentina had the spine of a good team.  This time though the midfield doesn’t quite look so balanced.  True, they do have Messi, they do have Higuain, they do have Di Maria and they might not give a game to Lavezzi but they only have Mascherano as what you would describe as a defensive midfielder.  The opening tie (against Bosnia) will go a long way to telling us how far Argentina can go.  At least they are not seeded to face Germany in the quarter finals this time, unlike the last two World Cups.  If you are looking for omens though, they are seeded to play Belgium – the side they opened their defence of the World Cup against in 1982 (where they lost in Barcelona) and also the team they beat in the semi finals when they won four years later in Mexico.

Surprisingly not mentioned at all are Germany.  Always there or thereabouts, they will continue the attacking brand of football that they have been playing under Low.  Maybe why they have not been as near the top of the candidates list is that their defence has been leaky of late, their defensive midfielders (Khedera & Schweinsteiger) have spent large parts of the season injured.  Oh and the draw has not been kind to Germany.  First up for them will be Portugal (who may or may not be fielding Ronaldo), then Ghana and lastly Low’s old boss - Jurgen Klinsmann’s USA team.  Those three games kick off in the early afternoon and take place in the north of Brazil.  Respite for Germany will not come unless they finish top of their group – their second round tie is a late Afternoon kick off in southerly Porto Alegre.

When talking about Germany, the subject of their favourite bunnies comes up.  Conventional wisdom dictates that our nearest & dearest England has very little chance of getting out of their group.  First up they have the finalists in the last European Championships (Italy), then the current South American champions (Uruguay).  Respite might come in the shape of Costa Rica, then again as any Scotland fan will tell you they do have a habit of springing a nasty surprise (as they did 24 years ago – today no less).  They are soft at the back, in Hart they do have a keeper that has not been at the peak of his powers this season.  On the other hand, there is a crop of exciting attacking midfielders that have forced their way into the England squad while Gerard is now playing where he should have been for the past 5 years.  If they somehow get out of their group, Ivory Coast might be a problem but a Falcao-less Columbia, Greece and Japan are beatable.  The Quarter Finals will be a different ball game though with either Brazil/Netherlands on the one hand and Spain on the other.

So much for the leading players.  For the dark horses, Belgium is most peoples tip to be the not so surprise… er… surprise package.  Both Scottish and Welsh fans have seen them close up during qualifying so will have seen them close up.  I think they are maybe too inexperienced to win the thing and will face either Germany/Portugal/USA or Ghana in the last 16. I think that the Ivory Coast have their best chance to do something in this tournament, having been drawn in brutal groups in 2006 & 2010 while I also think that Bosnia will also get out of their group and get to at least the quarters.

I think Spain & Argentina will get to the last four.  Brazil I think will either edge past the Netherlands in the second round or comfortably beat Chile so we’ll see them there too.  As for the last place, I’ve a sneaking suspicion that Germany might fall short at the quarter finals stage having been bundled out by Bosnia.  Germany being knocked out by eastern European opposition in the quarters has happened before.  Whoever wins will play and lose to Brazil.  The other semi will see Spain play Argentina, and I think Argentina will win, and go on to beat Brazil in the final.

Already off pitch controversy is threatening to overshadow the main event.  More than ever FIFA needs a good World Cup to replace headlines about corruption, the controversial awarding of the hosts for the 2022 event and the protests surrounding the hosting of this event.  With afternoon kickoffs in sapping conditions, I hope I’m wrong but I’m not sure we are going to get that.

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