FIFA World Cup 2014 Group Stage Overview Part 1 (Groups A-D)

     It is only two days until the World Cup, at least at the time I’m writing this.  The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world, and is great because it is an international display of both global unity and the true spirit of competition.  It is an event made even more special due to its rarity, only occurring once every four years.  The 2014 World Cup from Brazil has drawn some criticism due to political instability in Brazil, but is due to be an excellent display of the beautiful game to the sheer number of quality teams.  There are the hometown favorites Brazil, and rivals Argentina led by the best player in the world, Lionel Messi.  There are no shortage of European powerhouses either, most notably Spain and Germany, considered by many to be the two best teams in the world.  There are also a few great stories in the World Cup, such as everyone’s favorite dark horses, Belgium, a Bosnia and Herzegovina team experiencing its first World Cup, and a number of teams attempting to live up to tough expectations, such as England, Italy, France, and the United States.  Seeing how huge of an occasion this is, I plan to write frequently about the events in and around this World Cup from Brazil.  The first of these entries will be a two part blog breaking down the group stages.  This blog is the first of these two entries, and here I will decipher groups A through D, giving my predictions and thoughts for each, starting with group A.

GROUP A: BRAZIL, MEXICO, CROATIA, CAMEROON
     This first group holds the favorite for the World Cup, as well as the host city – Brazil.  Captained by PSG’s Thiago Silva, this group is full of experience from a back line featuring the aforementioned Silva, Dani Alves, and David Luis.  However, the team also features a number of talented, playmaking youngsters making World Cup debuts, such as Neymar, Willian, Bernard, and Hulk.  I expect this team to handily take the group, but calling second place is no easy task.
     I’ll start with Mexico, a defensive minded team thats inability to score goals left them in jeopardy of missing the World Cup altogether.  That isn’t to say they have a bad set of strikers, however.  Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos are capable of doing the job well, and along with players like Andres Guardado, and Carlos Pena the team has enough pace to keep up with most teams. However, in the end expect Mexico to be playing potentially in three close games.
     Most people won’t think twice about Croatia making the knockout stages.  This is where most people are wrong.  Quietly, the Croats have put together a World Cup worthy team that has just as good a chance as Mexico of advancing out of group A.  They have a solid defense led by captain Darijo Srna, and one of the best midfielders in the world in Real Madrid’s Luka Modric.  Leading them at striker is Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic, who has a golden head capable of knocking in crosses almost at will.  They have enough to challenge.
     Cameroon is definitely the outsider in this group, but they aren’t to be underestimated either.  They have an aging star in Samuel Eto’o who despite his age can still score as he has shown at the club level. In addition, let me make this simple: they have a good defense.  Aurelien Chedjou, Henri Bedimo, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, and Nicolas N’Koulou will be difficult to score against in the coming weeks in Brazil.
PREDICTIONS:
Brazil: Defeats Mexico, Croatia, Cameroon (9 Points)  ***
Croatia: Defeats Cameroon, Draws Mexico, Loses to Brazil (4 Points)  ***
Mexico: Draws Cameroon, Croatia, Loses to Brazil (2 Points)
Cameroon: Draws Mexico, Loses to Croatia, Brazil (1 Point)

GROUP B: SPAIN, NETHERLANDS, CHILE, AUSTRALIA
     Even trying to be as open-minded as possible, it’s hard not to look at this group and not see a two-way fight for second place.  Spain looks a clear number one, while Australia should probably be begging for mercy.  Honestly, what is there to say about Spain that hasn’t already been said?  They are powerhouses, good everywhere, starting from the goalkeeper position where they have Iker Casillas, the captain who has 154 national team caps.  Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos lead the defense, Xavi and Andres Iniesta are leaders of the midfield, and Diego Costa is striker.  Everywhere in between is just more talent.  They will be difficult for anyone to beat.
     The Netherlands are back from a runner-up finish at the 2010 World Cup, and despite that performance, should have difficulties advancing from the group stages.  Robin van Persie is one of the top strikers in the world, and Arjen Robben is (in my opinion) the best right winger in the world.  The supporting cast involves Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder.  These guys are capable of giving anyone a run for their money.
     However, I’m giving Chile a slight edge over the Netherlands.  This isn’t necessarily because their team is better, but because they are used to the environment and are in the home continent of the World Cup.  In a European World Cup, the Netherlands would be my #2.  Regardless, Chile is a very well rounded team led by a star in Arturo Vidal, who mans the midfield for Juventus as well as being the star of the Chilean team.  Claudio Bravo is a strong goalkeeper who plays a big part in their success.  Alexis Sanchez gives them an added quick striker who is experienced in international play as well as big games due to his time at FC Barcelona.
     Australia has a chance of advancing, but only if a lot of things go right.  Tim Cahill is a solid striker who is good with his head, but he is one of the few bright spots on a team who will struggle.
PREDICTIONS:
Spain:  Defeats Netherlands, Chile, Australia (9 Points) ***
Chile:  Defeats Australia, Draws Netherlands, Loses to Spain (4 Points) (Leads on goal difference) ***
Netherlands: Defeats Australia, Draws Chile, Loses to Spain (4 Points)
Australia: Loses to Spain, Netherlands, Chile (0 Points)

GROUP C: COLOMBIA, GREECE, JAPAN, IVORY COAST
     Say hello to group C, the most open ended group in this year’s World Cup.  I am not joking when I say this is anyone’s group.  All the teams have their strengths.  Colombia has one of the world’s best players in AS Monaco’s Radamel Falcao.  However, he is injured and won’t be playing in the World Cup, severely damaging Colombia’s chances.  Luckily, Jackson Martinez of FC Porto is a strong replacement.  On the wings Colombia is strong with Juan Cuadrado and up and coming youngster James Rodriguez.  At age 38, defender Mario Yepes is one of the oldest players at the World Cup and will hope to lead his team to the group stages.  They still have a good chance.
     Greece is an interesting team.  They are extremely well rounded, but they really don’t have a star.  They are led by Giorgos Karagounis of Fulham in the midfield, and have two solid strikers in Giorgos Samaras and Dimitris Salpingidis.  Their defense is relatively solid as well, and have many good players including the excellently named Sokratis Papastathopoulos.  Who knows what will become of them this World Cup.
     Japan has a special place with me after I picking them out of a hat in a World Cup pool this year.  While I won’t give up hope, it doesn’t exactly look great for the Japanese.  They do have a solid midfield led by Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, and a decent defense led by the quick fullbacks Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida.  For my sake, I hope they advance.  It was just 12 years ago where they reached the semis.
     Ivory Coast will be a test in seeing if a whole bunch of strikers can succeed in a World Cup.  The best of the bunch is Didier Drogba, but don’t forget about the rest: Wilfried Bony, Seydou Doumbia, Gervinho, and Solomon Kalou to name a few.  The rest of their team is made up of the Toure brothers and not much else.  Still, they are many’s favorites to take the group.
PREDICTIONS:
Ivory Coast: Defeats Greece, Japan, Draws Colombia (7 Points)  ***
Colombia: Defeats Japan, Draws Ivory Coast, Greece (5 Points)  ***
Japan: Defeats Greece, Loses to Ivory Coast, Colombia (3 Points)
Greece: Draws Colombia, Loses to Ivory Coast, Japan (1 Point)

GROUP D: ENGLAND, ITALY, URUGUAY, COSTA RICA
The pressure is on in this group.  Three teams have huge expectations involving aspirations of advancing to the knockout stage and even as far as the semifinals.  England, Italy, and Uruguay have all won World Cups in the past, while Costa Rica is in a similar situation to Australia (sorry guys, it’s just not your year).  So let’s just come out and say it: Costa Rica is losing, sorry, not much to say about them.  Maybe in four years guys.
     England.  England.  England.  Perhaps the most crazy football fans in the World, they expect nothing less than success.  It will be a challenge in Brazil for them.  This team is very good, but they received a less than desirable draw.  Wayne Rooney is the star and is joined by fellow Manchester United star Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge as strikers.  Aging legends in the midfield Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are the captains of this squad.  They have a younger defense which is highlighted by the absence of Ashley Cole at left back in favor of the 18 year old Luke Shaw.  Joe Hart is in goal for a team that could easily advance or finish third in the group.
     Italy is looking for redemption after failing to make advance past the group stage in South Africa in 2010.  36 year old Gianluigi Buffon, one of the greatest goalies ever is back for a last-ditch attempt for a second World Cup title.  With him is a strong but old squad that might not have the energy to finish off games in the second half.  Players like Giorgio Chiellini, Daniele de Rossi, and Andrea Pirlo are all past their primes, but will provide good experience and leadership that a team with big hopes needs to be successful.  And don’t forget the hot shot Mario Balotelli ready to poach some goals.
     Uruguay is another team with the South American advantage.  When you look at them, the first thing anyone notices is the insane 1-2 punch of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani at striker.  Suarez had a controversial handball in 2010 against Ghana and is looking for a positive memory to come out of the 2014 campaign.  Also back from 2010 is that Cup’s top scorer – Diego Forlan.  Diego Godin and Martin Caceres are solid in defense and Fernando Muslera has been a top notch keeper for Galatasaray who should definitely help in this World Cup.  However, they do have a weak defense which may put pressure on the defense and limit the strikers’ chances.  It will be hard to best 2010’s 4th place finish, but they should be able to pass the groups.
PREDICTIONS:
Uruguay: Defeats Costa Rica, Italy, Draws England (7 Points)  ***
England: Defeats Costa Rica, Draws Italy, Uruguay (5 Points)  ***
Italy: Defeats Costa Rica, Draws England, Loses to Uruguay (4 Points)
Costa Rica:  Loses to England, Italy, Uruguay (0 Points)

Part 2 of this post should be out soon and feature groups E-H.
Thanks for reading,
Connor

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