FIFA World Cup 2014 Group Stage Overview Part 2 (Groups E-H)

     Welcome to part 2 of my group stage overview for the upcoming World Cup.  If you would like to see my overview for groups A-D, check the previous blog entry.  This time I’m taking down groups E-H, which includes the GROUP OF DEATH.  So without further ado, let’s get cracking!

GROUP E:  FRANCE, ECUADOR, SWITZERLAND, HONDURAS
     Well, it looks like France caught a pretty good break.  After all, the last few weeks have not been good for les Bleus.  The team has been stripped of its two best players: Franck Ribery and Samir Nasri. Nasri didn’t get along well with the coach apparently, and Ribery is currently injured.  However, even missing some great playmakers, some basic facts still remain.  1) They have one of the best goalkeepers in the world with Hugo Lloris.  2) The team is full of players from the Premier League, Ligue 1, and La Liga BBVA, which is always a good thing.  3) They are the best team in an underwhelming group which should see them advance.
     Ecuador is a team led by one man, and that man is Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia.  The fast and skillful player is the bright spot on an otherwise meh team.  One thing they do have, however, is team unity and experience, which should never be underestimated.  They also have the home continent advantage in their favor, even though they may well be South America’s weakest squad.  In this group, they have a decent chance of advancing to the knockout round, as long as they can overcome a weak defense.
     Switzerland is a team that is highly underestimated.  They are defensively sound, and are returning mostly the same defense that over the last two World Cups had a streak of 551 minutes played without allowing a goal.  You shouldn’t need me to tell you how absolutely bonkers that is.  Diego Benaglio returns as goalkeeper and will be difficult to beat.  There is also a deadly duo on the right side pairing youth and experience with Stephan Lichtsteiner and Xherdan Shaqiri.  Even though I hate to continue saying the same things, the easiness of the group benefits Switzerland’s chances.  I see them as a second place team.
     It would be an understatement to call Honduras the underdogs in this group.  Luckily for them, they’ll be riding a wave of confidence after a scoreless draw with England in their last friendly.  This was a big game for a team needing some help if they are to advance out of group E.  Luis Fernando Suarez’s team is not without firepower, however, with experienced defenders like Maynor Figueroa and a talented youngster in right midfield named Andy Najar.  This team will have some extra motivation as well, as they could be the first group to make the knockout round in Honduras’s third World Cup.
PREDICTIONS:
     France: Defeats Honduras, Ecuador, Draws Switzerland (7 Points) ***
     Switzerland: Defeats Honduras, Draws Ecuador, France (5 Points) ***
     Ecuador: Defeats Honduras, Draws Switzerland, Loses to France (4 Points)
     Honduras: Loses to France, Switzerland, Ecuador (0 Points)

GROUP F: NIGERIA, BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA, ARGENTINA, IRAN
     Messi’s group is one with an interesting storyline.  Nigeria has come out of nowhere to be the second best team in Africa next to Ivory Coast.  Bosnia is in their first World Cup.  I really haven’t heard anyone talk about Iran.  How will they all do?  Let’s see.
     Argentina is led by the best player in the world and is the prime candidate to take down the home nation of Brazil.  The attack on this team is just unreal.  Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel di Maria, and Ezequiel Lavezzi.  That’s enough to make any potential opponent freeze in their tracks.  They have a weak defense however, and besides Javier Mascherano, they are vulnerable.  But Argentina’s main focus is to SCORE GOALS.  And they can do that with the best teams.
     Bosnia & Herzegovina have become a fan favorite for many.  The European darlings in their first World Cup, what a good story.  What less people realize, however, is that this is actually a pretty good team.  Edin Dzeko is the big man at striker, and a powerful player at Manchester City.  Asmir Begovic is in goal, and captain Emir Spahic is an older player but still a very effective one.  However, I believe experience in big situations is necessary for success, and this team doesn’t have it.  Cinderella story or not, I don’t like them, although it wouldn’t surprise me if they did advance like many expect.
     Nigeria is a team quickly gaining speed.  These guys are young, motivated, and ready to make the knockout round for the first time since 1998.  5 of the 7 midfielders on the team are 23 or younger.  Ahmed Musa and Emmanuel Emenike are strong strikers with complementing play styles, and midfielders like John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses have valuable Premier League experience that should help them try to get out of this group where Bosnia is their main competition.
     Iran is one of the weakest teams in the entire 32 team field.  Jevad Nekounam is a midfielder that has by far the most experience of anyone on the team.  While they may be one of the best in Asia, there aren’t many good teams in the world’s largest continent.  They could muster a draw or two, but they will not be advancing past group F.
PREDICTIONS:
     Argentina: Defeats Nigeria, Bosnia, Iran (9 Points) ***
     Nigeria: Defeats Iran, Draws Bosnia, Loses to Argentina (4 Points) *** Wins on goal difference
     Bosnia: Defeats Iran, Draws Nigeria, Loses to Argentina (4 Points)
     Iran: Loses to Nigeria, Bosnia, Argentina (0 Points)

GROUP G: USA, PORTUGAL, GERMANY, GHANA
     At last, here it is: the dreaded group of death.  This one is going to be amazing.  All four of these teams advanced to the knockout stages in the last World Cup.  USA is trying to make the knockout stages twice in a row for the first time ever, but they’ll have to beat Ghana who has taken them out of the last two World Cups.  Ghana is trying to prove that African teams are not to be underestimated.  Germany wants the world to know that they are the best, and Portugal is riding Ronaldo’s prime as this is his best chance to win a World Cup.  All 6 games in this group will be exciting.
     Jurgen Klinsmann’s has made headlines by leaving Landon Donovan, the best US player of all time off the team, and saying publicly that a win is unrealistic.  I personally believe these were poor moves, as Donovan is the leader of the team and you always have to believe you have a chance.  Clint Dempsey is the new man with the armband for the US, and Everton’s Tim Howard returns as goalie.  They also have some players with relatively little national team experience, such as Graham Zusi, Chris Wondolowski, and Brad Davis.  The Americans will have a difficult time this World Cup, but advancing past the group stages is a reasonable goal.
     Portugal will need their star Cristiano Ronaldo to put on a heck of a show.  Simply put, if he is performing, these guys will be very tough to beat.  To help out Ronaldo they have a strong midfield with the likes of Nani, Joao Moutinho, and Raul Meireles.  Pepe and Fabio Coentrao are the star defenders who have bonding through playing at Real Madrid.  Along with Ronaldo, these players are confident and playing well, even managing to win the Champions League this past season.  Portugal is a scary team, and one that could miss the group stages, or be playing deep in the tournament.
     Germany is going all out for a win this World Cup.  Anything less than the title will be a disappointment.  It’s unfortunate they had to draw the group of death, as they will be tested even before they reach the knockout stages.  But the Germans needn’t worry.  They have Manuel Neuer, who I believe is the best goalie in the world.  They also have what I say is the best midfield in the world.  Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus, and Mario Gotze are just a few of the players to watch out for.  Not to mention Miroslav Klose, the 36 year old striker who has  14 World Cup goals in his first 3 World Cups.  In his final outing, he needs just two goals to be the highest scorer in World Cup history.
     Ghana is seen by many as the worst team in the group, but really they have just as good odds as Portugal or the US of taking the second spot in the group.  In their last game before going to Brazil, they smashed South Korea 4-0 including a hat trick from striker Jordan Ayew.  Ayew and his brother Andre will be trying to take out the US for a third straight time.  FC Shalke 04s’ Kevin Prince-Boateng is a well rounded player with a good shot.  Striker Asamoah Gyan is the captain of a team which features two strong Serie A players in midfield: Juventus’s Kwadwo Asamoah and AC Milan’s Michael  Essien.  Don’t be surprised if they advance.
PREDICTIONS:
     Germany: Defeats Portugal, USA, Ghana (9 Points) ***
     Portugal: Defeats Ghana, Draws USA, Loses to Germany (4 Points) ***
     USA: Draws Portugal, Ghana, Loses to Germany (2 Points)
     Ghana: Draws USA, Loses to Portugal, Germany (1 Point)

GROUP H: RUSSIA, SOUTH KOREA, ALGERIA, BELGIUM
     The Russians are another team not getting too much publicity, but they are a strong team nonetheless that even has a shot at winning this group, albeit an unlikely scenario.  What many people don’t realize is that in World Cup qualifying the Russians won their group, a group that included Portugal.  This team hasn’t made a World Cup since 2002 and are still looking for their first knockout round appearance.  Igor Denisov is the captain of this team that includes midfielders Alan Dzagoev and Yuri Zhirkov.  Aleksandr Kerzhakov is the striker and Igor Akinfeev is in goal.  One thing this team has is that every player plays in the Russian League.  They all know each other well, now they just have to turn it into success.
     South Korea has left off Lee Dong Gook, one of their top players, and instead have chosen Arsenal’s Park Chu-Young and Borussia Dortmund’s Ji Dong-Won to be strikers instead of Gook.  This is a solid team that has players all over the world, but as I have mentioned earlier, had a difficult loss to Ghana earlier this week.  It remains to be seen if they will be able to get over that loss and regroup in Brazil, but they have a chance in this group.
      Algeria is a team led by young winger Sofiane Feghouli that is better than expected.  The Valencia CF player will hope to spark a team rated #22 in the FIFA rankings.  Algeria didn’t score a goal in the 2010 World Cup against the US, England, or Slovenia, but only conceded twice, proving they have an underrated defense.  Madjid Bougherra was on that team and will try to inspire the defense to have a similar showing in this World Cup.
     Belgium is the last team for me to give my input on.  They are the darlings, the dark horses, the team out of nowhere.  Many people love these guys, and I’m no exception.  These guys have a legitimate chance of making the semis, and with enough luck maybe the finals.  They are very young, and incredibly good.  22 year old Thibaut Courtois was the goalkeeper for an Atletico Madrid team that won La Liga BBVA.  Chelsea stud Eden Hazard is the star of the team, however, and youngster forwards Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas are other top Premier League options.  Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen are the vice-captains and center backs making sure no one scores on the Belgian team.  The question for Belgium is if they can put their abilities together and become a force to be reckoned with.
PREDICTIONS:
     Belgium: Defeats South Korea, Algeria, Draws Russia (7 Points) ***
     Russia: Defeats Algeria, Draws Belgium, South Korea (5 Points) ***
     South Korea: Draws Russia, Algeria, Loses to Belgium (2 Points)
     Algeria: Draws South Korea, Loses to Belgium, Russia (1 Point)

Those are my group stage predictions.  Now watch as much of the World Cup as you can, and I’ll be here giving my thoughts and recaps along the way.
Have fun,
Connor


   

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