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2014 FIFA World Cup Preview And Breakdown

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(Credit: YURI CORTEZ / AFP / Getty Images)

(Credit: YURI CORTEZ / AFP / Getty Images)

Game_Onair_RobbieR_640x480_092613 Robbie Rosenhaus
Robbie Rosenhaus is a producer/reporter and the resident fanta...
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With the World Cup only a few days away, it is time to break down the groups and try and predict who will advance to the knockout rounds in just a few weeks time. Eight groups, 32 teams, round robin play. Only 16 advance to the next round. Who will those 16 be? Watching the sport year round on a daily basis, producer/reporter Robbie Rosenhaus takes his best guess as to who will advance and who will be going home early.

 

GROUP A – Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Brazil

PROS - The host nation will attempt to become the seventh host nation all time to win the World Cup on home soil. Neymar leads a solid front line, playing his club football for Barcelona, and the midfield has some creative players in Oscar and Willian, both of whom play for Chelsea in the Premier League. The back line has players like Dani Alves and Thiago Silva, so to anoint this team as one of the favorites is surely a founded argument.

CONS – One word – pressure. Ever since Brazil knocked off Spain 3-0 in the Confederations Cup Final last year, the expectations for the home side have been out of control. Nerves can be the only thing that derails this squad, especially early in the tournament.

PREDICTION – 1st

Too much class for any of the other teams in this group to handle.

 

Croatia

PROS – A strong attacking line led by Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic and Real Madrid’s Luka Modric should provide a lot in attack. After missing out on the 2010 World Cup, the Croats are back on the world stage of football.

CONS - Their back line isn’t great, in fact it isn’t even good, and should have problems right away as they play in the first match of the tournament against the host nation Brazil.

PREDICTION – 2nd

The final game of the group is Croatia against Mexico, which could and should decide the runner up in Group A. Slight edge to Croatia.

 

Mexico

PROS – A team lucky to be here after benefiting from a USA goal in qualifying against Panama will take full advantage of the opportunity thinking they have the inside track to that runner up spot behind Brazil. Mexico has reached the knockout rounds in the last five World Cups, so history is on their side. Up and coming striker Oribe Peralta, who has spent his entire club career in Mexico, will now try and feature on the biggest stage. They have also played Brazil very tough the past few years including beating them for the gold medal in the 2012 Olympics.

CONS – This is a team that was in shambles just 18 months ago, firing their coach and having players question the leadership inside the locker room. The midfield isn’t great and could have problems in the matches against Brazil and Croatia which boast world class playmaking midfielders.

PREDICTION – 3rd

As I said up above, the Croatia/Mexico game should decide the runner up in the group. The midfield scares me for El Tri.

 

Cameroon

PROS – Striker Samuel Eto’o scored some big goals in the last few months at club level for Chelsea and looks to turn back the clock at age 33. Next to Brazil, the Cameroonians boast probably the best back line in the group led by former Arsenal defender Alex Song and Stade Rennais defender Jean Makoun.

CONS – The biggest problem they face is the speed factor. Their midfield could have major issues holding and regaining possession. While their backline could hold up for a while, it’s a bend but don’t break style that eventually could do them in.

PREDICTION – 4th

Four straight flameouts in the group stages will now become five.

 

GROUP B – Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Netherlands

PROS – Attacking soccer is usually rewarded in these tournaments and the Dutch scored more goals in qualifying than any other nation. Leading the front line are strikers Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben who have two of the sweetest left feet in the world.

CONS – Some of their players have been injured and/or inconsistent at club level the past few years, so one must wonder if they can put it all together in time to make a run in Brazil.

PREDICTION – 1st

Runners-up in 2010, the Dutch are out to prove that they are still a world power and will do so with a win over Spain in their opening game on their way to topping the group.

 

Chile

PROS – The three pronged attack of Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas will cause problems for their opponents back lines as they all provide something different on the front line. Watch Sanchez in particular, as he was the breakout star four years ago lifting Chile to the knockout rounds. Playing on their home continent and not having to get acclimated to the conditions helps too.

CONS – Vidal’s race against the clock to get back from injury could prove to be a blow to the Chileans’ chances to advance, plus they did allow 25 goals in qualifying, good for last out of any of the teams to qualify from CONMEBOL.

PREDICTION – 2nd

One of my pre-tournament darkhorses, this Jorge Sampaoli coached team plays a high pressing style that is easy on the eye to even the most casual fan. Expect them to advance and score a boatload of goals doing so.

 

Spain

PROS – The defending champions still boast arguably the deepest squad in the tournament led by a classy yet aging midfield featuring Xavi and Andres Iniesta, both of whom play club level for Barcelona in Spain’s La Liga. Up front Diego Costa, who originally declared he would play at country level for Brazil, gained citizenship in Spain and now will play for La Roja. He did suffer a hamstring injury and only played 10 minutes in the UEFA Champions League final against Real Madrid, but the Spanish brass declare him ready to go in just a week’s time for their mouth watering opening game against the Dutch.

CONS – Notice in the pros section above I said aging when talking about the midfield. Xavi is 34. Iniesta is 30. They are both at the heart of the Spanish midfield, but after a dip in form for both at club level, I wonder if their run of dominance on the world stage is reach its end.

PREDICTION – 3rd

Everyone has the Spanish moving on, but I have a shock exit in the group stage for the defending champions.

 

Australia

PROS – The Socceroos next to host nation and the USA always provide the largest fan support, so they’ll have a lot of fans in attendance. They have Tim Cahill who holds the record for most headed goals scored in the Premier League and now plays in MLS for the New York Red Bulls.

CONS – Lacking in every area against all three of their opponents in all categories, the Aussies will be lucky to take a point from any of the other three sides in the group.

PREDICTION – 4th

They’ll be waltzing in and waltzing right back out as quick as they arrived.

 

GROUP C – Colombia, Ivory Coast, Greece and Japan

Colombia

PROS – One of the most dangerous offensive teams in the tournament, their front line features Jackson Martinez, James Rodriguez and Freddy Guarin, all of whom are capable of scoring goals in bunches and have done so at club level. Playing close to home and in a weak group doesn’t hurt either.

CONS – Radamel Falcao, arguably a top five striker in the world, won’t play due to an ACL injury sustained in January. He was the heart and soul of the attacking line, despite the depth mentioned above. The Colombians haven’t been to a World Cup in 16 years, so inexperience on the world stage may be a hinderance.

PREDICTION – 1st

Los Cafateros should have no problem finishing first in this group and could make some noise in the knockout stages.

 

Japan

PROS – Their possession statistics are off the charts as they make teams work to get the ball back more than most. Keisuke Honda on the front line and Shinji Kagawa in the midfield should provide enough up front to put them in the mix to advance. Watch them on set pieces as they are one of the best free kick teams in the world.

CONS – Not a lot of depth on this Japanese side especially on defense, so if injuries come into play, they could be cooked.

PREDICTION – 2nd

Japan has advanced to the knockout rounds in the last two World Cups. Make it three in Brazil.

 

Ivory Coast

PROS – The Elephants have one of the best midfielders in the world anchoring the attack in Yaya Toure, while Didier Drogba, a longtime striker at Chelsea in the Premier League, will be counted out for goals up front. While both may be on the wrong side of 30, both are capable of producing magical moments and draw into an eminently winnable group.

CONS – Their back line isn’t great and have made some really critical errors in big spots the past few years. They easily qualified for Brazil 2014 but their competition in Africa left a lot of be desired.

PREDICTION – 3rd

They have never made it to the knockout rounds, and I don’t see it happening this year despite landing in a soft group.

 

Greece

PROS – Always a very strong defensive team, they feature one of the best centrebacks in the world in Sokratis Papastathopoulous who’s only 26, plays for Borussia Dortmund at club level and is getting better with each game. It’s not just about one player, however, as the Greeks play as a team defensively and are very sound and structured and are extremely difficult to break down.

CONS – Their midfield is definitely the worst in the group and possibly one of the worst in the entire tournament. Their young forwards such as Dimtri Mitroglou are unproven at the international level and could struggle to score in a group that should feature a lot of high scoring games.

PREDICTION – 4th

Never making it to the knockout rounds, it’s now been 10 years since their triumph at the 2004 European Championships. In a group loaded with offensive firepower, their defense will be tested to the limit. Piratiko, which is their nickname, means Pirate Ship in English. Consider their ship sunk.

 

GROUP D – Costa Rica, England, Italy, Uruguay

England

PROS – A lot of younger talent on this team, most of which features in the Premier League each weekend. Raheem Sterling of Liverpool, Ross Barkley of Everton, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal and a stellar backline with Leighton Baines and Phil Jagielka also both of Everton plus central defender Gary Cahill of Chelsea. Next to Japan, probably one of the best free kick teams in the world with striker Wayne Rooney and the aforementioned Barkley and Baines leading the way. Captain Steven Gerrard is a rock in midfield, even at the age of 34.

CONS – Roy Hodgson, England’s manager, has been questioned over team selection in the lead up to Brazil and may face harsh criticism if the team doesn’t perform well in its opening game against Italy. If Rooney doesn’t fire up front, it leaves a big question as to who will score goals.

PREDICTION – 1st

I’m a believer in the England kids, and I think Hodgson will bite his tongue and play the team that gives him the best chance to win despite leaving some aging players on the bench who may have more experience.

 

Uruguay

PROS – Having a front line manned by the lethal Edinson Cavani and the best striker in the world Luis Suarez doesn’t hurt. Playing on your home continent doesn’t hurt either. They made a surprising run to the semifinals four years ago in South Africa with a lot of the same players, so the experience factor is huge.

CONS – They were mediocre at best in CONMEBOL qualifying and had a zero goal differential doing it. A team loaded with talent, especially up front, however consistency is not exactly in their vocabulary.

PREDICTION – 2nd

They’ll have just enough to hold off the Italians for runner-up in the group.

 

Italy

PROS – The Azzuri, winners of the 2006 World Cup and runners-up in the 2012 European Championships, will be looking to atone for a last place group finish four years ago, finishing with two draws and loss in a quick exit from South Africa. One of my favorite players to watch, Mario Balotelli, will lead the front line and is one of those players that is capable of putting a team on his back and carrying them a long way. He did so in Euro 2012 and will be counted on again two years later. Keep an eye on Andrea Pirlo, one of the best free kick artists in the world.

CONS – To say Balotelli is mercurial is putting it kindly. Suspensions, red cards, off the pitch concerns all surround this supremely talented striker. When he’s on, he’s spectactular. When he’s not, they can crash out like in 2010.

PREDICTION – 3rd

Always a solid defensive team, the key will be in the opening game against England and whether or not they can stop the young attack that the Three Lions possess. I see a surprising early exit for the Italians.

 

Costa Rica

PROS – Qualifying out of CONCACAF like the USA and Mexico, the Ticos have beaten the Americans 3-1 and drawn Spain 1-1 in recent times. Watch for Keylor Navaz, one of the more unheralded keepers in the world, who had a special season at Levante in La Liga.

CONS – In a very difficult group, they don’t come in playing well at all. They lost three of their last four games in the lead up to Brazil against the likes of Australia, South Korea and Chile, and now take on much more talented teams that what those three brought to the table.

PREDICTION – 4th

Landing in a tough group, the inconsistencies of this group, especially on the back line, will prove to be their undoing.

 

Group E – France, Ecuador, Switzerland, Honduras

France

PROS – The French probably got the best draw of any of the top contenders in this year’s competition, and boasting a bench that probably would start for the other three teams in this group, Les Bleus are the heavy favorite to not only advance but top the group in style. Up front they have Karim Benzema and Olivier Giroud, two strong, powerful strikers who have the ability to score from distance. In the midfield, watch for Paul Pogba, a creative, attacking force who plays his club football for Juventus in Italy’s Serie A. Oh, and he’s only 21. Watch out for Antoine Griezmann, a playmaking winger, who could arrive with a big performance in Brazil as well.

CONS – Franck Ribery, one of the top strikers in the squad, will unfortunately miss the competition due to injury. They did have to feature in a playoff and comeback against the Ukraine to qualify for the World Cup, so all those extra games may take a toll fatigue wise.

PREDICTION – 1st

Anything but a first place finish in the group would be a shock.

 

Switzerland

PROS – Their coach, Ottmar Hitzvel, has won two UEFA Champions League titles and seven German league titles and is considered one of the greatest coaches in German history. People don’t know who Xherdan Shaqiri is, but they will in a few weeks time. Bayern Munich, the top team in Germany, acquired his services for 15 million pounds two seasons ago, a world record transfer fee for a Swiss born player. He has a superb knack for making the most of his chances and will be counted on to provide goals up front. Their defensive structure is and has always been sound, giving them a chance to take something from each and every game.

CONS – The top team in their qualifying group, they went through to Brazil with ease facing the likes of Iceland, Albania and Cyprus. The level of competition increases dramatically and although they aren’t in a group like B or D, this will be a true test, especially when playing the superior French and the Ecuadorians on their home continent.

PREDICTION – 2nd

The Swiss will have just enough to edge out Ecuador for the runner-up spot in this group.

 

Ecuador

PROS – The best player in the history of his country, Antonio Valencia has starred for Manchester United in the Premier League since 2009 and will be counted on to lead his home side in Brazil. Aside from Valencia, Los Amarillos boast a lot of attacking speed on the wings including Renato Ibarra, a talented, speedy player who plays in the Dutch Eredivisie for Vitesse Arnhem.

CONS – They only qualified basically because Brazil was automatically in as the host country. The backline is very shaky, and coach Reinaldo Rueda’s tactics have been drawn into question all too often. Not only with this Ecuadorian side, but with past teams he has coached, including Honduras and his home nation of Colombia.

PREDICTION – 3rd

Would be a nice story after the tragic death of 27 year old Cristian Benitez, the Ecuadorian striker who died of a heart attack last summer. Can’t pick them over the Swiss, however.

 

Honduras

PROS – Qualifying automatically behind the USA and Costa Rica, the Hondurans will play in their second consecutive World Cup, possibly using their experience in South Africa to get a result or two in Brazil. During the qualifying rounds, they showed a knack for scoring goals off of corners and set pieces. Look for them to try and take advantage of that early and often as they try and get their first ever win in the World Cup.

CONS – After Jerry Bengtson, a striker who plays his club football in MLS for the New England Revolution, there really isn’t much else there. They didn’t score a goal in South Africa, and other than Bengtson, there isn’t a real threat to do so on the entire team.

PREDICTION – 4th

Even though they didn’t land in the “Group of Death”, they still will struggle to take a point off of the other three teams.

 

GROUP F – Argentina, Bosnia-Herezgovina, Iran, Nigeria

Argentina

PROS – One of the favorites entering the tournament, the Argentinians seem to be clicking on all cylinders as they look for their first World Cup title since 1986. Boasting one of if not the most impressive front lines in the world, they should be able to overpower the other teams in this group that have less than stellar resumes on the world stage. Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain are just three of the stars on the La Seleccion squad. Playing close to home and being used to the conditions is a huge positive as well.

CONS – The goalkeeping isn’t as good as some of the other world powers and their depth on defense isn’t great either.

PREDICTION – 1st

This should and will be a cakewalk to the knockout rounds.

 

Bosnia-Herezgovina

PROS – Led by Edin Dzeko up front and Asmir Begovic between the sticks, the small Balkan nation has its best chance ever of qualifying for the knockout rounds with the runner up spot in the group up for grabs. Dzeko has been in superb form for Manchester City at club level in the Premier League, helping them to their second title in three years.

CONS – Other than Dzeko, there is little else to speak of up front. If other teams target Dzeko, it could be tough sledding producing offense.

PREDICTION – 2nd

Dzeko is good enough to carry his team into the knockout rounds, which would be a huge victory for the tiny country.

 

Nigeria

PROS – Victor Moses and Peter Odemwingie on the wings should provide a lot of pace and skill, especially against the Bosnians and the Iranians in the group stage. In midfield John Obi Mikel, who plays for Chelsea at club level, is arguably their most important player.

CONS – Their back line is young and inexperienced and could have problems especially in the game against Bosnia defending Dzeko.

PREDICTION – 3rd

I have them neck and neck with Bosnia for the runner-up spot falling just short.

 

Iran

PROS – They made it. Their coach has managed Portugal’s national team as well as Read Madrid at club level.

CONS – They don’t have more than one player who would sniff any of the other three teams squads in this group.

PREDICTION – 4th

A cameo appearance for the Middle Eastern nation, but I’d be surprised if they even scored a goal.

 

GROUP G – Germany, Portugal, USA, Ghana

Germany

PROS – Their midfield is one of the best the world has to offer, featuring Mario Gotze, Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos. They’re one of the most eye pleasing sides to watch with the way they pass the ball and linkup, especially from the back going forward. A name to watch other than the ones listed above is Julian Draxler, a creative midfielder and attacking force who plays club football in Germany for Schalke. Keep an eye on him.

CONS – One of their most talented strikers, Marco Reus, has been ruled out of the World Cup with injury so they will turn to Thomas Muller and Lukas Podolski up front. Both have supreme talent, but both have they ability to disappear at the most inopportune times.

PREDICTION – 1st

Landing in a tough group shouldn’t be an issue for a team looking to win its first World Cup in 24 years.

 

USA

PROS – Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has instilled a sense of renewed belief, despite the quotes to the contrary. Their new found attacking style is suitable to the opponents they’ll face, as the other three teams in the group pose big threats to score and score often. They can’t sit back and wait on the counter attack, rather they need take the initiative and go forward. The most important thing for them is the linkup between the midfield and strikers. When Jozy Altidore gets service, we’ve seen how good he can be. The question is, besides Michael Bradley, who will step up in the midfield? Their run in to the World Cup is a good omen despite the level of competition because they have scored goals and a bunch at that.

CONS – The other three opponents they’ll face can pose all kinds of problems. Germany’s midfield is head and shoulders better than what the USA brings, Portugal has Ronaldo who can be a terror and Ghana has knocked the USA out of the prior two World Cups.

PREDICTION – 2nd

Originally I had the USA bottom of the group, but I like what I’ve seen these past few games against Turkey and Nigeria. I don’t think they’re as good as Germany, but nipping Portugal and Ghana for second is not out of the question.

 

Ghana

PROS – The Black Stars went to the quarterfinals at the USA’s expense four years ago in South Africa and with a side largely unchanged from that one, they’ll be looking to equal or better than mark this time around. Up front, Asamoah Gyan and Kevin Prince-Boateng possess some of the best pace at the striker position not only in this group but in the entire tournament. They can pose problems for any team, as the USA has found out in years past.

CONS – Sulley Muntari is approaching 30 and Michael Essien is over 30, both anchoring the central midfield for the Ghanians. They could have major problems corralling Ronaldo if he’s fit, and against Germany they could have all kinds of problems, especially down the middle.

PREDICTION – 3rd

I think they’ll find a way to beat Portugal, but the other games they could have a tough time in.

 

Portugal

PROS – Ronaldo. He singlehandedly dismantled Sweden in the qualifying playoff and willed his team to the World Cup Finals in Brazil. If he’s fully healthy, this will be a team to be reckoned with and can give any team in this group trouble. They also have Nani, a Manchested United winger at club level. He can be a terror on the wing when motitvated and playing well. His pace can go unmatched.

CONS – Ronaldo is a bit hampered by left patellar tendinosis, which in lehman’s terms is a knee injury. If he’s not fully fit, Portugal is in big trouble.

PREDICTION – 4th

I think Ronaldo’s injury may crop up again and therefore, Portugal’s chances may be doomed. I don’t like their back four and they don’t score enough goals besides the ones from Ronaldo for me to back them to advance.

 

GROUP H – Belgium, South Korea, Algeria, Russia

Belgium

PROS – The golden generation of Belgian soccer has arrived, featuring players such as Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, Romelu Lukaku and Thibaut Courtois. A darkhorse in many pundits minds, the last time they reached the knockout rounds was 2002, coincidentally the last time they have participated in the World Cup. Not only do they have stars up front but their depth could be enough to see them go a long way in this tournament.

CONS – The last time Belgium made a World Cup, most of their star players were in grade school. Experience is invaluable in these tournaments, and the Belgians don’t have any on this big a stage. Could it prove to be too much to overcome?

PREDICTION – 1st

When facing tougher sides in the knockout rounds, experience could come into play. Not this early as they should progress with ease at the top of the group.

 

Russia

PROS – The Russians have Fabio Capello at the helm, one of Europe’s greatest managers ever. They have well organized, defensive and built to stop good attacking teams. Alan Dzagoev should be ready to repeat his performance on the international stage, scoring three goals in Euro 2012 and ready for more in Brazil. Watch for Aleksander Kerzhakov, who led Russia in scoring during qualifying. Also, the entire squad is based in Russia, which meant less travel and more rest for the 23 man squad as they start their long journey to Brazil.

CONS – The squad is lacking in depth especially at the back end.

PREDICTION – 2nd

They’re organized enough, especially on the back end, to stifle opponents and move on to the knockout stages. Kerzhakov could be a sleeper for the Golden Boot if the Russians make a surprise run.

 

South Korea

PROS – Son Heung-min, playing at club level for Bayer Leverkusen in the German league, is a 21 year old striker that possesses an nose for the goal, especially inside the six yard box. He will be counted on to provide most of if not all of the offense for the South Koreans. Their midfield has a couple of Premier League players as anchors, with Ki who plays with Sunderland and Kim Bo-Kyung with Cardiff City.

CONS – Their back four is arguably the worst in the group and could have some major issues against the Russian forward trio as well as the Belgians.

PREDICTION – 3rd

They’ll be fun to watch, especially up front, but I don’t think they’ll be able to stop teams from scoring.

 

Algeria

PROS – The entire team is under the age of 30 minus the captain, Madjid Bougherra, who anchors the defense. The Algerians have a lot of young, promising talent who are playing at some of the world’s biggest clubs such as Tottenham and Inter Milan, but they may be a better bet for 2018 rather than this year.

CONS – Experience. As I said, other than Bougherra, there are not many players in the squad that were even on the 2010 team that were knocked out in South Africa. They don’t score goals and in this group, they’ll likely have a lot of trouble doing so.

PREDICTION – 4th

Watch them in 2018, but for now, watch them go home early.

 

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