NOTE: This originally ran in December when the draw came out, but I figured it was probably a good time to run it again. You will notice that Doogan and I both went with the same surprise champion – Germany – and the exact same Final Four. We did not collaborate, we must just have the same limited knowledge…haha.)
Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s a World Cup year – which can only mean one thing. A whole lot of soccer commentary from guys who knows next to nothing about the sport. But, you soccer elitists should take it as a compliment and not just blow it off. The compliment is that I LOVE YOUR SPORT. I just don’t have the time or energy to dive into for more than 3 weeks every other year (World Cup and EuroCup). But, when I get in, I really get in. As evidenced by this manic compulsion to post my opinions on “The Draw” (which are educated by very little other than word of mouth and the World FIFA rankings). I hope that my analysis, while completely devoid of the intricacies of the sport or the backstory of its players, actually is relevant due the fact that I am fluent in the language of “sport.” Hey, at least it’s a “fresh” take because, well, I don’t really follow it…haha.
Either way, here are my takeaways on each group that was decided today – in order of hardest to easiest – and then my picks for the knockout stage.
The group that will undeniably be brandished with the ever-popular “Group of Death” label. Not only does this group have the World’s #2 team in ‘Ze Germans, but its lowest-ranked team, Ghana, is the second-best African team in the world and possesses a wealth of international experience at the highest level. Portugal, at #5 in the world, would be favored to WIN half of the groups. And, then there are the pesky Americans (another reason to love soccer – USA actually gets to play the role of underdog in something – it’s kind of refreshing). Clearly, Germany and Portugal would be slated to come out of any group they were placed in, but this one won’t be easy. Whoever does win this group, though, has a nice path in the knockout round…which they will have certainly earned.
While the #2 team was hit with the hardest group, the #1 team (and defending WC and Euro champions) was hit – in my opinion – with the second-hardest group. Not only is #1 Spain joined in Group B by the team they defeated in the 2010 World Cup Final, but also by a very good Chile team, with my favorite international player (which isn’t saying much because I can probably only name a dozen or so), Alexis Sanchez. The good news for the top 3 in this group are that they get to play the lowest-ranked team in the entire field, Australia. But, the Aussies can jump up and bite you if you’re not careful and one ill-fated draw to the boys from Down Under could be the difference between moving on and being eliminated from this group. Obviously, I will go with #1 Spain to come out of this group and, as much as I love the Dutch, I am going to pick an upset and take Chile to be the second team from this brutal Group B.
Costa Rica (31)
There can easily be an argument made that this group will be tougher to come out of than Group B, but I ranked B higher because they have the two finalists from last World Cup. But, there is no doubt that this is a really tough group, especially if you factor in the potential advantages that two of these teams have of playing on or very near their native continents (Uruguay and Costa Rica). I think Uruguay on their home continent should be able to navigate this group, and I am also going with my descendants in Italy to join them, meaning those crazy Brits will have to suffer through a group-stage elimination.
Cote D’Ivoire (17)
If you asked a random sports fan that doesn’t follow international soccer all that closely to name the best South American soccer team right now, they might go through a half-dozen countries before guessing Colombia (if they guessed them at all). Do you know how I know this? Beacuse I am a random sports fan who doesn’t follow international soccer all that closely, and I would have never come up with Colombia as the best South American team right now. Granted, the right answer might actually Argentina or Chile, but there are plenty of people “in the know” that would tell you that Colombia might be the best side. They are joined in a relatively tough group by the ever-dangerous (and boring) Greece and the ever-dangerous (and exciting) Cote D’Ivoire. Japan is probably an also-ran here, but can never be taken lightly. I think Colombia should come through here and win the group, but to follow them, I am going out on a limb and taking the best African team in the world, Cote D’Ivoire to qualify for the knockout stage and send the Greeks packing.
The Mexicans barely qualified and now they get sent to the group with the host country. However, the Brazilians don’t exactly have their best team here in the year the Cup finally gets to their place. However, they did dodge the landmines of Portugal, Italy, and the Netherlands, so they should be okay. Croatia and Mexico are solid and Cameroon is usually feisty (though undisciplined), but I can’t see the hosts losing a match in the group stage, so I am picking Brazil to win this group, followed (relatively easily, I think) by Croatia.
Memories of the 2010 World Cup debacle that ended for France with a crushing 2-1 defeat to South Africa will try to be erased here in a manageable Group E. The Swiss are solid, but not unbeatable and then there are a couple of Central and South American teams in Ecuador and Honduras. This group is completely up in the air, so I am going to go out on a limb here. Having beaten Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay in qualifying, I think the Ecuadorians are ready and confident right now and poised to have a really nice showing here. I am going to pick Ecuador not only to advance out of, but to win Group E. And, then I am going to say that France somehow gets is done and moves on through, thus ending what figures to be a very disappointing 2014 World Cup for the Swiss.
Bosnia & Herzegovina (21)
Could the draw have been any nicer to Messi & Co.? Wow! Now, admittedly, I have never seen Bosnia & Herzegovina in any match ever, but even if they are incredibe, the Argentines still get to play an undisciplined Nigerian side and a not-very-good Iranian team. Argentina will cruise into the knockout round to face the #2 team from Group E followed by a quarterfinal match potentially with the winner from the weakest group, Group H. The Argentines are probably, as it stands now, the safest pick of anyone in the field to be playing in a World Cup semifinal match this summer. Anyway, the second pick from this group is tough, but I think I am going to throw a bone to my African friends and go with Nigeria simply because of the hemisphere factor.
South Korea (54)
The Belgians seem to have their best squad in a good while, as they were placed in the Pot A and, consequently, got themselves a pretty cushy draw here. Imagine the difference between what Portugal or Italy are facing and what Belgium has here. Wow! Anyway, the Belgians are joined here by a couple of decent teams in Russia and Algeria and an also-ran in South Korea. Belgium should win this group handily, but that second spot is going to be hard-fought. I am going to take Algeria to advance just because they are playing really well as of late, while the Russians have faltered.
Round of 16
Brazil over Chile
A tough Round of 16 game for the hosts, but they should move on.
Colombia over Italy
Maybe I put too much emphasis into the home continent thing, but I really do think it means a LOT and should propel a dangerous Colombia team into the quarters.
Ecuador over Nigeria
My upset Group E winner, Ecuador, gets a cushy Round of 16 match against the weakest knockout qualifier here and moves on to the quarters.
Germany over Algeria
The World’s #2 should cruise past a game Algerian squad.
Spain over Croatia
The World’s #1 has a bit of a tougher opponent here, but should take care of business.
Uruguay over Cote D’Ivoire
The better squad very close to home should end a nice run for the Ivoirians.
Argentina over France
France should be thankful they got this far after the turmoil that national team has been through, but it ends here – in decisive fashion.
Portugal over Belgium
My only quarterfinalist that I didn’t pick to win their group is Portugal, as I think they take care of a pretty solid Belgian team, setting up a great quarter against Argentina.
Brazil over Colombia
This could get REALLY heated, even by soccer standards, but the homefield advantage should be enough for the Brazilians to get an emotional win here and head to the semis.
Germany over Ecuador
After a brutal group stage, my scenario has the knockout stage setting up pretty nicely for ‘Ze Germans, as they probably will head to the semis after two relatively painless matches.
Spain over Uruguay
In what might be the best match of the knockout stage yet, the Spaniards can expect to get everything they bargain for against Uruguay here. But, I like the World’s #1 to pull through.
Argentina over Portugal
In yet another gem of a match, the Argentines should be able to escape and send the Portugese home with yet another titleless World Cup campaign.
Germany over Brazil
The home team’s dreams are defeated here, as the Germans have the requisite discipline, experience, and most importantly, the talent to knock off our hosts here and give themselves a shot at a World Cup title.
Argentina over Spain
While Brazil failed to make it an all-South American championship, the Argentines came through to get one of the continent’s squads into the title match. This might have been the hardest pick of the whole thing, but I think the greatest run in international soccer history ends here, as the Spaniards fall short of holding back-to-back World Cup titles along with their Euro title.
Germany over Argentina
All tournament long, I have been giving deference to the South American teams because I truly believe in a home continent advantage. But, I just don’t think it’s enough to knock of Germany, who I have beating Ecuador, Brazil, and now Argentina en route to a 4th World Cup championship, which is one behind Brazil (and tied with Italy) for the most ever.