The day is almost here. In roughly 72 hours, the 2014 World Cup will finally begin. It feels like only yesterday Andres Iniesta’s late winner saw Iker Casillas lift the cup for Spain. But here we are, four years later, ready for another 31 days of magic. I will be making match predictions the night before each game, but here are my predictions going in for how the group stage will finish.
(In order of finish)
Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Cameroon, Mexico – Brazil’s quality will shine through in this group. A Mario Mandzukic-less Croatia will struggle against the hosts, but once the Bayern Munich frontman is back, they will have little trouble seeing off the group’s two lesser teams. Mexico will disappoint, while Cameroon might have enough to nick a point off Brazil or Croatia.
Group B: Spain, Chile, Netherlands, Australia – A draw with the Dutch will have the Spanish looking at the prospect of facing Brazil in the round of 16, but they will hit their stride in the last two matches to top the group. Chile will also advance, knocking a young Netherlands side out of the tournament. Australia will be lucky to earn a single point.
Group C: Japan, Greece, Ivory Coast, Colombia – The most wide open group of them all will come down to the last day. Japan’s attacking talent will see them top the group, and Greece will frustrate their opponents with stingy defense, stealing a win or two with a late set piece. Ivory Coast will impress at times, but ultimately will stumble in the crucial moments. And the Colombians will fail to live up to expectations, with a giant Falcao-sized hole up front.
Group D: Uruguay, Italy, England, Costa Rica – A draw between Italy and England will see Uruguay top the group from the start. Luis Suarez will score multiple goals against the English much to the delight of the media, and the English will crash out with a maximum of four points. Italy will dazzle going forward, but Riccardo Montolivo will be missed. Costa Rica might end up deciding this group, as they have the potential to steal points from anyone.
Group E: Switzerland, France, Honduras, Ecuador – France will miss Franck Ribery more than they know, and will fail to take hold of this seemingly easy group. While it is a bit of a joke that they were seeded, Switzerland will impress, and Xherdan Shaqiri will score a sparkler against the French to put them atop the group. Honduras and Ecuador don’t have much quality, and won’t trouble either Switzerland or France.
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Nigeria, Iran – Argentina will score a lot of goals in this group and Lionel Messi will be in a rich vein of form by the time the knockout stages start. Argentina will coast. Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic will lead the Bosnians out of the group in their first ever World Cup. Nigeria might cause Bosnia some problems, but a draw with lowly Iran will prove fatal to their hopes of advancing.
Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA – As much as it pains me to write, I don’t see the USA beating Ghana in the opener. And nor do I see them beating Portugal if Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t had his legs cursed by the witch doctor. They will crash out early, and Americans will be forced to decide if they want to continue watching the World Cup. Despite injury concerns, Germany has too much talent to be troubled in this group. Portugal too will progress with relative ease, provided a fit Cristiano Ronaldo is on the field.
Group H: Belgium, South Korea, Russia, Algeria – Belgium will ease through this group, finishing with all 9 points, with this talented group of players becoming more and more comfortable playing together. South Korea will take second with only 4 points, as the Russians will drop points against Algeria. This group will be the least exciting to watch, with the fewest goals scored. Maybe a red card or two will liven it up.
It’s almost here. I can feel it.