Football’s biggest tournament gets under way this Thursday in Sao Paulo, with hosts Brazil taking on Croatia. There will only be one winner in Rio on Sunday 13 July.
My Guide to the Groups:
Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
My prediction: Brazil and Croatia to qualify
The hosts and favourites, Brazil are well known for their flicks and tricks and talented squad. The team is well organised and resilient, plus they have a top coach in World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari. With the home crowd behind them it would be no surprise if they were crowned winners. Players to watch: Neymar, David Luiz, Thiago Silva. Croatia are far from the hot team they were in the 1990’s but they do have Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Sevilla’s Europa Cup winning captain Ivan Rakitic in midfield. They will score goals with Bayern Munich forward Mario Mandzukic who scored an unrivalled 18 goals from open play in the Bundesliga this season. Mexico have just had their worst ever qualifying campaign and look far from the force they were at the Olympics in 2012. Cameroon were once the pride of African football, but now have been troubled with on-going player friction and politics. Cameroon’s football federation was briefly banned in 2013 by FIFA due to government interference. They have failed to qualify for the last two African Nations Cups. Players to watch: Samuel Eto’o and Nicolas NKoulou.
Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Australia, Chile
My prediction: Spain and Netherlands to qualify
I would be shocked if Spain did not win this group. Their squad is awesome, too many key players to name! Spain are the holders and I would not be surprised to see them in this year’s final. The match between Spain and the Netherlands will be the one to watch, a mouth-watering fixture and a repeat of the World Cup Final 2010. Netherlands are a great team and have key players in Bayern Munich’s midfield maestro Arjen Robben, and Manchester United’s striker Robin Van Persie. Chile will play some beautiful possession football with Diego Costa the one to watch. Australia, I love you as a country but I cannot see you qualifying.
Group C: Columbia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
My prediction: Columbia and Ivory Coast to qualify
This is a tough group to predict. Columbia has goal scoring talent in Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina), Jackson Martinez (Porto) and Carlos Bacca (Sevilla). The Ivory Coast has Manchester City powerhouse Yaya Toure and Lille’s Salomon Kalou. Greece were surprise winners at the Euros in 2004, but I cannot see them progressing. Japan are the Asian champions, however, they lack strike power but may sneak through if the other teams under perform.
Group D: Uruguay, England, Italy, Costa Rica
My prediction: Uruguay and England to qualify (I am a Londoner, come on England!)
This is my favourite group as I will be supporting England as always. Many of my English friends are supporting Brazil as they are deeply scarred from previous tournaments. We must believe! Italy are always dangerous but they are an ageing side and not the force they once were (I hope!). Costa Rica are the underdogs and I am sure they will pick up a few points but nothing substantial. Uruguay are a huge threat, they have my favourite Liverpool striker, Luiz Suarez and his dangerous teammates; Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani.
Group E: Switzerland, France, Honduras, Ecuador
My prediction: Switzerland and France to qualify
France seem to have been drawn an easier group compared to their European rivals. I think that they will win the group and the ones to watch are; Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud and midfielder Paul Pogba of Juventus. Switzerland are tidy passers of the ball and if Bayern Munich’s Xherdan Shaqiri gets creative in midfield and Josip Drmic nets them in they will qualify. Honduras and Ecuador do not look powerful enough to make their marks in this group.
Group F: Argentina, Iran, Bosnia, Nigeria
My prediction: Argentina and Nigeria to qualify
Argentina are one of the favourites and everyone is looking forward to seeing what Barcelona’s Lionel Messi can do this tournament. Their strike force is phenomenal; joining the magician Messi will be Manchester City favourite Sergio Aguero and Napoli’s Gonazalo Higuain. The South American’s have a very strong side with Angelo Di Maria and Javier Mascherano in Midfield. They will be a joy to watch. Bosnia are making their World Cup debut and have the exciting Edin Dzeko of Manchester City. Iran are the highest ranked Asian team, but they are certainly the outsiders. I am looking forward to seeing what Nigeria can do this tournament. I will be watching their English based players; Victor Moses, John Obi Mikel and Shola Ameobi.
Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA
My prediction: Germany and Portugal to qualify
This is a fantastic group. The Germans are always well organised and strong. Portugal has one of the best players in the world in Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Ghana reached the quarter finals in the last World Cup and are unpredictable. They have AC Milan’s Michael Essien and were the top scorers in African qualifying. German, Jurgen Klinsmann will be leading the USA, I do not think they have enough consistency or a good enough defence to make it through.
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea
My prediction: Belgium and South Korea to qualify
I am really looking forward to watching Belgium. They have strong team with four key players; Manchester City’s outstanding defender Vincent Kompany who in my eyes was the best defender in the English Premier League this season; Athletico Madrid’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard and Everton striker Romelu Lukaku. Russia have Italian firecracker Fabio Capello leading them this year and like Algeria, I do not see them qualifying. South Korea finished fourth in World Cup 2002 as hosts and since then have been getting stronger. They have 21 year old Son Heung Min and Kim Young-Gwon as their ones to watch.
Enjoy! Samba time!