With the 2014 World Cup just around the corner, excitement is building not only in the countries participating in next year’s tournament, but also in the countries that failed in their bid to make it to Brazil next summer. The groups were drawn last week, and some will undoubtedly be satisfied with their opponents, whilst others will be cursing their luck after being on the wrong end of a poor draw – with Roy Hodgson’s England being part of the latter.
Hosts Brazil were drawn into group A, with Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon. Whilst Scolari’s side will expect easy qualification from this group, the other three sides – all of whom have some top players – will be fighting out for the second spot. It is quite hard to decide who will be the other side heading into the last 16. If I had to choose, I would go for Mexico, with Manchester United’s Javier Hernández leading the line and Miguel Herrera in charge of the team.
Title-holders Spain were drawn with Holland, Chile, and Australia into group B. Vicente Del Bosque’s team will also think they should progress to the second round, although 2010’s runners-up Holland could cause them some trouble on their way to progression. Chile, with players like Juventus’ Arturo Vidal. could challenge Holland for the second qualification spot, as they are being praised highly by some fans and pundits. Meanwhile, Australia should be the whipping-boys of the group, as one of the underdogs of the group.
Group C is undoubtedly the group that any of the big nations would have wanted to get into. Colombia – regarded as one of the possible dark horses of the tournament and currently ranked fourth in the world – are the favorites for the group, whilst Greece, Ivory Coast, and Japan will be fighting it out to gain the other qualification spot. With the Touré brothers and Didier Drogba in their ranks, it looks like Ivory Coast have enough ability and experience to progress at the expense of the other nations.
Group D – the group England were picked into – is regarded as one of the toughest groups in the tournament. The Italians, the Uruguayans, and the Costa Ricans will all be lining up against the 1966 world champions in Brazil, and some even believe that whatever hopes Roy Hodgson may have had for next year’s competition are already out of the question. Indeed, Luis Suárez could punish the Three Lions when Uruguay meet England in their second game.
Group E contains the country who surprised everyone in qualification, Switzerland, managed by former Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich manager Ottmar Hitzfeld, along with 1998 world champions France. South Americans Honduras and Ecuador are considered two of the underdogs of the tournament as a whole, and I can’t really see them causing too much trouble for the other two teams, but if one does, it will be Antonio Valencia’s Ecuador side.
Argentina are expected to become one of the sides challenging for the title once again after an era of not challenging, despite having players like Lionel Messi in their ranks. Alejandro Sabella will be keen to prove his team’s credentials in his opening fixtures, against Bosnia & Herzegovina, Iran, and Nigeria. Bosnia are new to the finals, having qualified for the first time last month, whilst Nigeria and Iran have little experience in the competition. However, both the Bosnians and the Nigerians could cause Argentina some trouble in their quest to qualify.
Germany are a side very much expected to go far in the 2014 tournament, as they are getting better all the time under Joachim Löw. However, they must overcome Portugal and Ghana along with the USA, who could be regarded as somewhat of a bogey side, if they want to progress from group G. I think it’s a given that Germany will go through, but whoever comes second could be an interesting situation. Whilst Portugal will be expected to progress, Ghana could give them some trouble, and the Americans could be a surprise package, with Jürgen Klinsmann in charge.
The side that most hipsters are now starting to support, Belgium, have been dealt a good hand in their group H. With some of the world’s finest young and old players, they should be able to see off Algeria and South Korea in their bid to progress to the later stages. Hosts of the 2018 edition, Russia, could provide a shock, and I do think they will be the other side to go through the group. Belgium are being backed by many to get into the very late stages of the competition, and whilst they may not fully live up to these lofty expectations, they won’t be far off.
With the groups now drawn, fans in pubs and pundits in press boxes can now pore over the lists in detail and examine all the different permutations and possibilities. With the tournament now just over six months away, preparations begin in earnest for the 32 participating nations from around the world.