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Early World Cup Thoughts: Groups E-H

(Author’s Note: To check out Groups A through D, Go Here.)

“The Team’s Every Other Team Wanted to Play.”

Group  E
Switzerland
France
Ecuador
Honduras

 

Most Exciting Game to Watch: Ecuador vs Honduras (06/20)

Best Player that You Have Probably Never Heard Of: Forward Xherden Shaqiri, Switzerland.

The 22 year-old Bayern Munich winger has been a key cog for the Swiss attack, scoring two goals during qualifying. He is a very fast winger that often sets up other opportunities for the center forward through crosses and balls into the box. He has only played in 7 leagues matches for Munich, but has scored two goals in limited time.

Early Projected Finish: 1.) Switzerland 2.) Ecuador 3.)France 4.) Honduras

The Swiss are woefully underrated in World Cup Qualifying. Although they are not exactly Germany or Spain, this is a very deadly squad that features the likes of Gokhan Inler and Blerim Dzmaili of Napoli. Stefan Lichsteiner (Juventus) is also one of the top defenders in all of Serie A. The Swiss defense was very difficult for opponents to break during qualifying, allowing only 6 goals in ten matches. As a National Team, the Swiss have not lost a match since May 2012 to Romania.

Anyone who thinks that Ecuador will be run over by France should take a look at the 2-2 draw that Ecuador had against Spain back in October. La Tri took it to Spain for ninety minutes playing an aggressive attack with Anderson (Manchester United) orchestrating the attack from the midfield. Of course Ecuador is still coping with the loss of Midfielder Christian Bentiez, who died last July due to a car crash. France is going to struggle against Ecuador because they always have difficulty against teams that are composed and who rely on the counter-attack. It is this inability to defend which is what put France in the hole 2-0 going into the second leg of their playoff against Ukraine.

As much as I like Honduras, and as happy as I am that they have qualified for their second consecutive World Cup, it just does not seem like they have enough squad depth to match up against the Swiss, the French, and the Ecuadoreans. Midfielder Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic) will be looked upon to create most of their opportunities from the midfield.  What will be interesting to see from them is how their MLS players adapt to step above in competition. Players like Forward Jerry Bengston (New England Revolution,) Defender Victor Bernardez (San Jose Earthquakes,) and Midfielder Marvin Chavez (San Jose Earthquakes) have long been quality players in MLS and may use this tournament as an opportunity to make their moves to Europe.

 

High Upside Group.”

Group F
Argentina
Bosnia-Herzegovina
Iran
Nigeria

 

Most Exciting Game to Watch: Argentina vs Nigeria (06/25)

A rematch of pretty much every major tournament in the past twenty years, Nigeria and Argentina have developed quite a little rivalry on the big stage.

Best Player that You Probably Have Never Heard Of: Lionel Messi, Argentina. Nah just kidding.

Early Projected Finish: 1.) Argentina 2.) Nigeria 3.) Bosnia-Herzegovina 4.) Iran

Argentina is going to qualify. The only question is by how much. After Brazil, the team with the highest expectations has to be Argentina. With a one-in-a lifetime player like Lionel Messi in their squad, there is no excuse for this team to not make a deep run.

As for second place, I really like what Nigeria has done over the past year to completely revamp the team. The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations Champions have looked very strong all year, playing tough dominant defense and running explosive counter-attacks. Full credit goes to Head Coach Stephen Kechi, who inherited an aging roster in 2011 that had bottomed out at the 2010 World Cup and missed the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and has turned it into one of the more interesting sides in the world. Playing a younger roster at the Confederations Cup has given the team squad depth and prepared their less seasoned players for the challenge ahead.

As for Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran, it feels like both teams are about 4 years away from hitting their form. While Iran did look promising during Qualifying, they had too many 1-0 results against the likes of Uzbekistan and Lebanon to make one think they have a chance against Argentina. Coach Carlos Quieroz, who won the 1994 World Cup in Brazil, is certainly an asset in preparing for the World Cup. Iran is a very good defensive team, allowing only two goals during the final round of qualification. But this team cannot score (only eight goals in 8 matches,) and against strong offenses like Nigeria, Bosnia, and Argentina they are going to let in goals.

With Bosnia, what I am more interested in seeing is how this team and this country will build off of this World Cup. With this being their first World Cup as an independent nation, obviously the learning curve will be high. Having players like Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic will help. But this feels more like a long-term project than short-term success in Brazil.

“Group of Death”

Group G
Germany
Ghana
United States
Portugal

Most Exciting Game to Watch: Germany vs Ghana (06/21.)

The Boateng brawl. Although Chris Farley would contend that “Brother’s don’t shake hands. Brothers hug” I am not sure if he had a World Cup match in mind. With no easy games in this group, it will be interesting to see how the two brother’s interact on the pitch. If it is anything like my brother and myself when we would play World Cup in a front yard when we were kids, there might be a few elbows thrown around.

Best Player You Have Probably Never Heard Of: Forward Andre Ayew, Ghana.

Early Projected Finish: 1.) Germany 2.) United States 3.) Ghana 4.) Portugal

I have already kind of covered this group at great lengths so I am going to leave this pretty short: I think that the United States can proceed from this group. All of the games against European teams on the road, playing full squads in Central America, and the general efforts to change the culture of this team and this game in this country has led to this. Whether you like Jürgen Klinsmann and some of his decisions or not, the dynamic of this team has changed. Ever since 1994, this program has lacked a backbone. If they were down, they would wilt. Not anymore. They can handle playing the likes of Portugal and Ghana now. But can and will are two different things. They still need to prove it.

To me the really interesting team is Germany. No one expects that the United States will go through so any result they receive will be a bonus. Same for Ghana, and Portugal to a lesser extent. Not for Germany. Germany must make it out of this group. And for a team that has billed as a “Golden Generation” of sorts that can be a difficult term to live up to. They certainly had their difficulties in the 2012 European Championships where they struggled against Greece and lost to Italy in the semi-finals. While some would see that as a success, for Germany the only thing that matters is winning. Losing Sami Khedira certainly does not help the situation. Germany should have enough to get through, but this is going to be a much tougher assignment than many believe.

Of course, perhaps no one person or team has more to live up to during the World Cup than Cristiano Ronaldo. While football fans are split between Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as to who the best player in the world is, it is fair to say that both players have not lived up to their potential on the international stage. Whether all of the blame for their team’s failures can be chalked up to them is debatable. This is a team sport. But for any football fan, one of the major moments in Ronaldo’s career right now is sitting on the sidelines during penalty kicks of the European Championship semi-finals. That moment is a scar on Ronaldo’s professional career. Leading this team out of a Group of Death would be a start to resurrecting his international career. 2014 may decide who really the best player in the world is.

“The Group of Life”

Group H
Algeria
Belgium
Russia
South Korea

 

Most Exciting Game: Russia vs. South Korea (06/17.)

These two sides actually just met last month ago in a very entertaining match that saw Russia win 2-1. The South Koreans got the early lead when Kim Shin-Wook (Ulsan Hyundai) scored the opening goal in the 6th minute off of a solid shot to the right corner. But the Russians used their size advantage to press the South Korean defense back and eventually win the match. Forward Fyodor Smolnov, the 24 year old who plays for Dynamo Moscow, scored the opening goal for the Russians while Dmitri Tarasov (Dynamo Moscow) added the second.

These two teams seem to be heading in different directions entering the World Cup. While the Russians seem to rounding into form under Head Coach Fabio Capello, ending years of promises going unfulfilled, South Korea seems to be entering a rebuilding phase. Gone are the days of Ji-Seung Park and Long Byung Pyo commanding the midfield and South Korea being seriously considered one of the top teams in the world. Their new coach, Hong Myung Byo, is a legend in South Korea having led the team to four World Cups and semi-final appearance in 2002. He also has experience coaching in the Russian Premier League as an assistant for Anzhi Makhachkala. He has inherited a squad who only have five players over the age of 35.

Best Player That You Have Probably Never Heard Of:  Midfielder Sofiane Feghouli, Algeria

Projected Finish: 1.) Belgium 2.) Russia 3.) South Korea 4.) Algeria

Perhaps the Belgians are a bit overhyped, but they were given the best possible draw in the tournament for a team in their position. Against three flawed teams the Belgians should be able to overcome each of their opponents rather easily. The one team that actually concerns me for Belgium is Algeria. The Desert foxes are a very stubborn team. They are a very good defensive team that does not take too many chances on offense and would be happy to settle for a draw against a team that they have probably no chance of beating straight up. In the 2010 World Cup, they frustrated much stronger teams like England and the United States because they gave them very little room to maneuver in the midfield. Against a young Belgian side, they may be able to walk out with a point or sneak a goal in by being patient and playing good defense.

That being said, this group will come down to the match between South Korea and Russia. With South Korea going through a bit of a rebuilding phase, and with Russia playing so well under Capello, the edge has to go to Russia.

 

 

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