For a football fan, there’s little that compares to the excitement of the World Cup. Even if your country isn’t involved, it’s a chance to see the best players and best teams in the world fight it out for the ultimate prize. It’s something that we look forward to for years in advance. And the next one is just six months away. I can’t wait!
Today, the draw was made for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It promises to be a fantastic tournament, with more teams capable of reaching the latter stages of the competition than I can remember for years. There are many little stories that could play out, depending on results. Can Brazil exorcise the demons of their 1950 defeat on home soil by winning their 6th title? Can Spain become the best team in history by winning their fourth major tournament in a row? Can the British media finally admit that England don’t have a chance of winning? The last one may be a bit of a stretch, but there’s a lot of history to be made in this World Cup.
Here’s the full draw for the group stage (with each group ordered in the way I think it’ll finish):
Group A Group B
Group C Group D
Ivory Coast England
Greece Costa Rica
Group E Group F
Group G Group H
Portugal South Korea
I’ve already made a few predictions there, but I’d like to go a little further and predict a few more of the headlines of Brazil 2014:
Goal-line technology to call a big decision
Perhaps not the most interesting of my predictions, but I do think that we will see goal-line technology being used for one of the first times in a major football competition.
It’s widely considered that Frank Lampard’s “goal” that wasn’t given against Germany in the 2010 World Cup was a catalyst for the introduction of goal-line technology. I think it would be fitting if it was used to decide whether a goal has been scored or not in this World Cup, to show FIFA why their hesitation over the subject has been detrimental to the game and how football is now fairer – and I think that it will, given the number of goals that are scored at the tournament and the worldwide profile of every game.
Four South American quarter-finalists
It’s the first time since 1978, when Argentina hosted, that South America has held the World Cup on home soil. Between Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, South Americans have captured 9 of the 19 trophies in the past – and the current crop of sides from the continent are performing very well in games against European sides and in the FIFA World Rankings. With a combination of these two factors, I believe that they will go on to have a great World Cup – with four of the quarter-finalists hailing from South America and at least one of them reaching the semi-finals.
On the face of it, it may not be too bold a prediction. Four teams from South America (Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay) made the quarter-finals in the 2010 World Cup. But given the strength in numbers of European teams (13), and the group Chile has been drawn into with the two previous finalists, four out of six South American sides being in the quarter-finals will be quite an achievement and give the more ‘local’ countries something to cheer about.
England to reach quarter-finals
There’s always a fascination in the UK with how England will perform in the World Cup, owing to the fact they are by far the most successful of the Home Nations when it comes to tournament performance.
Thankfully, over the last few tournaments, the media has been less relentless in their constant assertions that England can win the competition – stemming from a combination of the end of the ‘Golden Age’ for the late 90s crop of players, and a decline in the number of top English players being featured in their own league.
Roy Hodgson has received a mixed response as England manager so far. He took over shortly before Euro 2012 and steered them into a quarter-final defeat on penalties to eventual runners-up Italy. By no means a disappointment, considering England haven’t progressed any further than the quarter-finals of any competition since Euro 96 on their own turf. However, a less than convincing qualification campaign, where their place in Brazil came down to the last few games, and two home defeats to Chile and Germany, two teams destined for some success next year, and optimism isn’t abound for England’s chances next year.
However, I think that they can progress through their group and grab a quarter-final place. Italy are hit-and-miss when it comes to tournaments, and with a few players that are looking for a last chance at success, I think they can manage the second qualifying spot in their group and beat the winner of Group C, likely to be Colombia.
An exciting tournament with an exciting final
There is a general consensus that the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was hardly the most enjoyable World Cup to watch. Low scoring games, with few teams playing inspiring, exciting football, meant that it will not be remembered in the way that Germany 2006 was. The final was a prime culprit, with Spain finally breaking down an 11-man Dutch defence in extra time – with the game marred by poor tackling resulting in the highest number of yellow cards in a World Cup final in history.
Whether the Latin American passion has anything to do with it or not, I think the World Cup in Brazil will be a festival of football that will be well remembered. There are many exciting group games early on in the tournament to look forward to: Spain v Netherlands, Germany v Portugal, England v Italy and then, in the knockout stages, many great potential matchups. Even outside the genuine contenders for the competition, teams such as Belgium, Chile, Bosnia and Portugal all have the potential to provide great games against other similar opposition.
The idea of who could play in the final excites me the most. Brazil v Spain would be the obvious highlight, but games such as Brazil v Argentina (which would be a World Cup final for the ages with the level of rivalry between the two), Spain v Argentina and even Spain v Germany (a Euro 2012 final rematch) would be fascinating. All of these teams play good football, and unlike Holland in 2010, would be likely to continue playing in their own style when up against a similar pedigree of opponent.
Spain to win
Most people, myself included, when pressed to predict the winner of next year’s World Cup will plump for a standard “Spain or Brazil” answer. Spain have been the predominant footballing force for almost seven years now, but their prowess is now being challenged by the resurgent Brazil and there hasn’t been a defending World Cup winner since 1962. This year’s Confederations Cup showed Brazil are a serious threat, especially on home turf, as they brushed Spain aside with consummate ease. Writing off either team would be foolish.
I think, though, that Spain will be the victor for several reasons. The Confederations Cup is not an environment of nearly as high pressure as the World Cup. The Spanish team were not quite fully on song, and the Brazilians could play without fear of reprisal if they didn’t go all the way. This won’t be the case this summer. Spain will be going all out to defend their trophy. Players such as Xavi, Puyol and perhaps even Iniesta, might be playing in their last World Cup – and will want to cement their own place, as well as the team’s place, in the greats of the game’s history. A tough group to start off with, for sure – but one that will mean they will be ready to play big teams in the knockout stages. Brazil will be a strong contender – but with an unprecedented weight of expectation on a relatively young and inexperienced side, I don’t think they will have the fortitude to beat teams like Germany, Argentina and Spain, that have been there and done it in the last three tournaments.
You could consider other potential winners, such as Argentina, Germany and even many people’s dark horse Belgium, but I think that each of these teams lack the complete package on and off the field that both Spain and Brazil have going into the World Cup. The beauty of the competition, though, is that I could very well be wrong.
Today’s World Cup draw is both a blessing and a curse. It’s certainly whet my appetite for the greatest football show on Earth, but it’s served as a reminder that there is still another 188 days to endure before the quadrennial month of football finally begins. Brazil will host Croatia in the opening match on June 12th.