JQK’s World Cup 2014 Preview! Group A Brazil Croatia Mexico Cameroon It shouldn’t be difficult for the hosts to win the group. IMO the battle for #2 will be interesting. Mexico has appeared to pull itself mostly out of the hell it was in during qualifying, but I hate them, so I’m going with Croatia, who has a talented midfield with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, and youngster Mateo Kovacic behind strikier Mario Mandzukic. Players to watch: Brazil: Neymar. Thiago Silva. Oscar. Bernard. Croatia: Rakitic. Mandzukic. Modric. Mexico: Javier Hernandez. Rafa Marquez (he might stab somebody). Cameroon: Samuel Eto’o. Alex Song. Group B Spain Chile Netherlands Australia Spain is unquestionably favored in a group that could be considered a Vice Group of Death. Maybe slightly less the invincible machine they’ve been since 2010, but still arguably the most talented side in the world. Chile is that team nobody wants to play. They have a world class attacker in Alexis Sanchez. Arturo Vidal isn’t the best midfielder in the world at any one thing, but might be the best do-everything one in the world. The Netherlands have their usual bevy of attacking talent, but are very young/inexperienced in defense and are missing Kevin Strootman from the midfield, who could really protect that young/inexperienced defense. The Socceroos (Australia, for you illiterates) are on their knees beseeching the football gods for forgiveness of whatever sins they must have committed. Players to watch Spain: Xavi. Iniesta. Diego Costa. Sergio Ramos. Chile: Sanchez. Vidal. Netherlands: Arjen Robben. Robin van Persie. Wesley Schneijder Australia: Tim Cahill. Some other guy. Group C Ivory Coast Japan Columbia Greece If Group G is the Group of Death, then Group C is the Group of Who the Heck Knows. Ivory Coast is an athletic powerhouse led by Yaya Toure. Japan is a very technical side led by Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa, and they play above the sum of their parts. Columbia is unfortunately without superstar striker Radamel Falcao, but they’ve got some other good players. Greece is one of those teams that can be really difficult to play against, typically organized and defensive, but will struggle to find goals. Players to watch: Ivory Coast: Yaya Toure, Wilfried Bony, Didier Drogba Japan: Honda, Kagawa Columbia: Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, Fredy Guarin, Victor Ibarbo Greece: Giorgos Samaras, Sokratis Papastathopoulous (Not really, I just wanted to type the name) Group D Italy England Uruguay Costa Rica Another group that could probably put in a claim towards Vice Group of Death. Italy is the subject of much ignorance. Frequently you will hear references to Italians and Defending, but that’s probably the weakest part of this version. They’re excellent in the midfield and up front (even if these dudes are a few feathers short of a load sometimes (looking at YOU, Mario. And YOU, Antonio)) this go-round. England is very talented but always seem to play below their ability. I think they’ll get out of the group this time. Uruguay has world class attackers in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, but drop in quality as you move towards the back. Costa Rica might be good enough to steal a point and screw somebody else over, but that’s about it. Players to watch: Italy: Mario Balotelli. Antonio Cassano. Gigi Buffon. Andrea Pirlo. England: Wayne Rooney. Raheem Sterling. Danny Welbeck. And Rickie Lambert, just because. Uruguay: Edinson Cavani. Luis Suarez. Costa Rica: Joel Campbell Group E France Switzerland Ecuador Honduras France is undoubtedly one of the most talented teams in the field, and also one of the most schizophrenic. Could flame out in the group, or win the whole doggone thing. Hard to see them not advancing out of this bunch. How much do they miss Ribery? Bears watching. Switzerland probably does enough to finish second. Ecuador will be playing with some emotion and pride for their late striker, Christian Benitez, who passed away in July. Honduras is usually one of those sneaky CONCACAF sides that look like a pushover on paper, but can bite you if you let them. Still, they’re group E’s caboose. Players to watch France: Karim Benzema. Paul Pogba. Raphael Varane. Antoine Griezmann (could fill Ribery’s role) Switzerland: Xherdan Shaqiri. Granit Xhaka. Gorkhan Inler. Ecuador: Antonio Valencia Honduras: Andy Najar Group F Argentina Bosnia and Herzegovina Nigeria Iran Argentina is the clear winner in this group, probably boasting the most dynamic attack in the tournament (and they left Carlos Tevez at home!). Beyond attack, though, they just seem awfully mediocre IMO. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a cool story considering how many different backgrounds their players come from and where their country has come from. Nigeria looked like skid marks against USA a few days ago but they’re athletic and talented enough to ruin somebody’s day, possibly enough to overcome B-H to go to the knockout round. Iran, thanks for playing, please enjoy our parting gift of Paul Mitchell hair products and local produce. Players to watch Argentina: Lionel Messi. Angel di Maria. Gonzalo Higuain. Sergio Aguero. Bosnia and Herzegovina: Edin Dzeko. Miralem Pjanic. Nigeria: John Obi Mikel. Victor Moses. Victor Enyeama. Iran: Bakhtiar Rahmani (confession: I stole this from Ives Galarcep, because I have no idea otherwise) Group G Germany Portugal Ghana USA Ah, the Group of Death. Any of these 4 sides could be knockout round sides if group arrangements had been different. Germany is the clear favorite. Portugal has CR7, and quite a few other good players too, though I don’t think they’re as good as the 2002 team on paper. Drubbing Ireland the other day makes them look better. Ghana is athletic and talented, highlighted by their “ball of knives” midfield. They’re just nasty. As for USA, it was huge for Jozy Altidore to find some goals in the final tuneup. (Actually, he and Asamoah Gyan of Ghana can both say they’re glad to get the Sunderland out of their system.) USA/Ghana right off the bat is a huge match for both sides if they want to advance. Players to watch: Germany: Bastian Schweinsteiger. Mesut Ozil. Thomas Muller. Philip Lahm. Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo. Joao Moutinho. Fabio Coentrao. Pepe. Ghana: Kwadwo Asamoah. Kevin-Prince Boateng. Andre and Jordan Ayew. USA: Jozy Altidore. Fabian Johnson. Michael Bradley. Tim Howard. Group H Belgium Russia South Korea Algeria Belgium has tons of talent, maybe as much as anybody in the field. It’s the first crack at a World Cup for a lot of them, so how will they handle it? Should be able to win this group in any case. Russia is probably 2nd on talent in this group, and will be looking to do better than they did in Euro 2012 when they were really unlucky. South Korea has certainly made it through group stages before, but probably not this time. Algeria is talented enough to screw somebody else over. Players to watch: Belgium: Eden Hazard. Thibault Courtois. Vincent Kompany. Romelu Lukaku. Russia: Alan Dzagoev. Yuri Zhirkov. Aleksandr Kerzhakov. Igor Akinfeev. South Korea: Park Chu-young. Son Heung-min. Algeria: Saphir Taider. Djamel Mesbah (not really, he’s just a comic hero to us Milanisti due to his time there) Knockout Rounds Round of 16 Brazil over Chile Ivory Coast over England France over Bosnia-Herzegovina Germany over Russia Spain over Croatia Italy over Japan Argentina over Switzerland Belgium over Portugal Quarterfinal: Brazil over Ivory Coast Germany over France Spain over Italy Argentina over Belgium Semifinal Brazil over Germany Spain over Argentina Final Brazil over Spain 3rd place Germany over Argentina Golden Ball: Thiago Silva Golden Boot: Diego Costa Do I really think it’s going to go this way? Not really. Belgium and France could wreck my bracket by overperforming (or underperforming). Italy and Brazil could wreck it by underperforming. And there’s sure to be a group that goes like nobody expected. So just watch the matches and don’t hold me to this.