World Cup Group A Preview

World Cup Group A, the only group to feature World Cup hosts Brazil, is a veritable cultural hotpot. A team of Europeans, a team of Africans and a couple of Latin American teams populated by European and African voluntary and involuntary migrants. This is what modern sport is all about.

Success in Group A will likely boil down to which two teams finish in first and second place in the group, thereby giving themselves the best chances of advancing to the next round. A painstaking trawl through Wikipedia (and various sites linked to from Wikipedia) produces this informed view on the respective strengths, weaknesses and chances of each team. It is absurd to make predictions on starting lineups and match results at this distance from the tournament, but this very absurdity makes a handy excuse to gloss over the wild assumptions and glaring inaccuracies that will riddle this piece.

Brazil

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Brazil are favourites to win the group, not altogether surprising given the relative population sizes of countries in this group. One need only look at the number of Formula 1 drivers produced by Brazil and Cameroon respectively to understand the chasm in sporting success enjoyed by those two nations. This superiority is likely to translate to the soccer arenas where Brazil will be boosted by a passionate home support and a once in a lifetime opportunity to ignore the poverty that engulfs much of the nation.

Moving swiftly past the fact that I’m not sure whether Julio César is still the first choice goalkeeper, the obvious place to start an assessment of Brazil’s riches is taking a look at their defence. They have always had a reputation for defensive fragility (despite the rather stale conservative play adopted by Brazil teams featuring Dunga and managed by Dunga) but on the face of it a back four of Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Marcelo is abundantly talented. The full backs are arguably more impressive going forward than defensively, but Thiago Silva is a fine defender and that is a far more balanced back four than the one that Roque Junior bluffed his way into for example. Danté and Maicon provide some capable cover and even the likes of Maxwell, Marquinhos and Rafinha have experience of playing at the top level in European club football in recent seasons.
Moving forward to midfield and the array of riches at Scolari’s disposal isn’t as appealing as you might expect. A midfield constructed entirely from Premier League players isn’t inconceivable. Ramires, Oscar, Paulinho, Willian, Lucas and Fernandinho are all very decent players (with the exception of Paulinho1) but the allure of an exotic sounding player, hyped yet unfamiliar to us, is sadly missing from this generation of players. This is in part due to the presence of so many EPL players, but Luiz Gustavo and Hernanes don’t set the pulse racing either. Hopefully there will be room to accommodate the exciting talent of Lucas Moura who at least has the appeal of youth and impressive dribbling skills to remind us of times when you might only see a world class talent like Bebeto every 4 years and the World Cup was more appetising for it.

[SIZE=2]1. And maybe Willian, I can’t recall if I rate him or not[/SIZE]

The slightly underwhelming talent show continues up front where Neymar is the most obvious attraction. Watching the occasional Champions League analysis on RTÉ you’d be forgiven for thinking Neymar was struggling with a Stewart Downing type season after his big money move to Barcelona, but he is on course for 20 goals in his first season, and his sideshow out wide has certainly helped free up space centrally for Messi. That won’t be as useful for Brazil who have to settle for the marginally less impressive Fred as their centre forward. The domestic based striker is every bit as mundane a talent as his name suggests. There is every chance of course that Fred will be nowhere near the Brazil team come tournament time and the likes of Hulk, Pato and Leandro Damaio are seemingly vastly superior talents to replace him. And if once-hyped, repetitive-failures are more your style then Jo and Robinho are about as good as it gets.

The adulation for Brazil and their gorgeous attacking football has seemed a little forced in the last decade or more. They have struggled to thrill since the 1998 World Cup, though they are consistently effective, if not always enthralling, when it comes to major tournaments. This isn’t an extremely tough group and anything other than a comfortable progression for the hosts would be a major surprise.
Prediction: 1st place
Croatia
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An awful lot can change in football in two years but hopefully not in Croatia’s case. The entire premise of this prediction will be based around the fact that nothing has really changed since Croatia beat Ireland in Poznan two years ago.

Slaven Bilic was of course replaced by Igor Stimac after Euro 2012 but to save on a pile of research, we can just assume that the formation and personnel are largely unchanged. Stimac resigned2 after Croatia ended their qualifying campaign with defeats to Belgium and Scotland (twice) to be replaced by a third member of the same national team – Niko Kovac. Kovac, anxious not to repeat the inexperienced naïve errors of his predecessor, opted to appoint Robert Kovac as his assistant.

[SIZE=2]2. Despite the poor results, it seemed a touch hasty to resign, particularly once Croatia’s playoff opponents were confirmed to be Iceland.[/SIZE]

Apparently Stipe Pletikosa is still the Croatian goalkeeper. After a hiatus in his early 30s when he languished on various benches for a couple of seasons, he seems to be playing regularly again for Rostov in the Russian Premier League. He has been error-prone in the past but has had a couple of impressive tournaments for Croatia and is unlikely to let them down now.

The back four will be led by Darijo Srna who is a terrifically energetic full back or winger with fine crossing ability and a wonderful long pass, which he used to breathtaking precision in the 2009 Europa League Final. He is equally adept in defensive and attacking situations and will often play as an almost wing-back in a lopsided formation, not unlike Dani Alves for Brazil and Barcelona. The other full back is likely to be Vedran Corluka or Danjiel Pranjic both of whom are more than competent. Croatia have an abundance of slightly-better-than-average centre backs in Schindenfeld (of Panathinaikos), Strinic (Dnipro) and Vida (Dynamo Kiev). They are probably all competing to play alongside Dejan Lovren who has endured 3 difficult seasons with injury but is the most dependable of that grouping.

One player who won’t be featuring in that Croatian defence is Josip Simunic who is sitting out a 10 match suspension for his (delete as appropriate) ill-advised/emotional pro-fascist/patriotic chanting after that playoff win over Iceland. Simunic’s lawyers have blamed his suspension on a Serbian conspiracy of lawyers, which doesn’t do much to advance the case of a misunderstanding, particularly in advance of a final appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Vague memories of Croatia’s victory over Ireland in Poznan suggest their midfield dominated that day and it’s not hard to see why. Luka Modric remains an outstanding talent in directing play and controlling possession, and the Kovacs can now choose between Vukojevic, Ilicevic or the very promising Internazionale youngster Mateo Kovacic alongside him. That leaves room for the abundantly-talented Ivan Rakitic to play in a freer wide role. The Sevilla midfielder is not as heralded as Modric but is almost as important to how Croatia play, drifting centrally from wide areas and supplementing that midfield duo when required. The other flank will likely be occupied by Ivan Perisic who has never quite replicated his Belgian League form from 2010/11 when he netted 22 goals from the wing. He is a less spectacular player in the Bundesliga but far from a weakness.

There is a fairly clear pecking order up front where Mario Mandzukic is the number one striker and his preferred partner is the man he swapped clubs with – Ivica Olic. Neither are prolific goalscorers, both are as famed for their industry as their prowess in front of goal. But Mandzukic in particular has an obvious quality about him, that would have him inserted straight into the Brazil team, were he Brazilian. He is suspended for the opening game against Brazil, so conveniently Croatia have an actual Brazilian to take his place. Eduardo will probably hold off the challenge from Jelavic and other mediocre talents to start against his homeland in the first match.

Croatia were unlucky to find themselves in a group with Italy and Spain at Euro 2012 when they would likely have been more competitive in any of the other pools. It’s a thin squad that could do without injuries to Srna, Modric, Rakitic or Mandzukic but their first choice eleven has enough quality to progress.

Prediction: 2nd place

Mexico

If the Croatia and Brazil previews were lacking a little in substance, this takes baseless assumptions to a whole new level. There is no earthly reason why anyone would be familiar with more than a handful of these players, so the following should be used only for bluffing in the pub and for moderate to heavy gambling.
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Ochoa will flap at every cross that comes his way

Mexico go into this tournament missing a few big name players. The first notable absentee is Jorge Campos who is no longer the first choice goalkeeper. A rough guess suggests that position may have now gone to Guillermo Ochoa but there seems to be seven goalkeepers who have featured in the national team squad in the last year so it could really be any of those.3 Ochoa has a distinctly Latin American look with long curly hair and a headband, so he seems like the type who will produce spectacular saves to make up for regularly flapping at crosses. If a youtube video entitled Guillermo Ochocha – Worlds Best Goalkeeper seems like a ringing endorsement, the credibility of that award seems a little stretched by the disappointing apostrophe omission from the title.

[SIZE=2]3. This is a recurring theme throughout my Wikipedia-based research on the Mexico team. They seem to have been using various squads over the past couple of seasons with some including only domestic players and some probably more likely to represent their best team. It makes the life of the bluffer very complicated indeed.[/SIZE]

Rafael Marquez is still in the Mexican squad, and surprisingly enough is only 35. He is their captain, and I’ll venture to suggest he is also the team’s leader, heartbeat and inspiration. There is another plethora of alternatives to play alongside him. At a rough count there are at least 25 defenders who have been in the Mexico squad in the last year. It is highly unlikely that all 25 will make the final 23 man squad for this tournament. A chap by the name of Hugo Ayala played in their most recent competitive games but Hector Moreno is more familiar4 to European audiences and may get the nod to partner Marquez, fending off a challenge from young Diego Reyes of Porto, who may actually be a midfielder. Jorge Torres will line up at left back and Paul Aguilar will be right back with Salcido the recognisable name covering those positions.

[SIZE=2]4. He sounds more familiar and he plays for Espanyol in La Liga. It’s difficult to say whether I’ve actually heard of him or not, but it’s certainly possible.[/SIZE]

Another missing star in midfield is Cuauhtemoc Blanco who has been surprisingly overlooked in recent selections. The star creative talent now is Andres Guardado who struggled to get into the Valencia team in recent seasons but has moved to Leverkusen in search of a more consistent attacking role. The dreadlocked Carlos Pena is probably another creative type in midfield with Jesus Zavala providing the industry to match the guile of Javier Aquino (all guesses). Pablo Barrera used to play for West Ham apparently, but just hasn’t quite done enough to make the midfield four here.

Javier Hernandez is the man Mexico are entrusting to fill the boots of the missing Hugo Sanchez, another controversial omission. The only debate is who will get to play alongside him. Giovani Dos Santos is certainly famous enough and Omar Bravo is the most experienced option but the crucial goals scored by Oribe Peralta in qualifying will earn him that coveted spot. Some of you may be wondering where Carlos Vela fits into this equation. I’ve just found out that he doesn’t play for Mexico – and his refusals to play have been Stephen Ireland-esque in the breadth of excuses and stubbornness exhibited.

On that flimsy research, it’s hard to make much of a case for Mexico being very competitive. The climate won’t be to their immediate disadvantage but Cameroon and Brazil are hardly going to suffer in that department either. They have an abundance of experience, even since losing most of that World Cup 1994 squad, but are sadly lacking in quality. Bet everything you have on them going home after the group stages.

Prediction: 4th place


Cameroon

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It may seem impossible to assess Cameroon’s chances in this group without some working knowledge of their players, squad, manager or even any semblance of familiarity with their qualifying campaign. However, in the absence of such objective information, it’s always worthwhile to just throw a few paragraphs together in the interests of feigning some knowledge.
You would be forgiven for wondering if that lad who plays in goals for Espanyol and seemed better than you’d think he might be is still the Cameroon goalkeeper, if indeed he is actually Cameroonian at all. Well, firstly his name is Idriss Kameni. Secondly, he no longer plays for Espanyol – he’s with Malaga but doesn’t seem to play all that frequently. And he is indeed from Cameroon, but didn’t play in the last World Cup because Paul Le Guen dropped him. He has every chance of being dropped for this tournament too, 31 year old Charles Itandje appears to be the incumbent.

Joel Matip is the standout defender in the mix. He is one of a number of impressive young centre backs at Schalke and has already amassed 150 appearances for the Bundesliga side at the age of 22. Wikipedia have him listed as a central midfielder but he’s more comfortable at the back and there’s a more pressing need for him there. Nicolas N’Koulou of Marseille and Aurélien Chediou of Galatasaray are two defenders of reasonable repute who may well both be centre backs. N’Koulou is, as far as I know, a more than capable defender and is a fixture in a fairly competitive Marseille side but I have a feeling he often plays a right back. The other lad is more experienced but probably not as good. For full backs, Henri Bedimo plays for Lyon and should be capable enough. Benoit Assou-Ekotto is still on loan with QPR and may play on the opposite side, assuming they’re not both left footed (or indeed not both right footed). If you think those players sound mediocre, coach Volker Finke (their 11th manager in 14 years) has plenty more dross to fill out the rest of his defence.

There is a much stronger look about the Cameroon midfield. Alex Song seems completely out of his depth at Barcelona but much of that is style related, and he’s certainly a superior talent to anything Mexico can boast about in the middle. Eyong Enoh was very impressive for Ajax against Celtic in two Champions League games this season but got frozen out at Ajax and has since left for Turkey. He remains a starter for his national team in defensive midfield. Add in the diminutive Landry N’Guemo who has resurrected his career at Bordeaux and the powerful-but-not-very-impressive-at-QPR Stéphane Mbia and it’s a midfield somewhere between adequate and formidable. A youngster by the name of Edgar Salli offers a little width on one flank and they presumably have further options for the other wing if they dig around a little.

Washed-up Samuel Eto’o captains the team and will lead the line up front. With an abundance of central midfield options, he may play alone up top but they have a couple of vastly inferior options in the elderly and unimpressive Mohammadou Idrissou of Kaiserslautern or the just plain average Maxim Choupo-Moting to compete for a place on the bench. Pierre Wébo of Fenerhahce5 is comfortably the most talented and prolific of the options to partner or replace Eto’o should the need arise. It’s not an embarrassment of riches, but this isn’t a World Cup Group littered with exciting firepower.

[SIZE=2]5. That’s his name and club, don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s a Jan Venegoor of Hesselink type name.[/SIZE]

Cameroon aren’t quite as strong a team as the one eliminated in the group stages of World Cup 2002 or the other teams they’ve had since who have probably had varying degrees of success, it’s tough to remember exactly. There is the nucleus of a decent team there with Matip, N’Koulou, Song, Enoh and Eto’o. That’s probably enough to see them past Mexico, but they’re not quite as strong across the board as Croatia. All of which neatly fits into the result I had in mind before a word of this was written, or a single Wikipedia page was opened. They’ll be third.
Prediction: 3rd Place

Read the whole post here.

If The Cameroons can convince that Roger Milla fella out of retirement I’d fancy them to cause an upset or two.

I know home advantage is a massive plus but this Brazilian side looks far too functional and lacking a real quality playmaker. For all that Thiago Silva is an excellent defender it is undermined by having David Luiz beside him

Charles Itandje was on Liverpool’s books if I’m not mistaken.

He was, wasn’t he sacked for laughing during a Hillsborough memorial or something similar

I hadn’t heard of him until he moved to Konyaspor.

Yeah, that rings a bell alright.

A quick google search has verified it

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1171285/Liverpool-player-suspended-spotted-laughing-dancing-Hillsborough-memorial-service.html

Mexico squad:

Goalkeepers: Jesús Corona (Cruz Azul[/URL]), Guillermo Ochoa ([URL=‘http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/ligue1/teams/ajaccio/1288184’]Ajaccio), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca)

Defenders: Paul Aguilar (Club América), Andrés Guardado (Bayer Leverkusen[/URL]), Miguel Layún (Club América), Rafael Márquez (Club León), Héctor Moreno ([URL=‘http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/laliga/teams/espanyol/504’]Espanyol[/URL]), Diego Reyes (FC Porto), Francisco Rodríguez ([URL=‘http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/mexico/teams/america/2705’]Club America[/URL]), Carlos Salcido (Tigres [URL=‘http://msn.foxsports.com/foxsoccer/mexico/teams/tigres/6748’]UANL)

Midfielders: Isaac Brizuela (Toluca), Marco Fabián (Cruz Azul), Héctor Herrera (FC Porto), Juan Carlos Medina (Club América), Luis Montes (Club León), Carlos Peña (Club Leòn), José Juan Vázquez (Club León)

Forwards: Giovani Dos Santos (Villarreal), Javier Hernández (Manchester United), Raúl Jiménez (Club América), Oribe Peralta (Santos Laguna), Alan Pulido (Tigres (UANL)

Turns out they play a 5-3-2 mostly so you can ignore most/all of the preview above.

I can see this lad getting a cult following among dickheads who find it hilarious that he has the same surname as a shitty feminine beer beloved by rugby watching wankers. Justice for Ochoa please.

@Rocko, why isn’t Efrain Juarez in the Mexico squad?

Juarez and Vela were both suspended for 6 months or 6 matches or something like that for that party a couple of years back. Neither of them have played since. In Juarez’s case that might be also down to his regression over the same timeframe. They’ve tried to get Vela back but he just keeps making excuses and ruling himself out of every squad. I don’t know if they feel hard done by or victimised over that suspension, so in the absence of specific information I think it’s safe to conclude there were Mexican drug cartels involved somehow.

A few Meheecans I know over here are fully confident that they’ll get out of the group. They reckon winning the olympics two years ago has benefited them immensely in terms of tournament football.

[QUOTE=“Rocko, post: 934828, member: 1”]
Brazil
the obvious place to start an assessment of Brazil’s riches is taking a look at their defence. They have always had a reputation for defensive fragility (despite the rather stale conservative play adopted by Brazil teams featuring Dunga and managed by Dunga) [/QUOTE]
Defensively fragile Brazil have probably the best defensive record of any country in World Cup history - certainly comfortably better than the traditionally defensively sound and efficient Germany.

Brazil have conceded 88 goals in 97 matches - Germany 117 in 99.

While Italy have conceded just 74 goals, they’ve only played 80 matches.

Germany getting to the semis in both 2006 and 2010 and Brazil’s failure to do so both times means the Germans will become the first country to play 100 World Cup matches when they play Portugal on June 16th.

Betting Preview (Not my own but a respected source)

[B]BRAZIL: Teresopolis

Best price 3/1

FIFA key players
Striker Neymar is already being hailed as a man capable of playing a key role for the five-time world champions come Brazil 2014. Currently among the supporting cast in attack is the youngster’s former Santos team-mate Robinho, while Barcelona’s Dani Alves is a lung-bursting presence on the flank. Between the sticks, veteran goalkeeper Julio Cesar exudes confidence and security to the rest of the backline.

My key player: David Luiz

Coach: Luiz Felipe Scolari
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup Sweden 1958, Chile 1962, Mexico 1970, USA 1994, Korea/Japan 2002 (Winners), FIFA U-20 World Cup Mexico 1983, USSR 1985, Australia 1993, UAE 2003 (Winners), FIFA U-17 World Cup Egypt 1997, New Zealand 1999, Finland 2003 (Winners), FIFA Confederations Cup Saudi Arabia 1997, Germany 2005, South Africa 2009 (Winners)[/B]

[B]CROATIA: Mata de Sao Joao

Best price 200/1

FIFA key players
Experienced captain Darijo Srna is a born leader, and playmakers Luka Modric and Niko Kranjcar can always be relied upon for moments of inspiration. Kovac presides over a wealth of international-class attacking talent including Eduardo, Ivica Olic, Nikita Jelavic and Mario Mandzukic.

My key player: Luca Modric

Coach: Niko Kovac
Best performance in a FIFA competition: 1998 FIFA World Cup France (Third place)[/B]

[B]MEXICO: Santos

Best price = 150/1

FIFA key players
After an agonising qualifying competition full of setbacks, coaching changes and tactical reshuffles, predicting how the Mexicans will fare at Brazil 2014 is no easy task. While El Trican count on a band of high-profile overseas-based players, spearheaded by Javier Chicharito Hernandez, Andres Guardado and Giovani dos Santos, the last few months have shown that the latest wave of young players also have much to offer, chief among them their London 2012 hero Oribe Peralta, Raul Jimenez and Carlos Pena. Now that they have safely secured their ticket to Brazil, the Mexicans have time to find some stability and build for the future.

My key player: Oribe Peralta

Current coach: Miguel Herrera
Best performance in a FIFA competition: FIFA Confederations Cup Mexico 1999 (winners), FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005 (winners)[/B]

[B]CAMEROON: Vitoria

Best price = 1500/1

FIFA key players
Samuel Eto’o remains the world-class threat up front, although the charismatic figure, who still serves as captain, has gone in and out of the team. But even without the Chelsea veteran, the side if loaded with experience and high-level talent. Nicolas N’Koulou, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Aurelien Chedjou remain vital at the back, while the midfield is even more loaded with Alex Song, Jean Makoun and Stephane Mbia at the heart of the team.

My key player: Stephane Mbia

Coach: Volker Finke
Best performances in a FIFA competition: FIFA World Cup Italy 1990 (Quarter-finals), Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Sydney 2000 (Winners)[/B]

Group A summary
Brazil are hosts, have not qualified and seemingly lack the star quality of previous generations. There have also been questions about the organisation of and support for this tournament. However, they have been handed a very friendly group, and they should take at least 7 points. They showed when the won the Confederations Cup last year that they have several players that leave their moderate club form well behind when they pull on the yellow shirts. I suspect that, like during the London Olympics, public support will grow and grow for this tournament like a rolling stone as it progresses and I think the tournament will be a roaring success. In this climate, anyone who wants to win this World Cup is going to have to perform the feat of beating Brazil on their own patch. I don’t know who can do that and Brazil are going to go very close if not all the way. Croatia are seen as the Brazil of Europe because of their technical ability, love of fast, possession football and flair players. I do feel that they aren’t as strong as they have been in recent years, and although it might be best playing Brazil first up, I can see them having a poor World Cup, especially as they have to play Mexico and Cameroon in unfavourable hot, humid conditions in Recife and Manaus respectively. Mexico were extraordinarily fortunate to qualify for the finals, and although many sides have gone on to improve on the main stage after sneaking through I suspect Mexico may not be one of them.Cameroon are the outsiders to progress from Group A but I think the odds may be underestimating the Indominable Lions. They open up with a winnable match against Mexico then play Croatia in the hot and humid conditions of Manaus. They play Brazil last, and that match might be to decide the group winners.

Suggested Bets
Cameroon to qualify 5/1 (or Brazil/Cameroon straight forecast 7/1)
Croatia to finish bottom 4/1

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