World Cup 2014 preview – Groups A-D

In the first half of this World Cup preview, Groups A to D will be analysed to find out who will be the first eight teams in to the Round of 16. Brazil and Spain will have the highest hopes, but Croatia, Chile, Columbia, Uruguay and even England could be looking to be the tournament’s dark horses. A preview for Groups E-H will follow soon.

Group A

Image

Hosts Brazil kick off the tournament tomorrow against Croatia and are widely expected to claim a full nine points. Much of the pressure will be on Neymar, as he is expected to carry his nation to the trophy. Mexico, Croatia and Cameroon will all be fighting for the second spot, and with the Africans only arriving in Brazil a couple of days ago due to pay disputes, it seems that they won’t be gone for long. Croatia have the makings of a really strong side, with Modric, Mandzukic, Rakitic, Kovacic and Lovren all performing well in Europe’s top divisions. Mexico narrowly qualified for the finals, and are without the likes of Carlos Vela in their squad. Much of the Mexican goalscoring hopes will rest on Javier Hernandez, who has had a dismal year at Manchester United.

Qualifiers: Brazil (9 points), Croatia (6 points)

Group B

ImageGroup B is certainly a contender for the ‘Group of Death’ title, boasting Spain, Netherlands, Chile and Australia. Many are writing Spain off, and with a front line containing Fernando Torres, David Villa and a not fully fit Diego Costa goals might be hard to come by. Spain’s possession football should see them conserve energy in the tropical heat, which may be an advantage. The Netherlands squad contains a lot of players from the Eredivisie, especially defenders. This could be an advantage with the players knowing each other, but the strength of the Dutch division can be questioned. There will also be fitness concerns over talisman and captain Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder. Chile showed their credentials last year as they stunned England 2-0 at Wembley. They have the potential to be dark horses in this World Cup, however Arturo Vidal may not be fully fit, resting much of the pressure on Alexis Sanchez. Australia have picked a relatively young side, with Mark Bresciano and Tim Cahill the obvious exceptions. In this way, this tournament will just be a learning experience for the Aussies, so expect them to take a few hidings.

Qualifiers: Spain (9 points), Netherlands (4 points – on goal difference)

Group C

ImageGroup C is possibly the most open group, as any of the teams could realistically hope to qualify. Columbia are the favourites, even without the injured Falcao. They will instead call on Jackson Martinez and James Rodriguez to carry the team, with a potential star Juan Fernando Quintero (above) of Porto tipped to be one of the tournament’s golden boys. It could be argued that the Ivory Coast’s golden generation is no past it’s peak, but they too could still qualify from this group. An ageing Drogba could be replaced by Wilfred Bony or Seydou Doumbia up front, whilst Yaya Toure is coming to Brazil on the back of his best season ever. Japan have the potential to spring a surprise or two. Playmakers Shinji Kagawa and Kensuke Honda will be looking to put their indifferent seasons behind them, whilst Shinji Okazaki scored 15 goals for Mainz last season in the Bundasliga. Greece are the outsiders of the group. They scored just 12 goals in 10 games a qualifying group that contained Latvia, Lithuania and Liechtenstein. Samaras and Mitroglou will have the unenviable job of trying to get Greece scoring, but they will probably rely on getting three 0-0 draws.

Qualifiers: Columbia (9 points), Ivory Coast (6 points)

Group D

ImageMuch of England’s hopes in Group D will rely on the mental strength of Roy Hodgson, and whether he is prepared to drop the likes of Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck should they not be on form – which they aren’t. Despite the low expectations, England’s squad has more than enough talent to beat anyone on their day, but with the nation behind them the question is: will they crumble? The likes of Sterling, Lallana and Barkley (above) could all be bright sparks in Brazil, but will Roy utilise them? Italy could go far at this tournament, with a very talented squad. The possible frontline of Balotelli and Immobile is a mouthwatering prospect, and with Pirlo and Verratti pulling the strings, Italy pose a serious threat. However they are slow starters, so England have the best chance of beating them by playing them first. The defence is also beginning to slow up, so the pace of Sturridge and Sterling could prove a vital weapon. Uruguay are much fancied to go far in this tournament, but they really have not shown any reason for this. With Luis Suarez an injury doubt, the only real threat they pose is through Edison Cavani, with an ancient Diego Forlan and Palermo’s Abel Hernandez joining him up front. In defence Uruguay look ropey at best, with West Brom bench-warmer Diego Lugano and Liverpool’s injury prone defender Sebastian Coates at the back. They struggled through to a play-off with Jordan to qualify, and again will struggle in this group. Costa Rica proved strong at home during CONCACAF qualifying, but struggled when playing away. Brian Oviedo will be missing due to injury, whilst English fans will recognise Arsenal’s Joel Campbell and Fulham’s Bryan Ruiz.

Qualifiers: England (7 points), Italy (5 points)

Advertisements

England slump to disappointing defeat

England’s 10 match unbeaten run ended in disappointment as Chile capitalised on some poor defending. After some early England pressure, Alexis Sanchez headed in from close range after just 7 minutes. This led to the positive atmosphere amongst the crowd that had been established in the matches against Poland and Montenegro had completely vanished, replaced by the tense silence that has plagued Wembley for years. England only really threatened from set pieces, as a deflected Lampard free kick was pushed over by the Chile ‘keeper. Phil Jones had a chance from a corner, and debutants Lallana and Rodriguez both had tame efforts straight at the ‘keeper. Chile almost had a second goal, but Wigan’s Jean Beausejour failed to capitalise on poor defensive positioning. Jack Wilshere hit a sweet volley from 20 yards but Bravo palmed it away from danger. The second half brought a raft of changes; however none of them really got a hold of the game. Lallana and Rooney had England’s best chances of the half, but Lallana’s shot was deflected wide and Rooney spooned his effort high and wide. Chile struck again as Gary Cahill gifted possession to Chile late on and Sanchez finished coolly past an exposed Fraser Forster. England’s midfield really failed to take the game to Chile, however this is maybe understandable with both Michael Carrick and Steven Gerrard injured.

Ratings

Forster (6/10) Not an ideal start to his England career, but stood no chance for either of the goals. Didn’t have much to do but did look a little shaky.

Johnson (4/10) Same old story. Forgot that he’s a defender and offered little going forward. A liability waiting to happen.

Jones (6/10) Decent showing considering that this was his first cap at centre back. Had a chance to equalise in the first half and could realistically be first choice in Brazil.

Cahill (5/10) Looked off the pace and struggled without Jagielka next to him. His mistake led to Sanchez’s second goal. Didn’t help that Johnson left him exposed on a number of occasions.

Baines (6/10) Could have done better for the first goal. Produced some good deliveries but failed to recreate his club form.

Milner (6/10) Typical workmanlike performance as we come to expect. A willing runner but you can’t help thinking that his role in the team is to do Johnson’s defending for him.

Lampard (6/10) Fairly quiet game from the skipper. One deflected free kick but showed no real flair.

Wilshere (6/10) Committed performance and created a few chances. Looked one of few glimmers of hope in the first half.

Lallana (6/10) Good showing for his debut. Showed promise going forward and always looked to get on the ball.

Rodriguez (5/10) Maybe the call up came slightly too early for him. Had a quiet game before being taken off.

Rooney (5/10) Lots of running but produced very little up front. Looked frustrated at the level of service and pressing by his teammates.

Subs: Smalling (Jones – 57), Townsend (Rodriguez – 57), Defoe (Milner – 66), Henderson (Lampard – 71), Cleverley (Wilshere – 71), Barkley (Lallana – 77)