In the second half of this World Cup preview, groups E-H will be analysed, as well as a few tips for the tournament overall. In this half of the draw Argentina and Germany will have the highest hopes, with France, Portugal and Belgium all looking to reach the latter stages.
France have arguably got themselves an easy draw again. Ecuador and Honduras proved stern competition for England in the warm up matches, however this will not be in a friendly and France have a bit more quality up front than England. Karim Benzema will be leading the line for France, and the promising Antoine Griezmann (above) will be an exciting player to watch. Without Samir Nasri and the injured Franck Ribery the French dressing room will be more together than in South Africa. Ecuador proved against England that they will be no pushovers, playing an exciting brand of football via the wings. The are well suited to South American conditions, which may put them ahead of the Alpine-based Switzerland. The Swiss have some talented players in the form of Tranquillo Barnetta, Xherdan Shaqiri, Gökhan Inler and Haris Seferovic, but they are unlikely to be utilised to their full attacking potential. As always the Swiss will be solid at the back, with Juventus full back Lichtsteiner the pick of the defenders. Honduras will be there to make up the numbers, defending for their lives to claim 0-0 draws and chopping down their opponents.
Qualifiers: France (9 points), Ecuador (4 points – on goal difference)
Argentina also have a fairly straightforward path through the group stages, with their group containing Nigeria, Iran and World Cup débutantes Bosnia-Herzergovia. Argentina’s attack is so strong that they could afford to leave Carlos Tevez at home, whilst still boasting Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and of course Lionel Messi. They have a relatively strong defence as well, with Mascherano acting as either a defensive midfielder or a centre back and Zabaleta and Demichelis being part of a strong title winning Manchester City defence. Bosnia could prove a stern test for their opponents at this tournament. Only Germany, Netherlands and England scored more goals in qualifying than Bosnia, whose main goal threat will be Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko. They also have the impressive Roma midfielder Pjanic and Stoke’s dependable ‘keeper Asmir Begovic. Nigeria have the potential to progress, after winning the African Nations Cup. The squad is top heavy with strikers so you can expect goals at both ends when they play. Iran will be the whipping boys of this group, and will go home without scoring a goal.
Qualifiers: Argentina (9 points), Bosnia-Herzergovia (6 points)
Another contender for the ‘Group of Death’, Group G contains Germany, Ghana, Portugal and the USA. Germany would be the favourites for this group, and one of the favourites for the tournament, however they have suffered several injuries in the lead up to Brazil. Marco Reus (above), Lars and Sven Bender, Mario Gomez and Ilkay Gundogan will all miss the World Cup, whilst Neuer, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Khedira and Klose may not be fully fit for their opener against Portugal. However the quality is still there in the squad to compete, despite the inclusion of just one out and out striker, Miroslav Klose. Portuagal needed Cristiano Ronaldo to single handedly pull them through in their play-off with Sweden. Their squad is reasonably strong, containing 3 Champions League winners, as well as Manchester United’s Nani, Monaco’S João Moutinho and Sporting’s highly rated William Carvalho. Portugal have to potential to go far in this tournament, but if they rely on Ronaldo to bring them through they may be going home rather early. Ghana should have been semi-finalists four years ago. A few of their players this time around are past their peak, such as Michael Essien and Asamoah Gyan. The Ayew brothers could prove some entertaining viewing, as they prove Ghana’s main goal threat. In truth though, Ghana aren’t the same team as they were in South Africa and will probably fall at the first hurdle. The USA have brought a young squad to Brazil, leaving out the experience of Landon Donovan. They will be there for the experience, but don’t be too surprised if they take a point off of the big boys.
Qualifiers: Germany (7 points), Portugal (7 points)
Theoretically, Group H is also quite open. Belgium are hotly tipped to be amongst the contenders to win the World Cup, however this would be a step too far for this squad. Sure, they have an immensely talented squad, but do they have the experience to make the impact that everybody is expecting. Russia will also be expecting to qualify from the group, and they boast a strong spine, with Igor Akinfeev in goal, Denisov and Dzagoev in midfield and Kerzhakov up front. These players will have to perform, as the rest of squad may not be of the quality to push to the latter stages. South Korea could see qualification as a possible target. Son Heung-min had a good season in the Bundasliga, whilst Ji Dong-won, Park Chu-young, and Ki Sung-yueng all have Premier League experience. However, they may be seen as too lightweight and could ship a few goals per game. Algeria proved stubborn opponents four years ago, however they offered very little up front. Expect the same this year, with British fans noticing Spurs’ Bentaleb and ex-Rangers defender Bougherra.
Qualifiers: Belgium (7 points), Russia (7 points)
Round of 16:
Brazil to beat Netherlands, Italy to beat Columbia, Spain to beat Croatia, England to beat Ivory Coast, France to beat Bosnia-Herzergovia, Germany to beat Russia, Argentina to beat Ecuador, Portugal to beat Belgium.
Brazil to beat Italy, Spain to beat England, France to beat Germany, Argentina to beat Portugal.
Brazil to beat Spain, Argentina to beat France
Brazil to beat Argentina
Top Scorer: Neymar. A possible outsider for this could be either Antoine Greizmann or Karim Benzema.