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My Belated Five Minute Preview and Prognostications for the 2014 FIFA World Cup

June 12, 2014

Just in case you didn’t know it … The 2014 FIFA World Cup is underway. Brazil beat Croatia 3-1 in Sao Paolo to open the month-long festivities, a post on which will be published later tonight/early this AM in much the same fashion as my daily “What I Learned From Watching ..” series for the 2012 Euros.

I had grandiose plans to do an extensive, expansive, everything-you-need-to-know 2014 FIFA World Cup Preview, but I soon realized that the fine folks at ESPN, the wacky funsters at ESPN’s offshoot Grantland (including their wonderfully entertaining “Men in Blazers” podcast), Fox Sports (with slideshow previews on every team) as well as YahooSports and NBC’s ProSoccerTalk Blog have had us Americans covered the last month. For a numbers-heavy preview, here is a statistical analysis published by the CIES Football Observatory. I’m certainly guilty of World Cup Preview fatigue, so I declined to share my self-imposed condition and instead just make a quick prognostication.

Just for giggles, here are ESPNFC’s predictions, and here are my predictions (made before kickoff of Brazil-Croatia today), where I have Argentina winning it all on their arch nemesis’ home soil. It’s not just a pick against Brazil for contrarian’s sake, the host country being the odds-on favorite to win their 6th trophy. My argument against Brazil is relatively simple, and two-fold; 1.) Unlike in tournaments past, I don’t believe Brazil have the most talented squad in the tournament, that mantle likely belonging to Spain (or Germany, and I would hear arguments for Argentina and Belgium as well); and 2.) The lesson I take from their 1950 experience – losing what became the World Cup Final to Uruguay in Rio’s famed Maracanâ – is that the pressure to win on home soil was too much then and will become too much now. Consider these two bits of information gleaned from ESPN broadcasts over the last 48 hours. First, Brazil is undefeated on home soil in international competitions (World Cup, World Cup Qualifying Matches, Confederations Cup Matches, and Copa America Matches) since September 30, 1975 when they lost 3-1 to Peru in the 1975 Copa America Semifinals in Belo Horizonte. That’s 38-plus years. Second, the Seleção have only lost once in 52 games all-time in the Maracanâ Stadium, which will host the 2014 World Cup Final. That one loss: 1950 in the World Cup Final to Uruguay. That’s a heavy burden to carry for what will be one of the younger teams in the tournament.

My argument for Argentina is slightly less sanguine, except that they will benefit from the converse of what might ultimately bring Brazil down – my impression during the lead-in to the World Cup is that they are the “favorite” with the least amount of hype or pressure, and as such will enjoy a certain level of freedom from the external expectations that have attached to Spain, Germany and Brazil. They are certainly among the Top 3 talented sides, and I think they have one of the easier draws among the Top 8 seeded teams. La Albiceleste should only be tested once in Group F against Bosnia & Herzegovina, and are drawn against an Group E for the Round of 16. Of course, for Argentina to win the Cup they will have to overcome one or more of the other favored heavyweights at some point, but by the later stages of the competition when that would occur, Messi, Aguero, Di Maria & Co. should be firing on all cylinders and their potential opponents just might have some battle fatigue as Spain and Germany will have to emerge from their respective Groups of Death and the pressure will only mount for Brazil.

If you’re looking for a Darkhorse contender, the four I like are Belgium, who just might have the most talented roster 1-23 in Brazil; Ivory Coast, who are as deep in attacking players as any team and should advance out of Group C with ease if they are on the same page; Bosnia & Herzegovina, led in attack by the world class Edin Džeko and Miralem Pjanić as well as one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Asmir Begović; and (surprise!) England, who enter this World Cup with the most level of expectations since their 1966 footballing glory, and have the right mix of talent, depth, youth and experience to cause trouble for any team they face. I wouldn’t expect more than one of those teams to make the Final Four, in my projections Belgium joins Spain, Argentina and Brazil, but that is one of the joys of the World Cup: One rarely knows what will happen, even if they think they do.


From → Soccer, Sports

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