From the big wins to the shock defeats, from legends of the game to newly emerging stars, there are always plenty of storylines and talking points during the World Cup.
The holders, Spain, will be looking to retain the golden trophy, something no country has done since Pele's Brazil in 1962. Brazil, meanwhile, will be looking to improve on their last two World Cups. This year's host country hasn’t advanced past the quarter-finals since 2002. And Germany, who reached the semi-finals in the last two World Cups, will be looking to break through this time.
Which country will shock the world? Who will crash out early? We turned to our panel of supporters in the USA and Canada to get their predictions on what will happen in Brazil.
Every four years, the world is captivated by lush green fields, a ball and the euphoria than even one goal can bring. The World Cup is upon us and we are in for another stunning summer watching The Beautiful Game. While unpredictable, here’s how I think it will shake out.
The Biggest Surprise
In turmoil in 2010, failing to win a match, Les Bleus appear ready to take the next step this time and play deep into the competition. Favorites in their group, France should advance out of Group E as winners before a knockout round matchup against the second place team in one of the weakest groups out there. From there, France could be in for a date against Germany, and with a win, would cement their surprise status. Led by Karim Benzema, I believe France will rally around the loss of Franck Ribery, bolstered by Arsenal man Laurent Koscielny at the back.
The Biggest Flop
In the group of death, Group D, one nation will be the odd country out. All apologies to Costa Rica, but it is a race of three teams for two spots, and I think Italy will miss out and England and Uruguay will advance past the group stage. In the Champions League, it was a down year for the Serie A, the league from which the majority of the Italian National Team is comprised, and the Italian National Team has been on a poor run of form. Toothless, Italy has not won a match in their last six attempts and will be without two impact players, Giuseppe Rossi and Riccardo Montolivo. With Mario Balotelli leading the line, I think Italy will suffer a defeat to a confident and skilled England side in their World Cup opener and never recover.
The perfect mix of youth and experience, the Brazilian squad looks perfectly composed, like they knew they would host the 2014 World Cup 20 years ago.
At only 21 years of age, Pogba could join yet another world soccer power next season. An outcast at Manchester United, Pogba has helped Juventus to back-to-back-titles and is now considered one of the brightest young footballers in the world. Pogba will have the kind of World Cup that will have his agent’s phone ringing off the hook with talks of a mega transfer. A combination of power and skill, Pogba has drawn comparisons to Patrick Vieira and he will put his talent on display for the world to admire in Brazil.
The United States' fate was likely sealed on December 6, 2013 as they were drawn into a group with three other legitimate contenders to make it out of the group stage. Suspect defensively, rather boring and unimaginative offensively, the U.S. will need to win matches 1-0, but they don’t have the back four to provide clean sheets. If the U.S. can open with a win against Ghana, they can try to squeeze out draws and hope the competitiveness of the group will allow them to advance. However, this team is simply not talented or organized enough to make a splash in 2014. But I hope I’m wrong.
Who Will Win?
The best team in the world is playing at home. That smells like a recipe for success to me. No surprise here, but Brazil has been on fire over the past year with quality convincing victories. The perfect mix of youth and experience, the Brazilian squad looks perfectly composed, like they knew they would host the 2014 World Cup 20 years ago. With the likes of Neymar, Thiago, Fred, Oscar and Alves, Brazil’s already stacked team will be buoyed by the soccer-crazed support, all the way to their sixth title.
No matter how it shakes out, from June 12 – July 13, we will be glued to our televisions and mobile devices, missing work and family gatherings to watch the grandest event in the sport we love. May this World Cup provide each of us with all of the excitement we are all hoping for.
The Biggest Surprise
As the expectations on England are always sky high, you might wonder who I can call them a surprise. First, I do not cheer for England, I’m a proud Czech-Canadian. I never expect much from England because they seem to play a tired system, but while the tired system remains in place, it’s full of exuberance and that can create unexpected brilliance. The biggest surprise with England would be what is one of the worst defences in the tournament actually gelling and playing like an Italian team. It COULD happen.
The Biggest Flop
While they will escape their group, the expectations on them and their free flowing offence will be muted by teams that play tight in the midfield. Italy is an interesting pick, but I would suggest that Italy can get past the Uruguayans in what will be the telling match of the “Group of Death”
While Argentina will escape their group, the expectations on them and their free flowing offence will be muted by teams that play tight in the midfield.
Someone you've never heard of.
While Paul Pogba is not fully established, you probably know who he is. He shunned Man United for Juventus. He’s had a good season in Italy and his name is all over the papers. I refuse to list a player in this category, because the breakout will be someone that nobody has uttered outside of their local league or country. I would expect that it will be someone who scores a couple of goals in the group stage from one of the African nations. At which point the press will drool over him and suggest that Arsenal need to sign him to regain the title.
… is not in the tournament
I would love to have the sympathy of everyone but the Czechs are never going to be powerhouses unless they change the way in which they develop youth and improve the quality of the Gambrinus Liga. My other team are the Canucks, and until we host the World Cup (which should never happen) I will not see them grace the tournament again (I was two the last time it happened). I’ll be supporting Germany and ridiculing Portugal in my role on Premier Punditry going up against a Chelsea supporter who has the USA and Ghana.
Who Will Win?
I’m not actually sure that Germany will win, but I did not want to say Brazil and I could not bring myself to say Barca, Madrid… I mean Spain. Germany have goals, a good midfield, and a defence that can do it all. So why not?
Finishing 3rd at France ‘98 in your country’s first World Cup appearance is a hard act to follow, so it’s not too surprising that Croatia have been generally billed as “underachievers” in every World Cup since (including 2010, where they just didn’t qualify). Maybe it’s partly because the weight of expectation isn’t what it was and partly because Croatia’s team chemistry seems much more natural than that of other national teams that have to drastically rearrange players to make way for one another, but I think Niko Kovac’s offense is well-composed to unsettle every team in their group and surprise a few others once they make their way deeper in the tournament. Modric and Rakitic are a midfield pairing that I can see giving Mexico, Cameroon and Brazil problems, and they’ll be providing service to a more than capable selection of forwards in Olic, Eduardo and Mandzukic, to name a few. Lovren’s obviously had a good debut season with Southampton, the question will just be whether or not the defense as a unit can match the caliber of offense they’ll face in Brazil and then either the Netherlands or Spain (probably not Australia or Chile) in the round of 16.
In the group of countries that could be considered in the top 10 favorites to win the tournament, I agree with Josh that Italy could be one of the more notable early exits, but given the overall difficulty of that group you’d have to say England also run the risk of bowing out early. Like Josh said, Italy’s biggest problem could be relying on Balotelli as a consistent goalscorer and target man for their attack. While I don’t think they’ll be an all-out flop per se, in a group with Uruguay and England there’s little margin for error. As for England, I can’t say there’s any one weakness that stands out to me, other than I could see them being foiled and then countered by a more defensive Italy and then losing to Uruguay’s high-powered offense (I’ve also got a bit of a soft spot for England, so if nothing else I confess I’m just pessimistic about the chances of any team I support). In the end though I have a feeling the unambitious Italian side could be the “flops” of the tournament given the competitive level of their group.
As an Arsenal supporter it would be nice to see Per, Lukas and Mesut rewarded with such a huge international achievement.
There’s always a host of new names that burst onto the scene each World Cup, but beyond the usual goalscorers and emerging defenders I think Thibaut Courtois will have a golden opportunity to extend the purple patch of goalkeeping he’s been experiencing for Atletico Madrid to the international stage.
If Belgium go deeper than expected in this tournament, it’s going to take something special, not just from their talented offense, but also from their back five. On paper they’ve got some well-known names in defense, but with the majority of those being center backs (Vertonghen, Vermaelen, Kompany and Alderweireld) you can’t expect them to be exactly watertight once they come up against speedier opposition. You’d therefore expect Courtois will be kept busy throughout the tournament, and if he’s anywhere near as good as he was for Atletico last season, you can bet he’ll be an even hotter commodity when August rolls around.
I’m with Josh on this one. You get the feeling that as far as the USA is concerned, the makeup of Group G is almost a death knell in and of itself, and the final roster hasn’t done much to curb that: whereas in the past you’d look at a US roster and see at least a fair share of experienced internationals and European-based players scattered throughout, I confess I don’t see too many names in the current side who have shown through their experience that they can go toe-to-toe with the top echelon of talent that’s present in their group.
And while it may not be as crucial as the media is making it out to be, I think the exclusion of Landon Donovan -- on poor form or not -- doesn’t exactly help, given the relative wealth of international experience he could bring to a young side that’s largely unacquainted with the pressures of a World Cup. I know it’s highly intangible, but you have to think someone who’s beaten Portugal and given Germany a run for its money in the 2002 quarter-finals could offer a little bit of valuable guidance to this inexperienced US dressing room.
That said, an opening win over Ghana could provide the US with the necessary momentum and confidence required to go on and nick a point off a less-than-consistent Portugal, but in my opinion it’s going to take a brave and uncharacteristically composed start from this side to achieve that.
Who Will Win
Germany (I hope)
In all probability Brazil has the best chance of winning given the factors of home advantage, sheer talent and experienced coaching that are at their disposal, but I hope it’s Germany. I’ll admit neither team winning makes for a particularly fairy tale narrative since they’re both always there or thereabouts near the end of each World Cup, but I think if Germany won it’d be a just reward for the disciplined, calculated way they’ve approached each of their last several tournaments, and as an Arsenal supporter it would be nice of course to see Per, Lukas and Mesut rewarded with such a huge international achievement.
The views expressed above are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect those of Arsenal Football Club or Arsenal Media Group.Copyright 2016 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source