Friday, June 27, 2014

World Cup 2014 Round of 16 Predictions

Wow, that went fast. It seemed it was just yesterday that the World Cup kicked off. And yes, this is the best World Cup ever. The initial 32 nations have played 48 matches each, and the cream has risen to the top. As the Round of 16 begins, I see I haven't done too bad on my initial predictions.  So, without further ado, here are my predictions as the knock-out stages begin.

Brazil vs. Chile
While Chile has knocked out Spain, it would be a surprise if Brazil was knocked out tomorrow (Sat) by Chile. Scolari, the Brazil coach, has said he didn't want to face Chile, but still ... this is Brazil, in Brazil. The last two times Chile reached the knock out stages, they lost. And guess who they lost to? Brazil.
Prediction: Brazil

Columbia vs. Uruguay
Uruguay likes to get their teeth into their opponents defense, but it has to be seen if their offense has any bite left with Luis Suarez's departure. Columbia has looked good so far, and I don't expect them to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This could be an ugly game, heading into tie breakers (where any thing can happen), but I think Columbia has the edge.
Prediction: Columbia

France vs. Nigeria
I would have loved Nigeria to win. They have the capability to win. They have the desire to win. But then, they do this. France, unlike last time, is a happier camp and has looked the more professional team. Besides, Karim Benzema is one of my favourite players.
Prediction: France

Germany vs. Algeria
Algeria has surprised many people by being here. It remains to be seen if they have the power to knock out the Germans. They will of course have the 1982 World Cup on their minds. However, the Germans got a victory out of those pesky Americans with a clinical performance. And they won't be underestimating Algeria this time around. I really hope Algeria can pull off a shocker, but this one should be a comfortable victory for the Germans.
Prediction: Germany

Mexico vs. Netherlands
This is a lot closer than people think. Yes, Holland has played well (vs. Spain and Australia), and played dirty (vs. Chile) and managed to win all their group matches. But Mexico's no slouch either, holding off a stubborn Brazil (with their goalie being the man of the match). However, Holland is a much better team than Brazil and they have two strikers in form as opposed to one. There's only so much a goalie can do. I would love for Mexico to win, but Holland should take this the ugly way.
Prediction: Holland

Costa Rica vs. Greece
The less said about Greece the better.
Prediction: Costa Rica

Argentina vs. Switzerland
Messi vs. Shaqiri. And I think this is Messi's year. The guy has won everything except the World Cup. The Swiss will go to an ultra defense mode but Messi will not make a mess of it.
Prediction: Argentina

Belgium vs. USA
Everyone's dark horses, Belgium, has come up against the surprise qualifier USA. In retrospect, it shouldn't be a surprise, the US are a pretty decent team with a great coach. However, Belgium has managed to find a way to win, 1 goal margin wins, against tough opponents. USA however is a class above Algeria and Korea. If they can avoid giving up an early goal, they will take this.
Prediction: USA

Monday, June 09, 2014

World Cup 2014 Group Stage Predictions

It seems it was just yesterday the 2010 World Cup (forever associated with the awful vuvuzela cacophony) ended, and here the World Cup 2014 begins in a couple of days. Without much ado, here are my group stages prediction. And yes, for what it's worth, I am predicting Argentina to win the World Cup.

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

It would be a huge shock if Brazil failed at the first hurdle and failed to qualify out of the group. They are many people's favourites to win the Cup, and in my view, good enough to top the group and go deep into the tournament. The much talked about home pressure is less of a liability when it comes to the group games, which are not knock-outs, so their home support (and its subtle effect on the referees), plus the fact they are simply a very good squad, will see Brazil win all their matches. The real battle in the group will be for second place, which should go to Mexico. Croatia is not the force it once was, and Cameroon (like many African teams) have a leaky defence. Mexico's grit and flair should see them qualify out of the group.

Prediction: Brazil, Mexico

Group B: Spain, Holland, Chile, Australia

Spain has been winning everything since the last World Cup. Zinedine Zidane is reputed to have once said, "the day Spain starts winning, they won't stop". Yet they didn't win the last Confederations Cup (which may not be a bad thing; the winner of the Confederations never wins the World Cup). Spain won the 2008 Euros, the 2010 World Cup, the 2012 Euros, and are one of the favourites for 2014 World Cup. Yet, in the group lies Holland, their opponent in the 2010 finals (and also exiting 2012 Euros in the group stages). Chile, the South American team playing in conditions familiar to them, are no slouch either. Australia, I reckon, will be beaten by all other three teams and are hopelessly outclassed. Spain's class should see them through, and I expect Chile to surprise everyone by being 2nd. Depending on results, they could even top the group, though that's stretching it far.

Predictions: Spain, Chile

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

This is a tough to call group as it's a bunch of similarly matched mediocre level teams. I will go out and say I hope Greece does NOT qualify - they play the most boring soccer by putting ten men behind the ball (which led them to win an Euro, believe it or not), so I hope they go out. Yet Greece almost qualified in 2010 (in a group that included Nigeria, South Korea and Argentina), and DID make it out of the group in 2012. So this is a tough call, but I expect Columbia to be aided by familiar South American conditions, and Japan to let their professionalism dictate tough matches against the Greek defence and Ivory Coast flair.

Predictions: Columbia, Japan

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

This is the group of death. Poor Costa Rica. They play the Group B's Australia role of this group. This is one group where I think the order of matches matter.

Uruguay - Costa Rice; victor: Uruguay

England - Italy; Tie.

England tied their last match with Italy, and have enough workmanlike qualities to tie them this time too. They also historically tie their first match (focus on not losing, and getting at least a share of the spoils). Italy, I expect, will also be not too unhappy with a tie.

Uruguay - England; victor: England by a goal.

Somehow England will find a way to win this match. Whether it's a last minute header or a penalty, they know they have to win this. At the worst, it will be a tie, but I am calling a win for the English.

Italy - Costa Rica; victor: Italy

Italy goes up in the group, but it all comes down to the last round of matches.

England - Costa Rica; victor: England

With the pressure off after a victory in the previous match, England will outclass Costa Rica, probably winning by a brace of goals (let me say 3-0). Even if the last match was a tie, they still have enough class to beat Costa Rica.

Italy - Uruguay; victor: Uruguay

Yes, this is the virtual knock out, and Uruguay is dirty enough to win.

Prediction: England, Uruguay

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

Yuck, what a group. Can we just pretend this group never happened? Honestly, this tells you where Canadian soccer is that we cannot go past Honduras.

Prediction: France, Switzerland.

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Argentina will win this group. Unless there is a complete collapse of their football, they are going to win this group rather easily. None of the other team has one player who is equal to the worst Argentina player, and Argentina has probably the world's best club player (Messi) in their squad. I had always rated Messi as overrated for international football as he has not performed in previous World Cups, but this is his year. I always had a soft spot for Iran (ever since their 2-1 victory over USA in 1998 when I was in the Middle East where everyone supported them), but Iran is many levels below Nigeria and Bosnia. Honestly, it's hard to say which is the better of these two teams. I am going out on a limb and call it for Bosnia, just because their defence is the better one.

Prediction: Argentina, Bosnia

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA

If there's a cricket world cup semis list, you can bet New Zealand will find a way to be on it. If it's a soccer semis list, somehow Germany is there. This is a team for which 2nd place is a disaster. I cannot see Germany NOT qualifying out of the group, so the first place in this group will be Germany. The fourth place should be the Americans, because a) Why the hell is Landon Donovan not in the squad, and b) they are Americans who pretend this is soccer and football is something else. Portugal is a one star steam and he (CR) is also coming back from an injury, so this makes for an interesting Ghana - Portugal clash. I am going against logic and supporting the underdog here, so I am picking Ghana.

Prediction: Germany, Ghana

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

Another mediocre group. Belgium is the dark horse of many in this tournament, and I expect them to at least dominate this group. They should dominate this group, especially with players with names such as Hazard. The Russians should qualify as well, but the South Koreans are a talented bunch as well. I am going to favour the Koreans slightly as they might be more used to the heat and humidity, playing as they do in Asia.

Prediction: Belgium, South Korea