Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Call me the Lame Silver Octopus

The year is upon us - the world cup in Brazil runs next summer.  I wish I could be at Maracana stadium next July, as originally planned, but I did not win the ticket lottery :-(

Hi-def TV FTW!

At Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janiero, 2008

OK - so now, I'm still nursing a ruptured achilles back to health, and watching the exciting Premier League race unfold with Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool vying for top spot, I thought I'd put down my predictions for Mundial 2014.

Call me the Lame Silver Octopus. How many of my picks will hold up next summer?

For those not plugged in, there are 8 groups (A - H) with 4 teams each. These 32 teams have gone through hard trials over the past 2 years to qualify.

Here are my predictions:

Group A - Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Brazil needs to get through! This is the home team, and they were automatically in the 32, but they are also an awesome force during every world cup. My favourites, of course, due to the style of soccer they play. They also have some awesome players - watch for Neymar, Marcelo to have serious impact.

The surprise element will be Mexico - although they had a lot of trouble qualifying (via a playoff game with New Zealand), I think they'll raise their game and squeak into the next round over Croatia. Cameroon will have good moments, but will fizzle out as with most African teams.

Group B - Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

This seems to be an easy call for the first round - Spain and Netherlands will make it. Watch the beautiful Spanish game with Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, Pedro, Villa. Pedro will do some damage. Netherlands will, of course, continue to show off their soccer cred - Van Persie will continue be lethal. Chile will be able to pull off an upset, but the experienced sides will deliver.

Group C - Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

This is a hard group to crack - it will be a very difficult group to get through - could be a toss-up, but I'll take my chances and announce Colombia and (surprise!) Japan to make it through (although, on paper,  Greece should top Japan). The Ivory Coast will show some great moments, but will not break through.

Group D - Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

This is the traditional group of death, and this lineup will not disappoint.  Under normal circumstances, I'd write off Uruguay versus the more disciplined European teams, but this time, with Luis Suarez showing brilliant form at the highest level for Liverpool in the Premier League, and Forlan and Cavani always able to deliver, I'm going out on a limb to put Uruguay and Italy as qualifiers from this group. Why Italy over England? It could go either way, but I don't see anyone being a spark on the English team. Rooney is overrated, and the boring English style of play won't do it this time. I am, of course, assuming that Balotelli will play for Italy.

Group E - Switzerland, Equador, France, Honduras

I'll claim no surprises in this group, with Switzerland and France going through. I'm expecting that France, with players like Bayern's Ribery, Manchester City's Nasri, and Arsenal's Giraud, could actually go very far this time.

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

If Argentina does not qualify from this group, I'll stop watching the rest of the WC (or eat my hat! - that would be more palatable :-)). While you'd expect Bosnia-Herzegovina to be the other team to make it through, I think Nigeria would be the dark horse here  - they have a bit more experience among the African teams to make it past the group stage. So Argentina and Nigeria are my choices from this Group. Look for Messi to deliver this time and make this his world cup.

Group G - Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA

This is the real group of death! Ghana and USA will try very very hard, but will die, and the experienced sides -  Germany and Portugal will emerge from this group. Christiano Ronaldo will have his last chance to make a mark on the world stage to stay on par with Messi, Neymar and Suarez.

Group H - Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic

This will be a group with crazy results, and I can be 100% wrong on my predictions for this group.  I'm going with Belgium after having watched some of their players in the Premier League - Januzaj, the 18-year old Manchester United wonder, Mirallas, Lukaku, Hazard, Mignolet - wow!  Januzaj will likely become a known entity after this world cup. Although I'd love to see Korea make it through, I think Russia, with Arshavin and friends, will do it.

Therefore, on to the knockout stage will be:

Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Netherlands, Colombia, Japan, Uruguay, Italy, Switzerland, France, Argentina, Nigeria, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, Russia.

Should I predict further?  Hard to do, without knowing the matchups, but let me go out on a limb (I'll have to re-do after the brackets are settled next summer)

Quarters: Brazil, Spain, Netherlands, France, Argentina, Germany, Uruguay, Belgium.

Almost impossible to go further - but here goes...

Semis: Brazil, Spain, France, Argentina

And completely Octopus, while I'd be ecstatic for a Brazil-Argentina final, ... (I'll take any of these matchups)

Final: Brazil vs. Spain

Spain loses the title...

The Octopus is dancing!

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