Saturday, November 23, 2013

Qualified for Brazil

The participants for the World Cup are ready, and there is an excellent list of participants for what could be the most exciting World Cup for decades. The draw of the groups will be on December 6th, but here is a little pre-estimate of the teams:

  • Spain: No matter what people say they are the favourites to win the title. Indeed, they are not the same as four years ago, and there may be a little fatigue in a side that has won it all. Nevertheless, they have become a team that know to pace themselves in competition. Only a few teams will be able to match them, and they need to hope Spain has a bad day (like when Brazil won the Confederations Cup).
  • Portugal: It would be a great loss for the World Cup if Cristiano Ronaldo did not play in it. And indeed, he almost single-handedly brought Portugal to Brazil, and will be important in carrying them far.
  • France: Classified in the last game with a good 3-0 victory over Ukraine in spite numerous difficulties along the way. While it is impossible to deny the talent of French football, the national team has been hugely disappointing for a long time now. Frank Ribery will be hugely important to carry them forward, but I doubt they will do anything memorable.
  • England: The last World Cup in Brazil was also historic for England, who were brought down by little USA. This time expectations will not be as high as back then, and England will be more humble. But do not count humility to get them far either.
  • Belgium: One of the dark horses of the World Cup, with one of the most exciting young teams in the world right now. While they may play some great matches and could cause some serious upsets, it is doubtful they can go all the way. Will be nice to see them go far though.
  • Netherlands: As always they will enter the tournament as favourites, having been awesome in qualification. Still, they have always had difficulties, just like in 2012 in Ukraine, and while they have the capacity to go all the way, it remains to be seen.
  • Germany: Surely will be a favourite to win the tournament with an excellent and organized side; one of the best of the world.
  • Switzerland: The Swiss have a solid side of many strong players but qualified from what many considered an easy group (ahead of Iceland). Still, due to their results over the last years they will be seeded in the highest group, where many will look to face them. But care must be taken not to underestimate them (remember Spain in 2012...?).
  • Italy: Was strong in qualification in a weak group. The side under Prandelli is more offensive and is surely to be reckoned with, although not many will think them likely to take the title.
  • Croatia: Qualified in the play-offs against Iceland after trailing Belgiun in the qualifying group. They are not as strong as in former years.
  • Greece: A strong and organized defense took them to the World Cup after a play-off match against Romania. Greece is not going to be World Champion in Brazil.
  • Bosnia-Hercegovina: The only first-timer in the 2014 World Cup. They won their group ahead of Greece, and will surely want to proudly show their flag in Brazil.
  • Russia:Won their group perhaps a bit surprising ahead of Portugal when the Portuguese could not defeat Israel at home. The side is coached by the almost-legendary Fabio Capello, and it will be very interesting to see what they can do in Brazil.
North America and the Caribbean:
  • USA: After a bit shaky start they profited well from the results in the CONCACAF qualification zone to win the group and qualify directly.
  • Honduras: After defeating the USA and tying Mexico at the start of qualification Honduras fell somehow behind until they stunned Mexico by defeating them 1-2 in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, a match that put them well-deserved in a world cup position.
  • Costa Rica: Winning all their home matches in "la hexagonal" was what effectively put Costa Rica in their fourth World Cup. I have fond memories of Costa Rica from their 1990 participation where they stunned the world.
  • Mexico: One of the most difficult qualification campaigns ever for Mexico: it started in the first stage with five players being suspended for doping, and then they struggle in "la hexagonal"  where their formerly impregnable home stadium Azteca was suddenly not so impregnable. After losing at home to Honduras coach Chepo de la Torre was fired, and Mexico just managed to get the fourth spot and a play-off match against New Zealand. Here, Mexico made no doubt that they belong in Brazil, winning 9-3 on aggregate.
  • Ivory Coast: The Ivorians again go to a World Cup with one of the strongest African sides, even with an ageing Didier Drogba. Still, it will be wonderful to see the veteran in Brazil.
  • Ghana: Ghana is in their third World Cup in a row, and after destroying the strong Egyptians in the qualification play-off, the Black Stars will also be a team to watch, and perhaps again keep the African hopes alive.
  • Algeria: Were lucky to qualify in the end with their play-off against Burkina Faso. Algeria will always get sympathy since they were cheated in the World Cup of 1982, but still, I think I would have loved to see Burkina Faso in Brazil.
  • Cameroun: The legendary Cameroonians made no doubt they wanted to be in Brazil when they trounced Tunisia 4-1 in their last play-off match. It will be their seventh World Cup and hopefully the legendary Samuel Eto'o will be there one last time.
  • Nigeria: The African champions had no major problems qualifying, even defeating a good Ethiopian side in the play-offs. They will be under pressure to do well in Brazil from their expectant fans after not having done well in the latest World Cups.
South America:
  • Brazil: Brazil is under huge pressure and expectations to win the World Cup, and they are surely favourites. It has helped that they now have Felipe Scolari as coach, who is the one man who may lead the Brazilians beyond the pressure to success. Together with Spain, they are the favourites.
  • Colombia: A likeable and strong team, Jose Pekerman has an important challenge in trying to tie together his offensive players in the most efficient manner. While Colombia may be a dark horse for the title, I think their defense weaknesses and the enormous pressure their fans always puts on them, will likely prove their demise.
  • Chile: Because of its attractive playing style Chile is likely to win even more friends in Brazil than they did in South Africa. Also, the side looks even stronger, making Chile another of the sides to watch out for in Brazil.
  • Argentina: While they apparently have some of the best attacking power in the world, Argentina does not look to be an unbeatable side. Coach Alejandro Sabella has himself admitted that they are weak in defense, and denied that Argentina is a favourite. I agree.
  • Ecuador: They started well in qualification but foundered a bit towards the end, although their participation never really looked threatened.
  • Uruguay: They had some problems in qualification, and at one point their participation looked unlikely. But towards the end they came back strongly, with some of their excellent strikers putting up strong performances to give them a play-off match against Jordan. There was really no contest when Uruguay destroyed the Jordanians in Amman. Last time Uruguay played a World Cup in Brazil they won it in front of an astonished Maracana Stadium. While they may not win it again, their participation in Brazil is one of the most necessary ones for the tournament.
  • Japan: The Japanese were the first side to qualify to Brazil, where they will surely have many fans following them, something that will give them extra energy. They did well in South Africa and are bound to do well in Brazil.
  • South Corea: Perhaps not as strong as before, but still the most consistent team from Asia, having participated in every World Cup since 1986.
  • Australia: Now part of the Asian qualification Australia had little trouble qualifying behind Japan in their group. This will be their third consecutive World Cup.
  • Iran: Qualified well by winning the second round group ahead of South Corea and Uzbekistan to make it to their fourth World Cup.

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