In case you hadn’t heard, the FIFA World Cup begins tonight. Eight years ago I ran a small world cup blog, which looking back on it now, was not too shabby. I’m not doing that this time around, relying instead on others (like the excellent tactical blog, Zonal Marking) to wrap some detail, humour and […]
In case you hadn’t heard, the FIFA World Cup begins tonight. Eight years ago I ran a small world cup blog, which looking back on it now, was not too shabby. I’m not doing that this time around, relying instead on others (like the excellent tactical blog, Zonal Marking) to wrap some detail, humour and analysis around the tournament. However, since I’ve been asked to do so by a few people, here’s my quick and dirty predictions for the tournament.
France played one of the most memorable World Cup matches I’ve ever seen, a torrid Semi-Final against West Germany in ’82. And, of course, they won in a memorable final in ’98. However, this side will probably resemble, more closely, the disappointing team of ’02, who failed to get out of the group stage.
Mexico are a talented and tactically adventurous side who often dominate their region but can’t always transfer that form to the World Cup stage. However, I expect them to make it through to the round of sixteen.
South Africa as the hosts will have tremendous support. But, their form going into the tournament suggests they will struggle to give their fans much to cheer about, once the opening rounds are complete.
Uruguay struggled early on in qualifying but came into their own over time. My feeling is this tournament will be one for playmakers and pure strikers of the ball and Uruguay have both. The draw, in the knockout stages could favour them as potential quarter finalists.
Argentina are the enigma of the tournament. A stunningly powerful and creative side. But, with Maradona as coach anything – and, I mean anything – could happen. Still, I’m going to pick them to make it at least as far as the semi-finals and maybe, just maybe, go all the way.
Greece will be a tough side to beat, but I’m not sure they have a winning formula. Still, in something of a weak group, they will probably make it through to the knockout stages.
Nigeria have historically been one of the strongest and most attractive African sides. But, they are a weaker and less sophisticated proposition this time. If they manage to beat Greece to second place in the group, that will be as far as they go.
South Korea are the strongest of what is a weak batch of Asian nations. An energetic side who will run and run and run, then leave after their three group games.
Algeria are a side that are being overlooked by a lot of commentators. But, I expect may cause some headaches for the other teams in this group. They won’t make it to the next stage, but they could well pull off an upset.
England are a team I’d like to see do well. But, I’m not sure how far they will go once they make it to the knockout stages. Injuries and an unbalanced squad will be their undoing.
Slovenia are a side that I expect to play very defensive and tight football. They may just make it through to the knockout stages, which for them would be quite an achievement.
USA only really play well when they attack, which could be their undoing given that the smaller teams in this group can play patient football. But, if they take their chances, the US will, as I expect, make it through to the next round.
Australia did well in the last world cup to make it to the knockout stage and push the Italians in a tough match. Sadly, this side is slower, less creative and less attack-minded than the team from four years ago. A hard fought but early exit awaits the “Socceroos.”
Germany will miss Ballack in the centre of the park but will still have enough firepower to make it through to the quarter finals.
Ghana will also miss a key (Chelsea-based) player-maker in Michael Essien. Still, they are an exciting team who will push their opposition hard, though maybe not hard enough to win through to the next round.
Serbia strike me as one of the most defensively solid teams in the tournament. They should make the knockout stages, but I doubt they have the goalscoring prowess to go far.
Cameroon are a side that can play electric football on a good day, but may well lack the discipline to get the results needed to make it through to the knockout stage.
Denmark are my pick to take the second qualifying spot in what could be the most lopsided group. They have a good squad, can control the game and win while playing at a slow tempo – something that might be handy at altitude. Don’t be surprised if they make the quarter finals.
Japan are a team that will prove that good players can’t overcome bad tactics. Poor qualifying form will translate to a bottom of the group finish.
Netherlands are a sharp side that some smart pundits have picked as a potential dark-horse. My feeling is this side will be every-bit as exciting as the great squads of ’74, ’78 and ’94 and should make it to at least the semi-finals.
Italy will start slow, score a lot of goals, knock Brasil out, reach the semi finals, send their fans crazy and be hated by everyone else. Business as usual really.
New Zealand have done well to make it this far. However, that will be cold comfort every time they pick the ball out of the own net – something they will be doing a lot.
Paraguay are one of my favourite South American sides, largely down to their “Christmas Tree” formation. Deadly on the counter attack and agonisingly hard to break down in defence, they will make to the next round at least.
Slovakia are able to play stylish football and with a youthful squad they may surprise some. Then again, they may not. The order of matches favours them, but I doubt they have what it takes to score against two of the best defensive teams in the tournament.
Brasil will, thanks to coach Dunga, be playing an uncharacteristically pragmatic brand of football at the tournament. Still, they have enormous goalscoring potential across the park and plenty of potential stars. It will take a big team to undo them.
Cote d’Ivoire were my pick of the African sides till the freak injury to Didier Drogba. They should still progress, but might struggle to get beyond the first knockout stage.
North Korea play a brand of football that is hard to love, unless you like robotic predictability. They will scramble and fight and worry about what awaits them when they return home after the group stage.
Portugal have great players but will not match the results of recent tournaments. Christiano Ronaldo will have to do a lot to help lift his side to the next phase.
Chile have their best squad since ’98 and, thanks to Bielsa, their best tactics since they hosted the finals in ’62. Stylish and deadly on the counter-attack they are the pick of a lot of analysts to stage an upset or two.
Honduras have suffered some brutal defeats on the world cup stage. They are now a stronger and more well disciplined side that can play attractive football. However, they will still struggle to win a game.
Spain are many people’s favourites to win the tournament. They have a staggeringly strong squad and in Del Bosque, a coach who knows how to win. They will impress early, but injuries and fatigue will mean they might struggle in the knockout stages.
Switzerland don’t always have the goalscoring flair to match their otherwise solid form. An unfashionable side that will play well, but leave early.
Tactically, I think it will be a fascinating world cup. Whereas recent tournaments have favoured 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 formations, this year we will see more sides playing variations of 3 at the back and also the now popular again (at European club level) 4-3-3. Then, of course, Brasil will be playing their crazy 2-2-2-2-2 system with different emphasis down each flank (because they can).
So, who will make the Quarter Finals? Well, my pick is that Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Serbia and Uruguay will make up the final eight. Going beyond that, I’m going to stick my neck out and predict an Argentina versus Netherlands final.
Of course, the likelihood is that, in a few weeks, I’ll look back on these predictions and wonder what kind of lunacy had overcome me. That’s what I love about football. After all the predictions, analysis and thinking the game still takes us by surprise again and again.
In that spirit I’ve been working on this kind of crazy tune, Golaso. Hope you enjoy the World Cup!