4 goals in 7 as Brazil crash out

Germany have put 7 goals past a lacklustre Brazil to progress through to the final of the World Cup in Belo Horizonte, at one stage scoring 4 times in 7 minutes, all of the goals highlighting Brazil’s struggles with marking. Germany had a goal on the board in the 11th, with Toni Kroos’ corner sailing straight to Thomas Muller, who had slipped away from his man and volleyed past a helpless Julio Cesar. If the stadium was quiet after that goal, it became even more so when Muller left Kroos’ pass alone for Miroslav Klose, who rubbed salt into Brazil’s wounds not only by making the score 2-0 but also by overtaking former Brazilian star Ronaldo as the all-time leading scorer at the World Cup Finals. A minute later Kroos hit a perfect strike one-time to put Germany 3 goals up. The mood in the stadium turned into one of full-on shock a couple of minutes later when Kroos stripped the ball off Fernandinho just outside the box, played a one-two with Sami Khedira and crashed the ball past an already committed Cesar and a helpless Dante to turn the score to 4-0. Khedira and Mesut Ozil combined perfectly to help Germany to a 5-goal advantage, which they held to the break.

Brazil spent most of the second half in damage control, but they seemed to be at least holding up a bit better, although much of this was due to some lucky interceptions by lone defenders which prevented Germany from getting the ball to unmanned players in the forward half. Brazil, however, were getting the better chances, but Manuel Neuer denied them time and again with saves that many other keepers would never be able to complete. Then the Germans struck again. Khedira passed the ball to Philipp Lahm from the right wing, and Andre Schurrle put the subsequent pass into the back of the net from close range. Germany 6, Brazil 0. Schurrle graced the scoreboard again 11 minutes later with a brilliant effort, controlling an uppish ball with his first touch at high speed and putting the ball off the bar and in with his second, all done while sprinting away from David Luiz, whose first outing as Brazilian captain was quickly turning into an unmitigated disaster. Oscar weaved the ball around Jerome Boateng and Neuer to pull one back for Brazil in the 90th, but it was little consolation to Brazil as they prepare for a third-place match that could lead to redemption or humiliation, while Germany enter the final on a high and as strong favourites.

Estadio Minierao – Belo Horizonte
Brazil 1 (Oscar 90)
Germany 7 (Muller 11, Klose 23, Kroos 24, 26, Khedira 29, Schurrle 69, 79)
Referee: Marco Rodriguez (Mex)

Brazil: Julio Cesar – Marcelo, Dante, David Luiz, Maicon, Luiz Gustavo, Fernandinho (Paulinho 46), Bernard, Oscar, Hulk (Ramires 46), Fred (Willian 69).

Germany: Neuer – Howedes, Hummels (Mertesacker 46), Boateng, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Khedira (Draxler 76), Ozil, Kroos, Muller, Klose (Schurrle 58).

Italy deny England in thriller

The Italians have beaten England 2-1 in a thrilling match between the heavyweights in Manaus. The match started slowly, with the Italians content to control possession, passing exceptionally. England looked the more threatening side at the start, testing stand-in keeper Salvatore Sirigu from long range early. Raheem Sterling was a major issue for the Italians, constantly threatening the goal with his speed and skills. All the same, the Italians had a lot of control, with Andrea Pirlo effortless in the middle. Italy were able to score first in the 35th minute through Claudio Marchisio. A short corner was taken by Antonio Candreva, and a pass was played in to Pirlo. Pirlo, heavily marked, let the ball pass through his legs to Marchisio, who fired past Joe Hart into the back of the net unmarked from long range. It didn’t take long for the English to level, however, with Wayne Rooney being sent through on the left before whipping in a cross which found Daniel Sturridge at the back post. The English striker tapped the ball in easily to level the score. Italy had some good chances near the end of the half, Mario Balotelli’s chip having to be headed away by Phil Jagielka. Candreva hit the post a minute later, but the sides went into the sheds tied at one-all.

England had a major chance in the 49th minute, but Sturridge was denied by Sirigu. Italy, however, struck on a counter attack, with Pirlo finding Matteo Darmian on the right. Darmian proceeded to find Candreva, who turned Leighton Baines inside out and whipped the ball into the box, where Balotelli hammered it into the back of the net with his head. England proceeded to go on the attack, with Rooney missing some critical chances, including a clear cut chance inside the box. Sirigu made a critical save to deny Ross Barkley, one of many made by the Paris Saint-Germain keeper on the night. England continued to have possession inside their half, but the Italian centre-backs Gabriel Palletta and Andrea Barzagli would not let them through. Glen Johnson’s long range shot was missed. England kept pushing. Sirigu dived brilliantly to stop a Baines free kick. England kept pushing. Both Steven Gerrard and Rooney put the ball over the bar as Italy kept holding on. Eventually the Italians started to counter, and Ciro Immobile proved dangerous. Pirlo hit the bar with a free kick, and Immobile had to be stopped by Gary Cahill after a counter-attack. England were left with no time left, and the Italians had held on to start off their campaign ideally.

Manaus – Arena Amazonia
England 1 (Sturridge 37)
Italy 2 (Marchisio 35, Balotelli 50)
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Ned)

England: Hart – Baines, Jagielka, Cahill, Johnson, Henderson (Wilshere 73), Gerrard, Rooney, Sterling, Welbeck (Barkley 61), Sturridge (Lallana 80).

Italy: Sirigu – Chiellini, Barzagli, Palletta, Darmian, Verratti (Motta 57), de Rossi, Marchisio, Pirlo, Candreva (Parolo 79), Balotelli (Immobile 73).

Joel Campbell has pulled off a brilliant performance to lead Costa Rica to a shock win over Uruguay in Fortaleza. Campbell scored once and set up another as Costa Rica came from behind to take a 3-1 victory over the 2010 semi-finalists. The game started slowly, neither side getting any real opportunities, but Uruguay began to trouble Los Ticos with their set pieces. Diego Godin had a goal disallowed, and Edinson Cavani had a brilliant chance to put his side in front a minute later, both chances originating from free kicks. It didn’t take much longer for Uruguay to claim a lead, with a penalty awarded after Junior Diaz pulled down Diego Lugano in the box. Cavani successfully beat Keylor Navas to score, and Uruguay had the lead. Costa Rica kept attacking, Campbell missing by inches with a long-range strike and generally being a nuisance to the South Americans. Uruguay had the chance to double their lead just before the break, when Navas made a remarkable save to push Diego Forlan’s strike, which had taken a deflection off Oscar Duarte, over the bar.

Costa Rica started the second half well, Duarte forcing a save from Fernando Muslera with a nice header. Four minutes later Campbell had scored the equaliser, with a Cristian Gamboa cross evading Celso Borges but finding an unmanned Campbell in the area. Campbell then proceeded to fire past a helpless Muslera, who could only watch the ball pass him as it flew into the back of the net. The Costa Ricans took only 3 more minutes to draw ahead through Duarte, who beat Christian Stuani to a Christian Bolanos free kick and headed past Muslera. Cavani was able to catch Navas out of his goal, but Diaz headed it away. Uruguay kept possession but were unable to threaten, not looking close to scoring, before substitute Marcos Urena sealed the deal for Costa Rica. Campbell threaded in a perfect through ball, and the sub was quickest to get there. Muslera, who had attempted to beat Urena, was out of position, and Urena rolled it into the back of the net to send the Costa Ricans 2 goals up with 6 minutes of regular time left. To add insult to injury, Maxi Pereira was sent off in stoppage time to not only leave Uruguay beaten but also without their best right-back for the match against England, after one of the biggest upsets at this year’s World Cup.

Fortaleza – Estadio Castelao
Uruguay 1 (Cavani 24 pen)
Costa Rica 3 (Campbell 54, Duarte 57, Urena 84)
Referee: Felix Brych (Ger)

Uruguay: Muslera – Caceres, Godin, Lugano, M Pereira, Rodriguez (Hernandez 76), Gargano (Gonzalez 60), Arevalo, Stuani, Cavani, Forlan (Lodeiro 60).
Expulsions: M Pereira 90+5.

Costa Rica: Navas – Diaz, Umana, Gonzalez, Duarte, Gamboa, Bolanos (Barrantes 88), Tejeda (Cubero 75), Borges, Ruiz (Urena 83), Campbell.

Chile outlast determined Socceroos

Chile have defeated the Australians 3-1 in Cuiaba, despite a dogged effort from the young Australian team. The game threatened to turn into a rout after Alexis Sanchez and Jorge Valdivia put Chile up after 14 minutes, with the Socceroos looking out of their depth. Sanchez kicked off the scoring after some very nice work, with the Chilean beating a few defenders before losing the ball. Australian keeper Mathew Ryan attacked the ball but was beaten by Charles Aranguiz, whose cross found Eduardo Vargas. The resultant header from Vargas fell to Sanchez in space, where he was able to shoot past Ryan. Valdivia scored moments later, finding the space to launch the ball into the top corner past the desperate attempt of Ryan. Australia started to gain some composure, and looked threatening as they started to take some control away from the Chileans. Soon enough, Tim Cahill had a goal back, out-jumping Gary Medel and Gonzalo Jara to head Ivan Franjic’s cross into the back of the net. Australia kept attacking, and threatened to score another, but the sides went in at half time with the score at 2-1.

Cahill missed a couple of opportunities at the start of the second half to level the scores, having a goal disallowed for offside. Marco Bresciano fired at the bottom corner and was only just denied by Claudio Bravo, who was having more to do than Ryan at the other end. Chile had a great opportunity 5 minutes later, Eduardo Vargas just denied on the line by Alex Wilkinson after putting the ball past Ryan. Australia continued pressing, however, with Matthew Leckie, having the game of his life down the right, just placing his header over the bar. Chile seemed unable to string together more than a couple of passes at a time. Leckie’s half-field run was denied desperately by a slide tackle, but Chile seemed to be holding together well enough to deny Australia. The game ticked over into injury time, and the Chileans struck. A nice passing move culminated in Mauricio Pinilla having a shot on goal blocked by Ryan. The shot fell to Jean Beausejour, whose long range strike beat Ryan to put the game beyond doubt.

Cuiaba – Arena Pantanal
Chile 3 (Sanchez 12, Valdivia 14, Beausejour 90+2)
Australia 1 (Cahill 35)
Referee: Noumandiaz Doue (CIV)

Chile: Bravo – Mena, Jara, Medel, Isla, Vidal (Gutierrez 60), Diaz, Aranguiz, Vargas (Pinilla 88), Valdivia (Beausejour 68), Sanchez.

Australia: Ryan – Davidson, Spiranovic, Wilkinson, Franjic (McGowan 48), Milligan, Jedinak, Bresciano (Troisi 78), Oar (Halloran 69), Cahill, Leckie.

Champions decimated as Oranje soar

The Dutch have shocked the Spanish in Salvador, smashing them 5-1 in a second half rout. The first half began as one may have expected, the Spaniards able to control possession and pass incredibly well. David Silva and Andres Iniesta were giving the Dutch lots of trouble with some great balls played in for Diego Costa, but some great Dutch defence held them out to start. In the 26th minute, though, the match turned in the Spaniards favour, Costa being fouled in the area by Stefan de Vrij. Xabi Alonso put the resulting penalty past Jasper Cillesen, and it appeared business as usual for the reigning champions. This was not the case. The Dutch responded to the Spanish goal by starting to win back some control over the game, although their chances did not have the edge required to pass Iker Casillas. Cillesen seemed to have the most work of the two keepers, needing to save a chip shot in a one-on-one situation to deny Silva, although just a minute later the game changed remarkably. Daley Blind took the ball and launched a cross from just past halfway, finding the run of Robin van Persie, whose resultant diving header passed Casillas easily and sent the Dutch level just before the break.

Iniesta had an early chance for the Spanish after the break, forcing a diving save from Cillesen. Three minutes later the Dutch took the lead through Arjen Robben, who had been a constant threat in the first half. Robben was able to work his way around Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique and fire past Casillas after receiving the ball inside the box. The Dutch went agonisingly close to a third 7 minutes later, van Persie hitting the bar after some excellent lead-up work from Robben and Daryl Janmaat. It didn’t matter, however, as de Vrij nodded home a free kick to score his first ever international goal and to put the Oranje up 3-1. Things just kept getting worse for the champions, with Silva having a goal disallowed for offside after he bundled in the rebound of Pedro’s header. 4 minutes after that Robin van Persie made a successful challenge on Casillas inside the area, leaving him with no keeper to beat and a certain second goal. Playing for pride, the Spaniards did not have the power to deny the brilliant Robben a second. Robben left Casillas, who had committed early, floundering on the ground while he passed two desperate defenders trying to fill in for their keeper. The Dutch pushed very hard for a sixth goal, Georginio Wijnaldum and Robben forcing remarkable saves from the Spanish captain, who added some respectability to his performance with the great blocks. Spain’s night ended with another missed opportunity, Fernando Torres brilliantly prevented from scoring into an open goal by a desperate Dutch defender, leaving Spain with their tails between their legs after being completely routed by a brilliant Dutch team.

Salvador – Arena Fonte Nova
Spain 1 (Alonso 27 pen)
Netherlands 5 (van Persie 44, 72, Robben 53, 80, de Vrij 64)
Referee: Nicola Rizzoli (Ita)

Spain: Casillas – Alba, Ramos, Pique, Azpilicueta, Alonso (Pedro 62), Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Costa (Torres 62), Silva (Fabregas 78).

Netherlands: Cillesen – Martins Indi, de Vrij (Veltman 77), Vlaar, Blind, de Jong, de Guzman (Wijnaldum 62), Janmaat, Robben, Sneijder, van Persie (Lens 79).

Cameroon fall to dominant Mexico

Mexico have beaten Cameroon 1-0 in Natal to ensure a perfect start to their World Cup campaign. The Mexicans won through a 61st minute goal to Oribe Peralta, after controlling possession and territory for most of the game. Mexico started very well, with fullbacks Miguel Layun and Paul Aguilar pressing the Indomitable Lions with some great runs down the wing. Mexico were able to find the net in the 11th through Giovani dos Santos, although the goal was disallowed due to offside. Cameroon began to get back into the game, having a goal of their own, to Samuel Eto’o, disallowed in much the same manner. Mexico continued to press with some excellent passing, with Rafael Marquez just missing a header. A few minutes later the offside rule was again brought into the spotlight, with Giovani being controversially denied again. Replays showed the Mexican was onside for the corner, but offside when the ball deflected off a defender and allowed him to head the ball in. The half finished without much more event, although the Mexicans were not particularly pleased with the offside calls.

Cameroon keeper Charles Itandje was called into action early in the second half, forced off his line to block the run of Peralta, who, along with Giovani, was proving a thorn in Cameroon’s side. Cameroon had a chance about ten minutes after, with Jose Juan Vazquez deflecting a Benoit Assou-Ekoto free kick just wide of the post. Two minutes later, however, the goal had been scored. Hector Herrera made a nice run and opened up Giovani, whose shot was blocked very well by Itandje. The rebound, however, fell straight to Peralta, catching Itandje in an impossible position and allowing Peralta to roll the ball into an open net. Cameroon tried to press, although Mexico continued pressing, with Javier Hernandez injecting energy into the game as a substitute. Inefficiency up front cost Cameroon, and Mexico were the ones creating chances, Dany Nounkeu needing to slide to get to a Hernandez cross before Marco Fabian. Cameroon had one final chance in the first minute of injury time, but Benjamin Moukandjo’s header was brilliantly stopped by a diving Guillermo Ochoa as Mexico claimed a solid win.

Natal – Arena Das Dunas
Mexico 1 (Peralta 61)
Cameroon 0
Referee: Wilmar Rondan (Col)

Mexico: Ochoa – Layun, Moreno, Marquez, Rodriguez, Aguilar, Vazquez, Guardado (Fabian 69), Peralta (Hernandez 73), Giovani, Herrera (Salcido 90+2).

Cameroon: Itandje – Assou-Ekoto, Chedjou, N’Koulou, Djeugoue (Nounkeu 46), Enoh, Song (Webo 79), M’Bia, Choupo-Moting, Eto’o, Moukandjo.

Neymar stars as Brazil shine

Brazil have gained the perfect start to their 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign in Sao Paulo, defeating Croatia 3-1 thanks to 2 goals from Neymar, including a 71st minute penalty. The Brazilians started with most of the possession and territory, although it was the Croatians who took the early lead on the counter-attack. Ivica Olic played in a low cross, which Nikica Jelavic was not quite able to make contact with. The slight deflection, however, was enough to put the ball straight into the path of Marcelo, who could not avoid putting the ball past a helpless Julio Cesar into his own net. Brazil continued to press, with Oscar forcing a remarkable diving save from Stipe Pletikosa. Before too long, however, they had equalised, with Neymar’s left foot strike sneaking past Pletikosa into the bottom corner of the net. Brazil kept pushing for an equaliser, and continued to dominate in all of the key areas.

The second half began much as the first, and not much happened for the first few minutes of the period. Brazil had a clear chance denied when Neymar was stopped from breaking through the Croatian defence by a foul from Vedran Corluka. Dani Alves missed the resultant free kick but a few minutes later Brazil had the lead. Brazilian striker Fred was pulled away from Oscar’s ground cross by Dejan Lovren, and despite a slightly over-inflated reaction from the Brazilian, Japanese referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot and booked Lovren. Neymar duly converted, despite Pletikosa getting a hand to it. David Luiz was forced into action just a minute later, deflecting a ground cross from Olic over the bar. The same defender nearly scored 5 minutes after that, with his header just missing the mark. Croatia pushed hard for an equaliser, a goal disallowed after Olic was deemed to have fouled Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar. Luka Modric and Corluka both missed good opportunities, but the game was placed beyond doubt in injury time, a couple of good challenges allowing Oscar to slot the ball past Pletikosa and grant the hosts a perfect start to the tournament.

Sao Paulo – Arena de Sao Paulo
Brazil 3 (Neymar 29, 71 pen, Oscar 90+1)
Croatia 1 (Marcelo 11 og)
Referee: Yuichi Nishimura (Jpn)

Brazil: Julio Cesar – Marcelo, David Luiz, Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho (Hernanes 63), Neymar (Ramires 88), Oscar, Hulk (Bernard 68), Fred.

Croatia: Pletikosa – Vrsaljko, Lovren, Corluka, Srna, Rakitic, Modric, Olic, Kovacic (Brozovic 61), Perisic, Jelavic (Rebic 78).

Key Stats

  • Brazil had 59 percent of possession.
  • Brazil had 14 shots (9 on target), while Croatia had 10 shots (4 on target).
  • Croatia made 21 fouls, while Brazil only made 5.
  • Brazil had 7 corners to Croatia’s 3.

World Cup Preview – Final wrap-up

Now that all the 32 sides have been previewed, it is time for me to pick a winner for the tournament, an unenviable task. As with any world cup, there are the usual suspects, like Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Germany and now Spain, who are the favourites for the title. They are, as usual, joined by some roughies like Portugal, England, France, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands. To pick my winner, however, I shall run a simulation of the knockout stages using the group predictions I made. On those predictions, the round of 16 is as follows: Brazil vs Netherlands, Spain vs Croatia, Cote d’Ivoire vs England, Italy vs Colombia, France vs Nigeria, Argentina vs Switzerland, Germany vs Russia and Belgium vs Portugal.

Brazil should, on home soil, account for the Dutch, although let us not forget it was the Oranje who knocked Brazil out in the quarter-finals of the last tournament. Spain and Germany, the top two in the world, should not have any troubles either, and Italy will be able to beat the Colombians who are without Radamel Falcao to injury. One match I have predicted will occur is a match-up between the English, the perennial “underachievers” and the Ivorians, who have been the best in Africa for years now but have not been able to pass the group stage thanks to some horrendous luck in the draw. England should win, but with the English one must always have caution. Whether their defence can match the Ivorian’s attack is an interesting question, although they may well outshoot the Ivorians, whose defence is weaker than their own.

Argentina may struggle to overcome the incredible defence of the Swiss, but the Swiss themselves wouldn’t pose an awful threat in the goalscoring circles. France should beat Nigeria, although Les Bleus are not the most reliable side going around, and have been dealt a huge blow in the injury to Franck Ribery. This brings us to the match-up of my predicted second round, Belgium and Portugal. The Belgians, with their incredible arsenal of young talent, have enough to give any side a serious challenge, but Cristiano Ronaldo may be a huge challenge for Les Diables Rouges to face. Despite this, the defence is the most experienced part of the Belgian team and they should get the win through better depth. Brazil would be able to take either England or the Cote d’Ivoire, and should make the semis, as should the Germans, who shouldn’t find the knockouts too challenging unless Argentina were to be pushed to second in their group. Either way, the Argentinians would find a real challenge in Belgium, although while a very competitive game would ensue, Argentina should be able to exploit Belgium’s lack of world cup experience.

The final of my hypothetical quarter-finals is Italy vs Spain. The last time these to sides met La Furia Roja trumped the Italians 7-6 on penalties after the match finished 0-0. I feel that this would be the most likely place for the Spaniards to come a cropper, and I will predict that the Italians, with an incredibly solid and experienced side, will be the team to take out the reigning champions, who have changed a lot since their world cup triumph. The Italians should be able to win thanks to the solidity of their defence and their very strong midfield. The semi-finals would then see Brazil meet the Germans, and this would be very interesting. I believe, however, that the Germans will win out thanks to their experience at this level and their skill all over the park. The other semi would be Italy vs Argentina, and while I believe that Argentina have the stronger attack, the Italian defence could probably hold them out and snatch a couple of goals to progress to the final. That leaves my final: Germany vs Italy.

This match is one that would have many layers, and I would predict an extremely entertaining bout. Germany, however, seem to have the better team and should hold out the Italians. This is why I believe that it is Germany who will win the 2014 FIFA World Cup. My picks for the golden boot are Daniel Sturridge of England and Sergio Aguero of Argentina. These are, however, just my predictions, and when predicting the world cup it is impossible to take into account the underdog that will excel. Maybe Ghana, who nearly broke into the semi-finals last time, will be that team, or even Australia, Iran or Korea Republic, who look to have only the slightest of chances. Algeria or Honduras may be that team. One thing is for sure, however. You can just never tell with the world cup.

Predictions
1st: Germany
2nd: Italy
3rd: Brazil
4th: Argentina
Quarter-finals: Belgium, England, France, Spain
Round of 16: Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland
Group Stage: Algeria, Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cameroon, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ghana, Greece, Honduras, Iran, Japan, Korea Republic, Mexico, Uruguay, USA
Golden Boot: Daniel Sturridge (England) and Sergio Aguero (Argentina)
Golden Ball: Philipp Lahm (Germany)
Best Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Best Young Player: Paul Pogba (France)

Please comment on my predictions and please do give some of your own through your comments. Thank you for reading and enjoying my world cup preview.

World Cup Preview – Group H

Group H

Teams (world ranking in brackets): Belgium (11), Algeria (26), Russia (22), Korea Republic (54)
Fixtures:
Belgium vs Algeria, Belo Horizonte
Russia vs Korea Republic, Cuiaba
Belgium vs Russia, Rio de Janeiro
Korea Republic vs Algeria, Porto Alegre
Korea Republic vs Belgium, Sao Paulo
Algeria vs Russia, Curitiba

Belgium

Coach: Marc Wilmots
Captain: Vincent Kompany
World Cup Appearances: 11 (1930, 1934, 1938, 1954, 1970, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002)
Best Result: Fourth Place (1986)
Qualified: 1st Group A
Qualification Top Scorer: Kevin de Bruyne (4)

Form Guide

Belgium return to the world stage after a 12-year absence with one of their best ever teams. They cruised through qualifying with two draws (one against Wales after qualification was sealed) the only blips. The Belgians only conceded 4 times throughout their ten matches.

Strengths

In their side the Belgians have many players at some of the world’s biggest clubs. Winger Eden Hazard has been in great form with Chelsea, and already has 44 caps at just 23. Striker Romelu Lukaku has been consistently loaned out by Chelsea, but he has always thrived. Thibaut Courtois is making a name for himself as one of the best keepers in the world, having beaten Iker Casillas to the mantle of best goalkeeper in Spain two years in a row. Backed up with a solid defence of captain Vincent Kompany, Daniel van Buyten, Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen amongst others, it is hard to see Belgium conceding too many goals.

Weaknesses

One reason for the Belgians success has been the great young players in the squad, but inexperience may now shape up as a big issue for Belgium. Only van Buyten has played at a world cup before, and while he brings a lot of experience, no-one else in the squad has over 60 caps, although a few are hanging around that mark. Courtois may be excellent in the league, but how he can handle the pressure of a world cup will be an important test for the 22-year old, and a lot will rest on his success or failure.

Algeria

Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic
Captain: Madjid Bougherra
World Cup Appearances: 3 (1982, 1986, 2010)
Best Result: Group Stage (1982, 1986, 2010)
Qualified: 1st Group H, went on to defeat Burkina Faso in play-off
Qualification Top Scorer: Islam Slimani (5)

Form Guide

Algeria cruised through to the play-offs, with an early loss to Mali the only flaw. They were drawn to play Burkina Faso in the play-offs, and a late Aristide Bance penalty in Ouagadougou gave Burkina Faso a 3-2 first-leg win. Algeria were, however, able to qualify on away goals with a 49th minute goal to Madjid Bougherra giving them a 1-0 home win.

Strengths

Many great young players have entered the Algerian side since the 2010 world cup, many in midfield and attack, both areas severely lacking during the tournament. Sofiane Feghouli and Saphir Sliti Taider will control the midfield, and will be ably supported in that role by Mehdi Lacen and Hassan Yebda. 19-year old Spurs midfielder Nabil Bentaleb has shown a lot of promise. Islam Slimani was prolific up front in qualifying, and El Arbi Soudani will help him up front. Players like Carl Medjani and Bougherra bring experience to the defence.

Weaknesses

The side is still very young, and Bougherra is the only squad member to have more than 30 caps, and he is currently unattached after leaving Lekhwiya, who aren’t a high-profile club, in May. 13 of the 23 players named in the Algerian squad have under 20 international caps, and this lack of experience will be a problem when playing against more experienced sides like Russia and Belgium. First-choice keeper Rais M’Bohli plays for CSKA Sofia in Bulgaria, and he does not have a lot of experience playing against the best in the world.

Russia

Coach: Fabio Capello
Captain: Vasili Berezutski
World Cup Appearances: 2 (1994, 2002)
Best Result: Group Stage (1994, 2002)
Qualified: 1st Group F
Qualification Top Scorer: Aleksandr Kerzhakov (5)

Form Guide

Russia took advantage of some poor early results from Portugal to claim first place by a point despite losses to Northern Ireland and the Portuguese. In the end they qualified with a 1-1 draw in the last game against Azerbaijan, after Roman Shirokov’s early strike was cancelled out by Vagif Javadov.

Strengths

The Russians are very solid and experienced in the centre of defence, with CSKA Moskva’s Igor Akinfeev in goal. He is backed up well by Sergei Ignashevich and Vasili Berezutski, and Dmitry Kombarov provides great run from left-back. Yuri Zhirkov, Igor Denisov and Alan Dzagoev make for a strong midfield, and support is provided by Viktor Fayzulin, Denis Glushakov and Aleksandr Samedov. Aleksandr Kerzhakov brings lots of experience to the team, and he will form a great partnership with Aleksandr Kokorin.

Weaknesses

While the side is very strong, some key names have been left out. Aleksandr Anyukov and Aleksei Berezutski, who each have over 50 caps and provide valuable experience in the fullback positions, have been left out, leaving the less experienced Kombarov and an even less experienced fullback, such as Andrey Yeshchenko or Aleksei Kozlov, to fill two key positions. Shirokov is out of the side injured, taking away valuable experience, and Andrei Arshavin’s international retirement has done the same, leaving the Russians with a lot of inexperienced players.

Korea Republic

Coach: Hong Myung-Bo
Captain: Koo Ja-Cheol
World Cup Appearances: 8 (1954, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010)
Best Result: Fourth Place (2002)
Qualified: 2nd Group A
Qualification Top Scorer: Park Chu-Young (6)

Form Guide

The South Koreans comfortably passed the third round of AFC qualifying, finishing first with only one loss. They only just scraped through to the world cup, however, claiming second on goal difference over Uzbekistan. This came despite Iran beating them 1-0 and the Uzbeks beating Qatar 5-1 on the final match day.

Strengths

The Korean midfield is very strong, with players like Kim Bo-Kyung, Ki Sung-Yueng, Koo Ja-Cheol and Lee Chung-Yong who are experienced and playing against some of Europe’s best. Son Heung-Min has received some regular game time with Bayer Leverkusen this season, and he will be valuable on the left wing. Park Chu-Young and Lee Keun-Ho were very strong in qualifying, and each bring lots of experience to the side. Ji Dong-Won, whose work up front for Augsburg has been so impressive Borussia Dortmund have signed him, will provide great support.

Weaknesses

Many of the players in the side have not played in the world cup before, with only 5 current players (Kim Bo-Kyung, Park Chu-Young, Ki Sung-Yeung, Lee Chung-Yong and keeper Jung Sung-Ryong) having played at the tournament before. The loss of former captain Park Ji-Sung has taken away lots of experience, and the young squad could benefit from someone like Lee Dong-Gook or Kim Nam-Il (with 99 and 98 caps respectively) being in the team to add some more experience. The defence may also struggle, with no-one at big clubs or with many international caps.

My Predictions

Expect this group to be interesting, as none of the sides are overly experienced. I think the Belgians are ready to shine at this tournament, and I would expect them to take first. Expect a close battle between the other teams for second place.
1. Belgium, 2. Russia, 3. Algeria, 4. Korea Republic
Next: I wrap up my preview by predicting who will win the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

World Cup Preview – Group G

Group G

Teams (world ranking in brackets): Germany (2), Portugal (5), Ghana (24), USA (14)
Fixtures:
Germany vs Portugal, Salvador
Ghana vs USA, Natal
Germany vs Ghana, Fortaleza
USA vs Portugal, Manaus
USA vs Germany, Recife
Portugal vs Ghana, Brasilia

Germany

Coach: Joachim Low
Captain: Philipp Lahm
World Cup Appearances: 17 (1934, 1938, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010)
Best Result: Champions (1954, 1974, 1990)
Qualified: 1st Group C
Qualification Top Scorer: Mesut Ozil (8)

Form Guide

Germany breezed through qualification for the tournament, the only blemish being a 4-4 draw against Sweden in Berlin. The Germans are very experienced at the world cup, having won it three times and played in every edition since 1950. They have at least made the semi-finals in the last three world cups and are ranked 2 in the world.

Strengths

The strategy of naming lots of young players for the 2006 world cup has paid dividends for Germany, with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski now the core of the side, with Lahm succeeding Michel Ballack as captain. Lahm is also one of the best fullbacks in the world, and he will provide attacking support. The midfield is one of the best in the world, from Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira in the centre to Mesut Ozil, Toni Kroos, Andre Schurrle and Podolski setting up the forwards. Manuel Neuer is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and will be hard to score against.

Weaknesses

Only two strikers have been named in the preliminary squad, and one of those is Miroslav Klose, who is 35 and is now approaching his fourth world cup, a tournament which he has excelled at in the past. The Germans are certainly still hoping that he will perform, although it seems a major gamble not taking Mario Gomez, who has been consistent since the last world cup. The other striker taken is 21 year-old Kevin Volland, who has one cap. This means that the attack will struggle as it is likely that Germany will either have to choose an inexperienced or veteran striker, and this is a worry.

Portugal

Coach: Paulo Bento
Captain: Cristiano Ronaldo
World Cup Appearances: 5 (1966, 1986, 2002, 2006, 2010)
Best Result: Third Place (1966)
Qualified: 2nd Group F, went on to defeat Sweden in play-off
Qualification Top Scorer: Cristiano Ronaldo (8)

Form Guide

The Portuguese were unable to recover from a bad run of form in which they lost 1-0 to Russia and drew 1-1 and 3-3 with Northern Ireland and Israel respectively. These results ultimately consigned them to second place and a play-off against Sweden, which they won 4-2 on aggregate thanks to 4 goals from Cristiano Ronaldo.

Strengths

The Portuguese have some very strong players in their starting XI, with Real Madrid star Ronaldo the stand-out. Ronaldo has been in incredible form, winning the Ballon d’Or in 2013, and recently won the Champions League with the Spanish giants. Helder Postiga was very effective in the first round of qualifying, scoring six goals, while players like Nani and Silvestre Varela combine effectively with Ronaldo on the wings. Pepe and Bruno Alves will form an effective partnership in the centre of defence, and they have strong fullbacks in Fabio Coentrao and Joao Pereira. Miguel Veloso, Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho control the centre of midfield.

Weaknesses

While Portugal have some very strong players, Ronaldo contributes a majority of the goals, scoring all of Portugal’s goals in the play-off against Sweden, including a hat-trick in Solna. Ronaldo is crucial to Portugal’s success at the tournament, although while he is very experienced at the world cup (he has played 11 matches) he has not been the most prolific, only netting twice. This dependence on Ronaldo is very risky as apart from him Postiga is the only main option. This is a worry because Postiga has not had much world cup experience despite being named in the squad for the 2006 edition.

Ghana

Coach: James Kwesi Appiah
Captain: Asamoah Gyan
World Cup Appearances: 2 (2006, 2010)
Best Result: Quarter-finals (2010)
Qualified: 1st Group D, went on to defeat Egypt in play-off
Qualification Top Scorer: Asamoah Gyan (6)

Form Guide

Ghana faced a struggle in the second round of qualifying against Zambia, although a 2-1 home win was enough to see them through to the play-offs. They were drawn against Egypt, and a 6-1 first-leg victory all but sealed qualification. In 2010 Ghana lost on penalties to Uruguay in the quarter-finals after Asamoah Gyan missed a 120th minute penalty.

Strengths

Ghana’s midfield is extremely strong, from Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and Emmanuel Badu in the centre to Kevin-Prince Boateng, Andre Ayew, Christian Atsu and Kwadwo Asamoah setting up the forwards. Captain Gyan starred at the last tournament, and Majeed Waris and Jordan Ayew will provide great support. In players like Muntari, Asamoah, Badu, Andre Ayew and Gyan, Ghana have very experienced internationals who are still close to their prime. This is great for the experience of the squad.

Weaknesses

The Ghanaian defence is not incredibly strong, with no players from big clubs as there are in midfield. This could be a worry when coming up against some of the best players in the world, and could leave Ghana vulnerable in a tough group. The goalkeeping situation is far from ideal, with the only European-based keeper, Adam Kwarasey, plying his wares at Stromgodset in the weak Norwegian league. Richard Kingson’s absence from the squad leaves a huge gulf of experience in the position, and the three selected goalkeepers only have 45 caps between them.

USA

Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
Captain: Clint Dempsey
World Cup Appearances: 9 (1930, 1934, 1950, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010)
Best Result: Semi-finals (1930)
Qualified: 1st in CONCACAF qualifying
Qualification Top Scorer: Clint Dempsey (8)

Form Guide

Under the guidance of former German coach Jurgen Klinsmann the USA qualified easily in first place, sealing qualification with two games to spare. Their spot was sealed against Mexico, with goals to Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan enough for a 2-0 win.

Strengths

In Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey the US have two very strong midfielders who are internationally experienced and have played against the world’s best. Goalkeeper Tim Howard is one of the best in the world, playing in the Premier League and he is vastly experienced at this level, having been capped 99 times for his country. The midfield is strong, with Dempsey, Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Alejandro Bedoya all very strong players. Young players like John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green have bright futures ahead.

Weaknesses

The non-selection of Donovan, the star of the last world cup, takes away a lot of experience from the attack and the squad in general. A lot of players are now moving away from the European leagues and going to the weaker MLS, such as Bradley (Roma to Toronto) and Dempsey (Spurs to Seattle). This is not a good thing for the US, as their best players are not getting constant experience against the world’s best. The players who seem to be playing in Europe are the players who are the least experienced at this level, and some have not picked up much game time.

My Predictions

This is arguably the strongest group in the tournament, and an upset could easily occur, although Germany and Portugal are definitely favourites to progress. The most likely team to knock them off would be the USA, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if either them or Ghana claimed second place.
1. Germany, 2. Portugal, 3. USA, 4. Ghana
Next: I preview the final group, Group H, where two sides who haven’t played on this stage since 2002 go head-to-head.