I have come full circle with the beautiful game of soccer, or football or whatever we call it here (I’ll stick to soccer for political correctness because I’m American.) Like many kids, soccer is the first sport played because of its simplicity which in a way makes this game so great and of course so boring at times. As a young boy I ran the local 6U soccer circuit, known around the league as “The Wall” because you weren’t getting anything past me in the net. I truly enjoyed the game, but was ultimately peer pressured into playing American Football in 4th grade and could say that the rest is history.
Then about five years ago I came home from school in the middle of February and turned on ESPN, like any other day. Instead of seeing Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser on “Pardon The Interruption” turned out to be a Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester City. Like most soccer games that would turn up on my TV, I would move on to the next channel without even thinking about it. Yet, for some reason I laid on my couch and watch the match end in a 1-1 draw at Anfield. At the time I didn’t think much of it, I had no idea who Steven Gerrard was or Vincent Kompany, but nonetheless I was entertained and enjoyed it.
Five years later on April 13th, I woke up at 7:15 am on a Sunday morning to watch Liverpool and Manchester City play in the biggest match of the Premier League season at Anfield, a match that City saw themselves down 2-0 15 minutes in, but fought back to make it 2-2 by miraculous plays from midfielders David Silva and James Milner, but then a mistake by Captain Vincent Kompany late in the game conceded a goal that would surely win Liverpool the title. Except it was City who would prevail at the end of the season, lifting the trophy as champions, or as they sing, “Champeones! Champeones! OLE! OLE! OLE!”
I could go all day about how I started to love once again the beautiful game of football (I’m rollin’ with “football” so deal with it) and how I fell in love with Manchester City and their ascendancy towards being an English power, but you and I have no time for that, The World Cup starts tomorrow and is shaping up to be that World Cup that “got way too political in Brazil, yet when the games started no one cared about anything but the score.”
Even if the estimated total of $11 Billion that was put into building everything to make Brazil World Cup ready turned about to be the most controversial one of our time, we should all hope for the best (Kinda like in Sochi.)
If you’re not pumped, here is an awesome World Cup commercial to get you going:
Not feeling that one? OK there’s only about hundred of these anyway…
Now that your boots are on and you’re ready to take the pitch, here’s Goat FC ( I know, I like it too) Group Stage Previews:
It’s hard to argue against the host nation fielding the best talent out of any team in the tournament. The back line of Dani Alves (Barcelona), Thiago Silva (PSG), David Luiz (Transferring to PSG) and Marcelo (Real Madrid) is the best defense any team has to offer in this World Cup and it showed last year in the Confederation Cup when they only let in three goals in five games. Offensively, Hulk, Paulinho, Oscar and Fred will aid the attack with Brazil’s next chosen one, Neymar jr. who joined Barcelona this past season. If Neymar can tune out all the pressure and media hype surrounding him (which he admits has gotten to him in the past) and play like he plays when he did growing up in the streets of São Paulo and on the beaches in Rio, manager Luiz Felipe Scolari ( Who as you may know banned “acrobatic sex” and alcohol from his players during the Cup) and his team will walking their way into the finals.
A defensively sound Croatia side will complement nicely with in-form Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric and Bayren Munich striker Mario Mandzukic, who will miss the first game due to being red carded in qualification. Croatia’s chances of making the knockout stage rely heavily on defeating Mexico when they play in late June. Croatia opens up against Brazil in the first match of the tournament.
Speaking of El Tri, Mexico stumbled their way into the World Cup, yet lucked out with still a chance to advance, drawing a softer group. Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez, aka “Chicharito” will miss the first match against Cameroon due to lingering injuries, yet is vital to Mexico’s offense, chances of advancing and well…just about everything else.
For the 7th time Cameroon makes it back to the World Cup ( Most by any African Nation) has been led by Chelsea forward Samuel Eto’o who is the all-time leading goal scorer, but at the age of 33 Cameroon will have to find other ways to put more balls in the back of the net to ease the pressure on Eto’o.
For the past eight years Spain has been the most dominant European team and it wasn’t very close. The Real Madrid/Barcelona glorified all-star team has just about won every major International and European trophy including their first World Cup in 2010. Still maintaining a No. 1 World ranking, Vincent del Bosque’s style of possession and short-passing isn’t very fun to watch unless you’re a coach, but many are now on the older side of 30 yet players like David Silva, Pique and Xabi Alonso are X-Factors in returning glory to La Furia Roja side. If Atletico Madrid star striker Diego Costa can get healthy and stay that way, Spain’s chances of a repeat increase drastically.
Meanwhile in the 2010 Final, the feel good story of the Netherlands had to sit and watch Spain celebrate after 120 minutes of hard-nosed football. If the World Cup was held last year I would have chosen the Netherlands as the clear-cut favorite after forwards Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie came off of career years for their respective Bayren Munich and Manchester United sides, but have been inconsistent this season. Injuries have become a problem for the Oranje side in recent weeks, if they can’t get it together, they may be on an early flight home.
Chile fields a solid not-great-but-not-bad team that has world-class talent in winger Alexis Sanchez (Barcelona) and midfielder Arturo Vidal of Italian giant Juventus. Experience is very underrated in the World Cup and Chile have most of the team from 2010 in which they reached the round of 16 back for another go around, this time a reasonable distance from their homeland.
Australia, well mate, Australia is just happy to be here.
With no clear favorite, I’ll give the nod to Colombia to be the first team advancing out of this group. Even without striker Radamel Falcao who tore his ACL in January who in fact has scored 61 goals in the past three seasons is a major blow, young forwards Juan Cuadrado and Jackson Martinez will have to carry the offensive load.
Which Greece will be showing up is the question of many pundits when looking at this group. The past year has been an inconsistent team, going on many hot and cold streaks of scoring goals. Consistency is key in group play and Greece will have to find better ways than just waiting to counterattack their opponents like they always have in the past under manager Fernando Santos.
Ivory Coast’s last chance to do some damage with their “Golden Generation” of Yaya Toure ( Man City) Gervinho (Roma) Didier Drogba ( Galatasaray) and Wilfried Bony (Swansea City) comes with plenty of opportunities to score goals, all of which have shown they can in bunches in the past. The key is how consistent Les Éléphants can play on defense will determine their fate.
Led by Manchester United Midfielder Shinji Kagawa, Japan likes to pressure teams with their 4-2-3-1 attacking style of play and can do it successfully with new young star Shinji Okazaki who netted 15 Bundesliga goals this season for Mainz in Germany. Don’t surprised if they make it to the knockout stage too.
Don’t let the onslaught of attacking options of Uruguay fool you, even if it yields the top striker in the world right now in Luis Suarez and PSG’s Edison Cavani, they have an untested goalkeeper in Fernando Muslera ( I haven’t heard of him either) and a back four that is less than to be desired. Yet this country is coming off a Semifinal bid four years ago and would love nothing more than
to ruin Brazil’s coming home party once again like in 1950 when a crowd of 173,000 saw them beat the Brazil side for the Cup.
The Azzurri or the Italians are true believers in Darwin’s theory of “Survival of the fittest” in that this team will adapt to any style of play at any moment of the game, which leaves them difficult to plan for and ultimately, difficult to beat. Somehow, someway, Andrea Pirlo and Gigi Buffon are still impacting games greatly, but now have some help from younger guys like AC Milan uber-talented striker Mario Balotelli who can take over a tournament at any time and showed that in the Euros in 2012. Also look out for another young striker in Ciro Immobile who led Serie A in goals this past season.
Which Wayne Rooney is going to show up for the Three Lions? Domestic Wayne who is cherished as England’s Golden boy of this generation or International Rooney who has yet to find the back of the net in a World Cup? At Midfield Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard is joined by young and talented teammates Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling who have both showed they can play and score against some of the best in the world. In net, Manchester City’s Joe Hart is as good as they come after a club campaign saw him ending the season in the best form of his career.
Don’t think Costa Rica is going to lie down for the other three in this group. The Costa Rica defense was one of the toughest in CONCACAF qualification giving up only 7 goals and also beat the US and Mexico to advance to the World Cup.
I’m not sure who the French paid off, or gave an all-exclusive tour of Paris to inside of FIFA, but it definitely worked drawing the easiest Group besides Argentina. Even if Group play should be a walk in the park, I’m a big fan of this French squad who has a decent chance of making some noise this year. Deschamps installing the 4-2-3-1 formation will take advantage of his plethora of World-Class attackers in Oliver Giroud of Arsenal, Karim Benzema of Real Madrid and Franck Ribery from Bayren Munich. The attack will complement nicely with the young infusion of talent in the midfield with budding star Paul Pogba of Juventus making his first Cup appearance. Even with a solid goalkeeper like Hugo Lloris, the French back four can be exploited.
Switzerland ushers in a new generation of players that will make their first World Cup appearance, which is a good and bad thing. They’re speed and confidence within the club can challenge France for the top spot but will likely settle for second. Keep an eye on 21 year-old forward Josip Drmic who can be a huge difference maker in this group if he lives up to the potential.
Ecuador and Honduras don’t have the depth to compete with either team above, but there is still young talent to take note of from these two countries. Striker Felipe Caicedo of Ecuador was once considered one of the top prospects in all of the world, now at 25 will have to show that he isn’t a bust. Both teams lack back lines that will be able to keep them close late in matches.
Argentina have the fire power of the Death Star on attack coming into Brazil. The 4-3-3 attacking style manager Alejandro Sabella will employ basically tells Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain to score as many goals as you can in 90 minutes. La Albiceleste also have World Class in the midfield with Real Madrid winger Angel de Maria commanding the right flank on counterattacks. Home field advantage will also inspire this team throughout the tournament, as it is surely time that Lionel Messi establishes himself as one of the greatest ever.
If you’re looking for a feel-good, underdog story, look no further than Man City striker Edin Dzeko and his Bosnia & Herzegovina side. Their first World Cup bid, they will try to lift and inspire a country that has been divided for decades and has endured countless years of civil war. A good attacking side to go along with experienced Stoke City keeper Asmir Begovic will have to make up for back line deficiencies.
Another strong African side in Nigeria will hope to wipe away their poorest performances in ’02 and ’10 and show that their talent is the real deal. Chelsea middy John Obi Mikel is the engine of this team and will have to do everything to help the Super Eagles advance.
More is being documented about Iranian football administration forbidding their players from taking part in a post-match tradition when players share their kits with one another because Iran is on a tight budget. I wonder why? Regardless this is Iran’s most talented generation of players and will look to compete with the rest of the group.
Ah, el grupo de la muerte as they would say in Spanish. The group of death is by far the most intriguing group this tournament with all the talent playing in this group. And talent is what Germany has in bunches. Even with the recent drop of Brussia Dortmund CF Marco Reus due to an injured ankle, this German side is thinking Cup or bust heading into Brazil. This Golden Generation features Keeper Maneul Neuer, Toni Kroos, Bastian Schweinsteiger and captain Philip Lahm of Bayren Munich while Arsenal star Mesut Ozil will be the key.
Cristiano Ronaldo and ten other Portugal guys are a bit overrated heading into Brazil only due to the fact that so much is being put
on one man. Even if Ronaldo (who put at least 50 goals in net each of the past 4 seasons) is more than capable of doing everything for the Portuguese (because he does it for Real Madrid as well) he will still have to get help from those ten other teammates. Joao Moutinho and Raul Meireles are plenty capable in the midfield to aid Cristiano on the attack.
The Black Stars of Ghana are what makes this group so difficult to advance from. A midfield featuring Kwadwo Asamoah of Juventus and Micheal Essien make life a nightmare for any team playing Ghana. It’s not difficult arguing that Ghana can knock out Portugal for the second spot.
Then we have the boys stateside who are on a mission to prove to the world and their own country that they can compete on the world’s biggest stage in a sport that is slowly but surely gaining popularity in America. The US field’s an infusion of young and veteran playmakers that will compliment nicely to one another. Michael Bradley, captain Clint Dempsey and Striker Jozy Altidore will have to play the best of their abilities in order to see the Stars and Stripes make a deep run.
There is no better way to put how good Belgium is than this: they’re stacked. World-Class goalkeeper? Thibaut Courtois established at Atletico Madrid that he is nothing short of a 6’6″ brick wall. Strong and experienced back line? 2012 Dutch Player of the Year Jan Vertonghen, arguably the best Centre-Back in the game Man City Vincent Kompany and Arsenal Thomas Vermaelen round out a defense that doesn’t let anything past them. It only gets better on the attacking side of things as Marouane Fellani of Man United, Edin Hazard of Chelsea and Kevin Mirallas of Everton aid the attack of hulking strikers Romelu Lukaku ( Everton) and Christan Benteke (Aston Villa). Another thing, the squad averages an age of 25 years-old. Add in the fact that they were all brought up together and the chemistry is there, Belgium could end up winning this thing. That’s high praise.
Algeria, Russia and South Korea will all be fighting for the second spot in this group but all have flaws to let it slip away. Russia is aging and seem to be far more concerned about hosting the World Cup in 2018. South Korea seems to enjoy getting off to a quick start then letting the opposition break them down in the 2nd half. And even though Algeria is the most talented of the three, it will be interesting to see if their young stars can mesh together at the right time. I’ll give the nod to the experienced Russia side.
Moving into the Knockout stage and rest of the tournament I wouldn’t be surprised if the possible Match-up of Argentina and Belgium in the Quarterfinals turns out to be the game of the tournament. I see European power Spain knocking out Uruguay if it comes to it. Yet ultimately I believe ( and want) the showdown of free-will vs. tactical in Brazil vs. Argentina. Messi vs. Neymar, teammates separated by rivaling countries. The key will be if Argentina can defend enough of Brazil’s attack yet more so if the front line of Messi, Aguero and Higuian can breakdown Brazil’s unbreakable back four.
Result: My heart does say Brazil I won’t lie. I am a fan of Neymar, who can inspire a country in dire need of it, But in a high scoring affair, the combo of Messi and Aguero will prove to be too much.
Argentina 3-2 in Full Time.