The 2014 World Cup is less than a week away from kicking off in Brazil. Maybe you’ve noticed the abundance of words on the Internet telling you about the tournament — or at least exponentially more than than there was four years ago and the four years before that and so on. By 2018 the entire sports Internet will consist of World Cup previews (and Ultra-GIFs) via my latest compression algorithm.
The following post will save you time since it’s all you really need to know about the World Cup(**) as these sweeping declarative statements are lead-pipe locks, guaranteed to transpire. Write it in pen. Wait, nobody writes anything by hand anymore, so print it out and thank me later. Oh right, nobody prints anything either, so take a screen cap or save it to your favorite cloud-based system like Pied Piper.
Scorching, Bold World Cup Prediction No. 1: The winner will come from either: Brazil, Argentina, Italy, France or Belgium.
Host Brazil is everyone’s favorite after winning the Confederation Cup last June. On home soil, it’s Neymar & Co. tournament to lose. No sense expanding on that.
Argentina, if form holds, would be on the opposite side of the knockout bracket from Brazil — setting off a dream final at the Maracana. History tells us the last time Brazil played a World Cup final on that field against a South American foe, it lost to Uruguay in 1950.
Until the Franck Ribery injury, France looked quietly imposing coming out of Group E. Even so, Didier Deschamps looks like he’s built a functiional team — not a collection of 11 talented, malcontent players. Ribery’s injury is a setback, but the Paul Pogba-Blaise Matuidi-Yohan Cabaye midfield trio would be the envy of many.
Italy? Well, as boring as it sounds Italy is Italy. The Azzurri are hardwired to advance in tournaments. Italy has more options in attack than simply Mario Balotelli, thanks to the fine seasons by Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci at Torino. Write off Cesare Prandelli’s team at your own peril. If Luis Suarez isn’t fit for Uruguay it opens up a wide lane for Italy to drive through in Group D.
Finally why not Belgium? There is talent all over the field. Romelu Lukaku looks like he can carry the burden in front of goal — even if his hat trick vs. Luxembourg was nullified after coach Marc Wilmots used seven subs instead of the allowed six. Belgium are no longer a dark horse. They’re a very good side on its way to a showdown with Argentina in the quarterfinals. Maybe this is over-inflating Belgium since so many of its stars play in the Premier League and as Americans we watch the league so closely. The leadership capabilities and togetherness captain Vincent Kompany instills in the squad isn’t something to overlook.
Scorching, Bold World Cup Prediction No. 2: Sergio Agüero will be the tournament’s top scorer.
If Argentina make a deep run to the finals, Lionel Messi will be their best player. That’s a given. Aguero, however, will score more goals poaching in front of net and playing off his star teammate. Recent history tells us you only need five goals to win the Golden Boot. Injuries held Agüero to 20 Premier League games, but he still managed 17 goals — often in bunches.
Messi and Angel Di Maria will set them up, leaving Agüero to simply finish.
Group F games with Nigeria and Bosnia should produce loads of scoring chances. Iran might try to be defensively cagey, but if Argentina can breach the Iranian defense early into the match the floodgates could open up for lopsided 5-0 type scoreline.
RELATED: The Big Lead 2014 World Cup Previews
Scorching, Bold World Cup Prediction No. 3: Germany will be the World Cup’s biggest disappointment.
Admittedly, this is a major hunch on my behalf — so it goes with making “screamingly bold predictions,” a problem my buddy Guy Fieri lives with every day. From the outside, looking in, Germany has the air of a team that’s bought into its own hype — like it expects to throw its cleats on the field and win.
That worked for a long time in the World Cup. Hell, Germany routed Saudi Arabia 8-0 as recently as the 2002 opener with Miroslav Klose notching a hat trick in his World Cup debut. Even so, sometimes teams don’t cope with the burden of expectation. The German public and media expect a romp to the finals, if that doesn’t happen we’ll have to see how the players adjust. The longer the clock ticks toward 90 minutes and the score is still 0-0 the burden gets heavier and heavier on the players. The onus is on them to make things happen against a packed-in defense.
Germany will probably advance to the quarterfinals or semifinals, but anything short of winning the tournament will feel unsatisfying for Jogi Löw’s squad. This is a team that’s been knocking on the door for almost the entire 21st century, yet hasn’t gotten over the hump and won a tournament. So many pundits have simply assumed Germany would win it this year it makes me leery. The injuries to key players like Bastian Schweinsteiger add to those fears. Friday afternoon winger Marco Reus left a friendly vs. Armenia in tears after twisting his ankle.
Since this post is all about random
predictions guesses, scribble down in your World Cup notes that Lukas Podolski ends up with a very nice tournament and scores at least one game winner.
Scorching, Bold World Cup Prediction No. 4: Iker Casillas will hinder Spain.
I’m not going to pull a Werner Herzog and promise to eat my shoe if Spain wins its fourth straight major tournament. We saw last summer that Spain can be beaten, granted it took a buoyant Brazil team on home soil in the Confederations Cup.
That said, there are some concerns for Spain in terms of fatigue, age and a slight drift from the style that won in the last two Euros and the World Cup four years ago. My worry is Iker Casillas in goal. When Spain was at its peak it rarely gave the opponent the ball or chances and when it did, San Iker was there to bail them out, making it feel almost entirely unfair to play Spain.
Relegated to part-time duty at Real Madrid the last two seasons, we saw Casillas almost cost Los Blancos the Champions League final on a bizarre gaffe off his line. Sure, that’s an isolated incident and he’s been flawless the last eight years for Spain. But all it takes in the knockout rounds is one howler for a keeper to send a team home.
Coach Vicente Del Bosque will stick with Casillas, although David de Gea was great during Manchester United’s lost season under David Moyes. This post might be all about being bold, but it’s doubtful Del Bosque will make a decision of that caliber over the next month to drop Casillas.
Scorching, Bold World Cup Prediction No. 5: The United States will need all sorts of good fortune to advance from Group G.
Luck (or good fortune) in sports circa 2014 doesn’t exist. Every single aspect of play, in every single sport can (and must) be quantified by some sort of metric to explain it. A worldwide sports media memo states no one is allowed to acknowledge that random cosmic uncertainty does indeed hold some sway over the games grown men play for our amusement without fear of ridicule.
Call me crazy, myopic, naive, whatever … but in a small three-game sample, an odd bounces can happen and hold massive sway. All it could take is something as simple as the lift of the linesman’s flag — a split-second judgment — to change the course of four years of planning.
In 2014 the U.S. is grouped with Ghana, Portugal and Germany. Against that trio Jurgen Klinsmann’s team is slight underdogs, firm underdogs and heavy underdogs. If one of those teams plays poorly, or hits the woodwork constantly? The U.S. has a chance. Everything would have to break right for the Americans, but that could happen. Banking on luck isn’t a firm gameplan — or any gameplan for that matter — but sports aren’t pure science played by robots. Random occurrences transpire.
Put it this way: if any of the random bounces go against the U.S. — such as a repeat of Torsten Frings handball in 2002 — then Klinsmann’s team is even more doomed than initially thought when the draw came out in December.
For what little it’s worth, Cristiano Ronaldo’s uncertain health status a week before the tournament isn’t something anyone could have foreseen in December. On top of that Germany might have lost Reus to an ankle injury. Opposing left wings punishing the U.S. defense suddenly doesn’t seem as much a certainty.
RELATED: The Big Lead 2014 World Cup Previews
Scorching, Bold World Cup Prediction No. 6: England, as always, will provide the most easy laughs at the World Cup
Let’s hope James Milner starting at right back, as he did Wednesday in Miami, was the first of many items of Roy Hodgson’s big bag of Brazilian laughs.
Scorching, Bold World Cup Prediction No. 7: All sorts of sweeping bold declarations will be made about soccer’s future in America based off three games.
Recent U.S. Soccer post-World Cup( kneejerk) reactions
- 1990: Crickets.
- 1994: Soccer is a thing?
- 1998: Soccer in America is doomed.
- 2002: That was a pleasant surprise.
- 2006: They were who we thought they were.
- 2010: If we can do these 183 specific things, maybe we’ll win a World Cup before 2050.
Reminder: the World Cup comes around once every four years. The U.S. is only ensured to play three games (often the only three soccer games some American media members will watch all year). Drawing a huge pass/fail judgement off these games isn’t always the best idea, but we’ll do it anyway since the World Cup remains the most identifiable measuring stick.
Regardless of how the team fares in Brazil some things will remain the same, the U.S. will continue to qualify for World Cups, where it will continue to remain outside the dominant “power teams.” Kids will continue to play soccer in America, their coaching will remain a question mark. New ideas will be devised how to get the U.S. Soccer program to the “next level.” American soccer fans will continue to wring their hands and soul-search.
Maybe the only difference this year is there’s going to be much more heat for Jurgen Klinsmann since he opened himself up to huge second-guesses via the Landon Donovan omission.
Time marches on.
(**) Not really