World Cup 2014: Kick-off is here!


The favourites

The build up to World Cup has been anything but smooth. While there have been many issues with the stadiums in Brazil, some of the 32 national teams have faced their own problems with a plethora of talented individuals unfortunately missing out on this summer’s showpiece tournament. Kevin Strootman, Falcao, Franck Ribery and Marco Reus to name but four of the players who won’t be taking part in the World Cup.

All eyes will be on Brazil, as tournament kicks-off on Thursday night with the hosts taking on Croatia, thus beginning a month long festival of football. The pressure has already been heaped on the Brazilians, as the nation expects them to lift the trophy on home soil at the Maracanã on July 13th and make up for the final of 1950 which they lost out to Uruguay.

In terms of the European teams taking part, history is against them. This will be the seventh time that the World Cup has been staged in South America; all the previous six have been won from a team from the same continent, a small caveat to add is that South America has only hosted one World Cup in the past half century (Argentina 1978).

On the other hand, Spain has a double chance of creating history – the reigning World and European champions will be aiming for a fourth straight tournament victory – you have to go back to Brazil 1962 to find the last team to retain a World Cup.

There is an air of always the bridesmaids never the bride associated with Germany of late; having made the semi-finals of the last two World Cup’s and the final in 2002 only to fall short. Jogi Loew’s hugely talented squad have a certain Jekyll and Hyde quality about them. While the national team have been successful at youth level, their last major tournament victory came in the 1996 European Championship.

Having recovered from the Diego Maradona sideshow in South Africa in 2010, Argentina go into this summer’s tournament in a curious position. By his own standards, Lionel Messi has had a less than successful season at Barcelona. Argentina and Messi have a strange relationship to say the least, however, that will pale into insignificance if he was to lead them to glory in Brazil. La Albiceleste’s haven’t won a major tournament since 1993, when they triumphed in the Copa America that year.

Outside bet – France (25/1)

Taking those teams into account, an outside bet for the World Cup could well be the 1998 World Champions, France. Les Bleus are a strange beast when it comes to major international tournaments. Under Raymond Domenech, they stank the place out in South Africa in 2010, failing to win a game, finishing bottom of their group and falling out with each other. A new and unified generation has emerged under current manager, Didier Deschamps, with the likes of Raphael Varane, Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba all travelling to Brazil. Outside the favourites for the tournament, France might just be one to watch.

The Hipster’s choice

Belgium and Colombia are the current two flavours of the month and why wouldn’t they be given that they are ranked 8th and 11th in the current FIFA rankings. Even with a vague interest in football, the chances are you could at least name one Belgian player – their ‘golden generation’ has been very kind to them. However, this is the first tournament that Belgium has qualified for since 2002. While, Radamel Falcao has been one of the most high-profile casualties of this summer’s World Cup, Colombia can still call on the likes of Carlos Bacca, Adrian Ramos and Jackson Martinez. Similar to Belgium, Los Cafeteros, have also been blessed with a golden generation and have been on an upward curve – this will be their first World Cup since 1998.

Even watching the highlights from Chile’s recent friendly vs Egypt gives you a flavour of what to expect from them in Brazil – a suicidal high-line from their defence, but also the ability to counter at breakneck speed.  People will remember Marcelo Bielsa’s, Chile from South Africa, well, never fear, they haven’t changed one bit.



Euro 2012: What we learned from Group B?


It wasn’t quite the ending of Group A, but the so-called Group of Death (featuring four teams in the top ten of the FIFA rankings), most likely the last of its kind at a major tournament. Holland were the high profile casualty of Group B, along with 1992 winners, Denmark.

German efficiency

3 wins out of 3, Germany topped Group B with 9 points (and will be the only side to take a perfect record into the quarter-finals). Despite that, we have yet to see what this German squad are really made of, they were the best team in Group B but not playing at a level they are capable of. Germany face Greece in the quarter-finals on Friday. The question is, can Jogi Loew’s side go all the way to the final and win it?

Ronaldo finds his feet

Portugal, progressed to the knock-out stages after 2-1 victory over Holland, featuring an emphatic performance from captain and talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo who had pervious come in for criticism, scored their two goals. Not doing it on the main stage has been a regular criticism of Ronaldo, but last night he showed why he is one of the world’s best player. His all round play was wonderful to watch. Paulo Bento’s side continued their impressive record of never having bowed out of a European Championship at the group stages.

Holland: from finalists to failures?

Just two years ago, Holland suffered a late defeat against Spain in the World Cup final, and were tipped to potentially reach the final of this tournament also. Instead, the Dutch have become the big casualties of the group stage. Three defeats, 0 points, 2 goals scored and 5 conceded, a far cry from the Dutch side that were top scorers in qualifying. For all the talk about the amount of goals Robin Van Persie and Klass Jan Huntelaar have scored this season, fitting them into the side proved to be Bert van Marwijk’s downfall, similarly playing two defensive midfielders in the form of Nigel De Jong and Mark van Bommel.

Danes depart

It was Denmark who caused the first shock of Euro 2012 when they beat Holland in the opening game of Group B, but bowed out after defeats in that thrilling game against Portugal and last night against Germany. If anything, Denmark finished better than many would have predicted by finishing third ahead of Holland. They can go home with their heads held high and that they gave a good account of themselves. Nicklas Bendtner was impressive as was Michael Krohn-Delhi, but the Danes lacked grinding out the second win they needed to qualify.

Euro 2012 Previews: #6 Germany

They’ve been felled by Spain at the past two major tournaments – the Euro 2008 final and the 2010 World Cup semi-final – but there is a certain air of expectation that this young Germany side are gearing up to produce something special this summer and not to end up being the bridesmaids once again.

Qualification for Poland-Ukraine was achieved with what can only be described in the most clichéd way possible as with German precision and efficiency – 10 wins out of 10, 30 points out of a possible 30 with 34 goals scored and just seven conceded. Joachim ‘Jogi’ Low has revolutionised the national team during his six years in charge, this is a German team that has a swagger about it with matches the style and substance produced on the field. A cause for concern for Germany might be the leaky defence, with just one clean sheet in 13 games, which is the only possible downside to their attacking game.

Just three players in Low’s squad is aged 30 and above – the oldest player in the German ranks is Miroslav Klose (33) – who is bearing down on Gerd Muller’s international record of 68 international goals. Klose is certainly in the squad on merit and has the experience of scoring at major tournaments; he also scored 9 during the qualification process. In terms of youth (average age of the initial 27-man squad being 24.2 years-old), Germany have an embarrassment of riches – Holger Badstuber (23), Mats Hummels (23), Mario Gotze (19), Toni Kroos (22), Mesut Ozil (23), Marco Reus (22) and Thomas Muller (22) – all bar Reus have amassed 10 or more international caps already.

In the build-up to the tournament, Germany have suffered two shock defeats. One being a 2-1 defeat at home to France and two days ago a 5-3 loss to Switzerland, albeit they were without eight Bayern Munich players who were given extra-time off after the Champions League final, but the likes of Klose, Ozil, Khedira, Gotze and Podolski all featured for Germany. Perhaps Die Mannschaft are saving their best form for the tournament? They’ll certainly need it in this group. First up, Portugal and Holland…

Fixtures: Germany vs. Portugal (June, 9th), Germany vs. Holland (June, 13th) and Germany vs. Denmark (June, 17th)