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.



Season Preview: #20 Wigan

Ahead of all expectations the Latics enter their eight consecutive season in the top-flight, Roberto Martinez’s side continued to the trend of having a poor early season only to finish the season aplomb – winning seven of their last nine games to finish in 15th place, five points ahead of Aston Villa and seven points above the drop zone. Before the run-in, Wigan had only one four games all season. So, can Roberto Martinez take the club to the next level this season?

Martinez continues to be coveted by a number of clubs, the most recent being Aston Villa, whom he declined, and Spurs. Chairman, and frequent loud-mouth, Dave Whelan admits that Martinez will eventually move on to a bigger club, and Wigan will not stand in his way if such an offer comes. For now, the Spaniard remains in charge at the DW Stadium and will be looking to start the way Wigan finished last season, when Martinez stumbled upon a 3-4-3 that brought results and led the manager to predict: “In a year’s time, there will be a lot of teams playing 3-4-3, believe me.”

Chris Kirkland, Mohamed Diame, Steve Gohuri, Hendry Thomas and Hugo Rodellega were all released at the end of last season. On the other hand, Martinez has brought in two young players and two experience players – Fraser Fyvie has come down from the SPL from Aberdeen, while Ryo Miyaichi has arrived on loan from Arsenal. Defender Ivan Ramis and striker Arouna Kone have both joined from La Liga sides, Mallorca and Levante respectively. Martinez will be hoping that Kone can bring some much needed firepower to the club, having scored 15 goals last season (Di Santo was Wigan’s highest scorer with seven).

Many will feel that the Latics have overstayed their welcome in the Premier League and to stay up for seven consecutive seasons has been an achievement in itself. However, the club needs to show more this season. Martinez has worked wonders on a budget but showed that he could beat the best teams last season, there were victories over Arsenal, Liverpool, a very first win over Manchester United and a fine 4-0 victory over Newcastle. There was also that unlucky defeat to Chelsea, where the Latics were undone by poor refereeing decisions.

Again, this season, a tough season lies in store for Wigan. Martinez faces a real test this season more so than ever, as this marks his fourth season in charge. After showing glimpses of brilliance and the right formation at the end of last season, it is imperative the Latics get off to a strong start this season.

Opening five fixtures: Chelsea (H), Southampton (A), Stoke (H), Manchester United (A) and Fulham (H)

Season Preview: #19 West Ham

Fellow promoted sides, Reading (four seasons) and Southampton (seven season) have spent significant time away from the Premier League, but West Ham have been promoted back to the top flight at the first attempt under Sam Allardyce. Many expected that the Hammers would be promoted automatically but instead they did it the hard way via the play-offs – which culminated in final at Wembley where a late dramatic Ricardo Vaz Te goal ensured that it would be West Ham being promoted to the Premier League and not Blackpool.

Allardyce has frequently been criticised for the style of football that his teams play and came under fire many times last season from fans for not playing the ‘West Ham way’ style of football. However, the fact remains that the former Bolton manager gets results – the Hammers were the second highest scorers (behind Southampton) in the Championship last season with 81 goals and were beaten just once in their final 18 games last season and that defeat came against eventual league winners, Reading. West Ham were tough to beat last season and were the defeated the fewest amount of times out of all the other 23 Championship teams, being beaten just eight times in 46 games.

In preparation for the new season, the Hammers have been very busy in the transfer market in order to ensure that they retain their Premier League status. Allardyce has brought in Jussi Jaaskelainen, whom he worked with at Bolton, along with two other goalkeepers, Raphael Spiegel and Stephen Henderson. There are returns to Upton Park for George McCartney and defender James Collins, while Mohamed Diame, Modibo Maiga and Alou Diarra have joined the club from Wigan, Sochaux and Marseille, respectively. John Carew, Abdoulaye Faye, Julien Faubert, Papa Bouba Diop, Frank Nouble, Rob Green, Freddie Sears and Marek Stech have all departure the club during the close season.

Carlton Cole, Kevin Nolan and Ricardo Vaz Te all managed to score double figures last season; they will need to replicate this again this season. It might not be the prettiest football at times, but with Allardyce in charge, you know what you’re going to get when you come face to face with the Hammers. Top-flight safety will be the main aim for the season ahead, something which the Hammers should achieve.

Opening five fixtures: Aston Villa (H), Swansea (A), Fulham (H), Norwich (A) and Sunderland (H)