World Cup Groups 2014: Examining Each Country Following Critical Draw

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World Cup Groups 2014: Examining Each Country Following Critical Draw
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

The teams have qualified, the bracket is set and there is only one thing left to do: wait.

Yes, folks, we now have to wait until this summer for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a duration of time that seems unbearable now that we know which countries are in and how the groups line up. But wait we must, which is why I decided to break down each and every country at next year's tournament.

Hey, we have to do something while we count down the days, right? We might as well preview each and every team so we're primed on each country's top players, chances of winning and group outlook. 

 

Group Draw

Bleacher Report

 

Knockout Phase

Bleacher Report

 

Algeria

Group: H

Analysis: Algeria survived a tough group in African qualifying (Mali, Benin and Rwanda) and qualified for this year's World Cup by defeating Burkina Faso in the two-game playoff. But with a suspect defense and a poor form in recent tournaments, it's hard to imagine Algeria making too much noise in Brazil. 

Prediction: Last in Group H

 

Argentina

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Group: F

Analysis: Argentina have to be considered one of the primary favorites for this competition. They cruised through South American qualifying, they have the world's best player in Lionel Messi and few teams boast the attacking depth they possess, with Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria, among others.

Heck, they have so much depth up front, they can afford to leave Carlos Tevez off the roster entirely if they choose to do so. 

Still, Messi's recent injury issues will be of primary concern. In South America, the diminutive superstar will likely have his greatest opportunity to add the one thing missing from his legacy—a World Cup title. All eyes will be planted firmly on him. 

Prediction: Semifinals (Lose to Spain)

 

Australia

Group: B

Analysis: Tim Cahill is the main man here, though Lucas Neill, Mile Jedinak and Brett Holman will have a say for Australia. Had the Socceroos qualified in smoother fashion, it would be easier to like their chances to pull off a surprise or two in this tournament. Truth be told, this is simply one of the weaker teams in the field. 

Prediction: Last in Group B

 

Belgium

Group: H

Analysis: Belgium are going to be a very popular dark-horse pick coming into this tournament.

This team is loaded with young talent, from Chelsea's Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne to Vincent Kompany, Jan Vertonghen, Christian Benteke, Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini, Axel Witsel, Moussa Dembele, Kevin Mirallas, Thibaut Courtois and Simon Mignolet.

Belgium's best shot at a World Cup title will probably come in 2018 when the majority of their talent is in their prime, but this is not a squad that should be taken lightly this summer. 

Prediction: Round of 16 (Lose to Portugal)

 

Bosnia-Herzegovina

Group: F

Analysis: Bosnia-Herzegovina were incredibly impressive in European qualifying, scoring 30 goals while allowing just six in route to eight wins and a draw in 10 matches. Manchester City's Edin Dzeko is the main man here, but he has a strong supporting cast highlighted by fellow forward Vedad Ibisevic, midfielder Miralem Pjanic and keeper Asmir Begovic.

Taking Bosnia-Herzegovina lightly would be a grave mistake. This team has all of the talent to advance out of the group stage and win a game after that, too.

Prediction: Round of 16 (Lose to France)

 

Brazil

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Group: A

Analysis: You need only look back at last year's 3-0 victory over Spain in the Confederations Cup final, in Brazil, to see why this team will be on the shortlist for favorites to win the World Cup.

They have a superstar in Neymar. They have a brilliant supporting cast including Paulinho, Dani Alves, Thiago Silva and Hulk. They are playing in front of their home supporters. And they have the confidence that comes with embarrassing the defending World Cup champions a year before the World Cup. 

Anything less than a title will be considered a major disappointment for this team. 

Prediction: Champions

 

Cameroon

Group: A

Analysis: Chelsea's Samuel Eto'o is the big name, but fans of European football will recognize Alex Song, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Stephane Mbia as well. The attack will go as far as Eto'o can take it, but Cameroon is a tough team to break down defensively and will be competitive for that reason alone.

Prediction: Last in Group A

 

Chile

Group: B

Analysis: The big names are Juventus' midfield dynamo Arturo Vidal and Barcelona's exciting winger Alexis Sanchez, but this Chilean side has plenty of talent that includes Gary Medel, Matias Fernandez and Claudio Bravo.

A versatile bunch, Chile ended South American qualifying red hot, winning five and drawing one in their last six games. They'll be overlooked by some but don't be surprised when they emerge as serious contenders after the group stage. 

Prediction: Round of 16 (Lose to Brazil)

 

Colombia

Christopher Lee/Getty Images

Group: C

Analysis: Few teams are more explosive than Colombia, fueled by all-world forward Radamel Falcao and crafty winger James Rodriguez. The Colombians are an aggressive, attacking side that will often utilize a fearless 4-1-3-2 formation. Only Argentina finished higher in South American qualifying, an indication that this team is fully capable of winning it all. 

Prediction: Quarterfinals (Lose to Brazil)

 

Costa Rica

Group: D

Analysis: Costa Rica had an excellent hexagonal round of CONCACAF qualifying, surprisingly finishing second behind the United States. Behind Bryan Ruiz and a solid defense, the Costa Ricans are a competitive squad.

In the States, they're probably most famous for losing a qualifying game in the snow than protesting the result, but they certainly returned the favor, winning the return leg, 3-1. They'll be long shots to advance out of their group, but they certainly won't go down without a fight.

Prediction: Last in Group D

 

Croatia

Group: A

Analysis: Luka Modric pulls the strings alongside Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic. Mario Mandzukic scores the goals, though he'll miss at least one game after being handed a straight red in the second playoff leg against Iceland. And don't forget about a talented supporting cast that includes Niko Kranjcar and Nikica Jelavic, among others.

This is a European side that may be overlooked like Bosnia-Herzegovina, but doing so would be a serious mistake.

Prediction: Round of 16 (Lose to Spain)

 

Ecuador

Group: E

Analysis: If the World Cup were being played in Ecuador, you would have to tip this side as one of the favorites, as they won seven of eight games and drew the other, but on the road, they really struggle. They'll go as far as Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero can take them, but given the polarity in their quality from home to the road, it's unlikely they'll go very far.

Prediction: Third in Group E

 

England 

Group: D

Analysis: The English have solid depth, talented stars and a proud history. They also tend to be unbelievably maddening in their inconsistency. 

Led by Wayne Rooney, England should be bolstered this World Cup by the emergence of Daniel Sturridge at striker and the continued improvement of players like Andros Townsend, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere. 

Add in veterans like Leighton Baines (or Ashley Cole, depending on who starts), Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard and you have a team with the talent to advance very far in this tournament. The question, as always, is whether they'll be able to get out of their own way to do so?

Prediction: Third in Group D

 

France

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Group: E

Analysis: Where England are inconsistent, France seem to enjoy living on the brink of disaster. The team needed a playoff round to advance to the World Cup at all (drawing a group with Spain will do that), then needed to overcome a 2-0 deficit to Ukraine after the first leg. 

They managed to do so, but France remain a squad impossible to predict. 

There is plenty of talent, from Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery, Mathieu Valbuena and Samir Nasri on the attack to Paul Pogba in the midfield and Patrice Evra on defense. France are as good as they allow themselves to be, and unfortunately that means they often underachieve. 

Prediction: Quarterfinals (Lose to Germany)

 

Germany

Group: G

Analysis: Few teams enjoy the depth, balance and discipline that Germany possess.

There is a wealth of talent on this squad, from arguably the world's best No. 10, Mesut Ozil, to the collection of Bayern Munich (Mario Goetze, Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger) and Borussia Dortmund (Marco Reus, Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan) stars. 

The Germans are still likely smarting from a surprising semifinal exit in the 2012 Euros, so they will be extremely motivated to prove they are the world's elite team. It wouldn't be surprising in the least if they did just that.

Prediction: Semifinal (Lose to Brazil)

 

Ghana

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Group: G

Analysis: With an amazing midfield, Ghana strike fear in the hearts of opponents. There is some real star power here, with Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Kwadwo Asamoah, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan all available. The United States know just how dangerous Ghana can be, as the African nation knocked the United States out of the 2010 World Cup in the round of 16.

Prediction: Last in Group G

 

Greece

Group: C

Analysis: Greece are pretty predictable—they'll play excellent defense, struggle to score goals and offer little in the way of creativity in the midfield. It's a formula that has worked for them in the past and one bolstered by the recent strong form of striker Konstantinos Mitroglou and midfield leader Giorgos Karagounis.

Greece are not one of the strong teams in this tournament, though more than a few pundits may have said the same thing before the Greeks went on to win the 2004 Euros.

Prediction: Last in Group C

 

Honduras

Group: C

Analysis: Honduras won't advance out of the group, but they'll be competitive behind players like Wilson Palacios and Jerry Bengtson. It's been a while since Honduras have qualified for the World Cup, an achievement in and of itself, so few will be too upset if it is a quick trip.

Prediction: Last in Group C

 

Iran

Group: F

Analysis: Ranked 49th in FIFA, Iran are a long shot to even advance past the group stage. There is talent in Reza Ghoochannejhad and Javad Nekounam, but the Iranians will likely be overwhelmed in Brazil. They've never advanced past the group stage at the World Cup, a trend that seems likely to continue.

Prediction: Last in Group F

 

Italy

Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Group: D

Analysis: The Italians are a steady, defensively sound squad that traditionally fares well at big tournaments, but the current iteration will likely go as far as talented but mercurial striker Mario Balotelli will take them. At his best, Balotelli is a physical specimen who combines size and strength with delicious moments of skill.

At his worst, he commits dumb penalties and seems to lack composure at key moments. 

Italy are as technically sound as they come, led by ageless wonder Andrea Pirlo in the midfield. This team will be a tough out in Brazil, but it remains to be seen if they have the firepower to compete for a title if Balotelli doesn't play well.

Prediction: Quarterfinals (Lose to Spain)

 

Ivory Coast

Group: C

Analysis: It's hard to imagine that this will almost assuredly be Didier Drogba's final World Cup. Along with Seydou Doumbia, Wilfried Bony, Salomon Kalou, Lacina Traore and Gervinho, he helps form a potent attacking force for the Ivory Coast.

Still, the key man for this side is Manchester City's Yaya Toure, who has the strength to boss the midfield but also the athleticism and technical skill to make driving runs forward. As box-to-box midfielders go, few are better than Toure. 

Still, this team's defense will likely hold them back. Ivory Coast will put a scare in any opponent's defensive unit, but they won't exactly resemble a brick wall for opposing attackers, either.

Prediction: Third in Group C

 

Japan

Christof Koepsel/Getty Images

Group: C

Analysis: Quite simply, Japan will go as far as Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa take them. The dangerous midfield pair are a skilled, clever duo capable of unlocking even the sturdiest of defenses and maintaining possession in Japan's ball-control style. 

But who will finish those brilliant and incisive passes? Who else will step up for this side? The Japanese are a technically sound side that has little problem in the build-up play, but finishing those opportunities and keeping the opposition's attackers at bay is often more problematic.

Prediction: Round of 16 (Lose to Italy)

 

Korea Republic

Group: H

Analysis: Heung-Min Son makes this team tick, while forward Park Chu-Young, midfielder Lee Chung-Yong and defender Lee Jung-Soo also star for this squad. This side will likely struggle in Brazil, however, with enough question marks to bog down any positives it brings to the table.

Prediction: Third in Group H

 

Mexico

Group: A

Analysis: Mexico went from being considered the strongest country in CONCACAF to needing a play-in series against New Zealand to even qualify for the tournament. So what went wrong?

For one thing, the squad is too often reliant on Javier Hernandez to score goals, and when his production dries up, Mexico seem out of ideas. For another, the club displayed a distinct lack of toughness in the hexagonal, normally one of the country's calling cards. 

Mexico still have the talent to advance out of the group stage, but unless this team solves its issues from qualifying, it's hard to see them making much noise beyond that. 

Prediction: Third in Group A

 

Netherlands

Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

Group: B

Analysis: The Dutch are a blend of star veterans (Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart) and young stars in the making such as Kevin Strootman. Few teams possesses the technical prowess and flair on the attack of the Netherlands, but how their defense responds in Brazil will be the key. 

Four years ago, the Dutch advanced to the World Cup final. Two years ago, they couldn't even get out of the group stage at the Euros. Expect something between those two results in Brazil.

Prediction: Third in Group B

 

Nigeria 

Group: F

Analysis: The Super Eagles are wildly talented and just as inconsistent. The 2013 Africa Cup of Nations winners are led by Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel and are very dangerous in the attack, with Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike giving back lines headaches. 

We got a taste of just how dangerous this team could be at the Africa Cup of Nations, and it is not a squad that teams look forward to facing. They could just as easily advance out of their group as they could fail to win a game.

Prediction: Third in Group F

 

Portugal

Group: G

Analysis: As demonstrated by his hat-trick against Sweden in the second leg of their playoff, Cristiano Ronaldo has the chance to dominate any game he plays and can lead Portugal extremely far in this tournament. He's obviously the key for the Portuguese, but other players must step up if this team is to make a run in Brazil. 

Joao Moutinho is the creative engine in the midfield for Portugal, and his brilliant, piercing through balls often sends Ronaldo free on goal. Meanwhile, Portugal's defense is solid and keeps them in most games.

It's questionable if Portugal have the supporting cast needed to win a title, but Ronaldo is more than capable of carrying this squad deep in the tournament.   

Prediction: Quarterfinals (Lose to Argentina)

 

Russia

Group: H

Analysis: Outside of Alan Dzagoev and Alexander Kerzhakov, there isn't a ton to get excited about with this Russian side. And that's just the way they like it.

A defensively sound side, Russia's back line and a technically strong midfield assure the Russians rarely beat themselves. They may not win many fans with beautiful play, but they will be a threat to advance out of their group and register an upset or two should they advance.

Prediction: Round of 16 (Lose to Germany)

 

Spain

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Group: B

Analysis: The defending champions remain among a handful of teams with strong odds to win this year's tournament led by stars like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique.

But there are questions for this Spanish side. Will anyone seize the role of forward? Is the aging core losing a step? Will athletic, skilled teams like Brazil or Germany be able to pressure them off the ball and crush them on the counter-attack, as the former did in the Confederations Cup final?

Spain's tiki-taka system and deep, technically gifted roster assures they will be a major factor in this tournament. But whether they can win a second straight World Cup and mark their place in history as one of the greatest generations of players ever is another question altogether. 

Prediction: Final (Lose to Brazil)

 

Switzerland

Group: E

Analysis: Switzerland shockingly earned a top seed at this year's tournament, going unbeaten in their (fairly weak) qualifying group to shoot up the FIFA rankings. But are they as good as their ranking?

Probably not. While Xherdan Shaqiri and Stephan Lichtsteiner are familiar names, this team lacks the overall talent of the other World Cup contenders. Underestimating them is a mistake, but expecting them to compete with the likes of Germany, Spain, Brazil or Argentina, to name a few, is folly as well.

Prediction: Round of 16 (Lose to Argentina)

 

United States

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Group: G

Analysis: You could make the argument that this is the best United States team heading into a World Cup year we've seen. Tim Howard is an excellent keeper. Michael Bradley has become this team's point guard. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan provide a constant threat. Despite struggling with Sunderland, Jozy Altidore has emerged as a solid international forward. 

The United States still have questions in defense and aren't a threat to win a World Cup title, but they are playing well together, have fostered solid depth and belief in Jurgen Klinsmann. This team needs to put its best foot forward—especially with American interest in soccer really growing—and all indications are that it will.

Prediction: Third in Group G

 

Uruguay

Group: D

Analysis: Led by Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, Uruguay are one of the most dangerous teams in the world. Based on the fact they needed a playoff against Jordan to qualify in the first place—and they only reached the playoff after winning four out of their five final qualifiers—they are also a bit unpredictable. 

Can a strong set of forwards blast their way through this tournament? Can the midfield bring more to the table. and can the defense hold up? Or will Uruguay continue to be a beautiful sports car that forgot to take off the parking brake?   

Prediction: Round of 16 (Lose to Colombia)

 

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