World Cup Predictions 2014: Projecting Biggest Upsets in Group Stage

Tom SunderlandFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2014

Getty Images

It's the guilty pleasure of every football fan to see David beat Goliath, to witness the "little guy" overcome all seemingly damning obstacles placed before him to take home the glory in surprising circumstances.

This runs as true in the World Cup as it does anywhere else, and in the group stage, the failure to make the most of the three fixtures placed before a team can mean all the difference between glory and failure.

With a month until the pool phase of the 2014 World Cup gets underway, we take a look at some of the upsets that promise to throw a spanner in the works this summer.

 

Upset Alert

Mexico to Beat Croatia

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 15:  Luka Modric of Croatia shoots watched by Steven Naismith of Scotland during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group A match between Scotland and Croatia at Hampden Park on October 15, 2013 in Glasgow, Scotland.  (Photo by
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

With hosts Brazil looking like outright favourites to take top spot in Group A, it would appear that Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon are left to battle it out for second place on paper.

With some serious talent in its playing pool, it's the European incumbent of that trio, Croatia, that looks strongest, with the likes of Luka Modric, Mario Mandzukic, Ivan Rakitic, Dejan Lovren, Darijo Srna and others all boasting fine pedigree on the club stage.

Mexico's World Cup qualification wasn't as pristine as they perhaps envisioned, and an intercontinental playoff against New Zealand—which they won 9-3 over two legs—was needed to get them to Brazil.

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JUNE 22:  Javier Hernandez of Mexico celebrates one of his goals with his teammates Jesus Zavala and Raul Jimenez during the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Group A match between Japan and Mexico at Estadio Mineirao on June 22
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

However, Miguel Herrera's offensively orientated squad is capable of an unforgiving approach, and providing the defence can eradicate some of the silly mistakes that saw the team finish fourth in CONCACAF qualifying, Mexico's attack has a chance of making it past even the most structured of outfits.

Herrera is confident of his side's chances in Brazil, and only has one goal in mind (via The Associated Press):

When you arrive at the top, you have to keep looking up with the idea of changing everything and winning a World Cup. It's very difficult, but if you don't go (to a World Cup) with that dream, then why are you going?

As is the case with several teams in Central and South America, Mexico's style of play takes influence from its culture: passionate and fiery. Croatia's style, though attractive itself, is somewhat stiffer.

El Tri take on the Croats in their last group game, and if Croatia are unfortunate enough to suffer a very select few injuries, the gulf in talent between their starting superstars and those on the bench could see them fall.

 

Chile to Beat Spain

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - SEPTEMBER 10:  Mauricio Isla, Claudio Bravo, Gonzalo Jara, Marcos Gonzalez, Eugenio Mena, Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Gary Medel, David Pizarro, Marcelo Diaz and Eduardo Vargas of Chile pose during the Spain v Chile international f
Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

If there was one massive talking point to come from Real Madrid's 4-0 drubbing of Bayern Munich in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final last month, it's that possession-based football is not the powerhouse it once was.

Like anything in football, the "in" styles come and go, with counter-attacking play's stock on the rise and the tiki-taka tactics seemingly on the descent.

In Group B, no two sides better represent these values than Chile and Spain, and Vicente del Bosque's men must be wary of the South Americans if they're to win a historic fourth major international tournament in a row.

Let's not be too brash, of course; this is still Spain we're referring to, but not quite the same side that dominated Italy 4-0 in the final of Euro 2012.

Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated sees the danger that Chile pose, along with the rest of Group B's inhabitants:

But just as the Azzurri's attempt at beating Spain with something similar to their own game proved futile two years ago, teams are now adapting to the strategies of the past decade, and del Bosque's men may find their path all the more tumultuous this time around.

An anchoring section of Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal has the makings of a troublesome and disruptive opposition as far as Spain's playmaking stars will be concerned, and that's not to mention the wealth of other counter-suited assets which Jorge Sampaoli has at his command.

 

Ghana to Beat Portugal

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 15:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal looks focussed during the National Anthems ahead of the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Play-off First Leg between Portugal and Sweden at Estadio da Luz on November 15, 2013 in Lisbon, Portugal.
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Ghana and Portugal have never met in senior competition, so history is already being made by the pair coming head-to-head in Brasilia, but the Black Stars can hope to do more than simply turn up for the event.

Given Ghana's trip to the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals and Portugal's reputation for choking on the biggest international stage of all, one may not consider a win for the African nation necessarily an upset, but considering the Portuguese cast of top European talents, they'll undoubtedly go in as favourites.

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 10:  Team Ghana poses for a photo before the international friendly match between Japan and Ghana at International Stadium Yokohama on September 10, 2013 in Yokohama, Japan.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Adam Pretty/Getty Images

However, after losing to Libya in the final of the African Nations Championship, Ghana have some encouraging young, native talent coming into their ranks along with many European expatriates.

SuperSport's Colin Udoh does write that Ghana will not be capable of winning the tournament, however:

This Group G clash will also be the last of either team's pool stage and is likely to be staged with the script that Portugal have the responsibility and pressure to head through, whereas Kwesi Appiah's side will assuredly be more relaxed as an underdog.

It's a context that suits the Ghanaians, and the promise of making it through to the round of 16 in three consecutive World Cups is likely enough to give them ample inspiration.