World Cup Preview: Group Stage Predictions and Rooting Interests

(Photo Courtesy of Rushing the Field)

Over the past few weeks, six of us here at The Butter Lamb (Adam Augustyn, CJ Brunner, Marci Buehler, Sean Coots, Zac Hirschbeck, and Leif Reigstad) have been previewing each team and each of the eight groups featured in this year’s tournament. With the tournament officially getting underway tomorrow (Brazil v. Croatia at 4 PM ET), we’d like to each offer our group stage predictions, as well as the teams we’re rooting for as the final piece in our 2014 World Cup Preview. Enjoy the games everybody!

 

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon (Check out our Group A Preview here)

Adam Augustyn

1st Place: Brazil

2nd Place: Croatia

 

CJ Brunner

1st Place: Brazil

2nd Place: Cameroon

 

Marci Buehler

1st Place: Brazil

2nd Place: Croatia

 

Sean Coots

1st Place:Brazil

2nd Place:Croatia

 

Leif Reigstad

1st Place: Brazil

2nd Place: Mexico

 

Zac Hirschbeck

1st Place: Brazil

2nd Place: Mexico

Zac’s Thoughts:The hosts look set to coast through their opening three games and will resemble a contender to win it all. Mexico, despite a less than impressive qualifying campaign, will snag the second spot based on track record (5 straight Round of 16 appearances) and experience. Croatia and Cameroon depart Brazil early, leaving a significant collection of stars from each side watching from home.

 

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, and Australia (Check out our Group B Preview here)

Adam Augustyn

1st Place: The Netherlands

2nd Place: Chile

 

CJ Brunner

1st Place: Spain

2nd Place: The Netherlands

 

Sean Coots

1st Place: Chile

2nd Place:Spain

 

Zac Hirschbeck

1st Place: Spain

2nd Place: Chile

 

Leif Reigstad

1st Place: Spain

2nd Place: The Netherlands

 

Marci Buehler

1st Place: Spain

2nd Place: The Netherlands

Marci’s Thoughts: Spain has a ridiculous amount of talented players and they are Good (with a capital G) (See what I did there?). And I enjoy the Netherlands. They are like a huge soccer army of orange and for some reason that’s hilarious to me. Haven’t you heard? Orange is the new black.

 

Group C: Columbia, Greece, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan (Check out our Group C Preview here)

Adam Augustyn

1st Place: Colombia

2nd Place: Côte d’Ivoire

 

CJ Brunner

1st Place: Columbia

2nd Place: Côte d’Ivoire

 

Marci Buehler

1st Place: Côte d’Ivoire

2nd Place: Colombia

 

Sean Coots

1st Place: Colombia

2nd Place: Japan

 

Leif Reigstad

1st Place: Greece

2nd Place: Japan

 

Zac Hirschbeck

1st Place: Côte d’Ivoire

2nd Place: Japan

Zac’s Thoughts: Extremely tough call here. While this may sound clichéd, I firmly believe this is a group where any of the four teams could advance through to the Round of 16. I believe the Greeks are the least skilled out of the four teams and will struggle to keep up with athleticism and fluidity of their peers. I believe Colombia will struggle to overcome the injuries not only to their attack (Radamel Falcao), but to their back end as well (longtime centerback Luis Amaranto Perea will miss out due to injury). I think Japan is a team that may surprise. Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda are dynamic playmakers from midfield and they have enough quality throughout the rest of the team. My pick of the Côte d’Ivoire might be a decision based upon my heart rather than my head. I think Les Éléphants finally put together a consistent stretch of games on the big stage.

 

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy (Check out our Group D Preview here)

Adam Augustyn

1st Place: Uruguay

2nd Place: Italy

 

CJ Brunner

1st Place: England

2nd Place: Italy

 

Marci Buehler

1st Place: England

2nd Place: Uruguay

 

Sean Coots

1st Place: Uruguay

2nd Place: England

 

Zac Hirschbeck

1st Place: Italy

2nd Place: England

 

Leif Reigstad

1st Place: England

2nd Place: Italy

Leif’s Thoughts: England shakes its group-stage demons and rides the wave of stars Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart, with a boost from sparkplug in-form youngsters Rahim Sterling and Daniel Sturridge. Italy’s balance—strong play from keeper Gianluigi Buffon and a cohesive back line with midfielder Andrea Pirlo feeding a capable group of forwards—pushes it past Uruguay, whose dubious defending and less-than 100% healthy Luis Suarez does it in. One of these teams (likely Uruguay, for the reasons stated above) will slip up in a low-scoring draw against Costa Rica, a tough, chippy, defensive-minded squad that will play the spoiler role in a tough group.

 

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras (Check out our Group E Preview here)

Adam Augustyn

1st Place: France

2nd Place: Ecuador

 

Marci Buehler

1st Place: France

2nd Place: Ecuador

 

Sean Coots

1st Place: France

2nd Place: Ecuador

 

Zac Hirschbeck

1st Place: France

2nd Place: Switzerland

 

Leif Reigstad

1st Place: France

2nd Place: Switzerland

 

CJ Brunner

1st Place: France

2nd Place: Switzerland

CJ’s Thoughts: France should dominate this group barring any internal struggles as they find themselves facing three much weaker sides (on paper that is). The second place spot was much harder to determine. It was easy to rule out Honduras, as they will be lucky to score a goal in the tournament, but deciding between the Swiss and Ecuador was not as simple. However, Switzerland should advance based purely on the momentum that they are currently riding from the qualifying stages.

 

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria (Check out our Group F Preview here)

Marci Buehler

1st Place: Argentina

2nd Place: Nigeria

 

CJ Brunner

1st Place: Argentina

2nd Place: Nigeria

 

Sean Coots

1st Place: Argentina

2nd Place: Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Zac Hirschbeck

1st Place: Argentina

2nd Place: Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Leif Reigstad

1st Place: Argentina

2nd Place: Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Adam Augustyn

1st Place: Argentina

2nd Place: Bosnia-Herzegovina

Adam’s Thoughts: I don’t foresee many surprises for the top spot in Group F, as Argentina ought to cruise through one of the tournament’s weaker groups on the strength of their overall talent level and the added benefit of playing in front of their own supporters. Second place could become interesting however, and I narrowly selected the Bosnians to escape this group ahead of Nigeria based on the power of their attacking trio Miralem Pjanić, Vedad Ibišević, and Edin Džeko. That being said, 2nd place is nearly a toss-up and seeing Nigeria advance to the knockout rounds would hardly be a surprise, especially considering the poor track record for European teams at World Cups outside of their own continent.

 

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA (Check out our Group G Preview here)

CJ Brunner

1st Place: Germany

2nd Place: Portugal

 

Marci Buehler

1st Place: Germany

2nd Place: Portugal

 

Sean Coots

1st Place: Portugal

2nd Place: United States

 

Zac Hirschbeck

1st Place: Germany

2nd Place: USA

 

Leif Reigstad

1st Place: Germany

2nd Place: Portugal

 

Adam Augustyn

1st Place: Germany

2nd Place: United States of America

Adam’s Thoughts: Being the “Group of Death,” things could break a number of ways with each of these four teams fully capable of advancing. Ultimately, I believe Germany’s superior talent and depth will win out, and a final matchday victory over the United States in Recife should secure them the top spot. In 2nd, I am fulfilling my patriotic obligation and selecting the United States to advance, although I do think it will come down to the final matchday and possibly goal differential for the Yanks to go through. That being said, Portugal and Ghana are both equally capable of capturing the 2nd spot as well. I simply find Portugal’s over-reliance on Ronaldo to be a little troubling for them to advance as easily as others may be predicting them to. As for the Black Stars, I see them gamely competing with each team in the group, but just not having enough to spark another Cinderella story as they did on their home continent in 2010.

 

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic (Check out our Group H Preview here)

Adam Augustyn

1st Place: Belgium

2nd Place: Russia

 

CJ Brunner

1st Place: Belgium

2nd Place: Russia

 

Marci Buehler

1st Place: Belgium

2nd Place: Russia

 

Zac Hirschbeck

1st Place: Belgium

2nd Place: Russia

 

Leif Reigstad

1st Place: Belgium

2nd Place: Russia

 

Sean Coots

1st Place: Belgium

2nd Place: Russia

­Sean’s Thoughts: Belgium is expected to coast through this group, which is generally considered the weakest in the tournament. I disagree. I think that Belgium will struggle to break down the defenses of Russia and Algeria in their first World Cup since 2002. That said, Russia and Algeria will struggle to score, and South Korea’s form has been inconsistent. I predict a close group with Belgium going through in first by a point or two, while Russia squeaks past South Korea on goal difference.

 

 

Teams That We’re Rooting For

Adam Augustyn

France

Les Bleus have been gifted a relatively easy first round group to deal with, as pretty much everyone agrees that the Swiss are not befitting of their status as a seeded team and Ecuador are definitely beatable. Furthermore, Didier Deschamps’ men seem to be rounding into form at the right time after an 8-0 victory in their most recent pre-tournament friendly. The real question of course is what they will do without Bayern Munich star Franck Ribery, a player whose absence would be felt by any team in the world. However, the French still have more than enough talent in the offensive third with Olivier Giroud, Karim Benzema, and the young Antoine Griezmann all partnering in front of a dynamic midfield pairing in Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba to make a deep run in this year’s tournament. With 2010’s national humiliation in South Africa still fresh in the French memory, this team will be looking to atone for the mistakes of the Domenech era with a strong showing in Brazil. Plus, as an added bonus, the French will be outfitted in this summer’s best kits, so expect Les Bleus to win with a literal and figurative style.

Chile

My bold prediction for this year’s tournament comes in Group B, where I believe the Chileans will outlast the reigning World (and two-time European) champions, Spain, to make it into the knockout round. While those in the American sports media have announced the US’s group G as the vaunted “Group of Death,” one could make a reasonable argument that a Group B featuring Spain, the Netherlands, Chile, and Australia is not far behind. Although the Socceroos are a marked step below, each of the three remaining teams in the group are all possible of making a deep tournament run, with the reigning champions being one of the favorites to play at the Maracana in mid-July. That being said, Chile play an exciting and pressing style with a trio of world class players in winger Alexis Sanchez, forward Eduardo Vargas, and midfielder Arturo Vidal all in top form for both club and country. A fast start with a victory over Australia and the advantage of playing on their home continent against the Dutch and the Spanish will help see them through into the round of 16.

Belgium

It seems as if every four years there is one team that seems to be unanimously appointed as the surprise selection to make a deep tournament run and this year’s tournament is no different with Marc Wilmot’s young Belgian side as the trendy pick by many to crash the party in Brazil. When taking a look at the Red Devils’ roster it is clear to see why they have been so hyped for success this summer, as this team is absolutely packed with young and hungry players on the cusp of world superstardom. For example, lining up out wide will be Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj, both under the age of 24 and considered to be the next global superstars. Also up front, Belgium possess a cadre of top class premier league players such as Everton winger Kevin Mirallas and Chelsea’s burly, young striker, Romelu Lukaku, who enjoyed an excellent season on-loan with Roberto Martinez at Everton. The fact is, I could go on and on about Belgium’s excellent young players, and still neglect to mention their dominant stable of center backs or their incredible young goalkeeper, Thibault Courtois. This team is just oozing quality at the moment, and with a relatively easy Group H, should waltz into the knockout phase at their first World Cup since 2002.

 

CJ Brunner

England

After watching Liverpool crumble late in the season, it is hard not to feel bad for Steven Gerrard. To have come so close to a title and then have a costly slip up (pun intended) towards the end, it makes me want him to win a World Cup title as a reward for such a great season overall. England, as a whole, seems to be long overdue for a championship so I am hopeful that 2014 is their year.

 

Marci Buehler

USA, Spain, Argentina

Hey it’s the one time every four years when your average American citizen will pretend to care about soccer. I love this! I love going to really crowded bars decked out in red, white and blue and being surrounded by a lot of patriotism, camaraderie, and beer. I love the nervousness / excitement of watching our country play for the Win. I love watching the World Cup, but most of all I love watching my country compete in the World Cup. Maybe it’s because for once, everyone watching together wants the same outcome (except the old crazy Englishman at the bar who swears at us during every game…but he’s easy to ignore). I don’t foresee us doing well, but I hope that we do.

I always enjoy watching Spain play and they are continually one of the teams I root for during the World Cup. Ditto on Argentina. I like Germany too, but I won’t list them here since it’s counterproductive to my USA pick.

Most of all, I’m rooting for exciting games. After all, this thing only happens every four years. Let’s entertain all the fake soccer fans out there!

 

Sean Coots

Chile, Japan, and Bosnia and Herzegovina

Chile is simply an exciting team to watch. They have a potent attack and a strong midfield. Unfortunately, they are drawn in the second ‘Group of Death’ and will have to deal with the likes of 2010 World Cup finalists Spain and the Netherlands. If Arturo Vidal is healthy for the matches against these sides, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

I tend to support teams that play collectively – both in attack and defense – and Japan fits the bill. They have a young and exciting squad with a surprising number of European-based players. In a group with a clear favorite (Colombia) and another talented squad in Côte d’Ivoire, they’ll need to play at their best. With Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa pulling the strings, I think they’ll manage just fine.

B&H is a team that may end up flopping in their first-ever World Cup finals appearance, but they have the talent to go well into the knockout stages if they can play to their strengths. They have a number of in-form players (Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic, for example) and have already endeared themselves to the Brazilian media by presenting scarves and shirts to the police stationed outside of their hotel and befriending a stray dog (fittingly named BosDog) on a visit to the beach. I wish them success.

I will, however, be rooting primarily for the United States because I love America. And if we lose to Ghana again I’ll probably destroy my TV. Go USA.

 

Leif Reigstad

USA, Iran, Russia

Four words: United. States. Of. America. There’s no other choice. The Red, White and Blues’ manager Jurgen Klinsmann might not think they can win the whole thing, but that doesn’t stop me from rooting for them with the baseless, blind optimism of a die-hard fan and patriot. That said, in the interest of objective journalism, I’ll go in another direction to balance out all of the other ‘Merica-minded World Cup rooters in The Butter Lamb’s collective preview.

The teams I’m rooting for in Brazil are Iran and Russia. While they play a much larger role in international politics than they do in international soccer, Iran is actually a decent team, ranked 43rd in the world—ahead of Australia, Japan, and African Cup of Nations champion Nigeria. They have one of the best names of the World Cup, Ashkhan Dejagah, a crafty midfielder who plays for Fulham, and there’s a giant cheetah face on their jerseys—the endangered Asiatic cheetah, a move to spread awareness of their nature conservation efforts. Iran’s only World Cup victory so far came against the United States in 2002, which was also the last time Russia qualified for the cup. Besides harboring Edward Snowden, Russia, led by the ancient Fabio Capello, is also typically an exciting team to watch. They usually play with flair, and under Capello they’ve held opponents to just five goals in ten qualifiers, including a 1-0 loss and a 1-0 win over Portugal. I’m also rooting for Putin to keep his shirt on at all times.

 

Zac Hirschbeck

Côte d’Ivoire, Belgium, and Italy

Aside from the U.S.A. (which I will get to in a moment), I tend to cheer for players rather than teams at the World Cup. Didier Drogba is likely my favorite player ever to watch. Throughout his time at Chelsea, there wasn’t a player that I admired more than Didi. On his day he was impossible to defend. He was stronger than any center back and possessed surprising pace for a man his size. He played almost entirely on his own up top for the Blues, leading the attack without a second forward in support. The best thing about Drogba’s time at Chelsea was that you knew you could always rely upon him in a so-called “big game.” He’s the only player to score in four separate FA Cup Finals, and he willed Chelsea’s run to European glory in 2012. While he’s had undeniable success on the club level, Drogba and his international teammates have failed to achieve anything close to similar glory at the World Cup or the Africa Nations Cup. In what will likely be his last World Cup at age 36, I hope Didier has the legs for one last incredible run.

My affection for Italy largely stems from affection for Mario Balotelli. While he’s only 23, Super Mario has already bounced around from three notable clubs (Inter Milan, Manchester City, AC Milan) and looks set for a possible return to London. The uber-talented forward certainly is a divisive figure due to his questionable temperament and maturity, but his ability is unquestioned. Hopefully Mario summons his focus and helps Italy make a similar run to the one we saw in the 2012 Euros.

Lastly, I’m very interested to see how newcomers Belgium fare in this year’s tournament. This side combines youth with high-level club experience. Thibault Courtois backstopped Atletico Madrid to an incredible year and he’s only 22. Thomas Vermaelen, Vincent Kompany, and Jan Vertonghen are all top defenders when fit. Axel Witsel, Mousa Dembele, and Marouane Fellaini (in spite of his lackluster showing for Manchester United) combine athleticism with creativity in the midfield. Eden Hazard and Kevin Mirallas will play influential roles going forward. Romelu Lukaku, who resembles a Drogba-like presence up top, will be asked to finish off attacking moves. While I think it’s a bit silly to label them as a “Sleeper” or a “Dark Horse” due to their incredible number of European stars and a FIFA ranking of 11, I’ll definitely be rooting for the Red Devils to make a deep run into the tournament.

USA! USA! USA!

Not much needs to be said here. Despite Jurgen Klinsmann’s assertions otherwise, not only will the Americans get out of the proverbial “Group of Death,” they’ll also hoist the Championship Trophy on July 13th in Rio.

It will probably look a lot like this.

 

 

 

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