With the World Cup 2014 days away, we look at the teams and their groups and how they will fare in the coming weeks. Here we look at Group G and H.
I hate to say this but I wished Sweden was in the group instead of Portugal. Sweden came close but they were undone by Cristiano Ronaldo’s superb performance during the playoff during the qualifying stage. That aside, this is going to be a very interesting group. On paper, Portugal and Germany are the favourites but never take Ghana and USA away from the equation. Both teams have been doing well in recent years. All four teams have what it takes to contest for the top two spots.
They are the favourites for this tournament. Most of their players have experienced the big stage but this time, they will want to win the trophy for the fourth time! Under Joachim Loew, their fans are confident that this side can bring back the coveted trophy. The number of talents in this country is just immense. Loew has the riches to select players and he will surely bring a formidable squad for their title assault. They’ve got the world’s best goalkeeper in Manuel Neuer. He has been consistent this season and he will surely bring that form to Brazil. In defence, they’ve got captain Philip Lahm who will be probing from the wings and Mats Hummels in centre-back. Bastian Schweinsteinger will be the holding midfielder together with Bayer Leverkusen’s Lars Bender or Sami Khedira, if he recovers from his long-term injury. Mesut Ozil together with Marco Reus will open up defenses with their passes and provide crosses for players like Miroslav Klose or Lukas Podolski to pounce on. They’ve got quality in all positions. As a neutral, I’m expecting some scintillating displays from this Germany side.
Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Roman Weidenfeller (Borussia Dortmund), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover);
Defenders: Jerome Boateng (Bayern Munich), Erik Durm (Borussia Dortmund), Kevin Grosskreutz (Borussia Dortmund), Benedikt Howedes (Schalke), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Philipp Lahm (Bayern Munich), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal);
Midfielders: Julian Draxler (Schalke), Matthias Ginter (Freiburg), Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich), Christoph Kramer (Borussia Monchengladbach), Sami Khedira (Real Madrid), Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Marco Reus (Borussia Dortmund), Andre Schurrle (Chelsea), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich);
Forwards: Miroslav Klose (Lazio), Lukas Podolski (Arsenal).
In the late 90s, players like Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Fernando Couto, Joao Pinto and Sergio Conceicao were in a team dubbed as the golden generation but they underachieved on the big stage. Luis Figo came close to breaking that but Portugal lost the Euro 2004 title to Greece. This time, there is no golden generation but there is one talisman who is set to shoulder the burden of the nation. Cristiano Ronaldo just won the Ballon D'Or and he will surely want to complete his good season by winning the World Cup for his country. However, he will be hoping that the other players in Portugal will ease his burden and help steer the side. Pepe will be the rock in defence while Fabio Coentrao and Joao Perreira will play their role as marauding wing-backs. Monaco’s Joao Moutinho will be the playmaker and he will be assisted by the mercurial Ronaldo. Helder Postiga might be first choice forward for them but the goals will come from Ronaldo. Portugal’s coach Paulo Bento certainly relies a lot on Ronaldo and it showed during the playoffs when Ronaldo scored all the goals in the two-legged game against Sweden. Bento has to find a way to make sure that the other players perform. If not it will be detrimental for the A Selecao in this group!
Goalkeepers: Beto (Sevilla), Eduardo (Braga), Rui Patricio (Sporting).
Defenders: Andre Almeida (Benfica), Bruno Alves (Fenerbahce), Fabio Coentreo (Real Madrid), Joao Pereira (Valencia), Neto (Zenit), Pepe (Real Madrid), Ricardo Costa (Valencia);
Midfielders: Joao Moutinho (Monaco), Miguel Veloso (Dinamo Kiev), Raul Meireles (Fenerbahce), Ruben Amorim (Benfica), William Carvalho (Sporting);
Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Eder (SC Braga), Helder Postiga (Lazio), Hugo Almeida (Besiktas), Nani (Manchester United), Rafa (Braga), Varela (FC Porto), Vieirinha (Wolfsburg).
In the last world cup, they were in the quarter-finals and could have gone to the semi-finals if Luis Suarez hadn’t block that header from Asamoah Gyan. He missed the penalty and the Ghanaians were kicked out by Uruguay through penalties. This time, they will want to avenge that but they have to find a way to manoeuvre past this group first. Joseph Appiah has got talented players in his disposal and he will have to find a way to make use of this squad. Watching their midfield will be a mouthwatering prospect. If all these players click, they can be unstoppable. Kevin Prince Boateng will be the chief creator while Marseille’s Andre Ayew and Juventus’ Kwadwo Asamoah will probe from the wings. Veteran midfielders Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari, both playing for AC Milan will protect the backline led by Evian’s Jonathan Mensah. Asamoah Gyan maybe playing in a smaller league but when it comes to national duty, he rarely disappoints! Appiah will now have to mould these players and make sure they are disciplined throughout the tournament. They can give any teams a run for their money if they are on form.
Goalkeepers: Fatau Dauda (Orlando Pirates), Adam Kwarasey (Stromsgodset), Stephen Adams (Aduana Stars);
Defenders: Samuel Inkoom (Platanias), Daniel Opare (Standard Liege), Harrison Afful (Esperance), John Boye (Rennes), Jonathan Mensah (Evian), Rashid Sumalia (Mamelodi Sundowns);
Midfielders: Michael Essien (AC Milan), Sulley Muntari (AC Milan), Rabiu Mohammed (Kuban Krasnodar), Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus), Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese), Afriyie Acquah (Parma), Christian Atsu (Vitesse), Albert Adomah (Middlesbrough), Andre Ayew (Marseille), Mubarak Wakaso (Rubin Kazan);
Forwards: Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Schalke 04), Abdul Majeed Waris (Valenciennes), Jordan Ayew (Sochaux)
Under Jurgen Klinsmann, USA has looked more organised and technically better in recent years. This time, they’ve got more players to select from. Major League Soccer has improved since stars like Juan Pablo Angel, David Beckham and Thierry Henry joined their clubs and because of that, lots of American players are coming out from that league and benefiting from their presence. Their European based players will be the key players in their squad. Tim Howard will be the goalkeeper and this might be his last world cup as he is turning 35 this year. In defense, they’ve got Matt Besler and LA Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez as centre-back. Right-back Geoff Cameron will be the one to watch based on his impressive performance at Stoke in the Premier League and teams will have to watch out for his long throw-ins! Michael Bradley will be a combative presence in midfield and his experiences with AS Roma will surely come in handy for the national squad. Clint Dempsey will be the main forward for them and Landon Donovan will play behind Dempsey in what promises to be a mouth watering partnership. They don’t have players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lionel Messi or Ronaldo in their squad but if these Yanks stick together and follow Klinsmann’s tactical instructions, they can be one tough nut to crack!
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake);
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders);
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City);
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).
Germany will be one of two teams to qualify out of the group stages. That leaves me with Portugal, Ghana and USA. All these teams have got international pedigree but only one will follow Germany to the next round. In my opinion, Ronaldo will be the difference and he will surely rally his teammates to help Portugal to qualify. Germany and Portugal to qualify from this group but it’s not going to be an easy passage for them!
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Atletico Madrid), Laurent Ciman (Standard Liege), Nicolas Lombaerts (Zenit St Petersburg), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich), Anthony Vanden Borre (Anderlecht), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham);
Midfielders: Nacer Chadli, Mousa Dembele (both Tottenham), Steven Defour (Porto), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg), Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj (both Manchester United), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Divock Origi (Lille), Axel Witsel (Zenit St Petersburg);
Forwards: Romelu Lukaku (Everton, on loan from Chelsea), Dries Mertens (Napoli).
Goalkeepers: Jung Sung-ryeong (Suwon Bluewings), Kim Seung-gyu (Ulsan Horang-i), Lee Bum-young (Busan I'Park);
Midfielders: Ki Seung-yueng (Sunderland, on loan from Swansea), Ha Dae-sung (Beijing Guoan), Han Kook-young (Kashiwa Reysol), Park Jung-woo (Guangzhou R&F), Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen), Kim Bo-kyung (Cardiff City), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton Wanderers), Ji Dong-won (Augsburg);
Forwards: Koo Ja-cheol (Mainz), Lee Keun-ho (Sangju Sangmu), Park Chu-young (Arsenal), Kim Shin-wook (Ulsan Horang-i).
Gone are the days of Andrei Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Pavel Pogrebnyak. They used to be indomitable during their heydays but now, it has all changed. Alan Dzagoev is now the face of Russian football. The 23-year-old CSKA Moscow winger will be the key player for Russia. However, we shouldn’t discount the capabilities of the other Russian players. Fabio Capello is known for his player selections and if he will surely select the best. In defence, I’m expecting veteran defender Sergei Ignashevich, CSKA’s Vasili Berezutsky and Dimitry Kombarov to be in the 23 man squad. Their physical presence and discipline will be key and Russia’s strength this tournament will be their backline. Igor Akinfeev will surely be the first choice goalkeeper. In midfield, Igor Denisov will captain the side and lead the midfield. His partner might be Roman Shirokov or Viktor Fayzulin. Dynamo Moscow’s Denisov is lighting up the Russian league with his performances and Capello will surely rely on him to provide incisive passes for his wingers and strikers. Aleksandr Kerzhakov will lead the attack together with young forward Aleksandr Kokorin. Most of the Russian lads are based in Russia and only one or two of them are playing in different leagues. Capello is a strict tactician and he will surely hope to create an impression with this determined Russian side.
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Lodygin (Zenit St Petersburg), Sergey Ryzhikov (Rubin Kazan);
Defenders: Vasili Berezutskiy (CSKA Moscow), Vladimir Granat (Dynamo Moscow), Andrey Eshchenko (Anzhi Makhachkala), Sergey Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Alexey Kozlov (Dynamo Moscow), Dmitry Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Andrey Semenov (Terek Grozny), Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moscow);
Midfielders: Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Igor Denisov (Dynamo Moscow), Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow), Yury Zhirkov (Dynamo Moscow), Alexey Ionov (Dynamo Moscow), Alexander Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Victor Faizulin (Zenit St Petersburg), Oleg Shatov (Zenit St Petersburg), Roman Shirokov (Krasnodar);
Forwards: Maxim Kanunnikov (Amkar Perm), Alexander Kerzhakov (Zenit St Petersburg), Alexander Kokorin (Dynamo Moscow).
This is a very open group. Three sides - South Korea, Belgium and Russia can qualify for the next stage of the tournament. It’s tough for me to predict but based on form and squad depth, I’m expecting South Korea and Belgium to qualify for the second round. Russia will give fight but It won’t be enough for them!