“Congratulations to Korea for the win, for Sweden and Mexico for the qualification. It’s difficult to explain. The way we played we didn’t deserve to go through.”
-Germany coach Joachim Loew
Many of you may remember during the last World Cup, I posted a blog about the challenges the defending World Cup champion faces. Sometimes it seems like bad luck. After Germany’s game against South Korea, my look at the defending Champion deserves an update.
In the 20th Century, only Italy in 1950 and Brazil in 1966 were among the defending champions that failed to make it past the Group Stage. In the 21st Century, there was France in 2002, Italy in 2010 and Spain in 2014.
Then came Germany here in 2018. Germany was the most impressive team at the 2014 World Cup and deserving of their victory. The team appeared to have many a great retire from the national team over time like Miro Klose, Per Mertesacker and Phillipp Lahm just after their World Cup win, Bastian Schweinsteiger right after Euro 2016, and Lukas Podolski in 2017. Nevertheless their reputation of consistency would continue to be as they would continue to do very well in tournaments, if not win. There was the semifinal finish at Euro 2016. There was winning their first ever Confederations Cup in 2017. They even won FIFA team of the year in 2014 and 2017 as well as the Laureus award for Team Of The Year in 2015. It appeared that the years were kind to team Germany as well as with the new talent that was coming along. Including Joshua Kimmich who won German Player Of The Year in 2017. Germany’s Olympic team in Rio which consisted mostly of men under 23 won the silver medal. It also appeared Head Coach Joachim Loew was continuing to make the right decisions and Germany’s football system which went through an overhaul in the early 21st Century was continuing to pay off big time.
Even in friendly play, Germany did very well, but they also had notable defeats like 4-2 against Argentina seven weeks after the World Cup, 2-1 against the US in June 2015, 3-2 against England in March 2016, and 3-1 against Slovakia in May 2016. 2017 looked like a good year for Germany as they topped their World Cup qualifying group easily and they didn’t even lose a dingle friendly. Their draw for the World Cup didn’t appear to threaten their World Cup status as their mix with Sweden, South Korea and Mexico appeared to be a group they could advance with after playing.
Then the 2018 year began. They drew against Spain 1-1 in their first friendly in March. Their next friendly, against Brazil four days later, they lost 1-0. They would lose to Austria in a friendly 2-1 on June 2nd and then win 2-1 in a friendly against the Saudis on June 8th. It was apparent the team chemistry that gave Germany the winning edge in 2014 wasn’t there.
The World Cup squad of 23 for the German national team was announced on June 4th 2018: two days after their loss to Austria. Manuel Neuer, goalkeeper for the 2014 team, was back and was captain of the team, as were eight other members of Germany’s 2014 team. There was also Mario Gomez who was part of Germany’s 3rd-place World Cup team of 2010. Marco Reus, who had to be replaced just before the 2014 World Cup because of an ankle injury, finally got his World Cup moment in 2018. There were some notable differences about the make-up. Four members of the 2014 team had 100 caps or more. None of the 2018 team had that. Three of the members were part of Germany’s silver medal-winning performance at the Rio Olympics in 2016. There were the ‘reliable’ veterans like Ozil, Muler, Neuer, Khedira and Boateng. As for the new players, there were talents like 26 year-old Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 22 year-old Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Julian Brandt, and defenders like 25 year-old Antonio Rudiger from Chelsea and 23 year-old Joshua Kimmich from Bayern Munich as well as 22 year-old striker Timo Werner who scored three goals during the 2017 Confederations Cup.
There were also some notable members of the German national team who were left off the World Cup squad like Shkodran Mustafi who was part of the 2014 team and Mario Gotze who scored the goal that won Germany the World Cup. Gotze had been going through a metabolic disorder since March of last year and it may have caused his dismissal from the national team.
Then the World Cup started. Their first opponent was Mexico right in Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. There were talks of struggles with the team chemistry since the Cup started, including with their team-based training in Moscow, but it appeared to be nothing to worry about. Mexico was a team where their last defeat to them was in 1985. They even beat them in the semis at the Confederations Cup last year. However sport is not about the past; it’s about now. Vet Neuer was chosen to be goaltender, Kimmich and the relatively inexperienced Marvin Plattenhardt were the only two ‘new’ players chosen as defenders, the two midfielders were vets Kroos and Khedira, and Werner was the only ‘new’ defender of the four. Substitutions also caught people’s eyes as ‘new players’ Plattenhardt and Werner were among those substituted and two vets along with ‘new player’ Julian Brandt were the substitutes. Germany had 60% of the ball possession, 25 of 37 attempts, nine attempts on-target and nine off-target, eight of the nine corner kicks, 88% pass accuracy, but the one goal was scored by Hirving Lozano of Mexico in the 35th minute.
Germany’s 1-0 loss soon got people talking. This was Germany’s first loss of a Group Stage opening match in yay so long. There was even talk about how the German team lacked organization, lacked chemistry. Some claimed Loew was ‘separating’ the team between the tried-and-true vets and the newer players. More scattering of players than setting a build of play. Germany still however had two more games. Their next match was Sweden in another Olympic Stadium: Fisht in Sochi. Neuer was back as goaltender, but this time there was more presence of newer players, especially among defenders. Even two of the three substitutes were new players like Brandt and Ilkay Gundogan. However it appeared to be another struggle for Germany, especially after Ola Toivonen scored after the 32nd minute. It did, however, appear that Germany was beginning to find their groove again as Marco Reus evened the game up at the 48th minute. However it was starting to look like Germany was going to choke again. Then came the miracle of stoppage time. It was Toni Kroos delivering a successful free kick in the 5th minute of stoppage time to give Germany their winning goal. Despite their 2-1 victory, there were still naysayers, pointing out how Germany did so little with so much. Germany had ball possession for 71% of the game and 16 goal attempts, but only five attempts on-target. They also had five of the seven offsides. Also Jerome Boateng received two yellow cards– in the 71st and 82nd minutes– en route to a red-card dismissal and Germany to play one man down for the remainder of that game and against the following game against South Korea.
Then came Game 3 against South Korea at Kazan Arena. Germany had to win if they wanted to qualify as Mexico already had two wins. No doubt Germany appeared to be there. They had 70% ball possession, had nine corner kicks, and delivered 17 shots, but only six were on-target. Germany appeared to deliver a lot of good attempts at goals, but young goalkeeper Cho Hyun-woo was on that night. It was definitely frustrating for Germany as they knew they had to win to stay alive. Sweden was beating Mexico 3-0 so a win was needed to qualify. It did not happen. This time, it was South Korea that took full advantage of stoppage time with a goal by Kim Younggwon in the 93rd minute giving Korea the lead and a goal by Son Heungmin in an empty net in the 96th minute that meant it was the end for Germany. That was only Germany’s second loss to South Korea after their fourth time playing each other.
It’s tough to decide what lead to Germany’s demise. It may be the coaching staff’s overtrusting of its senior players and not giving the newer players a fair chance. Especially after vets like Neuer, Ozil and Thomas Muller all performed below expectation. Some say there was lack of unity or lack of a game plan. There was enough on the field to notice that. Some say the coaching tactics of Joachim Loew that was successful in the past finally ran out here. Loew himself was shocked at the loss and Germany’s early dismissal, however he did not deny any of his misdoings or the team’s misdoings.
Quotes from Loew after the game:
“I think we prepared well for the tournament. We were ready and we knew that all teams will be desperate to beat us, but we haven’t showed for it.”
“It wasn’t only Ozil, a number of other players didn’t perform as they normally would. I take responsibility for that and stand up for that, but I thought it was a good team.”
Interesting to note that Loew signed a contract to stay on as coach of the national team until 2022. Loew has been coach of the German national team since 2006. However he has made it evident that he will voluntarily step down. He made his disappointment obvious, but he said it will take hours to digest.
One thing about the loss is that it gave Germany some embarrassing statistics like the second World Cup ever and first time since 1938 that Germany failed to move past the 1st round, first time for Germany to fail to qualify after opening Group Stage play, and the third defending champion in a row to be eliminated after the Group Stage.
That last statistic continues to be biting. This is the fourth time in five World Cups this 21st century and the third consecutive time the defending champion is out after the Group Stage. I’ve never considered it bad luck to be defending World Cup champion, but the statistics are strongly pointing the way to it. It was never this way in the 20th century. They may have had some bad statistics at the following World Cup, but it was very rare to be out in the Group Stage. Now it’s more common than ever with Germany being the sixth ever and third-consecutive. It’s tempting to think bad lack, but one has to study teams to know why they perform poorly time after time. This is something new and shouldn’t be, but this is tempting.
The defending World Cup champion. The definition continues.
I just bought the official guide to the World Cup. It gives a lot of fact and figures and trivia. Some World Cup trivia facts are worth knowing, like who scored the most goals or who achieved the fastest red card. Others, not really. Anyways enough of that. Let’s get back to reviewing the World Cup. Today it’s Group F:
-Germany (1)- Germany appear to be the clear favorites after their World Cup win in 2014. There doesn’t seem to be anything that appears to hinder them. However the defending champion teams have had a history of bad luck at the World Cup. The last time a team successfully defended their World Cup was back in 1962. The last time the defending champion made it to the final was in 1998. Also let’s keep in mind that three of the last four defending champion teams were ousted in the group stage. Germany looks like one team that won’t let it happen. The last time Germany finished outside the Top 8 was all the way back in 1938. However don’t rely on statistics.
Anyways the Mannschaft have been playing very well since their win in 2014. Upon the retirement of many vets after the Cup, coach Joachim Loew has had to train some new talent. They won the Confederations Cup for the first time ever last year. They also got as far as the semifinals at Euro 2016. However they did expose a weakness in their quarterfinal win against Italy when three of the players missed penalty shots: uncharacteristic for a team with a near-perfect record. Germany has delivered a lot of impressive wins like 6-0 over Norway, 4-1 over Mexico and 2-1 over Chile. However Germany ‘s 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia is its first win since World Cup qualification. They even lost 1-0 to Brazil and 2-1 over Austria. Chances are they could just come alive again at the World Cup. They’ve always been together at every World Cup and I’m sure Russia 2018 will be no exception.
-Mexico (15)- Mexico is frequently seen as a sleeping giant in football. They’re a team loaded with talent waiting for their big breakthrough. Sure, they’ve qualified for the knockout stage in every World Cup they’ve played in since 1986, but 1986 was the first and only time Mexico won a knockout game. You can bet Mexico’s hoping to finally get their breakthrough.
El Tricolor have had ups and downs these past four years. They won the 2015 CONCACAF Championship but finished third in 2017. They also finished fourth at last year’s Confederations Cup. However at the last two Copa Americas, the best they could do was the quarterfinals. Their track records this past year has been good. They’ve had good wins like 3-0 against Iceland, 1-0 against Poland and 3-1 against Ireland. They even delivered a strong 3-3 draw against Belgium. However they’ve had some noteworthy losses such as 1-0 against Croatia and 4-1 against Germany. Anything is possible in 2018 and Mexico could rise to the occasion.
-Sweden (23)- If there’s one team that can cause an upset, it’s Sweden. During World Cup qualifying, the Top 2 teams from UEFA’s Group A were expected to be France and the Netherlands. France did come out of top, but Sweden finished ahead of the Netherlands on goal differentials. Sweden was drawn to play against Italy for the playoff berth. I’m sure everyone expected Italy to win it. However a goal from Jakob Johansson in the 61st minute of the first game and a scoreless second game meant Italy will miss out on the World Cup for the first time since 1958. Never underestimate the Swedes.
You can bet the Blagult will be ready. The big shock is that Jakob Johansson who delivered the berth-winning goal will not be in Russia. Neither will its superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic as he retired from the national team after Euro 2016. Now the most capped man on the Swedish team is Hull City’s Sebastian Larsson. Since 2017, Sweden has delivered notable wins such as 3-2 against Portugal, 2-1 against France, and of course their 1-0 surprise over Italy. However they’ve had some notable losses like 2-0 against the Netherlands, 2-1 over Chile and 1-0 against Romania. However never rule Sweden out. If they can upset the Netherlands and Italy in qualifying, they could create an upset in Russia 2018.
-Korea Republic (South Korea) (61)- There’s no doubt that South Korea is the top team in Asia. It has a record of consistency with qualifying for every World Cup since 1986. They come to Russia hoping to make a good impression, but most experts don’t have too high of expectations for them. Which is surprise since they were finalists at the last Asian Cup and even won last year’s East Asian Cup. I think they get the ranking because they didn’t win a game at the last World Cup. Actually no AFC team won a single game at the last World Cup.
Most of the lineup plays for Korea’s K League 1. Only four play for European teams. Since 2017, the team has had some remarkable wins like 2-1 over Colombia and 4-1 over Japan. However the team has had some noteworthy losses like 3-1 to Bosnia, 4-2 to Russia and 3-2 to Poland. Chances are South Korea could rise to the occasion again. They just have to prove it in Russia.
And those are my thoughts on Group F. As for predicting which two will move onto the knockout round, I think it will be Germany and Mexico. Those are my best hunches.
Just four more stadiums to go. As we get closer, the stadiums will get bigger. Interesting how the World Cup will show us big cities in Russia we never knew about. In fact I never knew about this city until I learned of the stadium.
Rostov-On-Don: Rostov Arena
Year Opened: 2018
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, D, E, F
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16
The most interesting thing about the stadium is that soon after ground broke, five shells from World War II were found in June 2013 and they were in near-perfect condition! The stadium is noteworthy for its irregular shape of roofing and stands. Its lighting at night is definitely a spectacle to watch. The stadium is part of major city development of Rostov-on-Don. This is the first project built on the southern bank of the Don River. Built close to shopping and dining areas, the stadium will serve as a focal point for investments and new developments. After the Cup, the seating will be reduced to 42,000 and will serve as the home venue for FC Rostov.
And there’s my summary of Group F. Only six more days to go. And two more groups and three more stadiums for me to review.
How about that? The past three-and-a-half weeks have narrowed the field from 24 to four. It’s been full of shocking surprises with teams like the Czechs, Swedes and Russians performing well below expectations in the Group Stage. It’s also had unpleasant surprises off the football field with rowdy behavior from Russian, Croatian and Hungarian fans. It’s also had a lot of positive surprises like Wales and Iceland humiliating bigger competition. And now we’re down to four: Portugal, Wales, Germany and France. It’s the semifinals to decide the two teams to play for the final for the Championship. So here’s my rundown of the two Semifinals:
SEMIFINAL #1: PORTUGAL vs. WALES
Head To Head Stuff:
This is one head-to-head scenario where I don’t have much to compare. Wales only once played Portugal all the way back in 2000. Portugal won.
Portugal: Portugal has been an enigma at this tournament. They’ve been very successful in making their way to the semifinals but they’ve grazed the bar almost each and every time. One important fact for this Euro: Portugal is the only semifinalist that has not had a single win in regulation time. All three of their group games were draws, their Round of 16 win against Croatia game after a single goal from Quaresma in added extra time, and their quarterfinal win was thanks to a penalty shootout. Even star Cristiano Ronaldo has faced some flack for underplaying. He should be thankful his two goals against Hungary were what Portugal needed to stay alive in the tournament. If Portugal expects to win the semifinal, they will have to come together and play solid. They can’t afford to take it easy or give things away. Not while Wales has been performing while other teams have slacked off.
Wales: Two of the biggest Cinderella teams at this Euro have been Iceland and Wales. In fact the Euro 2016 can best be remembered as the tournament where Gareth Bale finally came to prominence in international play. He’s one of only five players here that has scored three or more goals. In addition to Bale, other teammates had moments to shine too like Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey and the currently-unsigned Hal Robson-Kanu. In fact the whole team has performed as a solid unit winning matches over teams with bigger clout like Slovakia, Russia and especially #2 ranked Belgium 3-1 in the quarterfinals. Who decides these FIFA rankings anyways?
Wales does have its imperfections. In fact it faced a heated battle against Northern Ireland in the Round of 16 and was only lucky to advance thanks to an auto goal scored by Gareth McAuley: the only goal of the match. In short, Wales have proven themselves able to deliver. However it’s a matter of them all being there.
My Verdict: With no reliable head-to-head stats to base a judgement, I have to base it on the team’s play during the Euro. I predict Wales to win 2-1 in added extra time.
SEMIFINAL #2: GERMANY vs. FRANCE
Head To Head Stuff:
They’ve both faced each other off twelve times ever. France has won six times, Germany four and two draws. Germany’s wins have been one home, three away. France’s wins have been three home, three away. Germany’s last win over France was at the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals. France’s last win over Germany was during a friendly in Paris in November 2015.
Germany: Germany faced a lot of expectations here at the Euro. They came as the reigning World Cup holders who were struggling to form a new team with new younger talent. They’ve done very well for the most part as they won 2-0 against Ukraine and 1-0 against Northern Ireland. Their big moment came in the Round of 16 when they beat Slovakia 3-0. Remarkable since Slovakia beat them 3-1 in a friendly one month earlier.
This Euro has also been the arena where Germany’s weaknesses have also been exposed. First was the 0-0 draw against Poland in the Round of 16. The second came against Italy in the quarterfinals. It wasn’t simply drawing 1-1 but their three misses in the penalty shootout right during the first five. Usually Germany are the experts at penalty kicks going without a miss in a major tournament since 1982. That was a shock! Had Italy not also had three misses in their first five, it would’ve been the Italians heading to the semis instead.
The German team here in Euro 2016 is very capable of great play and have gone beyond most people’s expectations. However they cannot give anything away while playing against France. Not while France is host nation and playing brilliantly.
France: France is one team that has been on a roll consistently. They’ve only had a single draw: 0-0 against Switzerland in the Group Stage. Everything else has been a win: 2-1 over Romania, 2-0 over Albania, 2-1 over Ireland and 5-2 over Iceland. They even have the three highest scorers: Antoine Griezmann with four, Olivier Giroud with three, and Dimitri Payet with three. Having Didier DesChamps, captain of France’s 1998 World Cup winning team, as coach definitely has a lot to do with it.
France have been excellent though they aren’t perfect. The team has definitely risen to the occasion game after game and showed all of Europe they’re ready to win at home. They have not had a single loss in 2016. However they could face the pressure of playing at home. Sure, they may have beaten Germany in a friendly in Paris seven months ago but Germany may have something up their sleeve. Don’t forget Germany did a reversal on Slovakia. Also keep in mind Germany beat France 1-0 in the quarterfinals in Brazil as Des Champs was coaching. Some food for thought.
TRIVIA: The world was horrified on Friday November 13, 2015 when six bombs went off in various areas of Paris. The first attack was at 9:20pm just outside the Stade de France; right while the friendly between France and Germany was taking place. In fact the two explosions can be heard on video replays during the 16th minute and 19th minute of that game, which continued on and France won 2-0.
My Verdict: There’s no one ‘wonderteam’ at this Euro but I think France is the team that most has it together. I think they will win 1-0.
And those are my predictions for the semifinals for Euro 2016. I may be right. I may be wrong. All to be decided Wednesday and Thursday.
What can I say about the World Cup? All I can say is that it starts with 32 teams, takes a month and at the end, only one country’s left smiling. And so after 62 games and loads of surprises, they’ve weeded out the thirty pretenders and gave us the two contenders: Germany who has won the Cup three times before and Argentina who have won it twice before. The Maracana will be the stage for deciding the World Cup winners. Here I’ll do a rundown of the two teams and even make my prediction on who I think will win the Cup.
First an interesting note I came about. Isn’t it ironic that both the final for the Cup and the 3rd-place match are both like rematches of quarterfinals of the last World Cup? Anyways I’ll get on with it.
Past Head-To-Head Results:
Germany and Argentina have squared off against each other 20 times. Argentina has won the most often with nine times. Germany has won six and five were draws. Both Germany and Argentina have scored 28 goals against each other. Germany and Argentina have crossed paths at seven World Cups starting in 1958. Surprisingly this is the third World Cup in a row they both challenge each other. The previous two were in quarterfinals. In 2006 when Germany hosted, they tied 1-1 and it took a round of penalty kicks to decide Germany the winner. Last World Cup it was Argentina that had their own version of the Mineirazo as Germany won 4-0. Also as surprisingly, this is the third World Cup Final they both face each other: the most World Cup finals pairings ever. The first was in 1986 when Maradona and the boys won 3-2. The following World Cup they met again and it was German revenge 1-0. In both cases, that was the last World Cup either team won.
ARGENTINA: One word that can best describe Argentina here at the World Cup is consistent. They won all three of their Group Stage games: 2-1 against Bosnia, 1-0 against Iran, and 3-2 against Nigeria. They also won their Round of 16 match against Switzerland in extra time 1-0, their quarterfinal against Belgium 1-0 and their semifinal against the Netherlands in a penalty shootout.
There’s another word to describe Argentina’s play at this World Cup: lackluster. The phenomenal big play that Argentina has been known for was missing. Instead it looked like they were focusing on the conservative. Sure, the conservative style worked for France last world Cup but this is not what you’d expect from Argentina. Sure Lionel Messi has been one of the stars of the tournament and has lived up to his reputation during the World Cup but other Argentinians like Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria have been playing rather modestly than what they’re reputed for. That scoreless draw should be cause for concern since it was mostly a contest of ball control and very little attacking. In fact I remember a scene near the end of regulation where it appeared Dutch players were lollygagging with the ball.
Whatever the situation, conservative play will not come in handy, especially against a team that annihilated the host country on Tuesday. That game has to be the biggest signal to Argentina that if they were to win the Cup, they will be pressed to pour it on like never before at this Cup. There’s no doubt Messi and Higuain have what it takes here. They have to be prepared for a similar attack like Germany gave Brazil on Tuesday. It’s evident that Germany can take full advantage of an opponent’s vulnerability and come down hard on them. They should know because Germany beat them in the quarterfinals at the last World Cup 4-0, just after winning every other previous game they played.
As for the team, I’m not worried about Messi. I think of him as Maradona without the ego. Especially since it’s evident he knows what he needs to do to deliver here and he’s done that. Sergio Romero has been an excellent goaltender as he has delivered each time and has only conceded three goals. The rest of the team will have to be prepared for anything from Germany whether it be conservative play or an all. And with Angel di Maria out, they will have to step up their midfield. Coach Sabella knows the job he has to deliver and I’m sure he’ll mean business, especially to bring Argentina back on top after 28 years.
GERMANY: What can I say? They are not called the Mannschaft for nothing. What we have is a team that is lacking in superstars and celebrity. Heck, Miroslav Klose has scored the most goals in World Cup history and he doesn’t have the star power as say Neymar, Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Instead we have a team full of players that are focused, know what they have to do and deliver. And they definitely know how to pour it on as evident in the Mineirazo and their opener of 4-0 against Portugal. You can bet Germany is a team that knows how to deliver.
Or do they? Sure, they had big wins against Portugal and Brazil but they have had their share of tight matches at the World Cup, like when they temporarily trailed Ghana before they tied 2-2. Or even going scoreless against Algeria in regulation before winning 2-1. It’s evident in those matches that Germany has weaknesses of their own and could be made vulnerable by Argentina. Argentina is a team very familiar with them and knows how to rival them. It’s also very possible Argentina will want to avenge Germany for the last two World Cup quarterfinals. Sure, Argentina has not been too spectacular but they could just pour it on when they have to. It’s happened before in major play.
One thing about Tuesday’s game, it’s that coach Joachim Löw doesn’t want that big win to make his team overconfident. Even Miro Klose stated that he doesn’t want the win to get to the team’s head. What they’ll have on Sunday is a new team and will need a new plan to win. It’s evident with each passing match, it’s all about knowing the rival, controlling them and monopolizing on your chances. And that’s what Germany will have to do on Sunday to win the Cup for the fourth time and for the first time ever as a unified nation.
MY PREDICTION: Okay. So here goes. My prediction for the winner of the 2014 World Cup. I believe it will be Germany 2-1 in extra time. Wow! I’ve been making a lot of predictions where the score is 2-1, haven’t I? But that’s what I believe it will be. Germany have that edge in terms of delivering goals and will continue to be the case if Argentina don’t step up their game. Argentina know how to defend and control opponents but they lack the ability to monopolize on their chances. So that’s why I give Germany the edge.
So there you go. It was fun making predictions for the World Cup. I hope to do football/soccer predicting again sometime soon. Maybe my next chance will be for next year’s Copa America. Provided if TSN or ESPN broadcast it.
Group D has been most lauded as the ‘Group Of Death’ not just because of three country’s current prowess but because of their past World Cup legacy. Group G could rightfully be called the ‘Group Of Death’ because there are four teams that rank amongst the world’s best and it can be any two of the four making it to the Round of 16. Here’ s my rundown:
-Germany (2)- Brazil may be the country with the biggest World Cup legacy but Germany is a close second. They have stats and feats of their own to brag about too: competed in all but two World Cups, has made the Top 8 every year since 1954, qualified for the final seven times like Brazil and won the Cup three times. The Mannschaft know how to make a power of themselves and create a legacy but they also have their own glitches too. Like there have been two Euro tournaments this century when they failed to advance past the Group Stage. Even in World Cup play within the past twenty years they have lost to underdogs like Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia.
The current German team is in good hands with Joachim Low who has managed Germany since the 2006 World Cup. He has guided Germany to the 2008 Euro finals and to the semifinals in the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. Germany also has their stars too like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Mesut Ozil, Lukas Podolski, Thomas Muller and Miroslaw Klose who is just one goal short of tying Ronaldo’s World Cup goal record of 15. Germany already shows solid play as they’ve lost only once since Euro 2012, to the U.S. 4-3 and I’ll get to that later. They’ve also had good wins to England, Sweden, France and Chile. However they did have a 1-1 draw against their traditional ‘achilles heel’ Italy. Low and the boys will have a lot of proving to do in Brazil. No doubt they have the talent and skill to do it. It’s just a matter of them delivering.
-Portugal (3)- Before this century, Portugal had only competed in two World Cups: 1966 where they finished third and 1986. Ever since the World Cup has expanded to 32 teams in 1998, Portugal has qualified all but once and they’ve shown their talent off in grand style. Their best World Cup performance this century was a fourth-place finish in 2006. Their biggest moment to shine was in Euro 2004 which they co-hosted with Spain and made it to the final.
Even now they show themselves to be a formidable team full of talent like Cristiano Ronaldo, Simao and Helger Postiga. Right after Portugal lost out in the Round of 16 back at the last World Cup, they appointed Paulo Bento who already had a proven record with coaching Sporting CP. Bento has organized the team well and helped guide them to the semis at Euro 2012. Since then, Portugal has had excellent play with key wins against Croatia and Sweden and a big 5-1 win against Cameroon. They’ve only had three losses in that time to Brazil, Ecuador and Russia. Portugal has the consistency and the ability to go at this World Cup. Possibly even make the finals for the first time. Will they deliver? Brazil’s the stage that will decide.
-Ghana (38)- Ghana has proven themselves to be top African team as of late. They made it to the Round of 16 in 2006 and the quarterfinals in 2010. However while most African teams would consider their quarterfinal performance a feat as Ghana was only the third African team in history to advance that far, it was a disappointment as Ghana almost had a sure semifinal berth in their play against Uruguay. Even though the handball by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez was cheating, Ghana were unable to recover from it. We should remember with the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa, African teams had expectations on them unlike previous World Cups and Ghana was the only one of the six African teams to advance past the Round of 16.
Ghana still continues to perform well including fourth-place finishes at the last two African Cups. James Kwasi Appiah is the head coach after being assistant coach during the last World Cup. Gyan is back as captain and AC Milan’s Michael Essien as vice-captain. However Ghana has a lot of proving. They have not won a game against a non-African team in the past two years and their FIFA ranking has dipped a lot in the past four years. It could be either a case of a team in decline or a team that just hasn’t been proven. This World Cup is their proving point.
-U.S.A. (14)- Before this century, the U.S. men’s team was a joke in the football world. When you think the U.S.A., you don’t think football, or ‘soccer’ as they call it. You think baseball, basketball and American football. A last-place finish at the 1998 World Cup sure didn’t help much. This century, the U.S. have really developed a stronger reputation and are seen as a joke way less tan ever. The existence and success of MLS has helped a lot. Making the quarterfinals in 2002 and even finishing #1 in their Group Stage group in 2010 also made the football world see the U.S. men’s football team as an actual contender in world football superiority.
However the last four years has been a yo-yo. For one thing, they had their lowest FIFA ranking (36th) in August 2012. They’ve also endured losses in the lats two years to Brazil, Jamaica, Belgium, Ukraine and Costa Rica. They’ve also had some great wins like 5-1 to Scotland, 2-1 to Mexico, 2-0 to South Korea and 4-3 to Germany (and I’ll get to the juicy bit soon). Part of their recent success has to do with hiring Jurgen Klinsmann who coached Germany in the 2006 World Cup. In addition is the talent and play of players like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, rising young gun Julian Green and goalie Tim Howard. 2014 looks like to carve another chapter for the U.S.A. and their quest for soccer supremacy that was once considered a long shot.
Note: Spain vs. Netherlands may be the most eagerly anticipated Group Stage match of this World Cup but the second-most should be Germany vs. U.S. A. Why? First because the U.S.A.’s coach Jurgen Klinsmann played for Germany when the last won the world Cup back in 1990. Secondly because while Klinsmann was coach of Germany from 2004 up to the 2006 World Cup, Joachim Low was assistant coach and became head coach after Klinsmann’s departure. Already Germany got a taste of the U.S.A. in a friendly a year ago with the Americans winning 4-3. The rematch in Brazil should be full of intrigue.
And now my prediction for the advancers: I believe it will be Germany and Portugal. The U.S.A. looks like the one most likely to upset.
STADIUM SPOTLIGHT Now that I’m nearing the end of my World Cup preview, my Stadium Spotlights are now moving towards stadiums that are more like Brazil’s prized jewels. And this is definitely a grand one. A brand-spanking new jewel for Brazil, especially for its capital city.
Year Opened: 1974 World Cup Capacity: 70,042
World Cup Groups Hosting: A, C, E, G
Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16 (E1 vs. F2), one quarterfinal & third-place match
The stadium already had a big reputation in Brasilia with it being the stage for home games for Brasilia FC. However the stadium had to be demolished to have a newer bigger stadium in its place in time for the World Cup. Changes involved dismantling the lower tier, retaining the upper tier into the new rectangular bowl, adding a roof and pillars and reducing the size of the field into a football-only field. The changes made the stadium second to the new Wembley Stadium as the most expensive in the world. Nevertheless all the changes were ready by the Confederations Cup and for Beyonce’s concert last September. The venue will continue to be important after the World Cup as they will be home to Brasilia FC and will be a football venue for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
And there you go. Another group review and another stadium spotlight. Last review to come on Sunday.