Is this the most unpredictable World Cup ever?
Last week I previewed the 8 groups at this year’s World Cup before a ball was even kicked in anger. It’s fair to say that the past week and a half have seen their fair share of shocks, and with Spain and England both home before they even play their third game, it’s clear to see that the gap at the very top level, isn’t as wide as it once was. Gone are the days of teams getting thumped 7 – 0 and 8 – 0 at the World Cup, and with sides like Costa Rica, Chile and USA all impressing, there could still be a shock or two ahead as the knockout stages approach.
Image via ESPNFC.com
Who will progress to the World Cup knockout stages?
Brazil have been far from impressive in their opening two games, and but for some questionable refereeing decisions in their first game against Croatia, Brazil could be going into their final game with a lot more at stake. As it is, despite a mediocre performance against Mexico, they face Cameroon tonight in a game they should win comfortably to see them top the group. Cameroon on the other hand can’t wait for the tournament to end and will be playing simply for pride in their final game.
Second place in Group A is a much more interesting affair and following their comfortable win over Cameroon, Croatia are now back in the hunt to qualify. They need to beat Mexico to qualify, while Mexico can still have hopes to top the group. The Mexicans have looked impressive so far, extremely organised and very fit. They are comfortable with the conditions and have a great support. This game will be a tight affair and I can see Mexico getting the draw they need to qualify. In my previous predictions for this group, I tipped Brazil and Mexico to qualify, and I’m going to stick to my guns. Croatia have some quality players, and will be a team to keep an eye on at Euro 2016 in France.
Progressing to the knockout – Brazil and Mexico
It’s fair to say that Group B has thrown up its fair share of excitement. From Spain going home early to Tim Cahill’s wonder strike, this group has had it all. It’s also the only group in which we know who is going through. Holland were fantastic against Spain but struggled to show this form against Australia. Chile on the other hand have been organised and exciting in both games and with the likes of Vidal, Sanchez and Vargas all showing great form, they could very well turnout being the surprise package of the whole competition. The game to decide who finishes top will be a tight one, and Holland’s 5 – 1 victory over Spain might just see them go through top on goal difference, meaning Chile will face Brazil in what should be an excellent last 16 game.
As for Spain and Australia, well it’s a case of back again in 4 years. When the group was drawn, Australia never really stood a chance and their lack of quality has really shown. Spain, well, what can you say. This group of players have entertained us for the last 6 years and will certainly go down as one of the best national sides of all time. Interesting times lie ahead for the Spain squad.
Progressing to the knockout – Holland and Chile
Group C was one of those groups that promised to be wide open with 4 teams very much capable of qualifying. I’ve been really disappointed with both Japan and Greece, while Ivory Coast have shown glimpses of what to expect. Colombia have been one of the best sides of the tournament, and having won their opening two games, they should comfortably top the group. James Rodriguez has been one of the players of the tournament, but it is the winger Juan Cuadrado who has really caught the eye, and Fiorentina will be doing well to keep a hold of him this summer. Colombia are a team to watch as this tournament progresses.
While second place is still up for grabs for the remaining 3 sides, I just fell the Ivory Coast will be too strong for their opponents. It will however be interesting to see how the squad recovers from the news of the death of Ibrahim Toure, brother of Kolo and Yaya. Looking at how group D has panned out, whoever qualifies from this group will certainly fancy their chances of progressing to the quarter finals.
Progressing to the knockout – Colombia and Ivory Coast
Where do you start? It promised so much for England, 10 minutes into the Italy game as they attacked with a vigour rarely seen in recent competitions. It’s fair to say they’ve been a little unlucky, and but for some defensive lapses, they could still be in with a chance of qualifying. As it is, their tournament is over in less than a week, and it is their next opponents who have been the surprise package. Costa Rica more so than any other team in the tournament look fit, organised, and ready for anything this World Cup throws at them. Costa Rica were 1,000/1 to win the tournament at the start, and following well deserved victories over Uruguay and Italy, those odds have fallen dramatically.
The battle for the final qualifying spot is between Italy and Uruguay, who do battle this Tuesday in Natal. The Italian team are based in Rio but have had to endure long trips for all 3 games. They looked out of ideas against Costa Rica and this won’t have gone unnoticed by Uruguay. With Suarez back in attack, Uruguay are capable of anything. He showed against England that he can win a game on his own. It will take a brave man to bet against Italy though, and with Uruguay needing a win to progress, I can see Italy just getting enough from this game and can see it finishing a draw.
Progressing to the knockout – Costa Rica and Italy (My prediction of Uruguay and England looks like getting a bit of a spanking!)
For me, France have been up there with Chile and Colombia as the teams that have really impressed so far. There’s a real togetherness with this French squad and I can see them getting the result they need against Ecuador to top the group. Benzema has looked really impressive up front and could be a good bet for the golden boot. As for Ecuador, they were unlucky against Switzerland and did what they needed against Honduras. Unfortunately, I can’t see them beating France and think they will go out.
If World Cup games were won on tackles, then Honduras would be right up there. As it is, it’s about scoring goals, and Honduras have struggled here. I think Switzerland will be too strong for them in the final group game, but with the runners up of this group facing Argentina, I think qualifying from the group is as good as it will get for the Swiss.
Progressing to the knockout – Franc and Switzerland
With two wins out of two, you’d be forgiven for thinking Argentina have been cruising in this group. As it is, they were pretty luck to beat Bosnia, and but for a moment of magic from Messi, they would have struggled to a draw against Iran. They are yet to get out of second gear, but with the depth of talent in the squad, I expect to see them firing on all cylinders come the knockout stages. They face Nigeria in the last group game, and despite a very much improved performance from Nigeria against Bosnia, I just think Messi and co will be too strong for their African counterparts.
Iran take on Bosnia in the other group game knowing that a win could see them progress to the knockout stages against all the odds. Iran have impressed me in this competition and Carlos Queiroz has them well drilled and hard to break down. The problem is in front of goal and I just can’t see this improving against Bosnia, even though the Bosnian defence looked all over the place against Nigeria. While I’m not convinced Bosnia will beat Iran, I can’t see them losing a third game on the spin, and therefore think Nigeria will qualify along with Argentina.
Progressing to knockout – Argentina and Nigeria
For many this was seen as the group of death before the tournament, and it’s fair to see it has lived up to the billing. Germany are in the driving seat after disposing of Portugal with relative ease. They did however have to come back from 2 – 1 down against Ghana, who could have been out of sight in that game. Could this be Germany’s get out of jail card? Only time will tell.
They won’t get it easy in their final game against USA, and both sides know that a draw will see them progress to the last 16. The USA have been the surprise package of the group, beating Ghana and almost beating Portugal, but for a late goal. The USA will need to defeat Germany to top the group. While I can’t see this happening, it would certainly make for an entertaining finish to this thoroughly entertaining group.
Progressing to knockout – Germany and USA
Probably the least exciting group on paper, Belgium have done what was expected of them and qualified. They haven’t been overly impressive though, and will certainly need to shake things up if they are to go far in Brazil. Hazard is still the key man, but Fellaini has also shown in short spells the sort of form that led to Man Utd paying £28m for his services. They take on South Korea in their final group game knowing a draw will take them through as group winners. South Korea have disappointed me in this competition and look to be on their way to the wooden spoon.
The final qualifying spot for this group looks like it will be between Algeria and Russia. Algeria were unlucky against Belgium and magnificent against Korea. If they keep up this level, I can see them getting a result against a Russian team that seem void of any real spark or quality. Algeria are likely to only need a draw to finish second, and from what I’ve seen so far, I think they are more than capable of getting this.
Progressing to knockout – Belgium and Algeria
World Cup Last 16:
Looking at who I now expect to qualify from their groups, the last 16 should look like this.
Brazil v Chile
Holland v Mexico
Colombia v Italy
Costa Rica v Ivory Coast
France v Nigeria
Argentina v Switzerland
Germany v Algeria
Belgium v USA
There are some tasty looking ties in there, and some surprise packages on their way to the quarter final. Who progresses, well that’s anyone’s guess. Nothing I’ve seen so far has led me to believe that a quarter final spot is guaranteed for anyone. This has been the best World Cup in modern times and certainly the most unpredictable. Could we have a fairytale ending and a surprise package go all the way to the final and win it. If this was to happen, you’d have to look at someone like Chile or Colombia. Both sides have been extremely impressive in winning their opening two games. As it is, I think anyone who beats Brazil or Argentina, will find themselves competing in the final on Sunday 13th July.
You can also avail of our World Cup tipster service by becoming a member today. Check out our members area for more information.