In the final part of TBR’s series of articles featuring Didi Hamann, Scott Minto, and Mark Langdon, the experts discuss how they think the World Cup will pan out. They discuss their hopes for the summer, a detailed look at England’s chances, and what stage each team can expect to reach in Brazil.
Scott Minto: Didi, just how excited are you about the upcoming World Cup?
Didi Hamann: Very excited, and I’m a bit surprised to be honest that we’re only a couple of days away because the Premier League was so exciting, up until the last game or after the last game. It’s only now that people start to talk about the World Cup as opposed to the Premier League. Nobody really talked about it and in my eyes, it’s the greatest tournament in the world, it’s the best tournament to watch, everyone is going to jump on it, and I can’t wait.
SM: 2010, Mark, was a good World Cup, not a classic. What do we think about Brazil 2014?
Mark Langdon: Well, last time the goals were down, everybody was moaning about the ball. I can’t imagine that this one is going to be as bad because, well it’s in Brazil. I think straight away that everybody’s excited because it’s on Brazil. I think there are a number of teams that are going there with a decent chance. There are quite a lot of strong international teams at the moment despite the injuries so I’m hopeful that we’re going to have a very good World Cup.
SM: Before we go into looking at the groups, I just wanted to ask you about England as well. The game last night, the final warm-up match of course before the big one against Italy, nil-nil against Honduras. What did you make of it Didi?
DH: Well I think the most important thing we’ve seen is Germany and Italy losing a few players in their final warm-up games. England didn’t pick up any injuries so I think this is quite lucky. After you see some of these heavy tackles going in during the first half, you probably wondered how intense they would be in the second half. In the end, I think they were just happy to get out of the game unscathed. Yes, Sturridge missed a few chances but I wouldn’t read too much into that. Their average age is probably the lowest it’s been in a long time and I think they’ve got some really exciting young players, I think you can go well
SM: Mark, they couldn’t beat Ecuador, they couldn’t beat Honduras, what are the world thinking about playing in the World Cup right now? Are they quaking in their boots?
ML: I don’t think they are. This is the biggest price England have ever been to win the World Cup. They were second favourites in 2006. I think that will help the team because the expectation is a lot lower. Can you imagine if Sven Goran Eriksson’s team would have drawn against Honduras? It would have been “send them home now”, whereas everyone’s saying “oh well they’re only friendlies”, so I think that will actually help because everyone knows they’ve got a difficult group.
After much debate and discussion, the three panellists reached an eventual conclusion over the final standings from each group, and who they individually expected to do well in the knock-out rounds.
Group A: Brazil are almost certainties to go through, although they may face a tough first game against Croatia which could ramp up the pressure. The European side will have fierce competition for second spot from Mexico but should just about hold them off to qualify in second spot, with Cameroon lagging behind in fourth.
Group B: Whether deciding to play with or without a true striker, Spain should progress from the group as winners with relative ease, purely because of their strength in depth. Being the champions of the last 3 major tournaments, you simply cannot dismiss them. In what was widely considered to be the ‘Group of Death’, they sprung something of a surprise when predicting Chile to go through in second place. Van Gaal’s effect on the team would not be enough and the power of Sanchez, Vargas, and Vidal would make the South Americans a strong side. Australia were unfortunate to be in such a difficult group, but would most likely finish last.
Group C: Radamel Falcao’s absence will be felt greatly by Colombia but even so, Group C provides them with a realistic chance of progression in top spot. Good players such as Martinez, Rodriguez, and Cuadrado remain and should push them through relatively easily. The aging stars of Ivory Coast football were not considered enough for the Africans to qualify, perhaps 2 years past their best, instead suggesting that Japan would finish in second. More stable defensively, and with slightly more quality going forward than the Greeks, a tight progression is on the cards.
Group D: The enigma that is Mario Balotelli makes Italy a very hard team to predict this summer. Furthermore, what with Uruguay’s hopes resting primarily on Luis Suarez even though his fitness is under question, one cannot be sure how dangerous they will really be. As opposed to at Liverpool where Suarez received some excellent assists and off-the-ball play, with the national side, he and Cavani are expected to do it all alone. Costa Rica are by no means the whipping boys of the group and could well pick up a draw against someone that could prove vital in deciding who progresses from the first round. So much has been written about England’s chances, and the eventual shared conclusion was that England and Uruguay would go through, but really it was any 2 from England, Italy, and Uruguay that stood a strong chance.
Group E: The ranking of Switzerland as a number one seed for the group allocations is probably undeserved, but with their mixture of several nationalities coming together under the Swiss banner, they should qualify from the group. The strong defence as their best asset always leaves them with a chance to win games. The French were widely expected to top the group despite the withdrawal of Franck Ribéry, and with players such as Benzema and Pogba at their disposal, could well go a lot further. Hamann in particular did not see Ribéry’s absence as disastrous, claiming that he often did not come to the party in big games for Bayern Munich. Ecuador and Honduras will fight it out for third spot, with both likely to employ a physical style of play to try and get results.
Group F: Generally considered to be a simple path to the next round for Argentina, with the prediction of 9 points being attained from 3 matches. The South Americans have the most firepower in the tournament, they are solid all over the pitch, and they have arguably the best player that has ever lived. To get through in second place, Bosnia were preferred over Nigeria because of two reasons; Pjanic’s creativity and Dzeko’s finishing. Another African team predicted to not get out of the group stage, and it was the general consensus that Iran would finish with no points.
Group G: Didi Hamann was far from optimistic about Germany’s chances in the tournament as a whole, pointing out the devastating injuries they have suffered in recent weeks. Doubts remain over Neuer, Lahm, and Schweinsteiger, and they have already been hit with the blow of Gundogan, the Bender twins, and most recently Marco Reus missing out altogether. This latest blow sparked a question from us on their twitter feed: “Who is Germany’s key player now Reus is injured?”. Didi Hamann’s silent response was deafening. Despite all this, the panel did see Germany going through as group winners due to the remaining doubt over Ronaldo’s absolute fitness. Without their talisman not at 100%, they shouldn’t threaten Germany’s top spot but will be comfortable enough ahead of Ghana and USA. USA lack Landon Donovan out of choice and although Ghana are arguably the strongest African team, they have been landed a horrendously tough series of matches. All were confident in the prediction of every team in this group dropping points at some point.
Group H: Although Belgium should be good enough to top the group, they were not predicted to go as far in the tournament as some think they may do. They are packed full of players who have the potential to go well, but none have proved themselves on the international stage. For second spot, everyone was in with a shout. Eventually, the idea of Russia failing to qualify became quite an attractive proposition with South Korea repeating the heroics of 12 years ago and reaching the knockout stages. Algeria will be no fools but should just about finish in last place.
Dark Horses: France were strongly tipped to go far, purely down to the wide array of talent available to them and the apparent togetherness within the squad; somewhat of a rarity in recent times. Rather optimistically I feel, England were mentioned in this bracket, but I am not sure how much that was the heart ruling the head. Perennial dark horses such as Netherlands and Portugal are weaker this time around and are not expected to threaten come the final reckoning. All predict that Chile will impress and once on a roll, Italy will be a tough nut to crack.
Winners: It seemed none of them could look any further than Argentina to be the eventual winners of the World Cup. Brazil would push them close for sure, and Spain would put up a stern test, but all agreed that this was Argentina’s year. A controversial choice perhaps, with the tournament on Brazilian soil, and the locals would certainly be incensed if it did come to fruition.
Do you agree with the experts? Let us know on twitter @TBRfootball or using MatchChat, and look out for the article where TBR writers give you their World Cup predictions.