Barriecuda: General WC Predictions

barriecuda-120Wanted to get down a few World Cup 2014 predictions before the tournament begins. I like to be held accountable to my word, so here is a codified copy of my predictions prior to the start of the tournament. I haven’t been following much team news admittedly, so we’ll see how these do.

Performing Above Expectations

England: There’s finally a renewed vigor about the England squad as Roy Hodgson has built a team based on merit instead of brand-name players. In October 2010, in the infancy of my blogging, I wrote an article called “Fixing England”. While I’d probably amend parts of that article if written today, I remain committed to its cornerstone principles – a strong captain, selection based on recent performance, and an identifiable team ethos. I believe Hodgson has embraced all of these pillars. England has a strong captain, Stevie G, who has been installed as undisputed since the off, allowing his centralized leadership to bed in. You have a strong, young, hard-working “English” group that are in Brazil purely on their most recent performances – notably Barkley, Henderson, Lallana, Lambert, Milner, Sterling and Sturridge. Most importantly, there is a renewed spirit that seems to surround this dynamic English team that I expect will surprise people. As long as Hodgson utilizes his “surprise” selections, and doesn’t fall on the tired English tendency to gift playing time to guys like Lampard and Rooney, they will be a good squad this time around.

Chile: Seemingly never getting much credit as part of talent-packed South America, Chile is a squad that has been improving year after year. They’re fast, highly talented and should not be overlooked to get some good results. Don’t be surprised if they knock Australia around in their opening match and turn some heads in the process.

France: Without Ribery, the expectations placed on Les Bleus is even further reduced, and I believe despite losing his quality the team is going to really shine in the absence of serious pressure to succeed. They start in a pretty soft group, which should allow them to get some confidence while easily rolling to the knockout stages – confidence that will make them stronger in those rounds. They’ve got quality throughout the pitch with a balanced mix of experience (Evra, Koscielny, Sagna, Benzema), talented youth (Varane, Griezmann) and some unique “wildcard” players (Pogba, Valbuena) that can turn a match on its head. Very underrated outfit, and without twats like Nasri in the locker room, it should be a good tournament for them.

Performing Below Expectations

Netherlands: Coming off a World Cup finals appearance in 2010, I think Dutch voetbal is in a state of transition. Unlike France, they have too much of a gap between youth and the old guard. Manager Louis Van Gaal, incoming manager for ManU, is a wily old veteran but I don’t think he has the squad to make a big dent in this years tournament. I also believe any manager with one eye on impending club duty may be operating at a touch less than full capacity. The Dutch squad fails to impress on brief reading and will not do much this time around in my estimation. On a side note, look out for any caps for Canadian-born Jonathan de Guzman – the younger brother of CanMNT’s Julian de Guzman, he chose to play for the Netherlands throughout his international career, but we still wish the talented 26-year-old well.

Italy: Ah, my poor Azzurri. I’m extremely excited to watch them but I do not see huge success for them in 2014. Italy’s performance will largely hinge on the heroics of the godly Andrea Pirlo, but needing a repeat performance of his team-carrying Euro 2012 might be a little too heavy for the shoulders of the 35-year-old talisman. Their opponents will also know this and you can expect Pirlo to be given little time or space to operate. Balotelli is a capable wildcard (if not the very definition of ‘wildcard’) but my hunch is that he won’t be a difference maker this time around. All is not lost for Italia however – the next generation of Italian calcio is arriving and could be on display in Brazil. Look for De Sciglio, who some have pegged as the “next Maldini”, as well as Serie A Capocannoniere (leading scorer) Ciro Immobile and the brilliant talent of Lorenzo Insigne to hint at a bright future. Since 1970, Italy has appeared in the World Cup final in 12 year intervals, winning every second one (’70 loss, ’82 win, ’94 loss, ’06 win) – if the pattern holds, 2018’s runners-up will be showcasing their emerging talents this time around. Forza Italia!

Belgium: Everyone’s little darling, the Belgian squad is loaded with talent. Many neutrals and casual football fans are shocked to find out some of the players they boast, including Courtois, Kompany, Fellaini, Lukaku, Hazard, Mirallas, Mignolet and Vermaelen. Many have pegged Belgium to be a dark horse as a result. However, I’m here to tell you the opposite – look for them to struggle. While they may have eluded some attention as a top team, being the first team to quality for 2014 put the spotlight on them, and their Premier League stars will be doubly under-the-microscope through the tournament. I think they’ve been found out and no longer can truly operate with the “no pressure” tag. Despite their many stars, my instincts say Belgium will find the group stage very difficult – and could fail to navigate it successfully.

Why 2014 Will Be Amazing

Honestly, I did not enjoy Fifa World Cup 2010. Why? The Jabulani, that woeful contraption of a ball Adidas tried to force down the throats of the world’s stars. If you’ve ever played with an authentic Jabulani ball, you know exactly what I’m talking about – it is absurdly lightweight, and the number of top-tier athletes that had complaints about it pre-tournament were staggering. I’ve never seen so many professionals adamantly opposed to a piece of equipment, and with good reason. It totally ruined the quality of the game in 2010 as players struggled to rein in the “supermarket ball”.

Enter Brazuca, the 2014 ball. Adidas listened and didn’t play around this time. The ball has proper weight, it curls, it dips, it spins, the players can actually manipulate it appropriately. Now we can see the best actually playing like they’re capable of, not hindered by poor engineering. (Further reading on this, posted fresh this morning!)

Then, you have the atmosphere of Brazil. Yes, there is turmoil surrounding the atmosphere and I think the local Brazilians are getting shafted by hosting a tournament their country can’t really afford (while Fifa cashes in, as usual). Despite that, the atmosphere is going to be a non-stop festival for a month as the Brazilians celebrate the world’s game, warmly inviting us to do so with them.

Unfortunately, we won’t get to see an honest World Cup for a long time after this year. I suspect WC 2018 in Russia will be marred by political troubles, cost overruns and construction delays, similar to Sochi’s games. And if there exists hints of sketchy behavior behind the scenes for Russia’s games, it will be tenfold as bad if Qatar 2022 actually happens. Without getting long-winded, Qatar 2022 is a farce, a wholly transparent product of bribery and corruption of the highest order. I just hope the football-following public continues to demand a re-vote on 2022, because Qatar hosting a WC would be an exclamation mark on the thought that ‘money is buying the sport’.

And on that depressing note, I return to the original point here: Enjoy the World Cup everyone!

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