World Cup Preview: Group C

Shinji Kagawa will be aiming to help Japan qualify for the knockout stages in Brazil

Shinji Kagawa will be aiming to help Japan qualify for the knockout stages in Brazil

The latest of our World Cup previews at Fred Stanley Sport focuses on Group C, which contains four country’s from four different continents. Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece all have a chance to progress to the knock out stages in Brazil, so keep reading to find out which players to keep an eye out for and where and when each game in Group C takes place.

Colombia

Best Finish – Last 16 (199o)

Odds – 33/1

The Colombians will fancy their chances of winning Group C, thanks to a combination of quality players and their familiarity with the conditions in Brazil. Radamel Falcao has cemented his reputation as one of the top strikers in world football over the past few seasons, first by scoring at will for Athletico Madrid in Spain before taking his talents to moneybags Monaco in France. Falcao leads a strong contingent of European based players in the Colombia squad, including centre back Cristian Zapata, who plies his trade in Italy for Milan. With Group C featuring no stand out nations the smart money would appear to be on Colombia coming out on top and securing a tie against a group runner up in the second round.

Greece

Best Finish – Group Stage (1994, 2010)

Odds – 350/1

Greece famously won Euro 2004 thanks to their stingy defense and opportunistic attack, but the chances are slim that they’ll be able hoodwink the footballing world once more a decade later. Greece were forced to qualify for the tournament in Brazil via a playoff victory over Romania, although they were unfortunate to miss out on automatic qualification on goal difference to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Borussia Dortmund defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos is the rock at the heart of the Greek defense, while at the other end of the pitch Celtic striker Giorgos Samaras will be relied upon to score the goals that could see Greece upset the odds at a major tournament once more.

Ivory Coast

Best Finish – Group Stage (2006,2010)

Odds – 150/1

By most observers reckoning the most talented African squad heading to South America next month, the Ivory Coast possess a number of accomplished Premier League players (Yaya and Kolo Toure, Didier Drogba) and one not so accomplished player (Emmanuel Eboue). Yaya enjoyed his best season yet in England this past campaign with Manchester City, leading the Citizens to their second title in three years. His powerful runs from midfield and ability to conjure a goal from almost nowhere make the Ivory Coast a threatening proposition for any team, and if Drogba can rediscover his form from his Chelsea days then the Africans could well be the surprise package of the tournament – though their back four and goalkeeper remain a weakness.

Japan

Best Finish – Last 16 (2002, 2010)

Odds – 250/1

Japan enjoyed a run to the last 16 in South Africa four years ago, and with Group C likely to be very competitive they’ll fancy their chances of repeating the trick in Brazil this summer. Shinji Kagawa may have struggled for minutes at Manchester United this season but the former Borussia Dortmund midfielder is still the key man for his country, where he’ll be counted on to get on the ball and dictate play for the joint hosts of the 2002 World Cup. Japan possess the least pedigree of the four teams in Group C but that won’t phase them as they embark on another World Cup mission.

Fixtures

Colombia v Greece – 14th June, Belo Horizonte (17.00 GMT)

Ivory Coast v Japan – 14th June, Recife (02.00 GMT)

Colombia v Ivory Coast – 19th June, Brasilia (17.00 GMT)

Japan v Greece – 19th June, Natal (23.00 GMT)

Japan v Colombia – 24th June, Cuiaba (20.00 GMT)

Greece v Ivory Coast – 24th June, Fortaleza (21.00 GMT)

Who do you think will win Group C? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley

 

 

 

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World Cup Preview: Group B

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Will Spain be able to defend their World Cup title in Brazil this summer?

Following our preview for Group A which we released on Tuesday, here is Fred Stanley Sport‘s look at Group B at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. We’ll look at all four teams in the group, plus list all the fixture details you’ll need as you settle in to watch the world’s biggest carnival of football.

Spain

Best Finish – Winners (2010)

Odds – 13/2

It’s been well documented that a European side has never won the World Cup in South America, but if that trend is to be broken this summer then it will likely be the defending champions Spain who will break the mould. The 2010 winners still posses an embarrassment of riches in comparison to most nations, however with players such as Xavi, Fernando Torres and Ilker Casillas all past their best the other country’s competing in Brazil will fancy their chances of knocking Spain off their perch. Athletico Madrid forward Diego Costa is an injury doubt which could lead manager Vincent Del Bosque to use the same “false nine” formation that was so successful at Euro 2012. Should he do so the midfielders will be expected to pick up the goalscoring slack, with diminutive Manchester City playmaker David Silva likely to be a crucial part of the unit. Silva has so far enjoyed a fantastic 2014 and if he can reproduce his club form in Brazil the Spanish will almost certainly be there or there about’s come July.

Netherlands

Best Finish – Runners Up (1974, 1978, 2010)

Odds – 33/1

Ironically, Group B will pit Spain against the team they defeated in the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa, the Netherlands. Unfortunately for the Dutch they may have fallen even farther than their opponents four years ago, and it would be a shock indeed if they were to make it back to the final. They still possess a number of talented players, not least Manchester United striker Robin Van Persie, but Van Persie’s injury struggles last season and the aging core including Nigel De Jong and Arjen Robben will make it extremely difficult for Louis Van Gaal’s men to succeed in the searing South American heat. Robben can still give any full back in world football a torrid time and if Van Persie somehow returns to his 2012 performance level then the Dutch will remain a difficult encounter for anyone in the tournament’s knock out stages.

Chile

Best Finish – Third Place (1962)

Odds – 50/1

The presence of Chile in Group B has the potential to threaten both Spain and the Netherlands passage to the last 16, not least because of their highly talented forward Alexis Sanchez. Barcelona man Sanchez has big game pedigree and he’s surrounded by a number of stars who ply their trade in Europe’s most competitive leagues, including Gary Medel (Cardiff City) and Arturo Vidal (Juventus). The Chileans victory over England at Wembley last Autumn sent a warning to their Group B opponents, who will have to be at their best to avoid an upset against the South Americans, who are sure to embrace playing their matches in a climate similar to their own.

Australia

Best Finish – Last 16 (2006)

Odds – 1500/1

The ‘Socceroos’ are set to compete in their third consecutive World Cup, marking their emergence on the world stage having previously only appeared in the 1974 edition of the tournament. However Australia’s ‘golden generation’ featuring Premier League stars such as Mark Schwarzer, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka have all now retired from international football and their remaining talent isn’t getting any younger either. Tim Cahill and captain Lucas Neill remain but the remainder of the squad is inexperienced and lacks the European pedigree of its predecessors. Being drawn in a difficult group won’t help the Australians either, but their grit and determination could still be enough to cause an upset or two in Brazil.

Fixtures

Spain v Netherlands -13th June, Salvador (20.00 GMT)

Chile v Australia – 13th June, Cuiaba (22.00 GMT)

Australia v Netherlands – 18th June, Porto Alegre (17.00 GMT)

Spain v Chile – 18th June, Rio De Janeiro (20.00 GMT)

Australia v Spain – 23rd June, Curitiba (17.00 GMT)

Netherlands v Chile – 23rd June, Sao Paulo (17.00 GMT)

Who do you think will qualify from Group B? Could Spain fall at the first hurdle? Have your say in the comments  or by tweeting @fredjstanley

 

World Cup Preview: Group A

Can Neymar lead hosts Brazil to their sixth World Cup crown?

Can Neymar lead hosts Brazil to their sixth World Cup crown?

This post marks the first of eight World Cup Group previews on Fred Stanley Sport, where you can find all of the information you’ll need as you settle in to watch the greatest sporting event on earth. Each preview will take a look at the four teams in any given group, including odds on them winning the tournament and which player you should keep an eye on as the games get underway. First up is Group A, featuring the host nation Brazil who are favourites to add to their five World Cup wins this summer.

Brazil

Best Finish – Winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)

Odds – 3/1

The hosts of this summer’s festival of football are considered by many to be the country most likely to hoist the World Cup come July, primarily thanks to their success in the Confederations Cup on home soil last year. Barcelona ace Neymar leads the line for the men in yellow and despite a disappointing first season at the Nou Camp the young striker has often played his best football for his country, an ominous sign for Brazil’s Group A rivals. Big Phil Scolari masterminded the country’s victory in Japan and South Korea in 2002 and if he can recapture that magic on home soil he’ll cement himself as one of the greatest national team managers in the history of the game.

Croatia

Best Finish – Third (1998)

Odds – 200/1

Croatia are due to take part in their fourth World Cup since they split from what was formerly Yugoslavia in 1990, having performed admirably for such a relatively new nation in their previous three campaigns. Their third place finish at France ’98 was an incredible achievement in their first ever World Cup, with the team led by Davor Suker, the Golden Boot winner with six goals. Real Madrid play maker Luka Modric is the lynchpin of the current squad and the diminutive midfielder has gone from strength to strength since he joined the European giants from Tottenham Hotspur, and if the 200/1 outsiders are to stand any chance of reaching the knockout stages in Brazil they’ll need him to perform at his peak. Bayern Munich striker Mario Mandzukic is also crucial to Croatia’s chances and the powerful front-man should give the Eastern Europeans a genuine goalscoring threat.

Mexico

Best Finish – Quarter Finalists (1970, 1986)

Odds – 150/1

Incredibly, Mexico have been eliminated at the last-16 stage in each of the past five World Cup tournaments. That would appear to be the best they could hope for again as they head south to Brazil, with their lack of star power glaringly obvious with Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez the team’s only immediately recognisable face. “Chicarito” is coming off of his poorest season in English football, however, and he’ll need to rediscover his goalscoring touch if the Mexicans are to escape the group at the expense of both Croatia and Cameroon. Mexico’s familiarity with the South American climate should aid them in Brazil – whether or not it’ll be enough to see them enjoy a successful tournament and finally reach the quarter finals remains to be seen.

Cameroon

Best Finish – Quarter Finalists (1990)

Odds – 1000/1

Cameroon are the most successful footballing nation in Africa, having played in seven World Cups since they qualified for their first one in 1982. They were also the first African country to reach the Quarter Finals of the competition when they did so at Italia ’90, when they were famously defeated by England. However the chances of them achieving similar success in Brazil next month are small, with aging striker Samuel Eto’o their lone recognisable goalscoring asset. Eto’o scored some important goals for Chelsea in the 2013/14 season but the fact that he was ousted from the team by Senegal forward Demba Ba towards the end of the campaign signified his dwindling powers. Barcelona midfielder Alexandre Song will be the driving force in the Cameroon engine room, but besides him and Eto’o the Africans lack top level experience and their long odds reflect the pre-tournament view that they’ll struggle to stay off the Group A floor.

Fixtures

Brazil v Croatia – 12th June, Sao Paulo (21.00 GMT)

Mexico v Cameroon – 13th June, Natal (17.00 GMT)

Brazil v Mexico – 17th June, Fortaleza (20.00 GMT)

Cameroon v Croatia – 18th June, Manaus (22.00 GMT)

Croatia v Mexico – 23rd June, Recife (21.00 GMT)

Cameroon v Brazil – 23rd June, Brasilia (21.00 GMT)

Who do you think will qualify from Group A? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley

Roy’s ‘Young Lions’ Offer Fresh Hope for England

Everton's Ross Barkley is one of many youngsters in England's 2014 World Cup squad

Everton’s Ross Barkley is one of many youngsters in England’s 2014 World Cup squad

At yesterday’s England World Cup squad announcement, Roy Hodgson admitted that it was a gamble to drop the experienced Ashley Cole and instead opt for the talented young Southampton full back Luke Shaw. It was a bold move, and it’s one with the potential to backfire should anything happen to England’s first choice left back Leighton Baines. But the selection demonstrated more than just a changing of the guard on England’s left hand side. It demonstrated a change in Roy Hodgson’s attitude to selecting an England squad, a change to his naturally cautious nature and a change to the way England have approached major tournaments in the past decade.

If you cast your mind back to England’s last World Cup campaign in South Africa four years ago, you’ll recall a squad littered with old faces and slowing legs. Oft injured Ledley King was selected at centre back, as was Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher who had been persuaded to put on hold his international retirement for just one month longer. Peter Crouch and Emile Heskey formed half of England’s strike options, while the uninspiring Gareth Barry and Shaun Wright-Phillips made the final cut ahead of the likes of the immeasurably more talented  Theo Walcott. England endured one of their worst World Cup’s in recent memory, which is why it’s refreshing to see Hodgson change course for Brazil and offer a host of mercurial youngsters the chance to impress on the world stage. Ross Barkley, just 20 years-old, is on the plane, as is 18 year-old Shaw. Liverpool wonder-kid Raheem Sterling is 19 and made the cut, while Manchester United centre back Phil Jones is 22 and Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain just 20. Cumulatively Fabio Capello’s 2010 squad had an average age of 28.4, with Aaron Lennon and Joe Hart the two youngest players at 23 years-old. In comparison Hodgson’s ‘Young Lions’ who will travel to Brazil have an average age of exactly 26, an incredible two and a half years younger on average than those taken four years earlier.

Hodgson could have taken the easy path to selecting his squad for Brazil. The experience of Ashley Cole and Michael Carrick would have offered something to the team, no doubt, but what role would either have played in his future plans? Jermaine Defoe could have gone as an extra strike option but having moved to Canada to play for Toronto does the diminutive forward realistically have an international future? Even if the Young Lions falter next month they’ll gain experience of international competition that they wouldn’t have received had they been sat at home watching the tournament on television. Additionally their youth gives them a fresh approach to international football, which is more than welcome after years of watching tormented veterans play within themselves due to a sadly obvious fear of failure.

This squad doesn’t bear the scars that past collections of players have, and in many ways it is similar to the approach adopted by Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughan when they selected the England cricket team to take on Australia in the 2005 Ashes after years of embarrassment at the hands of their southern hemisphere foes. Back then the little known Kevin Pietersen struck a magnificent and, crucially, fearless 158 at the Oval to secure the little urn for England against their more fancied opposition. Who knows, maybe it’ll be Ross Barkley in the same position at the Maracana in 61 days time. That’s July 13, the date of the 2014 World Cup final.

Well, we’re allowed to dream. Aren’t we?

Best Three, Worst Three Picks from NFL Draft’s First Round

Teddy Bridgewater was selected with the 32nd and final pick of the first round by the Minnesota Vikings

Last night’s NFL Draft first round was as exciting as there’s been for many years, with the evening full of surprise picks, players falling and trades galore. It may be early days, of course, with none of the 32 players taken having set foot on an NFL field, however it’s never too early to analyse the moves made and dish out some instant judgements on the players selected. Scroll down for the three best and worst picks made in Radio City Music Hall late last evening.

Three Best Picks

Teddy Bridgewater (QB), Louisville – 32nd Overall – Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings made the shrewd move to trade back into the first round and select Quarterback Bridgewater after he’d looked likely to slide out of the first round altogether. At the beginning of the draft process the Louisville product had been tipped to go first overall, but a poor pro day and concerns about his physical makeup saw him fall behind other passers Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles. The price Minnesota paid to move up, just a fourth round pick, was minimal and the selection makes perfect sense as the Vikings look to move on from Christian Ponder in the near future. Furthermore, had they not acted and traded up then Houston would have been perfectly positioned to nab Bridgewater with the first pick in the second round tonight.

Brandin Cooks (WR), Oregon State – 20th Overall – New Orleans Saints

After the Saints traded away Darren Sproles this off-season they needed to add an explosive play-maker on the offensive side, and they got the perfect guy in Cooks. The former Oregon State receiver had an impressive combine showing and he is undoubtedly the shiftiest wideout in the draft process this year. Cooks also offers a threat in the return game and closely resembles DeSean Jackson, the former Eagles receiver who was released and signed by divisional rivals Washington last month. Saints QB Drew Brees will be thrilled to have a new toy to play with in the passing game, and Cooks should benefit from being thrown the ball by one of the top signal callers in the league.

Johnny Manziel (QB), Texas A & M – 22nd Overall – Cleveland Browns

“Johnny Football” suffered the indignity of falling into the second half of the draft’s first round, but his slide was Cleveland’s gain as the Browns gleefully traded up four spots and snagged their QB of the future, and quite possibly the present too. When the Browns passed on Manziel at number eight they must have thought their chance to land the Texas A & M star had gone but as more and more teams focused on the defensive side of the ball Manziel fell into their laps as they gave up a third round pick to swap slots with Philadelphia. However the price was more than worth paying as earlier on in the evening the Browns had acquired a first round pick next year from Buffalo, who moved up from nine to four to select wide receiver Sammy Watkins. So in effect Cleveland turned the fourth and 26th picks into: cornerback Justin Gilbert, quarterback Johnny Manziel, an additional fourth round pick this year and a first round pick in 2015. Not a bad night’s work.

Three Worst Picks

Eric Ebron (TE), North Carolina – 10th Overall – Detroit Lions

Ebron is a good player, make no mistake about that. But tight end is a non-premium position in the NFL and to select one in the top ten when you have plenty of holes elsewhere on the roster is an unforgivable mistake. Brandon Pettigrew already mans the position for Detroit and he’s no slouch, so it made little sense for the Lions to ignore the defensive side of the ball where they are in desperate need of help. Their offensive line could also do with some TLC, so Ebron has to go down as a luxury pick from the Detroit management who’d better hope the North Carolina product turns into the next Jimmy Graham or they could rue the selection in the coming months.

Jimmie Ward (S), Northern Illinois – 30th Overall – San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco were at more of a disadvantage than Detroit in that they were picking towards the end of round one. Nonetheless, they ignored a position of need (wide receiver) and decided to take a safety with their first pick when they did the same last year by selecting Eric Reid, who enjoyed a fine rookie campaign. With former USC wideout Marqise Lee still on the board it was surprising to see the 49ers forgo him, with the San Fran receiving corps having come up short in the NFC Championship game in Seattle. Ward has the potential to be a very good safety and he packs a punch in the middle of the field – I just don’t think he was the best option on the board when San Francisco made their pick.

Taylor Lewan (OT), Michigan – 11th Overall – Tennessee Titans

Tennessee were unable to land one of the top two tackles in the draft, Greg Robinson and Jake Matthews, and as a result ended up selecting Lewan despite him being a tier below the other two names at his position and tackle not being an urgent need for the Titans. Having lost Kenny Britt in free agency a wide receiver would have been a better play, particularly with the likes of Odell Beckham still on the board. Lewan has the chance to be a very good tackle but the Titans appear to be placing an unjustified amount of faith in QB Jake Locker, while also failing to surround him with good enough weapons on the outside to ultimately be successful.

Who do you think were the best and worst selections made in the 2014 NFL Draft’s first round? Have your say in the comments or by tweeting @fredjstanley. 



 

NFL Draft 2014: A UK Viewing Guide

Kansas City selected Eric Fisher first overall in the 2013 NFL Draft. Who will go number one this year?

With just over 24 hours until the 2014 NFL Draft gets underway, it’s time to decide how you’ll enjoy the event if you’re living in the unfriendly UK television timezone. The draft will commence at around 1 a.m in Western Europe, so if you want to soak in the full viewing experience make sure you first read this handy guide.

Where to Watch

Sky Sports have been at the forefront of American Football coverage in the UK for over a decade now and thankfully for Sky subscribers they are airing the first day of the draft live and in its entirety. Make sure you tune in, at any time from 10 p.m onwards, to experience the build up and the draft itself as the Sky Sports experts analyse the 32 picks made in round one. If you aren’t a Sky Sports customer then you’ll struggle to get the full draft experience – however you can stream the draft live from NFL.com although you’ll require an excellent internet connection due to the millions of people from around the globe who’ll be trying to do the exact same thing.

Keeping Up to Date With the Picks

Watching the draft on television is great and everything, but if you’re a real draft freak you’ll want to keep abreast of who’s already been selected and which teams are on the clock next. You can do so by once again heading to NFL.com and clicking on their live draft tracker, which details who was selected at each pick as well as offering useful information on draft day trades, draft prospects remaining in the process and highlights of the draftees in action. For a more opinionated take on the draft day events head to ProFootballTalk.com where they’ll break down each selection and trade, offering their expert opinion in the process. Make sure you’re active on twitter too – follow the likes of Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) for up to the minute news from New York as the draft unfolds.

It’s Better With Friends

Sure, the draft is entertaining to watch on your own if you’re an NFL fanatic and your team has a high selection. But once they’ve made their choice you’ll want someone to rant at, be happy with or analyse the rest of the selections made by the other 31 franchises as the night progresses. With up to ten minutes between picks there can be some slow moments during the draft and if you want to avoid falling asleep in the wee hours of Friday morning try and persuade a fellow NFL fan, or even an NFL newbie, to watch the annual event with you in the comfort of your living room. If they need persuading then don’t hesitate to rustle up some snacks or get some drinks in – like an actual NFL game the draft is littered with ad breaks so you’ll have plenty of time to make the journey to and from the kitchen.

Do Your Homework

Last but not least: clue up! Before the draft gets underway have a look around the internet for as many draft related articles and mock drafts as you can find. The evening will be much more enjoyable and you’ll feel far more knowledgeable if you do some research and find out who the ‘can’t miss’ prospects and draft day sleepers are, plus you’ll be less likely to utter “who?” when Jadaveon Clowney is taken in the first five picks. Highlight packages of all of the prospects are available on NFL.com and YouTube so if you’re more visually inclined take a peek at the potential draftees in action, and give yourself an edge over your other NFL supporting pals.

Be sure to follow @fredjstanley for live tweets of the draft, and feel free to leave a comment here if you’ve got something to say about the event