World Cup Preview: Group G

Cristiano Ronaldo will be tasked with leading Portugal's World Cup campaign in Brazil

Cristiano Ronaldo will be tasked with leading Portugal’s World Cup campaign in Brazil

Each World Cup draw tends to throw out a so called “Group of Death”, and the 2014 edition is no different with Group G containing four very strong international sides. Germany, always a threat at any major tournament, are the jewel in Group G’s crown and they’re joined by Ghana, the USA and the Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal. Making it out alive from the group of death will be no easy task and as a result Group G could well be the tightest of the eight World Cup foursomes.

Germany

Best Finish – Winners (1954, 1974, 1990)

Odds – 13/2

Germany surprised many observers four years ago in South Africa when their band of young, unheralded players took the tournament by storm and helped the country outperform modest expectations. The Germans won’t be taking anyone by surprise in Brazil, however, as those youngsters have matured into some of the finest and most recognisable players in the world. Phillip Lahm leads the Germany side and the full-back has developed his technical game to such an extent that Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola has often used him in a deep-lying midfield role. With the likes of Thomas Muller and Arsenal play-maker Mesut Ozil operating in more advanced positions Germany have all the bases covered – which could be ominous for the other nations in Group G and elsewhere.

Portugal

Best Finish – Third Place (1966)

Odds – 28/1

It’s no secret who Portugal’s main man is heading into the World Cup. Yet despite it being common knowledge that Cristiano Ronaldo is the focal point of his side’s attack, stopping the Real Madrid forward is easier said than done. Ronaldo is a threat from anywhere on the pitch thanks to his incredible leaping ability and his ferocious strike, making him dangerous not just from open play but also from set-pieces in and around the penalty area. The rest of the Portugal squad is talented if a little past its peak – Helder Postiga for example left Tottenham Hostpur after a failed stint almost a decade ago, while midfielder Raul Meireles will be familiar with English football fans after spells with Liverpool and Chelsea. Nonetheless Portugal will be a major threat at the World Cup if that man Ronaldo is on top of his game. The rest of the squad still have a job to do, of course, but with Ronaldo at his imperious best Portugal are a proposition no team wants to have to deal with.

Ghana

Best Finish – Quarter Finals (2010)

Odds – 200/1

Ghana’s best finish at a World Cup may have been the quarter finals four years ago, but many of you will vividly remember Luis Suarez’s handball which robbed the African nation of a semi-final berth in South Africa. The pick of the African teams in 2010, Ghana will look to repeat the trick in Brazil although they’ll have to navigate the toughest group in the competition. AC Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari is the driving force in the Ghana engine room and combined with Michael Essien the African’s have plenty of power in the middle of the pitch. If former Sunderland striker and national captain Asamoah Gyan can put the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis then Ghana could be a team to look out for once more in Brazil – potentially at the expense of the more fancied Germany or Portugal.

USA

Best Finish – Third Place (1930)

Odds – 150/1

After a moderately successful World Cup in 2010 the United States would gladly take a repeat of their last 16 finish this summer in Brazil. Former Germany manager Jurgen Klinsmann is the man tasked with getting the best out of this USA squad, although he has come in for a fair amount of criticism for his decision to drop accomplished forward Landon Donovan. With Donovan absent former Fulham and Tottenham midfielder Clint Dempsey will be tasked with scoring the goals to take the USA through to the knockout stages once more, with Sunderland striker Jozy Altidore another option in attack for Klinsmann. The United States will likely be difficult to break down and if Dempsey and Altidore can put their Premier League pedigree to good effect their chances of progressing from Group G may not be as slim as they appear.

Fixtures

Germany v Portugal – 16th June, Salvador (17.00 GMT)

Ghana v USA – 16th June, Natal (23.00 GMT)

Germany v Ghana – 21st June, Fortaleza (20.00 GMT)

USA v Portugal – 22nd June, Manaus (23.00 GMT)

USA v Germany – 26th June, Recife (17.00 GMT)

Portugal v Ghana – 26th June, Brasilia (17.00 GMT)

Who do you think will progress from this summer’s “Group of Death”?  Can Cristiano Ronaldo lead Portugal to a first World Cup triumph? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley

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World Cup Preview: Group F

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In keeping with football’s reputation as the global game, Group F throws together four teams from four different continents. South Americans Argentina are the clear favourites and with Lionel Messi looking to finally make an impact at a World Cup the men in powder blue and white could be dangerous on Brazilian soil. Nigeria represent Africa in Group F, while Europeans Bosnia & Herzegovina and Asia’s Iran make up the four teams who will battle it out to make it through to the knockout stages.

Argentina

Best Finish – Winners (1978, 1986)

Odds – 4/1

Is this the tournament where Lionel Messi finally shines on the international scene to the same extreme that he’s done throughout his decorated club career? As good as the rest of the Argentina squad are, and they’re good enough to be able to leave Carlos Tevez at home, the South American’s ability to win the World Cup will almost certainly hinge on the form of the little maestro Messi. His fellow countryman Diego Maradona once led the Argentines to the trophy almost single-handedly and if Messi wants to be placed in the same pantheon of player then an other-worldly tournament is essential.

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Best Finish – First Appearance

Odds – 150/1

Bosnia & Herzegovina make their first appearance at a World Cup finals in Brazil, and the Eastern Europeans stand an excellent chance of making it out of their group at the first attempt. The nation was created when it split from Yugoslavia back in the early 1990’s and it finally gets the chance to make an impression on the global stage after a couple of near misses in qualification over the past decade or so. Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko is the star man for Bosnia and his record of 35 goals for the national team is an impressive haul from just 62 games. Dzeko’s prowess in the air makes him a difficult target to defend and if he can trouble the scorers in Brazil this month Bosnia might just make it out of Group F alongside Argentina.

Iran

Best Finish – First Round (1978, 1998, 2006)

Odds – 2500/1

Iran make a return to the World Cup stage after an absence of eight years, although they’ll know that realistically they stand little to no chance of progressing to the last 16 – something they have also failed to do in their past three appearances at the finals. Iran are led by former Real Madrid manager and Manchester United assistant Carlos Queiroz and the Portuguese’s experience will be of great benefit to his relatively inexperienced squad. On the playing side of things 33-year old captain Javad Nekounam will attempt to lead from the front, the midfielder having accumulated an incredible 140 caps for his country during his career.

Nigeria

Best Finish – Last 16 (1994, 1998)

Odds – 250/1

This isn’t the first time Nigeria have been paired with Argentina in a World Cup group; some of you will recall 2002 when the pair were joined by England and Sweden in that year’s infamous “Group of Death” in Japan and South Korea. Nigeria failed to qualify from that group and with an arguably weaker squad 12 years on they could struggle to make the knockout stages once again in Brazil. Nigeria have a heavy presence in the Premier League and Stoke City’s Peter Odemwingie will attempt to lead the line and build on his 61 caps and 10 goals for his country. John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses are also recognisable names but Nigeria lack the star power of fellow African nations such as Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, so it figures that they’ll rely more on teamwork than individual quality this summer.

Fixtures

Argentina v Bosnia – 15th June, Rio De Janeiro (23.00 GMT)

Iran v Nigeria – 16th June, Curitiba (20.00 GMT)

Argentina v Iran – 21st June, Belo Horizonte (17.00 GMT)

Nigeria v Bosnia – 21st June, Cuiaba (23.00 GMT)

Nigeria v Argentina – 25th June, Porto Alegre (17.00 GMT)

Bosnia v Iran – 25th June, Salvador (17.00 GMT)

Who do you think will make it out of Group F? Can Lionel Messi inspire Argentina to a World Cup win? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley

World Cup Preview: Group D

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The fourth World Cup group to be previewed here at Fred Stanley Sport is Group D, which of course features England as they attempt to add a second World Cup crown 48 years after securing their first. Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica will attempt to thwart Roy Hodgson’s Three Lions, however, and Group D promises to be fiercely competitive later this month in Brazil.

Uruguay

Best Finish – Winners (1930, 1950)

Odds – 33/1

Two-time winners Uruguay will be confident of emulating their effort in South Africa four years ago, when they somewhat controversially reached the semi-finals after Luis Suarez‘s infamous handball against Ghana cost the Africa side dearly. The Liverpool striker will hope to make the headlines for all the right reasons in Brazil, however, and after the season he enjoyed for the Reds he’s in prime position to make a positive impact on the biggest stage of all. Although he’s currently recovering from a knee injury Suarez is expected to be fully fit for the start of the tournament, which would be a huge boost to a Uruguay strike force that also includes Edison Cavani. The South Americans may not be as strong in defense as they are up top but make no mistake about it – they’re one of the teams to watch this summer.

Costa Rica

Best Finish – Last 16 (1990)

Odds – 4000/1

Costa Rica are rank outsiders for the competition, returning to the World Cup stage after an eight year absence. While their 2006 vintage contained legendary striker Paulo Wanchope, of Derby County and West Ham United fame, the current edition features former Fulham forward Bryan Ruiz and Arsenal youngster Joel Campbell. While they form a less formidable front line than Uruguay, for example, the duo have the potential to cause some hiccups to the three more established teams in Group D. Perhaps the biggest advantage the Costa Ricans will have in Brazil doesn’t concern talent, but their familiarity with the South American heat and humidity.

England

Best Finish – Winners (1966)

Odds – 28/1

Can England finally end their wait for a major trophy in Brazil? Probably not, but Roy Hodgson’s decision to select a youthful looking squad was a bold one and at least means it won’t be the usual suspects who fail to come back holding a trophy. The squad are currently acclimatising to conditions in Miami, where they’ll play two final warm-up games before heading south for Rio before their first game in Manaus against Italy. If the Three Lions are to get off to a flyer in the jungle they’ll surely need Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney to fire on all cylinders, something he has failed to do of late for both club and country. However talk of dropping the former Everton man has been premature, and while Daniel Sturridge may have been more prolific thus far in 2014 it’s Rooney who has the international pedigree that has helped make him an integral part of the national set-up for over a decade now.

Italy

Best Finish – Winners (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)

Odds – 25/1

The Azzuri head to Brazil in search of a fifth World Cup crown, though they’ll find it challenging just to make it out of Group D having been dealt a tough hand in December’s draw. A strong showing at Euro 2012 should give the Italians hope; however that successful campaign was achieved in the relatively cool climes of Eastern Europe, a far cry from the South American sauna that will await them later this month. Andrea Pirlo was the star of the show for Italy two years ago and the Juventus playmaker’s relaxed style of play could suit the Brazilian conditions more than most, and if the Azzuri are to enjoy another successful World Cup they’ll need Pirlo to be at his supreme, casual best.

Fixtures

Uruguay v Costa Rica – June 14, Fortaleza (20.00 GMT)

England v Italy – June 14, Manaus (23.00 GMT)

Uruguay v England – June 19, Sao Paulo (20.00 GMT)

Italy v Costa Rica – June 20, Recife (17.00 GMT)

Italy v Uruguay – June 24, Natal (17.00 GMT)

Costa Rica v England – June 24, Belo Horizonte (17.00 GMT)

Who do you think will qualify from Group D in Brazil? And can England win the World Cup under Roy Hodgson? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley

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

 

 

 

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