Thursday, June 10, 2010

World Cup Predictor

With the world cup kickoff less than twenty-four hours away I am going to make my predictions for the tournament. I am going to take into account qualifying, injuries, and friendlies leading up to the world cup.

World Cup Predictions:

Group A:

In this group, are host nation South Africa, France, Uruguay, and Mexico. Conventional wisdom would have most people saying France should come out on op of this group with Mexico and Uruguay battling out for the second spot. This year, however, France saw a lackluster qualifying campaign, barely eeking by Ireland in a playoff that will remain one of the most controversial games in World Cup qualifying history. This game may also lead to the institution of instant replay or extra officals in future qualifiers. All this and the fact that France lost to 82nd ranked China at home have the French very nervous about their chances in the group stage. Mexico are one of the most dynamic and dangerous squads in the world right now. Their fast paced play and relentless attack have the potential to beat most countries in the world. They have had one of the most rigorous friendly schedules in the world with games against Chile, England, The Netherlands, and Italy. Three of those four matches were played in Europe where North American teams traditionally struggle. El Tri lost close matches to England and the Netherlands, but then shocked Italy 1-0. They also beat Chile at home before these games. Uruguay are a wildcard, they have played very few tune up matches, and squeaked into the World Cup after a playoff with Costa Rica. They netted three away goals against a staunch Swiss defense en route to a 3-1 win, and beat Israel earlier this week. No host country has ever failed to exit the group stage. A few short months ago not many people expected Bafana Bafana to have any chance at getting through the group. With new coach Carlos Alberto Parreira the South Africans will look to keep this trend going. They have strung together wins against Guatemala, Colombia, and most recently a dark horse Danish side. Look for Bafana Bafana to feed off of the home energy to get through with a 1-1-1 record.

Prediction:

1. Mexico 3-0-0
2. South Africa 1-1-1
3. France 0-1-2
4. Uruguay 0-2-1

Group B:

This group will see a more clear cut frontrunner, but the second spot is up for grabs. Group B includes Argentina, Greece, Korea Republic, and Nigeria. Argentina are the heavy favorite in this group despite narrowly winning the fourth and final qualifying spot in a much anticipated match in Montevideo, Uruguay between bitter rival countries. Led by one of Argentina's most beloved players Diego Maradonna, people have questioned his coaching ability with all of the qualifying struggles. Since qualifying for the World Cup Argentina have had a number of soft tune up matches, but also beat Germany 1-0 on the road. Greece were another European playoff winner over the slight favorites, Ukraine, but they have not won a match since. The Pirate Ship have followed their currency into the dumps losing matches to Senegal and Paraguay and they tied North Korea who are the lowest ranked team in the tournament. Nigeria also played a friendly against the North Koreans, but were 3-1 victors. They also racked up ties against Saudi Arabia and Colombia. Nigeria are playing on their home continent, so look for a slight edge against their competition. The final team in this group are South Korea, who have been disappointing since their improbable semifinal run on home turf eight years ago. They have shown some promise in qualifying matches with wins against Ecuador, and an away win against continental rival Japan. They also dropped an embarrassing game to Belarus, but bounced back last week with a close 1-0 loss against power house Spain. Every year a powerhouse limps into the tournament only to dominate competition, and I believe that team will be Argentina this year. They should easily win this group. Greece will in all likelihood finish last unless they can turn their countries economic woes into a rallying point. It will be a very interesting battle for second and third between Nigeria and Korea, with the last game coming between these two countries, it really could go either way, but I feel like the fast paced Nigerians will be able to break through the methodical South Koreans.

Prediction:

1. Argentina 3-0-0
2. Nigeria 2-1-0
3. Korea Republic 1-2-0
4. Greece 0-0-3

Group C

For Most Americans this is the most important group. It will include England, Algeria, Slovenia, and the United States. England are the favorites in this group. They dominated qualifying in their European group, and have shown no signs of slowing down in their tune up matches. The only real dark spot is losing Rio Ferdinand who was slated to be Captain after the very public stripping of John Terry as a result of an affair with a teammates former girlfriend. The English people are hoping that the Three Lions can finally hoist their second cup after a forty-four year drought. The English will look to their talented striker Wayne Rooney and level headed, playmaking Captain Steven Gerrard to lead England to this lofty goal. The United States are coming off of one of their most disappointing finishes in the country's limited World Cup history. They were highly overranked going into the tournament (fourth in the world), but will look to bounce back with a bevy of young talent, who up until very recently looked rather disorganized following their runners-up finish at the Confederations Cup one year ago. The come from behind victory against Turkey and convincing win over Australia are showing that the Americans mean business. The only question will be whether the weakened U.S. defense can hold up against their opponents. Algeria have not performed well of late, but had surprisingly strong campaigns in their previous two world cups. This included one of the more controversial exits in World Cup history in which West Germany and Austria cooked up a scheme to allow the two nations to advance on goal difference sending the Algerians packing. As a result of this game, final matches in the group stage have to be played at the same time. The Algerians will more than likely finish fourth, but don't count them out as they beat one of the most decorated African sides, Egypt, to qualify. The Slovenian side will be eerily reminiscent of the Czech Republic from four years ago. They had a stronger qualifying campaign than many anticipated, and beat heavily favored Russia to book their trip. They have not played a strong tune up schedule, but will have the advantage of playing Algeria in their opening match. Look for the first game between England and the U.S.A. to decide the winner of this group, and if England does win, do not count out the Slovenians especially since the English will in all likelihood go into the final match not having much to play for.

Prediction:

1. England 2-0-1
2. U.S.A. 2-1-0
3. Slovenia 1-1-1
4. Algeria 0-0-3

Group D

One of the tougher groups out there, Group D contains Germany, Serbia, Ghana, and Australia. Germany are the heavy hitting favorites out of this group, but they have lost gritty veteran Michael Ballack to injury. Germany's only real test in getting ready for the world cup was against Argentina at home where they lost an 0-1 result. The Germans still have a strong team, but do not expect them to trounce their competition. Ghana was a surprise in 2006 to exit the group of death, but were also considered a dark horse to get out of the group. They held their own beating the Czech Republic and United States after an initial loss to Italy. They are also missing their star in Michael Essein. Ghana has had a lackluster qualifying campaign, enduring a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of the Dutch, and a loss to European playoff losers Bosnia-Herzgovina. They did have a win over Latvia, but losing Essein may prove to be a serious blow. Serbia had a trememndous qualifying campaign beating France for the automatic berth in their group. Qualifying has been somewhat of a rollercoaster for the Serbs, but their last game will provide hope with a win over Cameroon. Australia's Socceroos had a great 2006, losing out to eventual champions Italy, in a controversial match. The Socceroos have a very large team, and a serious attacking threat in the embodiment of Tim Cahill. They put together a very steadfast back, and are very dangerous on set pieces as a result of their size. Germany should come out of this group on top, but it will not be a cake walk. The second spot will go to the hungriest team. It will be interesting to see the very attack minded Serbia and Ghana go against the strong defense of Australia.

Prediction:
1. Germany 2-0-1
2. Australia 2-1-0
3. Serbia 1-1-1
4. Ghana 0-0-3

Group E

This is another one of the more clear cut groups, but more often than not, the groups that seem simple turn in some of the most shocking upsets. Group E includes The Netherlands, Cameroon, Japan, and Denmark. The Netherlands have been one of the best footballing countries in the world, and were it not for their propensity for underachievement in international competition I think many would be saying that the Dutch and Brazilians would be the odds favorites to win the Cup. Wins over The United States, Mexico, Ghana, and Hungary in friendlies have shown that the Dutch are in top form after dominating their group in qualifying, winning every game and conceding only two goals. Cameroon have not won a friendly leading up to the World Cup, but have had some very encouraging and close matches against quality opponents including, but not limited to tying Italy 0-0, a closely contested 3-4 loss to Serbia, and a 1-3 loss to Portugal. Look for Cameroon's high powered, fast paced offense to feed off of the energy of playing on their home continent. The Danes are one of the dark horses of the tournament and are led by the longest tenured coach in the World Cup, Morten Olsen. Although their qualifying campaign has not been what they would have hoped for look for the Danes led by Nicklas Bendtner to pose a threat. Japan have lost most of their qualifying games leading up, and are looking to be the odd man out in this group. The last time they made it out of the group stage was as the co-host eight years ago, losing to Turkey in the round of 16. Look for the Netherlands to move forward with a plethora of talent as they try to shake the ghosts of past iniquities. Cameroon and Denmark will fight for second with Cameroon making it through on their home continent.

Prediction:

1. Netherlands 3-0-0
2. Cameroon 2-1-0
3. Denmark 0-2-1
4. Japan 0-2-1

Group F

This group has defending Champion Italy alongside New Zealand, Slovakia, and Paraguay. Italy could not have asked for a much easier trip back to the knockout stages than this group. Slovakia and Paraguay are both great sides, but neither pose the kind of threat Italy do. Italy are defending their world title with one of the best keepers in the game in Gianluigi Buffon, as well as one of the best defenses in the world. The Azzurri will run through this group with few problems despite a sloppy friendly campaign leading up to the World Cup with a loss on European soil to Mexico and a tie with Switzerland. The Slovaks stunned their qualifying group including their former countrymen the Czech Republic. The Slovaks handily defeated Costa Rica and tied Cameroon in friendlies. The match against Paraguay will in all likelihood determine who moves on with Italy. Paraguay qualified ahead of Argentina in South America finishing third in their group overall (behind Brazil and Chile respectively). Paraguay have beaten Greece and only narrowly defeated North Korea leading up to the World Cup. They drew against Ivory Coast and lost to Ireland. New Zealand were the Oceania group winner now that Australia have moved into the Asia group. New Zealand will in all likelihood finish last in this group, but don't expect them to get pushed around as they have faired well against a number of strong teams including a 1-0 victory over Serbia.

Prediction:

1. Italy 3-0-0
2. Paraguay 1-1-1
3. Slovakia 1-1-1
4. New Zealand 0-0-3

Group G

The group of death; this group includes Brazil, Portugal (two of the top three FIFA ranked teams in the world), Ivory Coast, and Korea DPR. This group includes three teams that many people would say have a realistic shot at challenging for the title, and one of them will not even make it out of the group. It was eight years ago that Portugal didn't get out of their group, but four years ago they lived up to the hype with a fourth place finish. Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the most dynamic players in the world, and has the ability to control the flow of a game. He also gets very emotional when he plays though, and if he takes himself out of the game emotionally it could spell disaster for Portugal. Brazil are the most dominant footballing nation in the world, they have won the most world titles (5), and have three players coming off of a the European Champion Squad. They are the favorites to win the tournament in the eyes of most. Ivory Coast was dealt a really tough blow earlier this week as Didier Drogba went down with a fracture in his arm. He told teammates he would not be able to play, but there is some optimism he may be able to play in some capacity. The cards unfortunately are stacked against them as if they were in any other group they would be able to get through group play and have Drogba join up in the knockout phase. Even if they had Korea DPR in one of the first two games it would be better, but it is their last match. Don't count this team out, but without Drogba they are missing considerable firepower. Korea DPR are a shocker to be in the tournament, but they have performed surprisingly well in their qualifying matches. They have had close losses to Nigeria and Paraguay (3-1 and 1-0 losses respectively). They have also tied hosts South Africa and the reeling Greeks (currently ranked 13th in the world). Conventional Wisdom would have Brazil and Portugal to move on, but the Elephants of Ivory Coast are a great squad, and I think they could put together wins against Portugal and Korea DPR.

Prediction:

1. Brazil 2-0-1
2. Ivory Coast 2-1-0
3. Portugal 1-1-1
4. Korea DPR 0-0-3

Group H

The final group in the World Cup has the reigning Europeans, Spain, with Chile, Honduras, and Switzerland. This is another group that sees a powerhouse country with two (maybe an outside shot at three) teams who will be hotly contesting the second place position. Spain have been as dominant as ever culminating in a 6-0 dismantling of Poland yesterday. They do not have as easy of a trip to the knockout phase of the tournament as Italy do, but it would be a huge upset if they did not at least pass the group stage. Chile finished second in qualifying, just behind heavy favorites Brazil in South America, and are a very dangerous squad. Chile's only real test during the friendly schedule was Mexico, which ended in a 0-1 defeat. They have won every other match during their tune up phase. The Swiss are an enigma they have the ability to be contend against some of the best countries in the world, as shown when they won their group in Germany in 2006 (with France in it) and in their 1-1 draw with Italy, but they also didn't make it out of the group phase when they co-hosted the European Championship two years ago. The Swiss are built on a strong defense and methodical ball movement, as many European squads are. If Switzerland can keep Spain close in match one look for a close match against Chile, but if their first game gets out of hand look for them to fold. Honduras landed their automatic berth when the United States scored a late winner against Costa Rica in qualifying. Honduras have not faired well in matches leading up to the World Cup, but never count a gritty side like theirs out.

Prediction:

1. Spain 2-0-1
2. Switzerland 2-0-1
3. Chile 1-2-0
4. Honduras 0-0-3

Since these are only predictions I will reserve in depth analysis for the knockout phase until after the group stage is complete. I will just write in my predictions for winners.

Mexico vs. Nigeria
Argentina vs. South Africa
England vs. Australia
U.S.A vs. Germany
Netherlands vs. Paraguay
Italy vs. Cameroon
Brazil vs. Switzerland
Spain vs. Ivory Coast

Mexico vs. England
Netherlands vs. Brazil
Argentina vs. U.S.A.
Italy vs. Ivory Coast

England vs. Netherlands
Argentina vs. Ivory Coast

Argentina vs. Netherlands

Winner= Netherlands

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