The cup has reached critical mass today as we have seen all of the teams in action and can begin to predict potential group outcomes based on their upcoming matches.
The presented predictions for and takeaways from each group, though, are derived not just from projecting similar form for each team in the succeeding matches as they have shown in the ones just concluded. Instead the predictions include the assumption that the upsets-and-poor-performance pendulum has swung as far as it will and must now come back to normalcy.
This means we are in for another round of results different from what we may have assumed would take place given the crazy results so far.
In Group A, Brazil and Mexico have four points each, Croatia and Cameroon have zero, but the Africans are ahead on goal differential. This means that if the leaders tie their last games they are both into the next round. Croatia and Cameroon would have to win both their games to progress and though the Europeans look strong enough to do this the Cameroonians do not. So assuming Croatia beats Cameroon, the critical game of this group will be the Mexico-Croatia match with the winner progressing with Brazil, which will no doubt beat Cameroon.
Takeaway: Brazil may meet Spain in the next round and the Iberians, who are the better team, will be back to their world class form while the Brazilians will pay the price for Scolari’s choices. There is a good chance the hosts will not make it to the quarter finals.
In Group B, the game tomorrow between Chile and Spain is now only one of several critical group games and Australia can play the spoiler. The Dutch play Australia next and will win that game handily while trying to pad the score line, bringing them to six points and several goals to the positive. Australia will be eliminated having accumulated two losses by then but how many goals they allow will become critical.
Spain will also beat Australia so the Iberian’s cup boils down to beating Chile, while the South Americans have their two toughest games coming up but only need to tie them to progress. Chile is strong enough to pull off the two-tie scenario but this group has become a gamble. If Spain beats Chile, and I believe they will, the Europeans will only progress on six points if they can get the additional goals they need to overcome their -4 goal differential.
If Chile loses to Spain but wins against the Netherlands, which is a real possibility, then goal differential will tell the tale. It could be that Chile’s narrow win over Australia or Spain’s clobbering by the Dutch become the Achilles heel for either the South Americans or Iberians. But the fun will be to see the two European giants match up against Chile knowing all three teams are playing must-win games. I now see Spain coming in second to Holland as the two European teams progress.
Takeaway: See Group A takeaway. If Holland flies on the wings of their Spanish victory and progresses as the top team of Group B they will most likely meet Croatia and Italy in that order, and beat them both before reaching the semi-finals for a true classic match-up against eventual winner Argentina.
In Group C, Colombia’s performance would indicate they will move on as the top team. Greece and Japan do not seem strong enough to keep up with the Ivory Coast and thus the South Americans and Africans should progress here.
Takeaway: Colombia might meet Uruguay in the Group of 16 and if Suarez is healthy I think the Uruguayans take it, if not, the Colombians move on. Ivory Coast will probably meet and lose to Italy.
In Group D, Costa Rica has a very hard road to progress and both Italy and England need to beat them. Uruguay meanwhile has put itself in a bind by probably needing to beat both Italy and England to progress. I see Italy beating Costa Rica and doing no worse than a tie with Uruguay and with seven points that would make them the top team in the group. The England-Uruguay game will be the clincher here. If England win and beat Costa Rica they are in and if Uruguay win and only tie Italy, they are in. It is the second scenario that I think will happen, but it will all come down to the fitness of Luis Suarez.
Takeaway: Italy takes the group and loses to Holland in the quarterfinals after beating the Ivory Coast. Uruguay progress with Suarez healthy but England move on if the striker is still not fit. But whichever team moves on they get no further than the quarterfinals.
In Group E, France has taken the driver’s seat and should be able to beat Switzerland. The Swiss will have to beat Honduras to progress, but if Ecuador beats Honduras and France then goal differential will tell the tale. The group, though, would seem to hinge on which Ecuador team takes the pitch next. If it is the one that played so tough during CONMEBOL qualifying then France and Honduras will be put to a very hard test. If it is the team that could not hold a 1-0 or 1-1 score line then the Swiss and French will move on. This group is wide open, but France has the edge, while Ecuador still has an outside chance if it wakes up, and Switzerland is poised to guide its own destiny if it can pull a win over Honduras and a tie with France.
Takeaway: France will move on as the top team because they have found their top form at just the right time and if they can keep it they make it to the quarterfinals and then lose to Germany. Whichever team comes out second will lose to Argentina in the next round.
In Group F, Argentina and Bosnia will move on.
Takeaway: Argentina builds up steam and makes it to the finals where they will meet Spain or Brazil and lose to either of them. Bosnia will lose to France in the Group of 16.
In Group G, Portugal is in greater trouble than Spain is in its group, because Cristiano Ronaldo is simply not fit. The Germans seem too strong to do anything but win against the USA and Ghana and even with the USA’s recent heroics, their next two games are not against the likes of Ghana. The hope for the Americans is that Portugal will be without Pepe and Fabio Coentrao, on top of an injured Ronaldo. But the reality is that the Iberians are stronger than either the USA or Ghana, without those mentioned players having to contribute. I still see Germany and Portugal progressing here in that order.
Takeaway: Germany meets Spain in the semifinals and loses if the officiating is fair. In the finals the Spaniards find their top form while the Argentines have a drop of form and the champions retain their title.
In Group H, I see Russia and Korea beating Algeria but only Russia looks strong enough to keep up with the Belgians. My prediction here is the Belgians and Russians move on.
Takeaway: Belgium will meet Portugal or Germany and lose to Germany, and to Portugal if Ronaldo is healthy. But they will move past Portugal if the striker is not fit. If they move beyond Portugal they will lose to Argentina. Bosnia will lose to France in the Group of 16.
This is how I see it after watching all of the teams play, what do you think?