Following the draw in Mata de Sao Joao, the countdown to Brazil began in earnest and here we present our 2014 World Cup preview (12th June-13th July, live coverage on BBC and ITV) .
England manager Roy Hodgson had said prior to the draw that he was more concerned about location than opponents, but the draw was not kind to England on either front. Not only were they drawn in Group D alongside fellow former winners Italy and Uruguay, but they will also kick off their tournament with a trip to the hot and humid Amazonian city of Manuas to face an Italian side who dominated the ball during their Euro 2012 quarter final.
It was certainly not the draw that Hodgson would have chosen, but he can at least take solace in the fact that England’s other two group matches, against Uruguay and Costa Rica, will take place in close proximity to the team’s Rio de Janeiro base. It is also, surely, better to face Italy, a team England may have been expected to struggle against anyway, in Manaus, than apparent underdogs Costa Rica, who could have taken extra advantage from familiar conditions.
England’s match against Uruguay in Sao Paulo on the 19th June could well be the decisive fixture of the group. Uruguay are an excellent counter-attacking side, with two of Europe’s most potent strikers in Edinson Cavani and Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, but often toil when asked to take the initiative, as demonstrated by their struggles in qualifying. The results of the opening fixtures will dictate the shape of this match.
Recent friendly defeats to Chile and Germany have brought expectations back down to earth after the buzz created by bright performances in England’s final two qualifiers, and in truth it seems more likely than not that England will fail to make it out of their group next summer.
Other tough groups include Group B, which opens with a repeat of the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and Holland and also includes an impressive Chile side, and Group G, featuring Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States.
Presuming all four win their groups, it is possible for the four bookies’ favourites to meet in the semi-finals, with Brazil (best odds of 3/1 with Paddy Power or Ladbrokes) potentially facing Germany (11/2 with Coral), and Spain (7/1 with Bet365 or William Hill) squaring off against Argentina (5/1 with BetVictor, Stan James).
Brazil will go into the tournament as favourites, due in part to their status as hosts and also because of the convincing manner in which they won the Confederations Cup earlier this year. They have suffered just two defeats in 19 matches since Luiz Felipe Scolari (pictured above), the man behind their 2002 World Cup success, replaced Mano Menezes in November of 2012.
With attacking talent like Neymar and Oscar, strong attacking full-backs, a world-class central defender and a solid collection of physical central midfielders, Brazil have attributes that make them a difficult proposition for any opponent. There is, however, a feeling that they perhaps lack the outright creativity to break through teams who sit back and defend.
Brazil scored within the first 10 minutes of three of their five matches during the Confederations Cup, allowing them to thereafter switch to the counter-attacking style that best suits the personnel at Scolari’s disposal. They struggled more against an obdurate Uruguay in the semi-final and could face similar troubles against defensive sides next summer.
Germany have played some of the best football at international level in recent years, replicating the swashbuckling attacking play of the countries’ successful club sides. But they have not been able to parlay entertaining football into a trophy, despite reaching at least the semi-final stage in each of the last four major international tournaments.
Joachim Low certainly has the personnel at his disposal to make a strong challenge for glory next summer and has experimented with various formations, including the deployment of Mario Goetze as a False Nine, to ensure his side can vary their approach as needed. An occasionally porous defence may, however, be Germany’s downfall.
If Lionel Messi overcomes his recent injuries and returns to top form then Argentina have to be considered one of the favourites for next year’s tournament. Alejandro Sabella appears to have found a good balance between defence and attack, and despite questions about a lack of pace at the back, any team that can field the likes of Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero – arguably three of the top 10 forwards in world football – has to be in with a chance.
Reigning World and European champions Spain look the best equipped of the European nations to deal with the conditions in Brazil, such is their ability to keep possession of the ball and control the pace of the game.
It is true that Spain are perhaps not at the same level as four years ago, with players such as Carlos Puyol, Xabi Alonso and Xavi ageing. However they still have the requisite quality to keep the victory train going for a fourth consecutive major international tournament, particularly in light of the addition of naturalised, in-form Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa.
World Cup Preview Betting Tips Verdict
We conclude our World Cup preview with these two betting selections:
- Bet on England to be eliminated at the group stage @ best odds of 6/4 with Stan James.
- Back Spain to win the World Cup @ 13/2 (was 7/1 when we first published this article) with Bet365, Coral, Paddy Power or Betfred.