It is time once more for that most wonderful of sporting events - the World Cup. I have become quite a soccer fan in the past few years - since acquiring Fox Soccer Channel a few years ago, almost by accident (I wanted TCM, and Fox Soccer was part of the same package) I have become a pretty faithful BPL and Champions League watcher, and keep up on the other big leagues. (TV developments in the last 4 years have been a bit awkward - the arrival of BEIN and NBC as a soccer carrier has moved leagues around, and created odd effects - like all the English games on TV, but none of them repeated; or the disappearance of the Bundesliga from my cable package; or the irritation of only one of the Fox Sports channels being carried by frigging Comcast. Etc.) So this World Cup is not just exciting as they all are - I am modestly positioned to have opinions! Though even if I were completely innocent of soccer knowledge I would have opinions. And now I shall share! Let us commit to something like predictions, before things get going...
Group A: Brazil should win this, for obvious reasons. They should win it all. Behind them, I think Mexico is going to get through - they have been awful in qualifying, but they have too much talent to stay awful, I think. Though Croatia is a good team. I am familiar with their stars - I have read that their defense is suspect, and can believe it. Cameroon is hung out to dry here - not a can again. bad team, but hard pressed to get much in this group. they could be spoilers - a win, a tie or two, and they could settle someone's fate. I expect Brazil and Mexico, though.
Group B: Spain and Netherlands start off this tourney where they left off last one. Hopefully with less of a brawl, though I expect the results to be the same. I am not at all sure what to expect from Holland - repeat of 2010? repeat of the 2012 Euros disaster? probably neither. The kicker is Chile - who were a revaluation in 2010, and have a good squad coming into this world cup - I've seen lots of backing for them to get out of this group instead of one of the favorites - I tend to agree. I think Spain will get through, probably easily enough - but I think Chile will sneak past Holland - beat them - or score an extra goal or two somewhere. Australia, meanwhile, is always tough but probably not a factor - right? Spain - Chile is my pick.
Group C: Columbia would be clear favorites of Falcao had made it back; I think they are still favorites without him - I think they have a decent squad. Though I had hoped to see him play in this. Oh well. The rest of the group is tough, in a minor sort of way. I think Japan will get out - they have risen to the occasion in a coupe of these tournaments and I think they can again. But Greece is a hard team to get past; and Cote D'Ivoire has plenty of high end players - though they might be getting long in the tooth. It would hardly be an upset if they did go through. But I expect Columbia and Japan.
Group D: This is one of the hardest groups to pick in the tournament. I think Uruguay should win it - they are almost at home, they are confident and tough and they have Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, assuming they are healthy (and Forlan if Suarex has to miss a couple games) - and the competition is not what it could be. England and Italy seem broadly similar to me - traditional powers who have been somewhat underwhelming in recent years - not bad, just hard to figure out. Young? but with canny vets? either one would rise to the occasion and go deeper int he tourney than you'd think - either one could flame out. Hell, both could flame out and Costa Rica might go through. That would be amusing. I expect, though, that England will do all right - Uruguay to win, then, England to take second.
Group E: This is a soft group, though teams can surprise. I think France will do all right - they are unlikely to be a force, but they should be good enough to win the group. Switzerland should take second. I don't really know much about Ecuador - Honduras seems to be over their heads anywhere - but either of them could surprise. Still - the French seem to alternate tournaments - this is one of their good ones. France - Switzerland.
Group F: Argentina has an easy path to the second round. Behind them - Nigeria is a modest threat, but Bosnia-Herzogovena looks like a very strong dark horse. Iran I suspect is going to enjoy the ride. I think this might be there easiest to predict of the bunch - it is hard to picture either Nigeria or Iran getting out of this group. Argentina - Bosnia.
Group G: The group of death! not the hardest to predict - truth is, the predictions are pretty easy - Germany wins, Portugal takes second - but they will have to beat good teams to do it. Ghana seems once again the best of the African teams - a serious threat to get out of any of the other groups, I think; here they might be the fourth best team. The US is in the same boat - quite capable of taking at least second almost anywhere else (maybe not group B, though they would be serious underdog threats there), but facing a daunting challenge here. At least it should create a really good game or two - the Ghana-USA match should be a thriller - both teams have to get the 3 points and are likely to go for it with all their might. Portugal, on the other hand - well - I expect their usual tactic - shut games down and let Ronaldo win it for them on the counter attack. That will probably work. Germany is way too good not to be a favorite, though Portugal might frustrate them, and that might give Portugal a chance to steal that game too - which could give the winner of the other game a shot. Stranger things have happened. There should be some good football in this group - though I suspect there will be a couple stinkers, probably involving the home team. (Home team for my part of Cambridge-Somerville: it's only a question here of whether the Portuguese outnumber the Brazilians...) So - Germany to win, Portugal #2.
Group H: Another soft group - I would have thought South Korea was a decent team, but watching Ghana abuse them the other night - maybe not. Which leaves it to Belgium and Russia, I think - though Algeria could sneak through - or Korea could wake up. I doubt it.
SO I could map out the rest of the tournament based on that - I did on a couple fantasy sites... Why not? Though this is obviously subject to much second guessing as the games start:
Brazil beats Chile
England beats Columbia (a radical call, but you need a couple)
Bosnia beats France
Germany beats Russia
Spain over Mexico
Uruguay over Japan
Argentina beats Switzerland
Portugal beats Belgium (poor Belgians, if this is right - winning their group to get Portugal, who I think are a very dangerous squad this year.)
then? courage rears its ugly head in here...
Brazil beats England, that's easy enough
Germany beats Bosnia, ending their run
... but now the courage comes in:
Uruguay over Spain
Portugal over Argentina - why? I say - 1) Uruguay is very good, has a lot of punch; Spain is still a great team, but have been a bit lacking in finishing the last couple tournaments, and teams are figuring them out - and Xavi is getting old. Obviously, third pick depends on Suarez playing at a high level, which isn't a given; but I think it's possible. 2) As for Portugal beating Argentina - the latter can score; can they defend? And what happens when Portugal parks the bus and counter attacks? can Argentina stop Ronaldo? I think Portugal can exploit their weaknesses. I think. We'll see. My rooting interests here are mixed - I do like Uruguay, and dearly want to see them succeed; Portugal is almost the home team in my part of the world - though Argentina could be a very fine team,a nd if they are good, they will be very entertaining. So - there's really no bad result here.
In the semis: Brazil beats Germany and - is this another upset? I think Uruguay will beat Portugal. I suspect this will be a nasty game, though.
Leaving Brazil to avenge itself on its tiny neighbor for 1950.
Neymar the man of the tournament, he and Suarez likely to contend for the most goals, etc. And - I hope - all of it as entertaining as possible.