Okay, so, just wait a second. You’re probably wondering why Argentina is up there and not the reigning champions, Germany, or European champions Portugal or even Brazil, who are always favorites.
Simply put, I’m just contemplating how three of the teams I’m cheering for will fare in the World Cup.
I say three of the teams because as I mentioned during the 2014 World Cup I had a certain hierarchy when it came to teams on the international stage. That hierarchy hasn’t changed and Argentina is really there only because I want Lionel Messi to win, as I did in 2014. I’d be remiss to say I usually add the African teams, whoever they may be, to my list of teams to cheer for when World Cup time comes around.
I’ll probably do a predictions piece closer to the tournament itself after a look at the CONCACAF teams. On to real business then.
The big question with Spain is whether the Diego Costa trick will finally pay off.
The disappointment in 2014 can probably be written off because he wasn’t fully fit or integrated into the side and in Euro 2016 they came up against an impressive Italy side. Still, they will be legitimate favourites for a reason. Few teams can match the mixture of experience and talent in this squad. They wont have the same expectations as 2014 and the loss in 2016 will have them even more determined to prove themselves. I think most folks will have them as a semifinalist.
It won’t be an easy road, with the possibility of facing either Argentina or France as early as the quarterfinals. It will probably be Argentina as I don’t see France finishing second in their group. Still, this Spain side shouldn’t fear anyone once they reach that stage and if things click in the attacking third they will be tough to beat, as you expect them to control the midfield regardless of the opponent.
France is coming of a tough loss in Euro 2016 and a solid qualification run. It’s an exciting group but there’s still a feeling they lack enough experience to go all the way.
As mentioned before, I expect they will be on the other side of the bracket from Spain and Argentina. That’s likely to lead to an interesting rematch with Portugal in the quarterfinals, or even worse, a feisty Uruguay side. There’s also Brazil to worry about on that side. I still don’t fully trust Didier Deschamps as I feel he hasn’t gotten the best out of Paul Pogba though only Antonio Conte and Massimiliano Allegri have so far. The balance in midfield will be key. The best choice would be to start Steven N’zonzi to control things in midfield with N’golo Kante and Pogba but we’ll see. There’s also the hope that the youngsters up to Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele, with 25 caps between them, don’t falter on the big stage.
I’ll probably still blame Deschamps if it falls apart. Arsene Wenger next up on the plate perhaps?
Ah, Argentina. There really isn’t much to say about them is there?
It’s baffling that a side with this attacking quality has relied on one alien to win something, anything, in the last decade. There’s only so many times one can ponder why Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain can’t/won’t step up to the plate. True, the rest of the team, minus Javier Mascherano and an improved Nicolas Otamendi, is average but that doesn’t stop Messi playing his part. If Messi drags this side to a title as Diego Maradona did in ’86 it would shut a lot of mouths. Possibly. Maradona had one finals loss and one win sooo….. Even if he doesn’t win, Messi is still arguably the best ever.
Also, with Jorge Sampaoli, Argentina has possibly the best coach in the tournament. He hasn’t been able to get it all together for the Albiceleste just yet but you can’t sleep on him in this tournament.
As an aside, I’ll say I always have a soft spot for England. Not sure why. Interested to see how this group does. And, again, let’s not forget Germany. One of these teams will have to play them at some point in the tournament. I’d bet if that team gets past them they’ll win it all.
I think Italy, England, Portugal and Croatia are more dark horses than contenders. Too much issues with all of those sides. Italy don’t convince, Portugal are too Ronaldo-dependent, Croatia hasn’t put it all together and England have a lot less experience than usual. Still interesting to see how they all do during this break.
Interesting read on the France v. Germany game in the 1982 World Cup.
Continuing with our look at predictions for the knockout rounds, we’ll take a look at the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. Here is the revised version of the Round of 16 matchups, as well as the original and the original pre-tournament post of the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals predictions.
As you can see, I had 8-8 predictions correct in the Round of 16 matches and I hope to continue the trend. That probably won’t happen.
One thing to note, as Michael Cox states in his piece looking at the Round of 16, is how fatigue affected teams, and that will continue to be the case.
Brazil vs. Colombia, Netherlands vs. Costa Rica(Crazy, right?), France vs. Germany and Argentina vs. Belgium are were my expected matchups for the quarterfinals, and so it is.
Let’s see how things pan out.
Brazil vs. Colombia
Brazil barely survived the test against Chile but with almost a week to rectify things, rest and prepare, they will be up to the task against Colombia. Never mind that home team factor.
Colombia will be full of confidence after 4 convincing wins in 4 matches, and they, unlike Chile, will pose a significant threat in the attacking third.
Colombia’s wing-play will be a real worry for the Brazilians as Dani Alves and Marcelo love to bomb forward. The wing-play on both sides will actually be pretty key in this game, with Zuniga vs. Neymar, Cuadrado vs. Marcelo, Armero vs. Hulk/Oscar and Ibarbo vs. Dani Alves. Colombia did play more of a 4-4-2 formation in the game against Uruguay, which could be even more of an issue for Brazil’s defensive unit.
Whether those battles are even or not, this may be the game where James Rodriguez has a chance to truly let his light shine. Or, he could be hounded out by Paulinho and Fernandinho in midfield(Luiz Gustavo is suspended). While you wouldn’t bet against Rodriquez after his performances so far, that duo is certainly capable of reducing his ability to affect the match, and decrease Colombia’s chances of success.
Who Will Win: Brazil marches on, growing in confidence as the tournament goes on.
France vs. Germany
Having gotten this far, France will not be an easy game for any opponent. Germany is a team with plenty of options and experience though, and can stifle Les Bleus attackers.
One thing that may work in France’s favour is the selection of powerful midfielders like Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi against what may be a tired German midfield due to their expenditure against Algeria in extra-time. The problem is that the defense hasn’t been tested too much during the group stage, and Thomas Muller will be waiting. Nigeria did give it a good effort but lacked some of the clinical finishing that Muller and supersub Klose bring.
Germany will look to the dominate the game, and while France will pose a threat on the counter their defense may crack under the pressure.
Who Will Win: Germany advances to set up a fantastic semifinal with Brazil
Netherlands vs. Costa Rica
The fairy-tale has to end some time, and that tale will come to an end for Costa Rica against the Netherlands. Even if they defend deep and try to use Joel Campbell’s speed, they won’t have the advantage on the wings that they have in earlier matches.
Wesley Sneijder isn’t the same player he used to be but he, and Robin van Persie, can unlock the Costa Rican defense and grab the win. The CONCACAF side won’t make it easy but the Netherlands should progress.
Who Will Win: The Netherlands will continue to win, and end Costa Rica’s fairy-tale run.
Argentina vs. Belgium
Argentina will, hopefully, have it all sorted in defense and attack by this game but they may actually be content to let Belgium come to them. Why?
Belgium is another team lacking proper full-backs, and that will finally get exposed against the speed of Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria, and if Aguero’s not fit, Ezequiel Lavezzi. Kompany does have a good turn of pace but he will have a torrid time with the sloth-like Daniel Van Buyten beside him.
Belgium’s profiligacy in front of goal against the USA will have to be fixed if they are to have a chance. And tracking Lionel Messi, as all other opponents have done, will be essential. The duo of Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel aren’t the most agile or quick players, so if Marc Wilmots is smart he would use someone like Moussa Dembele to deal with Messi.
Belgium will surely have chances, and will be a major threat on set-pieces but Argentina’s attack will be too much. Messi may just find the extra freedom he needs to continue having a major impact on games.
Who Will Win: Lionel Messi and company going to march on to what would be a great semifinal matchup.
Brazil vs. Germany
Here’s where Germany’s lack of full-backs finally catches up with them, as Neymar and Hulk, or whoever else plays on the wing, should have a good time attacking Howedes and Boateng out wide. On the opposite end, Brazil’s defensive unit has enough pace and strength to keep a handle on Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Mario Gotze.
At this point, you also have to take into effect the psychological mindset for both sets of players. Brazil, playing at home, will be out of the gates with force and an early goal will leave the Germans feeling, yet again, that a trophy is out of their hands.
Brazil’s speed and physical power will be too much for Germany in the end.
Who Will Win: Brazil to go through
Argentina vs. Netherlands
An open game is a good thing here for the fans but neither defense will be happy. Louis van Gaal could switch the Netherlands between 5-3-2 and 4-3-3 depending on the situation, while Argentina may be more settled in a 4-3-3.
Argentina can use Australia’s blueprint to trouble the Netherlands defensively, and the greater amount of quality players in the ranks means a good few chances, and finishes, should be in store. Argentina will have also been provided with a trial run for shackling Arjen Robben, as Xherdan Shaqiri provides similar pace, trickery and finishing from the wings.
Who Will Win: Whether Lionel Messi’s brilliance is required or not, Argentina have it in them to make it past this stage.
Brazil vs. Argentina
Here’s what I had to say about this game pre-tournament;
Is it too crazy of me to think that any team could defeat Brazil, in the Maracana, especially after what they did to Spain a year ago? Probably.
If there’s one team that can do it then it’s Argentina. While they may not have played in a game of this size against their eternal rivals, the Argentinians are more accustomed than most to a hostile Brazilian crowd. Add in the confidence boost of beating the World Champions and you have a Argentina side raring to end their trophy drought.
Their defensive weakness will again be tested but all bets are off in what should be a back and forth encounter. Argentina has more clinical finishers to make the most of their chances on the break in the form of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero. Angel Di Maria can chip in as well, and his energy on the left will prove just as vital in exploiting the Brazilian defense as Lionel Messi on the right.
Here is where Lionel Messi quiets all critics once and for all. The Barcelona man is the reason I just can’t stray away from an Argentina victory for my predictions.
As disappointed as I feel about this assumption, I think he held something back during the season, though I’m sure the injuries weren’t part of the plan. Lionel Messi will make this tournament his, and lead his country to glory.
Only a few changes required to that statement. Argentina will be confident, though they wouldn’t have faced Spain, and they will be less affected by the Brazilian crowd.
It should be a back and forth game, and Angel Di Maria, given his history against Dani Alves, is one player who will be vital for Argentina.
I still think an Argentina win is going to happen, especially as they have a great chance of getting to the final where anything is possible.
Absolutely great article, or articles rather, here. An interesting look at some of football’s most historic national sides.
Definitely worth a read.