1) England to not make it past the last 16
Maybe this is just me being typical pessimistic about my beloved Three Lions? But our squad is weak, and as much as I disposed to like Hodgson as a West Bromwich Albion supporter, the slow evolving, almost negative style of football the England have been playing at times is certainly not the kind you produce to win tournaments. Our squad is decent, but is no better than that. Whilst the likes of Rooney, Gerrard et al have big tournament experience, the spread of world class players across England’s squad is too thin.
Players like Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka and Tom Cleverly are all very good players- just not good enough to win tournaments. Our record in qualifying looks decent of paper- but until the last two games of qualifying, the only teams we had actually beaten were Moldova and San Marino- hardly the kind of opponent England are likely to face in Brazil.
I never doubt England’s ability to get out of their group, even despite the tough seeding that they have been allocated this year. I think that we need to come to accept as England fans that we are a side on the wane and anything beyond the Round of 16 is frankly punching above our weight with our current crop of players.
2) Lionel Messi to finally deliver on the big stage
Lionel Messi has always delivered at club level in a big way. A staggering 327 goals in 394 appearances for Barcelona (including 147 goals in just 125 appearances over the last five seasons), accompanied by virtuoso performances have led to Messi being recognised as the undisputed best player in the World for the past 4 or 5 years now. Whilst for most his record of 37 goals in 83 appearances for his nation would be admirable, Messi has never been quite able to reproduce his scary club form for “Les Albicelestes”, and more specifically- never at a World Cup.
Theories as to why this is vary massively, however with Messi coming to the theoretical peak of his powers at the age of 26, I expect this to be the tournament that Messi firmly establishes himself as a legend of the game- on the international stage. Nothing needs to be said of his credentials as a player, and his ability is undoubted. I fancy him to finally take a World Cup by the scruff of its neck at the third attempt and really set out to upset Argentina’s Brazilian neighbours in the summer.
3) Expect Spain’s chokehold on major tournaments to be finally broken….
Maybe I’m just bored of the repeated image of Iker Casillas’s smug gurn as he lifts trophy after trophy after trophy for Spain? But I think 2014 is really the year when Spain‘s grip on every major championship they enter is broken. The way in which they capitulated in the Confederations Cup Final shows to me defensive frailties that I have long suspected to be there. Furthermore, the lack of a “world-class” striker beyond Alvaro Negredo is worrying for the Spanish- certainly the 4-6-0 formation does not seem to me the right way to go about things.
If nothing else, by the law of averages- surely Spain can’t win again? So if they can’t who will? Well…..
4) ….expect a South American team to win
The obvious choice to win are Brazil. And its difficult not to agree with the consensus. A massive list of global stars (Silva, Alves, Neymar, Oscar et al), a partizan home crowd, and the momentum they have carried from the confederations cup (which they won in impressive style). It all adds up for a spectacular home win.
However, two more of the four South America competitors at the next World Cup could feasibly go all the way. Argentina, of course speraheaded by the mercurial Lionel Messi, and Colombia led by goal machine Radamel Falcao both could do some serious damage as an outsider. Certainly I fully expect Brazil and Argentina to reach at least the semi-final. The circumstance and the squad sheets both point to a South American win this summer.
5) Major Disappointments from Europe’s “Superpowers” (with the exception of the annoyingly efficient Germans)
Italy. England. Similar sized stature. Similar sized pedigree. Similar problem. I have touched on the issue with England at the top- but all three are major footballing nations currently on the wane. It is a far cry from 2006, where these three nations were arguably the favourites to win the whole competition, and had the best squads in the competition. But alas no longer. I forsee a disastrous summer ahead for Europe’s traditional big guns, as most of them seem to be in a bit of a trough. Better luck in 2018?
Of course, the exception is (as ever) the Germans. With the knack of playing well at the most important of times- the Germans are the only European team that I would back to go all the way. And it pains me to say that.
6) Bosnia and Herzegovina to be the surprise package
Whilst most football hipsters are touting Belgium or Colombia to be “dark horses” at the World Cup (something which I confess that I too am guilty of) I am taking a slightly different approach. Whilst I would be idiotic to say that Bosnia could go all the way, I certainly think that they have the potential to be the surprise package in Brazil.
Spearheaded by the prolific Edin Dzeko, who is supported by consistent Bundesliga performer Veded Ibisevic and creative midfielder Miralem Pjanic (part of the current invincible Roma side that is tearing up Serie A). Senad Lulic of Lazio also provides pace and creativity from the wing, alongside class act Zvedzan Misimovic (now plying his trade is China after a lengthy spell in Russia). Also boasting the cat-like talents of Asmir Begovic, a set-piece danger from Hoffenhiem’s Senad Salihovic and defensive stability from captain Emir Sphaic (who plays for Leverkusen)- Bosnia have a deceptively decent side.
Of course they won’t go on to win, but I would back Bosnia to be a surprising entity this summer.
7) A three way Golden Boot Race
The Golden Boot race will be as hotly contested as ever, and of course there will be a host of strikers from across the globe vying to pick up the award by the end of the Tournament. The likes of Falcao, Romelu Lukaku, Mario Balotelli, Robin Van Persie, Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and even Wayne Rooney will be battling it out, however three names come to the fore as potential Golden Boot winners.
The first two are pretty standard. Messi and Ronaldo are contenders to be top scorers in any tournament they enter, and though neither has been able to really make their own stamp on a major tournament before, you would be a stupid man (or woman) to discount the potential goals that Messi and Ronaldo can score for Portugal respectively. The third name is Fred of Brazil. Even with a string of relatively average performances at the Confederations Cup, Fluminese striker Fred (formerly of Lyon) still managed to come out as top scorer. A natural finisher, who will get service from the creative midfield around him- Fred is my pick for the Golden Boot award in Brazil.