Part 4: The Ultimatum
In the final chapter of this multipart series breaking down the 2014 FIFA Men’s World Cup, we’re going to look at each individual match-up beginning with the second-round and continuing all the way through to the final; breaking down each one; predicting a winner and even explaining why!
Moving on to the Second Round
If everything went according to expectations, the second-round of your bracket would be made up of the top two teams from each group. Of course, it almost never works out that way. Almost every World Cup we see some surprise teams squeak out of the group stage and into the knock-out rounds. Some are only mild surprises that play well at the right time. However, there are the real longshots that just get hot at the right moment. So what surprises are lurking this year?
As you get ready to fill out the next wave of World Cup matches on your bracket, there are all sorts of questions that you need to find answers for. The more right answers, the cleaner your bracket will stay. Here’s a more in depth look at the second-round and hopefully you’ll get some of those vital questions answered.
Can Cinderella avoid the pumpkin?
As is almost always the case in the Second-Round, we have a large collection of teams that are supposed to be here and a few that have really crashed the party. England looks the least like a non-group winning favourite of any team in recent history. It’s hard to think of them as a real Cinderella team, but yet they are.
Is Brazil mortal?
The Canaries are favoured coming into the tournament and are by far the most popular choice to win it all in most brackets. So far they have looked just as good as expected in the Confederations Cup and friendlies. In these matches they have been all but flawless.
They haven’t been tested, but they could have seen their focus falter in the face of relatively easy opponents and it hasn’t. They were dialed in perfectly during the Confederations Cup as well.
Can they keep it up and cruise all the way to the Final Four and beyond as people expect? Or will they crash back to earth once the opponents get much tougher?
Which Netherlands shows up?
The Dutch we’ve seen at various times would be very tough for any team in this tournament to beat. They’re explosive on offense, strong on the ball and just plain good. They weren’t defending like they can, either, so they have the potential to be even better.
Then we have the Dutch side that would struggle to beat any team in this field. The team seems to have their swagger back, but can we trust them?
To amplify the problems for those filling out their brackets, Holland isn’t exactly easy to trust, either. They’ll play as well as a team can in one half, but then they’ll be a long way from inspiring in the next 45 minutes. The 45-minute version of this team will be tough to beat. The 90-minute version would be in real trouble.
Can Portugal turn up their game?
No team has been luckier than Portugal. They don’t deserve to be here, but Cristiano Ronaldo put the whole of his nation on his back and secured a spot in the finals for his side. They got almost as lucky to even be in the playoff match in the first-place.
They are viewed as a very overrated team by many heading into the tournament and whether they do anything to dispel those concerns in the tournament will come with wins. At this point it seems like a pretty easy choice to bet them through here; especially if Ronaldo is “ON.” However, if the rest of his teammates are as sloppy and lazy as they have been so far, they’ll need to step up their game a lot to be a serious second-stage contender.
Can Europe continue their strength?
UEFA has had a very good run of tournaments of late. Eliminating Brazil from the equation, six of the last ten World Cups have been won by a team from Europe (Brazil have won two of the remaining four) while European teams have won two of the last five Confederations Cups (Brazil has won the remaining three). Thirteen of the top 20 in the FIFA World Rankings are from the UEFA region and six of the top ten. They are undoubtedly the best region in the world and all of their teams whether World Cup bound or not have all looked good.
Germany and Spain have been quite dominant. Italy and Portugal have faced very tough tests and have passed them in impressive fashion in the end.
With the exception of Germany and Portugal (and maybe you can include Netherlands/Spain and England/Italy in this same conversation?) these teams don’t have to face each other in the group stages and even the fact that the six who do lends itself to credence that there could theoretically be four UEFA teams standing towards the end…and contrary to history; that’s not totally impossible to imagine, is it?
Now Let’s Look at Individual Second-Round Matches
Brazil over Netherlands: Brazil looked like the best team in the world when they demolished Spain 3-0 this past summer in the Confederations Cup and now we’re talking the World Cup here and the Dutch will be the first true test for the host country. One which will see them start slowly, but pull-away in the end.
The Netherlands have had a perfect qualification, but Spain and Chile; whom have recently shown how good they are when they trounced England at Wembley 2-0 and almost locked-out the Germans in a 0-1 loss, expose the weaknesses within and make it difficult for them to advance. Holland stays tight with Brazil on the narrowest of margins purely on discipline and organisation, but I need to see two things: a consistent back line and a front man who doesn’t go disappearing once per competition, before I truly believe in the beloved Dutch.
Italy over Colombia: Colombia is filled with talent, even without Radamel Falcao Garcia. I do, however, think that they are a bit overrated at fourth overall in the current FIFA world rankings. Breaking down that Italian back line will prove to be no easy task.
Switzerland over Nigeria: Surviving group play is one thing. Winning a one-and-done is another. I just flipped a coin…it’s not as if either team is going any further than this one anyways, eh?
Germany over Russia: Unless many things change between now and next month, this match could be a blowout. Russia can’t hang with Germany.
Spain over Croatia: This pick all depends on whether or not those inside the Spanish dressing room have yet begun fighting with one another. History suggests it will happen at some point.
England over Ivory Coast: I was very tempted to go with Ivory Coast here. I guess I am somewhat of a believer in the so-called jinx that is English football.
Argentina over France: France is, right now today, at 16 in the FIFA world rankings. They get to this stage of the tournament only because of being placed in a soft group.
Portugal over Belgium: My fellow Americans who are looking for some silver lining have to stop referring to Portugal as a “one-man team.” They have more overall talent than most think they do. That said, Portugal win again…moving on!
…and then there were 8!
Brazil vs. Italy
Brazil’s talent is unquestionable. While their attacking prowess needs no introduction, a Seleção possess solidity behind the ball that they have lacked at previous tournaments.
Italy is a solid unit with the majestic Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings as a deep-lying playmaker. The Italian may be aging, but he has never been known for his running. He stamps his authority on the game with his vision and it will be no different in Brazil.
While Italy should have enough to get to the quarter-final, their lack of a threat going forward will cost them against Brazil’s endless creative talent.
Switzerland vs. Germany
Switzerland is just as likely to crumble in the group stages as they are to win outright, but they can’t be ruled out despite their glorious unpredictability. An easy draw has helped their cause, but their tournament will come to a halt at the hands of Germany. The Swiss defence will struggle to contain the German’s attacking threat, which can come from numerous different angles.
Spain vs. England
England last won a World Cup in 1966, but the quarter-final is as far as they will go this time around. For all the talk of their attacking threat, which boasts Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, the English side recorded a record of 3 wins, 3 draws and one loss in their qualification group against the only two opponents with any substance; Poland and Ukraine.
Rooney and company have the ability to terrorise the Spanish back line, but they will need to get the ball first. Expect Spain’s tiki–taka style to frustrate the 1966 champions.
Argentina vs. Portugal
Many consider Portugal a one-man side, but they aren’t. Inconsistent? Yes. One-dimensional? No. Joao Moutinho was central to their efforts in qualifying, providing eight assists and they boast an experienced defence.
While Cristiano Ronaldo and his cronies will overcome a tough Belgian side in the round of 16, they will likely crash out at the hands of Argentina. The South American side were fairly rampant in qualifying and their attacking threat is arguably the best on offer in Brazil.
Portuguese defenders Pepe and Coentrao have struggled with Lionel Messi in La Liga with talented teammates around them. There’s little to suggest the Barcelona front man won’t frustrate them once more.
The Last Four Will Be?
Brazil vs. Germany
For all the talk of it being Brazil’s tournament to lose, Germany will be more than happy to play the underdog role in the semi-final.
When you look through both squads, there is one slight mismatch that stands out. When Mario Goetze, Toni Kross, Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil and Marco Reus come bursting through from midfield, will the likes of Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo be able to stop them?
Spain vs. Argentina
If anyone knows how to stop Messi it will be Xavi and crew. The Spanish squad will know the Argentine’s game inside out and if they can stifle his threat then Argentina will be tamed.
The South American side have an embarrassment of riches going forward; Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez, but it isn’t 1920. To borrow a phrase from Jonathan Wilson, the pyramid has been inverted and Argentina can only field a handful of their star talent.
At the back, they will struggle against Spain’s free-flowing football. La Furia Roja will have one of the strongest midfields in Brazil and with Diego Costa, Fernando Llorente, Alvaro Negredo and David Villa hitting form of late, they won’t be short of options up front either.
Germany vs. Spain
Spain has triumphed over the last six years with players from both Barcelona and Real Madrid making up a large portion of their squad. The players were familiar with each other and as a result, the club success of the El Clasico rivals lead to silverware with the national side.
A similar thing could happen this year, but to another country. Germany is comprised mainly of players from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, last year’s Champions League finalists. Joachim Loew’s charges will take confidence from their feats in Europe’s premier competition; in which both clubs clinched overwhelming victories over Spanish opposition and it’s difficult to pinpoint a weakness in their squad. They scored 36 goals in qualifying, 22 more than Spain, who played two games less.
The German’s have in-form defenders at their disposal and when at their best going forward, they are virtually unstoppable.
Germany’s attacking threat combined with the question marks over Spain’s defence, make the three-time champions favourites to clinch a fourth World Cup crown. From Numbers 1 all the way through to 11, Germany possesses world-class players in abundance. After a disappointing semi-final exit in Euro 2012, they will be gunning for football’s biggest prize in Brazil.
So, there, now you have everything you need to know in order to best fill-out your own World Cup bracket. So, have at it. Good-luck and may great football be played.
Check out the previous three parts of the article over here