Sunday, June 8, 2014

A completely unnecessary, irrelevant and useless guide to the 2014 Football World Cup

It is FIFA World Cup time and whether you are a regular football fanatic or a once in 2 or a once in 4 year football enthusiast, it is time to get ready for the greatest show on earth.

Here is a very brief guide to the 32 teams playing the world cup and how the group phase is expected to pan out.
Group A:
Brazil:
Who are they: Basically Gods of Football. Hosts and major favourites. Land of Pele, Romario, Zico and Ronaldo (The Original Fat One) et al. Or more importantly Samba, Gisele Bundchen and Adriana Lima. Popular from Brasilia to Bhawanipur.
Star Players: Banking on a bloke named Neymar (which means Take & Hit - in Bangla) this time. Have superstar defenders in Thiago Silva and David Luiz.
Take: Can win it all, but can they handle the pressure of playing in front of their home crowd ?
World Ranking: 3

Croatia:
Who are they: Some East European country where the surnames of most people end with "ic". Disproportionately good at sports. Country of Goran Ivanisevic.
Star Players: Two of the best midfielders in the world: Luka Modric of Real Madrid, and Ivan Rakitic of Sevilla (on way to Barcelona apparently).
Take: One paper is calling them the most in-form team going into the world cup. Should go deep into the tournament.
World Ranking: 18

Mexico:
Who are they: Before Modi Wave came, we all knew of  The Mexican Wave. A country who's food has apparently inspired Taco Bell. Salma Hayek.
Star Players: No one really, other than Chicharito (cause he plays for Man Utd). However, if you are really hipsterish: try Oribe Peralta.
Take: Will give a tough fight to Croatia for the second spot in the group.
World Ranking: 20

Cameroon:
Who are they: Know nothing about them apart from the fact that they produce good footballers. And capital is Yaounde (helps in stupid GK quizzes). Roger Milla and the 1990 World Cup - remain their most famous moment.
Star Players: Samuel Eto'o.
Take: Will have to play out of their skins to qualify beyond the 1st round.
World Ranking: 56

Summary: Expect Brazil and Croatia to qualify, but Mexico and Cameroon have enough flair and quality to provide good competition, good matches and some fine goals.

Group B:
Spain:
Who are they:  Defending World Champions. Two time defending European Champions. Land of  Tiki-fucking-taka, Barca-Real Madrid, but more importantly Penelope Cruz.
Star Players: All of them. Xavi, Iniesta, Casillas, Ramos.............
Take: Whisper it softly, but they are probably the most successful team in history if not the best and they will not surprise anyone if they win it again.
World Ranking: 1

The Netherlands:
Who are they: The Colour Orange. Tulips, Total Football ((! ? ). Land of Cryuff, Gullit, Van Basten, Bergkamp et al. Three time losing finalists, never champions.
Star Players: The ageing trio of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder are still the key for this side.
Take: They got to the final last time, by sacrificing their style for solidity, but unlikely to be similar this time. Will struggle to get past the group phase.
(Key Point: Most importantly, they are not to be called Holland - Holland is a region in the Netherlands. Do you call India - just Bengal ?)
World Ranking: 15

Chile:
Who are they: Random South American country who's name sounds like a vegetable. Gave the world Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas in 1990s. Pablo Neruda.
Star Players: Arturo Vidal who is possibly the best box to box midfielder in the world and Alexis Sanchez.
Take: Could survive this really tough group at the expense of Netherlands, only to bump into Brazil next. Fascinating team to watch.
World Ranking: 14

Australia:
Who are they: Famous sporting nation, who are awesome at Cricket, Rugby, Swimming, Tennis (once upon a time)..... err. pretty much everything other than football.
Star Players: The only real stars are on their flags. Tim Cahill and Mark Schwarzer if you want to stretch it.
Take: Will do well to not lose all their three group matches.
World Ranking: 62

Summary: Group B is one of the three Groups of Death. For me, Spain and Chile are most likely to qualify, but then who can rule out the Dutch. As bonus reading - this was the preview of the 2010 World Cup Final by me: Spain vs The Netherlands

Group C:
Colombia:
Who are they: Drug Mafias. The Escobars. Gave the footballing world Rene Higuata  and Carlos Valderama. Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Star Players: Their best player and striker extraordinaire Radamel Falcao is unfit and not playing the world cup which is a massive shame. Hipsters can get behind Guillermo Cuadrado and Jackson Martinez.
Take:With home continent advantage should help them progress. and good form as shown by their FIFA ranking, they are the most likely team to qualify from this group.
World Ranking: 8

Greece:
Who are they: Mythology. History. Once the peak of human civilization, now an economic joke. Once fluked their way to winning the Euro 2004.
Star Players: No obvious superstars but Giorgios Karagounis is still key. Kostas Mitroglou for his beard and goals. Mainly his beard.
Take: Solid defensively, but could really cause problems if they start scoring some goals.
World Ranking: 12

Ivory Coast:
Who are they: Didier Drogba. Yaya Toure. Some other fine players.
Star Players Didier Drogba. Yaya Toure. Some other fine players.
Take: Star studded team, that has often failed to click on the big stage. Could be the last chance for some of their stars to leave a mark.
World Ranking: 23

Japan:
Who are they: Land of the Rising Sun. Sushi. Anime. Manga. Toyota, Honda and Nissan. SONY.
Star Players: Shinji Kagawa, who is still very good despite being a Manchester Utd player. Keisuke Honda.
Take: Dangerous outsiders, who should be competitive in every game.
World Ranking: 46
Summary: A group that doesn't contain a team who is expected to make the semis, but expect good competition and tough matches here. Tipping Colombia and Ivory Coast to qualify.

Group D:
Uruguay:
Who are they: Famous for having won the world cup twice, before any of us where born. Folks out there eat beef like anything (Internet Hindus please note).
Star Players: They have two of the best forwards in the world Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Diego Godin is an absolutely brilliant defender.
Take: Excellent team with lots of star players, should expect to qualify from this group at the expense of England.
World Ranking: 7

Costa Rica:
Who are they: Exactly, who are they ? Movie buffs will remember the Jurassic Park islands - Isla Nubar and Isla Sorna being close to this place.
Star Players: Bryan Ruiz is a handsome bloke and a decent footballer.
Take: Basically making up the numbers in this group, but even if they win a single point - will cause trouble for others.
World Ranking: 28

England:
Who are they: #GodSaveTheQueen. Once greatestest nation. Incidental home to the English Premier League. Now famous for importing cricketers from South Africa. And losing football matches on penalties.
Star Players Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard are the obvious big names but watch out for Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling.
Take: Surprisingly low expectations this time and that will quite possibly be helpful as they navigate this group of death.
World Ranking: 10

Italy:
Who are they: Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo. Half of history and literature that people read. Pasta and Pizza. Catenaccio (DEFENSIVE FOOTBALL) - basically the anti Gods of football, or the Gods of anti football - who have somehow managed to win the World Cup four times already.
Star Players: Andrea Pirlo. Mario Balotelli could be key upfront, while the defense is, as always filled with quality players like Chiellini and Bonucci.
Take: Have been in good form of late, and despite some issues with their striker choices - should qualify.
World Ranking: 9

Summary: The second group of death and with England in it, probably will be the most followed group too. Expect Uruguay and Italy to make out if, but should England decide to throw caution to the wind - it could get exciting.

Group E:
Switzerland:
Who are they: Famous for Swiss watches, Swiss Cheese, Swiss Banks (aka questionable banking practices), mountains, Yash Raj movies...... all round awesomeness really. But most importantly Roger Federer.
Star Players: No obvious superstars but Xedran Shaqiri, Josep Drnic etc are some exciting young talents.
Take: Are lucky to have got into a relatively easy group and should qualify into the final 16. Their incredible world ranking of six shows that they are in top form of late.
World Ranking: 6

Ecauador:
Who are they: Random South American country through which the Equator passes.
Star Players: Antonio Valencia of Man Utd is world famous already..
Take: Massive interest in the game vs Honduras, but unlikely to go into the next round.
World Ranking: 26

France:
Who are they: Land of Napolean and Eiffel Tower. Wine, champagne and other alcoholic beverages. Clay court tennis and Cycling. Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini.
Star Players Paul Pogba is one of the best young midfielders in the world. Benzema, Cabaye and goal-keeper Lloris are also pretty good. Will miss Frank Ribery.
Take: Lucky to have got such an easy group and therefore unless they do a 2002 level cock-up, should qualify easily, but not expected to go too far into the tournament.
World Ranking: 17

Honduras:
Who are they: Yeah - who are they ?
Star Players: Err. Maybe Wilson Palacios.
Take: Massive interest in the game vs Ecuador, but unlikely to go into the next round.
World Ranking: 22

Summary: France to go through with the Swiss unless some massive upsets happen.

Group F:
Argentina:
Who are they: The other footballing Gods. Maradona, Messi. Also the land of Che Guevara and Tango.
Star Players: Lionel Messi - the best player in the world over the past five - six years. Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria are also key.
Take: Are lucky to have got into a relatively easy group and should qualify into the final 16. But this really is about whether Messi can win the World Cup for Argentina. Can he ?
World Ranking: 5

Bosnia-Herzegobina:
Who are they: Part of the former Yugoslavia. Wars and stuff.
Star Players: Edin Dzeko is a top striker and in Miralem Pjanic - they have a superb midfielder.
Take: Attacking team who will fancy their chances of making the next round.
World Ranking: 21

Iran:
Who are they: Once upon a time - Persia. Pharsi language. They are like the Greeks of Asia. Now part of the so-called Axis of Evil.
Star Players:  Ashqan Dejagah of Fulham will be known to Premier League fans.
Take: One of Asia's best teams, have an outside chance to qualify.
World Ranking: 43

Nigeria:
Who are they: Nicknamed The Super Eagles, land of Jay Jay Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu. Now in the news of Boko Haram.
Star Players: No massive superstars currently, but plenty who play at the highest levels. Jon Obi Mikel in midfield, Victor Moses and Peter Odemwingie up front are familiar names.
Take: Difficult to predict, but can qualify in an open group.
World Ranking: 44

Summary: Argentina are the certainty to qualify. Any of the other three could possibly take the second place. Tipping Bosnia to make it through.

Group G:
Germany:
Who are they: Efficiency. Superpowers economically and footbalistically. The greatest beer and  cars in the world. Three time winners in the past.
Star Players: Lots of players, but perhaps missing their best young talent in Marco Reus to injury. Manuel Neuer is perhaps the best goal keeper in the world. Philip Lahm never plays badly. Plenty of midfiled and attacking talent such as Ozil, Goetze, Schweinsteiger and Muller etc..
Take: Will qualify for the next round, but time is ticking away for this amazingly talented generation as Spain have been hoarding all the trophies of late. Will look to go deep and then finally win the whole thing.
World Ranking: 2

Portugal:
Who are they: Ex-rulers of Goa and Brazil. Land of Columbus, Eusebio and Luis Figo.
Star Players: CRISTIANO RONALDO. The best player in the world over the last two years. Watch out for William Carvalho.
Take: Not quite a one man team, but definitely rely on Ronaldo massively. Should qualify, but not certain.
World Ranking: 4

Ghana:
Who are they: Famous for having got Suarezed in 2010. Apparently Bourneville chocolates are made from Ghanian cocoa.
Star Players:  Plenty of ageing stars such as Michael Essein and Asamoah Gyan, but Kevin Prince Boateng might just be their most important player.
Take: Great expectations from home, but difficult to see them go through. Match vs Portugal is massive.
World Ranking: 37

USA:
Who are they: Uncle Sam. They don't call football as football. Once won a match 1-1.
Star Players: Clint Dempsey ?
Take: Unlucky to be drawn in a group with Germany and Portugal and hence difficult to go through.
World Ranking: 13

Summary: Tough group but expect the two European teams to go through. Ghana and USA to give real tough competition though.

Group H:
Belgium:
Who are they: Land of Herge and Tintin. Hercule Poirot was a Belgian too. As were Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. And Belgian Breakfasts.
Star Players: Lots of super talented players lighting up the top European leagues but Eden Hazard - goal scoring midfielder/ forward and Vincent Kompany - erudite defender and leader are the best of this lot. Thibbat Courtois is a damn good goal keeper.
Take: The Belgium football team is easily the most interesting and exciting story to emerge in international football over the past years. They are the the hipsters' team to watch this year. Should qualify and try to reach the semi -finals.
(Bonus reading on Belgium team in Grantland. And here is a feature in The Guardian)
World Ranking: 11

Algeria:
Who are they: Former French colony. Major African power with oil money.
Star Players: Watch out for Sofiane Feghouli and Islam Slimani.
Take: Rankings notwithstanding, they are probably the weakest team in what appears to be an open group.
World Ranking: 22

Russia:
Who are they: Vodka. Stalin. Lenin. Once Communists. #InSovietRussia Jokes. Now Putinists. Tolstoy. Chekov. Maria Sharapova.
Star Players:  Igor Akinfeev is a very fine goalkeeper. Alan Dzagoev in midfield could be key.
Take: Will fancy their chances to qualify for the next round under Capello.
World Ranking: 19

Korean Repblic:
Who are they: Makers of household brands: Samsung. LG. Hyundai etc. But most importantly GANGNAM STYLE.
Star Players: Despite his Arsenal misadventure Park Chu Young is a top striker for his national team.
Take: Historically the best Asian team, they are in with a chance to qualify.
World Ranking: 57

Summary: Very open group, but expect Belgium to certainly qualify. Tipping Korea to pip Russia for the second spot. Algeria are dangerous outsiders.

From the experts: Now that my amateurish preview is out of the way, let me link up some of the best / most interesting articles, features, analysis that I have come across. I may keep updating this section as I go along.

Firstly, this New York Times article tells us which teams got lucky and which teams got really unlucky with the draw. As expected, Australia (facing Spain, Netherlands and Chile are the most unlucky team from the draw).

Next up this scholarly research by Goldman Sachs is quite interesting and detailed. Well worth your time if you can afford it.

Fandom is one of my most favourite topics, and here Simon Kuper, one of the co-authors of Soccernomics writes about this topic. Apart from the collective sharing of winning and losing, he says: Being a fan also connects you to your own past and I have felt exactly the same often about these events such as the World Cup and the Euros.

But no preview of the World Cup would be complete without a look back at the history.  Read this epic essay by Supriya Nair, which covers so many different facets of the world cup experience. Here's a list on the Top 20 goals in World Cup History in The Washington Post. The Guardian has come up with another list - Top 25 Stunning Moments from the Football World Cups.

And if you find all this very serious, read Andy Zaltzman's Neutral's guide to picking a team., while this by Futfanatico gives a linguistic guide to the World Cup, which is hilarious.

So which are the best places to follow the World Cup online ? I recommend Four Four Two and The Guardian.

I hope to be back with more as the tournament progresses. Here's to a few more magical moments as this one.

1 comment:

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