Well now we know the groups for next summer's World Cup. As with every major tournament, some very interesting story lines, some scary groups and some ahem...weaker groups. So here are the frog's initial thoughts on the groups, these predictions will change only a dozen times between here and next summer.
One thing future posts will have to dive in deeper into the location of the games, the schedule etc...but for now this is a first take of the groups and draw.
Group A: The porridge group. Mildly competitive group, highlighted by the host nation. Some solid nations that can surprise. Games you will watch because you have to simply because of Brazil and it is good for you.
- Brazil - Host nation with 5 stars on their kit, looking to win the 6th on their home soil. The only other time they hosted a World Cup had a monumental final in 1950 against Uruguay where they lost a dramatic game - in front of close to 200,000 fans. The pressure will never be greater on this side. Will they win it all, not sure, but I cannot see them not getting out of the groups. I do think they should not overlook Croatia - dangerous side and naturalized Brazilian Eduardo heading back to his native land.
- Cameroon - Tough draw for The Indomitable Lions. Cliche, but their fortune maybe decided in their first game against El Tri. If they beat Mexico I can see Cameroon sneaking into the knock out round. Can Eto'o be this Cameroon's Milla?
- Croatia - This side has some talent and experience, look at how many international caps some on their roster have, yes that might be an indication of an old team. But I do not think they will be intimidated playing against Brazil. Everything might come down to the second game when they face Cameroon. Winner of that game might be second place side.
- Mexico - El Tri had an incredibly disappointing qualification, having to go to a play off round, where they showed some true footballing prowess. Or right, they were facing off against New Zealand. That match up was a bit one sided. It would the exact opposite if the New Zealand rugby team faced off against the Mexican rugby team. I actually think New Zealand should have looked at using some of their rugby players in those games. Anyways, Mexico is trick or treat, they could beat Brazil in this group or not win a single point. I think that there has been too much turmoil with this side to get their act together in time.
- Predicted finish: Brazil, Croatia, Cameroon, Mexico. No major surprises, other than Mexico tanking. They have they talent but I just think they are still a complete mess heading into the tournament. Croatia are one of those sneaky teams that quietly find results in these tournaments.
- Australia - Cannon fodder for this group. Unfortunately this is not the team from down under like 2006, a team that could be argued should have taken down the Italians. Unfortunately this version is a shell of those sides. Just look at that 6-0 drubbing they took against France! No chance on this group...at least their fans will enjoy the samba.
- Chile - Dark horse team in the tournament. Too bad they get drawn into this group. With recent victories against England, a draw against defending WC champion Spain and having finished the qualifying run on a hot string. But they are drawn into a very challenging group. It will be crucial for this side to start the tournament with 3 points against Australia and then hope to get a result against either the Dutch or the Spanish.
- Netherlands - Jup Oranje! Ah clockwork orange gets to kick off this tournament like they finished the last one...against Spain. Wow. Talk about some good drama.
How does my boot taste?
- Spain - No cake walk for the defending World Cup and two time defending European Cup champions, they cannot win a fourth major title in a row? Can they? If they do it will not be easy having to emerge from this group. It is not inconceivable that they finish third in this group! Lose to Holland, draw against Chile and beat Australia - Holland wins 2 and draws with Chile and Chile beat Australia...could happen. Some players on Spain are getting old (Xavi, Alonso, Villa and Puyol), but they still ooze with talent - Silva, Cesc, Pique etc. It will be also interesting if Costa goes and how he will be received back "home." I do think that central defense - who pairs with Pique? and the keeper issue might come back to haunt La Roja...I do think they will have a let down which will happen against Holland.
- Predicted finish: Holland, Spain, Chile, Australia. I want to pick Spain third...but I know that will not happen. Chile goes in as a dark horse, but I do not think the whole "playing in south america" has the same impact it once had. So no major advantage for Chile. Holland and Spain just have too much talent. But I do think Holland get past Spain for first in the group.
- Colombia - How far can Monaco striker Falcao carry his side? Not sure. As good as Falcao can be, can he carry his side? Maybe. Then again this group is like white rice on toast...bland. I think that Colombia just have a little bit too much talent and playing on their home continent will get them into the top two.
- Greece - Why is it that I feel as if the Greeks are still living off the glow from their unexpected Euro victory in 2004? They qualified via the play off against Romania. Nothing too exciting there. I think that the Greece is happy to being there but just don't have enough talent to get to the knock out stages, even in this vanilla group.
- Ivory Coast - This might finally be the tournament for the Elephants to make some noise. The Ivory Coast have tended to getting drawn into groups of death but this time they get the vanilla group. With Yaya Toure playing like a man possessed and a Drogba that still has something in the tank, look for the Ivory Coast to spring board from this group into the knock out stages.
- Japan - Tough draw for Japan. A nation that has become a fairly regular attendee at World Cups will once again show up for a round of three games. Unless these games are somehow transported back to Japan (Japan did qualify for the knock out when the WC was played on home soil) just don't see Japan getting more than a point in this group.
- Predicted finish: Ivory Coast, Colombia, Greece, Japan. Look for Toure to be the man of this group, I expect him to carry Ivory Coast. And having Drogba there as well remains dangerous for the other sides. For once Ivory Coast could be seen as the best side in their group. Colombia rides playing in their back yard and Falcao. Greece just do not have the star power to move on.
- Costa Rica - Tough tough draw for Los Ticos. Cannot imagine how they sneak out of this group. But they should not be looked at as an easy 3 points, even if somehow they end up playing a freak snow storm...but I just do not see Los Ticos getting past the other nations.
- England - Ah the three lions, still harping on 1966...if recent form is any indication look for the three pussy cats to flame out once again. As always the English head into a major tournament with the moniker of "favorite" not sure why. This team is getting old in key roles - Lampard, Gerrard, Cole to name a few. Rooney will not miss the first two games this World Cup, but is still likely to stomp on someone's private parts at some point...probably against Costa Rica. Much will be expected from England, but what else is new.
- Italy - speaking of old...Buffon and Pirlo will be leaned on to lead this side. Is this one tournament too far? And does Balotelli keep his sh#t together? As always the Azzurri have the ability to go to the finals...or crash out in the first round like they did four years ago. If Balotelli comes to play and keeps focused I think they will avoid the latter.
- Uruguay - The last time the World Cup was held in Brazil, La Celeste won their second world title. Not sure I am ready to say that lightening will strike twice. But lead by the cannibal Suarez as well as PSG striker Cavani, Uruguay have the talent to make some noise. They finished fourth in the last World Cup and did okay in last year's Confederation Cup losing on a late goal against Brazil. Uruguay always punch above their weight and I know they will not be intimidated by the two European powers in their group. They do start off against Costa Rica, which should be 3 points for Uruguay. After that all is to play for...
- Predicted finish: Italy, Uruguay, England, Costa Rica. The schedule is going to dictate this finish with England having to open up against Italy and then face Uruguay. The three lions could head into the Costa Rica game sitting on zero points! Not out of the realm of possibility. I think that Italy demonstrated during the last Euros that they are back to their quiet success in tourneys. Uruguay is back on their home continent and in good form, even having to go via play off.