Group E: The Khao group...reference to bland mushy rice they feed to babies and old people from Hangover 2. Might be the least competitive group. Talk about being fortunate, a few weeks ago after their visit to Kiev it looked all but certain that Les Bleus would only be going to Brazil as tourists next year. After 90 crazy minutes in Paris and brace from the most unlikely of players - Sakho - France were headed to Brazil. This is where France's good fortune continued - suppose to be slotted into one of the groups with a South American head of series (50/50 chance of getting either Brazil or Argentina) missed out on this and drew the softest head of group - Switzerland. The other sides drawn were also not the biggest fish...granted had it been Iran and Algeria it might have been even softer of a group. But a mushy group none the less.
- Ecuador. The South American side is fancied by some to making a run into the 1/4 finals. Could happen, a very weak group, one where anything can happen. If Ecuador were allowed to play these games at home then I would absolutely say they would go through, but alas they will not be playing at elevation. I think they are getting a lot of "credit" because they are playing on their home continent. Reality is they have one real world class player, and that might be a stretch as well, Antonio Valencia. Granted they have a decent chance to get out of the group, just because it is the khao group.
- France. Of course you know that the Frog will spend the next 7 months waffling back and forth on how this side will do next summer. Honestly I could see them finishing last with one point or first with the full complement of 9 points and then making a run to the semi finals...bottom line is France need to thank their lucky stars for getting this draw. Reality is their second team should fare well in this group. Seriously. Off the top of my head here would be your second side - Carrasso - Tremoulinas, Mangala, Mbiwa, Jallet - Scheiderlin, Kondogbia, Gourcuff - Ben Arfa, Lacazette, Menez - I think this collection would be more than competitive in this group. Much will depend on the mind set for this team. If they play like they did against Ukraine in Paris, look out. If they play like they they did in Kiev, then enjoy the brief visit to Brazil.
- Honduras. Finishing 3rd in CONCACAF gets them directly through to the World Cup. Honestly they should be a safe 3 points for all the other sides in the group - seriously one of their best players, Bengtson, plays for the New England Revolution. They have the "luck" of playing Les Bleus in the first game, France who are not always the best starters in tournaments. If they pull off the hold up and get a draw they might fancy their outside chance at sneaking into the next round....but I doubt it.
- Switzerland. The worst top of group nation, that wasn't the home nation (South Africa as the #1 seed was worse...and yes I know they beat the French in that WC, Japan was also a week #1 but both were host nations). There I said it! All this noise around Switzerland feels like buzz that is being created to justify their seeding as well as ensure there is interest in watching these matches.Granted the Swiss have some talent - Xhaka and Shaqiri come to mind (both exiles from Eastern Europe). But they qualified in the easiest group of Europe - Iceland, Slovenia, Norway, Albania and Cyprus - seriously? Wonder if Platini did Sepp a solid by giving him native land this qualifying group and now Sepp returned the favor slotting France in this World Cup group! Last World Cup the Swiss did beat eventual champions Spain in the first game, but then fell to Chile and could not defeat Honduras and left third in the group. Again in the khao group any of the 4 nations can go through.
- Predicted finish - France, Ecuador, Switzerland, Honduras. Again, the Frog will, guarantee, rearrange this order at least a half dozen times between now and next summer. As I stated in the beginning of this post, France could get only a draw against Honduras and lose the other two games or storm through this group beating every team. Who knows. But if Les Bleus do not go through to the knock out stage...they can all stay in South America. None of the other nations have the midfield to match up against a potential - Pogba, Matuidi, Cabaye set up....Allez les bleus, you got lucky, now take advantage of that good fortune.
- Argentina. Messi, Aguero, Higuain, Lavezzi, Di Maria...how is that is for some offensive talent? Not sure how any of the nations in this group will slow down this wagon. In addition, I feel as if Argentina and Messi are finally in sync. Messi is scoring goals and led his nation to a fairly comfortable qualification. Of course they might be the nation with the second most pressure heading into this tournament, after the hosts. Playing back on their home continent and the reality that the Albiceles have not had a good World Cup (for their standards) since the 1990 version in Italy where they reached the finals, since then it has been 1/4 finals at best. The pressure will build as we get closer to the summer, who knows if Argentina will live up to the
Celebrating deep into the tournament?
- Bosnia-Herzegovina. The former Yugoslavian nation has some talent - Dzeko, Spahic, Pjanic to name a few. No team should sleep on this nation. I do question how they will play away from the European continent. Tough draw for Bosnia from the stand point that they have to open against the favorite - Argentina. And they don't play the minnows - Iran until the last game. Bosnia must ensure at least a point from their first two games and look to win big against Iran if they hope to get through.
- Iran. The middle eastern nation has a legitimate chance at being the last place team in the entire tournament, unless of course Les Bleus do what they did 4 years ago and take that spot! With a team made up primarily of domestic players, they do not necessarily have enough experience players that play in bigger leagues. Look for a three game visit for Iran.
- Nigeria. The Super Eagles are always a dangerous team in these tournaments. They will be a dangerous opponent in this edition as well. Nigeria has the fortune that they will be facing Argentina on the last day, both nations may already be qualified. This team is one that is in transition with many players still playing domestically. One key for Nigeria will be the form of their keeper - Enyeama who has been the best keeper in Ligue 1 for Lille this season. The Super Eagles should be one of the danger teams in this tournament.
- Predicting finish: Agentina, Nigeria, Bosnia, Iran. I cannot imagine how the Messi boys cannot find their way to the head of this group. The Super Eagles should take advantage of the schedule to find enough to get into the knock out stages.
- Germany. The class of this group, one of the favorites for the World Cup title. With the creativity of Ozil, coupled with the likes of Muller, Gotze, Kroos, Daxler and Gomez and you have a scary creative machine. Question is do they still lean on the dinosaur Klose for goals? And is Lahm still going to be called on to hold down the flanks? Also a concern is whether or not Khedira is back in full fitness from a knee injury in time.
Thumbs up on being ready for WC?
- Portugal. So Portugal fail to qualify directly and have to beat Sweden to get to Brazil, and all of a sudden they are in the top 10 for the FIFA rankings and pointed to as a favorite. Really? Yes they have talent, yes Ronaldo plays for them and yes this is still Portugal a nation that could easily go to the finals or crash out in the first round. In qualifying they drew against Isreal twice and Northern Ireland once...really? Yes they took out Zlatan and Sweden, but why are we to believe that the typical over-hyped Portugal isn't the team that is going to show up in Brazil? Portugal also has to open up against Germany, if the German machine steamrolls the Portugese, I could see Ronaldo and his mates just melting away and going home with their tails between their legs. Of course they could also man up and go on deep run...anything is possible with this bunch.
- United States. Poor Klinsmann, will have to face the nation he managed to the semi finals of the 2006 World Cup. He also inherits the group of death for the world cup. But hey, the US went toe to toe with Germany in their last match up and won 4-3 so clearly they have the upper hand. Ha. Okay so the US looks like they should be 3 and done, but not so fast. I do not expect but would not be surprised to see the US get out of this group. They open up against Ghana, and yes the Black Stars have knocked out the US the past two World Cups. But the US gets to open against the Black Stars, so we will see if this version of Ghana is similar to the ones that took out the US or if they are a team in transition. The US then goes up against Portugal, a team they have some World Cup success against. In 2002 when the US pulled off a huge upset it was against a much more balanced and overall talented Portugal team, one that was expected to be a real threat in the South Korea/Japan World Cup. Finally I would no discount the fact that Klinsmann does have vast experience and knowledge of the Mannschaft. Could he game plan that last game to getting some type of result for the US? Maybe.
- Ghana. The Black Stars are becoming a regular at these World Cups, which is wonderful. Reality was it not for that cannibal Suarez and his blatant hand ball at the end of the Uruguay - Ghana game, then the Black Stars could have been the first African nation to have reached a World Cup semi final. I was looking over their roster and surprised at the ages of some players, players like the Ayew brothers, Gyan, Boateng, Muntari are all under 30. They are in their prime and have some creative and scoring talent. Question is how well does Essien play for the Black Stars? And how does this defensive core of the team hold up. There are a lot of question marks on that side of the pitch for me.
- Predicted finish: Germany, United States, Ghana, Portugal. Yup, you read it here first...or at least that is what I am going to say! The United States pulls off the upset of the first round and gets out of the group of death! The one thing for me about the group of deaths in prior World Cups is that one of the teams that goes through is usually one of the nations no one expects to get out of the group. As I stated above, I think the US has a decent chance, I think that Portugal is way over-hyped and I honestly think the US could get a result against all three nations (when I say result I do not mean a victory...no reason to think they cannot draw against a German team that might be resting all their starters in the last game)
- Belgium. Not since the teams of Scifo in the 1980s has there been so much hope for a squad from Belgium. That hope is well grounded with the likes of Hazard, Lukaku, Fellaini, Kompany, Vermaelen, Benteke to name a few. This side has the talent and
Ready to show the world their true colors.
- Russia. The next host of the World Cup will want to ensure a good showing this edition. This side is one of the old school national teams, with almost all their players plying their trade in the domestic league. This can sometimes be a massive advantage for a nation. It will be interesting to see how Shirokov and his teammate navigate a relatively simple group.
- Algeria. Algeria fancied their chances in the last World Cup of somehow squeezing by and getting to the knock out stages. They did not show poorly, losing a tough game to Slovenia, drawing with England and losing a dramatic match against the US. The former French colony is built on a number of French born players - Feghouli, Taider, Boudebouz, Yebda, etc. They have been building on their last World Cup showing and won their qualification group with relative ease. They should fancy their chances this time around again, but they get to face off against South Korea in the second game. That match up may determine if either one has an outside shot at taking second place in the group.
- South Korea. The South Koreans have long enjoyed status as the premier Asian footballing nation. This has not changed even with the arrival of Australia into AFC. The South Koreans are never an easy opponent to play. Look for them to rely on some of their European exports to lead this side. A second place finish would not be out of the realm of possibility.
- Predicted finish: Belgium, South Korea, Russia, Algeria. Belgium is the class of this group, as long as they don't soil their shorts on this stage they should find their way of out the group in the #1 spot. I think that South Korea's experience in these tournaments, and the fact they do not have to face the Red Devils until the 3rd game means they do what it takes to get through.
Phew...so there is the draw! Of course as I keep stating, the Frog will most likely change his thinking on this at least a half dozen times between now and the start of the World Cup.
Let the debate continue!