World Cup 2014: We Can Calculate the Winners Now. Or Not.

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Brazil 1990 national football team, smaller than actual size. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Brazil 2014 World Cup draw was today. Finally we can begin six months of informed speculation and ponderous bar lectures about groups and goal difference and rounds-of-sixteen and other completely scientific topics. The evidence shows clearly that you are wrong: the Swiss back line will fold in confusion before well practiced Ecuadorian set-pieces. So the French will have to face Cote d’Ivoire, and that mess of fouls will mean Spain will have a roll over into the Semis against a harried Argentina, whose ankles will hardly hold them upright after Nigeria is done with them. A Spain v. Brazil final!

World football likes to promote the idea that a combination of skill and luck decides these things, though the dirty truth is that the choosing of pots — pools to draw teams against one another — in October meant that Brazil, Spain, Germany, and Argentina would always have a leg up, along with those whose mysterious mid-qualification FIFA/Coca World Ranking™ was irrationally inflated. Cases can be made for Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay and Switzerland.  But be honest. Even with luck half of these sides are out at the group stage. And big teams from “Pot 4″ who geometry as decreed will face these relative small fry (and not Brazil or Germany) in the knockout stage get an extra blessing.

So today’s draw pulls back the curtain on this all, and the silly season of ignorant prognostication of group stage results. Let me get mine in early, with sides I know something about, mostly African and North American.

 

Group A (Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon)

Cameroon have an opportunity. Slim, but their fate is in their own hands. Mexico are a mess, and while they could continue to organize themselves, Cameroon’s last gasp Eto’o has a chance to become a more humble shepherd of a multi-headed attack. Croatia have been cursed by the little people of Iceland, and all their teeth will have fallen out by June.  They will spend three matches sitting in the center circle, looking into hand mirrors and cackling.

Baring a collective nervous break down — a la Ronaldo 1998 — Brazil will win the World Cup. Popular anger at waste and mismanagement will buoy the squad rather than just make them afraid to park their Mercedes at the stadium. They can become a “people’s team” if they do it at all right, and that will make Brazil unstoppable. Or they’ll crash out at the Round of Sixteen and all have to be airlifted off an embassy rooftop from what will have become a post-apocalyptic nightmare nation.

Group B (Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia)

I have nothing to say. Unless Holland reverse forty years of form, this is a Spanish escalator to the second floor.

Group C (Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan)

Côte d’Ivoire, if they live up to their reputation/past hype, are handed a wonderful chance to go top. Colombia v Côte d’Ivoire will be madness, Colombia have a case for a new golden generation appearing. This is the last chance for Drogba and Yaya Toure and THEIR golden generation to justify their fame. On AFCON 2013 and qualification form, their own biggest hurdle is themselves. Remind them this matters!

Group D (Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy)

An English FA official made a “throat cutting” gesture as the group was announced. Likely not as bad as that, but coming out number 2 — which is where the smart money has them — will not be enough. Thought Luis Suarez could not be more hated in England? If he and England both play to form, he will not be allowed back into the country for the 2014-15 season. A Scottish friend has offered a large cash reward to the Costa Rican FA, but they won’t need the motivation. It could go wrong — as always — so many ways for the English. Best change the lyrics to “52 years” now.

Group E (Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras)

Don’t mock the Swiss: the French are happy not to meet them in their first match. But if France gets a decent start in their first match against Honduras, they have have received the best gift of any major team in this draw.

Group F (Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria)

Nigeria — my pick to surprise outsiders — are on course. Tell them to watch tapes of Iran’s back line and hope Messi eats bad shellfish. Then look for them in the Round of Sixteen. Nigeria has an embarrassment of strikers and an organized, counter-attacking defense. The ‘Big Boss’ Keshi has an entirely appropriate chip on his shoulder, and he is their real secret.

Group G (Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA)

This again? The US has faced, and at times surprised, all these teams in the knockout stages of recent World Cups. But Klinsmann has a transitioning side, and no one is quite sure who they are transitioning to. Ghana may disappoint or surprise, but don’t count them out before we begin. If Cristiano Ronaldo has an ego lifting accident this winter, we or Ghana have a chance. But Germany goes top, and into the Semis against Brazil. German’s attacking midfield are like a pack of rabid woodland animals in a SciFi channel original movie: you’ll never see them coming until you’re dead. But Brazil has a chainsaw.

Group H (Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea)

Belgium, Belgium, Belgium! You should have put your bets down before the draw. Sorry Algeria. Belgium were the joy of qualifying. This is their chance on the big stage. The cheap cultural stereotypes of waffles and such have been smacked out of everyone’s mouths as this multicultural rainbow machine of young players with spectacular hair was being deciphered by pundits. I don’t think the pundits have yet succeeded. Maybe someone in Moscow has solved them, but unlikely. They’ll have to meet Germany and Argentina after, but forget that and enjoy the ride.

 

So that’s it. If you that you still must watch the group stages, enjoy the World Cup. The Brazilians will be paying for it for the next two decades, so fill your pockets.

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