Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Steven Beacom's World Cup predictions

Brazil 2014 ideal time for big names to light up greatest show on earth

Colour and passion: Fans of the 32 countries competing in Brazil will make the 2014 World Cup an occasion to be remembered

With the 2014 World Cup starting tomorrow, we assess all eight groups and all the sides involved naming their players to watch, their strengths and their weaknesses... and our man Steven Beacom offers his predictions for every single team.

Lionel Messi has scored just one goal in 571 minutes of football for Argentina at World Cup finals.

Given that the Barcelona hero nets virtually a goal per game at club level, it is a staggering statistic.

In the last eight years, Argentina may not have had the players possessed by Barcelona, but the little maestro hasn't exactly been playing alongside a bunch of Average Joes at international level either.

Could this be the World Cup when everything clicks for both player and nation?

It's one of many intriguing questions hanging in the air which will be answered over the next five weeks.

Will Cristiano Ronaldo still be regarded as the best player on the planet post tournament?

Can Luis Suarez inspire Uruguay to a second surprise success in Brazil 64 years on from the first one?

How will Brazil cope with home advantage?

Is Neymar really any good?

Will Louis van Gaal lose focus with the Dutch knowing the Manchester United manager's job is waiting for him come what may?

Can Germany bridge a gap of 24 years of World Cup hurt?

Will Spain win their fourth major tournament in a row?

How will England do?

And will all of Yaya Toure's birthdays come at once with Ivory Coast emerging as genuine contenders?

We are about to find out.

Just one more sleep and then it will kick off with Brazil against a Croatian side determined to spoil the fun and frolics of a host country ready to samba all the way to the final.

I've covered monumental events like the Olympics, the Ryder Cup and European Championships plus huge occasions in other big time sports, but the World Cup is on a different scale with the passion, interest and conversation it generates.

Even people with no interest in football get involved.

There is a growing sense that this tournament could prove to be one of the best ever.

Maybe that's just everyone feeling romantic because it is in Brazil, which always makes you conjure up magical World Cup memories.

For the sake of the tournament the hosts need to perform well and not fall by the wayside early on, swept away by a tidal wave of expectation.

Don't know about you but before every World Cup I check out the groups and work out who will go through to the second round and so on.

If my predictions are right we are in for some sensational clashes in the knockout stages.... like Germany taking on Belgium in the last 16 and Fabio Capello's Russia up against Ronaldo's Portugal.

If all goes to plan the quarter-finals will be even more spectacular.

Brazil and Neymar meeting Uruguay and Suarez.

The French going head to head with the Germans.

World Champions Spain versus England and best of all Argentina and Messi against Portugal and Ronaldo in a shoot-out to savour.

If all that wasn't enough Brazil v Germany and Argentina v Spain in the semi-finals would be mouthwatering before the South American giants lock horns in the July decider in Rio all ready for the party to end them all on Copacabana beach or Messi's crowning glory.

I fancy the latter.

Messi's never been idolised in his homeland the way Diego Maradona is.

How that would change if he guided Argentina to victory over Brazil in an epic final.

Sure there will be some dross in the group games, some ridiculous refereeing decisions and big name players failing to live up to the hype, but the more I think about it the more I'm convinced this World Cup will be a joy.

Get ready for the greatest show on earth.

Group A

Brazil

Manager: Luiz Felipe Scolari

Captain: Thiago Silva

Star Player: Neymar

Strengths: Home advantage, the captain's power and the manager

Weaknesses: Pressure and expectation may prove too much in the end

Previous Best: Winners 1958, '62, '70, '94 and 2002

Beacom Prediction: They'll make the final.

Croatia

Manager: Niko Kovac

Captain: Darijo Srna

Star Player: Mario Mandzukic

Strengths: Mandzukic's goals and Luka Modric's creativity

Weaknesses: Lack consistency. Good one game, average the next

Previous Best: Third place 1998

Beacom Prediction: Last 16 at best.

Mexico

Manager: Miguel Herrera

Captain: Rafael Márquez

Star Player: Javier Hernandez

Strengths: Dangerous going forward if they are in the mood

Weaknesses: Lack togetherness and fighting spirit

Previous Best: Quarter-finalists 1970 and 1986

Beacom Prediction: Third in the group

Cameroon

Manager: Volker Finke

Captain: Samuel Eto'o

Star Player: Samuel Eto'o

Strengths: Eto'o. Pity Roger Milla wasn't alongside him

Weaknesses: Eto'o. There is a them and him attitude in the squad

Previous Best: Quarter-finals 1990

Beacom Prediction: Fourth in the group

Group B

Spain

Manager: Vicente del Bosque

Captain: Iker Casillas

Star Player: Andres Iniesta

Strengths: Been there, done it and know how to win big tournaments

Weaknesses: Brazil may be a bridge too far for Xavi and co

Previous Best: Winners 2010

Beacom Prediction: Semi-final, where they will lose out to Argentina

Holland

Manager: Louis van Gaal

Captain: Robin van Persie

Star Player: Arjen Robben

Strengths: When they click, they are devastating in attack

Weaknesses: Always one minor incident away from a major fall out

Previous Best: Runners-up 1974, ‘78 and 2010

Beacom Prediction: Out in group stages.

Chile

Manager: Jorge Sampaoli

Captain: Claudio Bravo

Star Player: Alexis Sanchez

Strengths: Best XI are brilliant to watch with their fluent passing

Weaknesses: Squad is not strong enough

Previous Best: Third 1962

Beacom Prediction: They'll stun Holland and qualify before Brazil knock them out

Australia

Manager: Ange Postecoglou

Captain: Mile Jedinak

Star Player: Tim Cahill

Strengths: Spirit, never say die attitude and young goalkeeper Matthew Ryan

Weaknesses: Players are willing but not wonderful. Plus, have you seen their group?

Previous Best: Last 16 2006

Beacom Prediction: Fourth place in group

Group C

Colombia

Manager: Jose Pekerman

Captain: Mario Yepes

Star Player: Teofilo Gutierrez

Strengths: Conditions in Brazil will suit them

Weaknesses: Not having injured star striker Radamel Falcao is a huge blow

Previous Best: Last 16 1990

Beacom Prediction: Lucky to be in a poor group. Out in last 16

Greece

Manager: Fernando Santos

Captain: Giorgos Karagounis

Star Player: Georgios Samaras

Strengths: Hard to break down. They don't concede many goals

Weaknesses: Can be dull as dishwater, lacking creativity

Previous Best: Group stages 1994 and 2010

Beacom Prediction: Going home early

Ivory Coast

Manager: Sabri Lamouchi

Captain: Didier Drogba

Star Player: Yaya Toure

Strengths: If Toure fancies it, he is unstoppable

Weaknesses: The manager and highly influential striker Drogba don't always see eye to eye

Previous Best: Group stage 2006 and 2010

Beacom Prediction: Last 16

Japan

Manager: Alberto Zaccheroni

Captain: Makoto Hasebe

Star Player: Keisuke Honda

Strengths: Manager is a wily campaigner, plenty of guile in midfield

Weaknesses: Vulnerable at set pieces and can be dodgy in defence

Previous Best: Last 16 2002 and 2010

Beacom Prediction: Colombia will just beat them to runners-up spot

Group D

Uruguay

Manager: Oscar Tabarez

Captain: Diego Lugano

Star Player: Luis Suarez

Strengths: The brilliance of Suarez plus fiercely determined to win in Brazil like 1950 compatriots

Weaknesses: Suarez's fitness, or lack of it

Previous Best: Winners 1930 and 1950

Beacom Prediction: Quarter-final defeat

Costa Rica

Manager: Jorge Luis Pinto

Captain: Bryan Ruiz

Star Player: Bryan Ruiz

Strengths: Minnows have little to lose and believe they can create at least one shock

Weaknesses: Rarely impress away from home and in a tough, tough group

Previous Best: Last 16 1990

Beacom Prediction: Bottom of the group

England

Manager: Roy Hodgson

Captain: Steven Gerrard

Star Player: Wayne Rooney

Strengths: Lower than usual expectations and kids ready to explode on world stage

Weaknesses: Manager may be too cautious

Previous Best: Winners 1966

Beacom Prediction: Quarter-finals (knocked out on penalties of course)

Italy

Manager: Cesare Prandelli

Captain: Gianluigi Buffon

Star Player: Mario Balotelli

Strengths: Andrea Pirlo's ability to control a game

Weaknesses: Italian teams are normally strong at the back. This one?

Previous Best: Winners 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006

Beacom Prediction: Can't believe I'm saying this – third in the group and out early

Group E

Switzerland

Manager: Ottmar Hitzfeld

Captain: Gökhan Inler

Star Player: Xherdan Shaqiri

Strengths: Shaqiri is a real talent and they'll be out to deliver for soon to retire Hitzfeld

Weaknesses: Defensively they are shaky and have unproven forwards

Previous Best: Quarter-finalists 1934, 1938 and 1954

Beacom Prediction: Last 16

France

Manager: Didier Deschamps

Captain: Hugo Lloris

Star Player: Karim Benzema

Strengths: Benzema is shining in a new look French attack and Paul Pogba has genuine quality

Weaknesses: Not having the injured Franck Ribery and potential internal squad politics

Previous Best: Winners ‘98

Beacom Prediction: Quarter-finals

Ecuador

Manager: Reinaldo Rueda

Captain: Antonio Valencia

Star Player: Antonio Valencia

Strengths: Have a goal threat and the dangerous Jefferson Montero on the wing

Weaknesses: Everyone should score goals against them. Awful at the back.

Previous Best: Last 16 2006

Beacom Prediction: Group exit

Honduras

Manager: Luis Fernando Suarez

Captain: Noel Valladares

Star Player: Carlo Costly

Strengths: Won't be bothered by heat and humidity

Weaknesses: Limited quality and indiscipline. Will struggle to avoid red cards

Previous Best: Group stages 1982 and 2010

Beacom Prediction: Home before the knockout stages

Group F

Argentina

Manager: Alejandro Sabella

Captain: Lionel Messi

Star Player: Lionel Messi

Strengths: Messi — desperate that this will be his World Cup year.

Weaknesses: In comparison to the star-studded attack, defensively can be poor

Previous Best: Winners 1978 and 1986

Beacom Prediction: Winners

Bosnia-H'gov

Manager: Safet Susic

Captain: Emir Spahic

Star Player: Edin Dzeko

Strengths: Dzeko's nose for goal.

Weaknesses: Very little strength in depth. Can be too reliant on Dzeko in attack

Previous Best: Never qualified before

Beacom Prediction: They'll enjoy the experience but it’s an exit at the first stage

Iran

Manager: Carlos Queiroz

Captain: Javad Nekounam

Star Player: Ashkan Dejagah

Strengths: Relishing the tag of underdogs. They really do feel they can bite

Weaknesses: They lack a cutting edge and their build up play can be laboured

Previous Best: Group stages 1978, 1998 and 2006

Beacom Prediction: Out at the group stage

Nigeria

Manager: Stephen Keshi

Captain: Vincent Enyeama

Star Player: Victor Moses

Strengths: Keshi can be a controversial boss but his selections can also be inspirational

Weaknesses: If they go behind, confidence can drain quickly

Previous Best: Last 16 1994, 1998

Beacom Prediction: Second round

Group G

Germany

Manager: Joachim Low

Captain: Philipp Lahm

Star Player: Thomas Muller

Strengths: Experience and quality throughout the side.

Weaknesses: For their ability, this squad seem to lack a mental edge

Previous Best: Winners 1954, ‘74, ‘90 (as West Germany)

Beacom Prediction: Semi-finals

Portugal

Manager: Paulo Bento

Captain: Cristiano Ronaldo

Star Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

Strengths: Ronaldo... pure and simple.

Weaknesses: Ronaldo may not be fully fit, hampering his performances and Portugal's

Previous Best: Third place in 1966

Beacom Prediction: Quarter-final exit

Ghana

Manager: James Kwesi Appiah

Captain: Asamoah Gyan

Star Player: Kwadwo Asamoah

Strengths: Are a dangerous attacking side

Weaknesses: Can be erratic and Germany and Portugal are better

Previous Best: Q-final 2010

Beacom Prediction: Knocked out in group after three entertaining games

USA

Manager: Jurgen Klinsmann

Captain: Clint Dempsey

Star Player: Graham Zusi

Strengths: Always arrive full of confidence that they can shock the world

Weaknesses: Klinsmann does not know his best team

Previous Best: Third away back in 1930

Beacom Prediction: Early exit

Group H

Belgium

Manager: Marc Wilmots

Captain: Vincent Kompany

Star Player: Eden Hazard

Strengths: Confident, vibrant and free flowing with lots of quality... could go far

Weaknesses: For all of their class, they don't score as much as they should

Previous Best: Fourth 1986

Beacom Prediction: Exiting at quarter-finals

Algeria

Manager: Vahid Halilhodzic

Captain: Madjid Bougherra

Star Player: Sofiane Feghouli

Strengths: Feghouli has the qualities to surprise the opposition from distance

Weaknesses: May not have enough self belief to compete with Belgium and Russia

Previous Best: Group stages 1982, 1986 and 2010

Prediction: Knocked out in group stages

Russia

Manager: Fabio Capello

Captain: Sergei Ignashevich

Star Player: Aleksandr Kerzhakov

Strengths: Technically strong and on top form can beat top teams

Weaknesses: Northern Ireland beat them in qualifying so on off days they are very poor

Previous Best: Fourth 1966 (as USSR)

Beacom Prediction: Last 16

South Korea

Manager: Hong Myung-Bo

Captain: Lee Chung-Yong

Star Player: Son Heung-Min

Strengths: Pacy in attack and will never give up. Will fancy beating Russia and Algeria

Weaknesses: Can be predictable. Too predictable.

Previous Best: Fourth in 2002

Prediction: Group stages exit

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