World Cup Preview and Best Bets – Groups G and H
We’re wrapping up our World Cup preview with Groups G and F because you always save your best for last. Let’s go USA!
If you’re reading this piece, chances are you’re in the USA or cheering for the USA based on our readership. I’m here to tell you not all hope should be lost for Sam’s Army. Germany is the clear front-runner, but the second spot in the group is up for grabs. Can you name a Portuguese player other than Ronaldo? It may take you a while or you may have to be a true soccer buff to know Raul Meireles, Hugo Almeida, or Pepe, but the fact of the matter is that they’re not as talented as their FIFA ranking suggests. That’s evident by the fact that they had to go through the UEFA playoff just to make it here. And Ghana was a nice story as last year’s World Cup, but they were buoyed by playing on their home continent. Their talent level is good, but not great and not any better than what the USA has. There’s a slight mental edge against the USA because Ghana has eliminated us from the last two World Cups, but hopefully the lack of carryover personnel from the USA’s 2010 roster eliminates that because these guys don’t know any better.
Germany will win the group. Die Mannschaft does mean “the machine” for nothing. Germany basically has the same team that has been successful at the last two major tournaments. Manuel Neuer is one of the best goalies in the world and the defense in front of him is battle tested other than new left back XXX, who hasn’t played in the World Cup, but has plenty of Champions League experience from playing at Borussia Dortmund. They have an abundant amount of talent in the midfield and are spoiled for choice between Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil, Mario Götze, André Schürrle, Lukas Podolski, Toni Kroos to man the wings and #10 spot right behind the striker. The striker itself is the team’s only weak link. Mario Gómez was left off the roster, Miroslav Klose is 36 years old, and no young player is ready to take the lead. Germany will likely employ a false #9 with Götze, but that will only cause a problem when they get to the semifinals and face a tough squad like Brazil.
And now back to the USA. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann ditched Landon Donovan and I’m ok with that. Donovan turned his back on the USA when he took his 18-month sabbatical. That kind of mindset means he wasn’t going to have the right disposition if he wasn’t starting and it’s debatable whether he’s good enough to start at this point in his career. But let’s move on because Klinsmann already has. The USA has some talent to compete for the second spot in this group. They seem to create enough scoring chances between the likes of Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore. Their main weakness will be their central defenders. Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron haven’t played enough together to be a completely cohesive with each other or the defenders on either side of them. They’ve made mistakes in recently friendlies, but gotten away with it because of the inferior competition. Portugal and Ghana might not be good enough to exploit that, but Germany will. Have some faith though. Fabian Johnson is ready for a breakout performance and the conditions in Manaus will be enough to stifle Portugal. We just need to take down our nemesis Ghana and go from there.
USA 2nd round elimination (+275) – I have faith that we advance. Getting past Belgium might be another story.
Portugal group stage elimination (+180) – We call that doubling down.
Germany to reach semifinal (+125) – This should be a cake walk for them.
Germany over Portugal (+105) – We call this doubling down part two.
Belgium is everyone’s sleeper World Cup pick because of their attacking potential. Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Adnan Januzaj, Kevin Mirallas, Mousa Dembélé, and Marouane Fellaini have become household names due to their success in the Premier League. The absence of Christian Benteke due to injury will hurt, but there’s enough talent to overcome that. Young goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is one of the best in the world after his impressive year at Athletic Madrid and will be called upon often due to Belgium’s one weakness, their back line. They basically march four central defenders out on the field because they don’t have true outside defenders to play those positions. They could get wild and play defensively-able wingers in those positions, but it doesn’t look like they’re going to. Still it’s their group to squander.
Russia isn’t bad competition for Belgium, but there are plenty of better European countries who could’ve ended up here. Russia’s team is mostly based of players from their own league, which isn’t a top flight one. Alan Dzagoev is their star on the rise and likely a name you’ll remember when this is all over, but he’ll need help from his friends. Remember Fabio Capello, the former England manager? He’s now their coach. It would be somewhat surprising if they failed to qualify for their first ever knockout round. The rest of the group leaves much to be desired. Algeria showed in 2012 that they weren’t cable of much and you should expect the same this time around. South Korea’s only World Cup success was on home soil. Last time I checked, they weren’t playing these games in Seoul. The squad, however, is a young one with most guys under 30 and guys like Park Chu-Young and Ki Sung-Yueng could push them to challenge the top two.
Belgium & Russia to advance from Group H (-105) – As you can see I don’t seem too worried about their opposition.
Belgium to reach the quarterfinal (+105) – This is their year to surge forward. There certainly is enough talent. Hopefully the two sides of Belgium don’t clash.
[Photo via Kim Klement/USA Today Sports]