(Last week, we received something from reader Jordan Katz. He wrote a piece regarding five intriguing group stage fixtures at the upcoming World Cup, and seeing as we are between group previews at the moment, this is the perfect time to post it. You can follow him @NaturallyKatz. Enjoy!)
Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Argentina (June 15th) – There is only one team making its World Cup debut in 2014: Bosnia and Herzegovina. Just 19 years removed from their bloody civil war, Bosnia will be looking to show what it can do on the global stage. Bosnia’s roster features its fair share of players in Europe’s top leagues: Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko at striker, Roma’s Miralem Pjanic in the midfield and Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic in net. The Bosnians easily won their qualifying group, losing only once in 10 games while boasting a +24 GD.
The team that will welcome Bosnia to the World Cup? Argentina. The second favorites in the tournaments and a team absolutely loaded with attacking talent. Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Ángel Di María and Gonzalo Higuaín will all be at the manager Alejandro Sabella’s disposal. This match is interesting as a neutral, but if you support Manchester City like me, it will be more enjoyable as there could be four MCFC players on the pitch (Dzeko, Agüero, Pablo Zabaleta and Martin Demichelis).
Argentina should win this match, but a draw or Bosnian win would be a fantastic way for Bosnia to make its debut and give them a huge confidence boost heading into matches v. Iran and Nigeria.
Chile v. Holland (June 23rd) – After making it to the final in the last World Cup, Holland got a less than warm welcome back in 2014, drawing the defending champions, Spain, and an equally formidable Chile in its group. You’d think Spain-Holland is the game to watch, but I disagree. I see Spain winning that match comfortably. Chile-Holland is the one to keep your eyes on.
Both teams boast strong offenses and midfields, but aren’t exactly solid in defense. Chile scored the second most goals in South American qualifying and will have Arturo Vidal bossing the midfield with Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas providing the goals. However, the defense was exposed by other teams in South America during qualifying. Luis Suárez singlehandedly put four past them in one match, while Messi and Higuaín teamed up to also scored four times.
Holland ran roughshod through its qualifying group, running up a +29 GD in just ten games. The two men most important for the country’s qualifying success were Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. The attacking pair combined for 14 goals and are Holland’s two best players. Despite the qualifying dominance, defense is still a question. There’s no one in defense remotely close to being world class. A backline including Ron Vlaar, Daryl Janmaat, Daley Blind and others is pretty underwhelming. Look for Chile-Holland to be a game filled with attacking talent and a surplus of goals.
Germany v. Portugal (June 16th) – The best team in Europe v. the best player in the world. That’s what Germany v. Portugal brings us. Ronaldo’s Portugal will be looking to beat a German team with fantastic players everywhere on the pitch: Marco Reus in attack, Bastian Schweinsteiger in the midfield, Philipp Lahm in defense and Manuel Neuer in goal. That’s without mentioning numerous other talented players Germany has available to them. Germany made it through qualifying undefeated and if it didn’t choke away a 4-0 lead v. Sweden in Berlin, it would’ve won every match in qualifying.
Portugal’s road to qualification was at times underwhelming. It drew with Northern Ireland at home and drew with Israel twice and had to enter a two-legged tie v. Sweden to qualify, which they won 4-2, with Ronaldo spectacularly contributing all four goals. It’s worth mentioning that Germany and Portugal met in the Euro 2012 group stage, with Germany winning 1-0.
This match depends more on what Portugal does than what Germany does. Portugal will need the ten guys on the pitch named Not Ronaldo to make key contributions for Portugal to win. Midfielders and attackers like Nani, Varela and João Moutinho will need to be up to snuff so Ronaldo doesn’t try to win to the match single-handedly. While Ronaldo has proven he can single-handedly win matches, Germany is far too good to let that happen.
We also can’t ignore that this match is in Group F, the same group as the United States. This match will be the first game, meaning both teams still need to play the USA. The ideal scenario for the USA is a brutally physical match with multiple players receiving yellow and red cards.
Colombia v. Ivory Coast (June 19th) – Back in 2006, the Ivory Coast made its first World Cup. It was a fantastic story, as Didier Drogba used his influence to stop a civil war, threatening to not play in the World Cup if they didn’t stop fighting. On the pitch in Germany, les Éléphants failed to make it out of the group, finishing third in a group of death behind Argentina and Holland. 2010 was the same story for the Ivory Coast: third place in another group of death. This time, les Éléphants finished behind Brazil and Portugal.
Now in 2014, the Ivory Coast has its best chance ever to make it out of the group stage. The team has managed to avoid traditional powerhouses by drawing a group with Colombia, Greece and Japan. The Ivory Coast also boasts plenty of talented players; the star is Manchester City’s box-to-box midfielder/human tank Yaya Toure. Accompanying Toure will be players like Gervinho, Solomon Kalou and Didier Drogba, who will likely be playing in his last World Cup.
Colombia also hopes to advance from its group. Colombia is back in the World Cup for the time since 1998 and will be looking to advance from the group stage for the first time since 1990. The man who will be the most important for Colombia making it to the round of 16 will be Radamel Falcao. Falcao is recovering from a nasty knee injury he suffered on January 22. He says he will be fit for the World Cup, but his status (exactly how healthy he will be) is up in the air. If Falcao isn’t totally fit, Colombia has a worthy replacement: Jackson Martinez. The Porto striker scored 20 goals in 30 games in Liga Portuguesa. Other notable names for Colombia include Falcao’s Monaco teammate James Rodriguez, Fredy Guarín, and Juan Cuadrado. Both teams will be looking to advance to the knockout stage: Colombia for the first time since 1990, Ivory Coast for the first time ever.
England v. Uruguay (June 19th) – Oh, this is a fun one. The most hated player in English football playing against the English national team is truly amazing, and we will have the opportunity to see that unfold. The most hated player in English football is, of course, Luis Suárez. Ask any Liverpool supporter about the Uruguayan and you will hear endless praise for the man who led the Premier League in goals and was pivotal in Liverpool’s return to the top four. Ask anyone who doesn’t support Liverpool and they’ll be equally likely to praise Suárez as they will be to mention his laundry list of negatives: biting Branislav Ivanović, allegedly calling Patrice Evra a racial slur and his deliberate handball v. Ghana in the 2010 quarter final.
While Suárez will certainly be receiving most of the attention for Uruguay, they are far from being a one man team. Teaming up with Suárez in attack will be Edinson Cavani. Diego Forlán will also be available for Los Charrúas, but he’s a hollow shell of his 2010 World Cup self. While the midfield isn’t that great, the team compensates with a strong defense. Diego Godín (who scored the La Liga title-deciding goal) and Diego Lugano form a formidable center back pairing in front of Galatasaray’s Fernando Muslera.
The England squad is an interesting one. It’ll be bringing plenty of youth to Brazil: 20-year-olds Ross Barkley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 19-year-old Raheem Sterling and 18-year-old Luke Shaw will all be on the plane to Brazil. England will also be without two members of its old guard: John Terry, who was retired from international football, and Ashley Cole, whose sub-optimal performances for Chelsea this season failed to earn him a call-up. The pressure will be heavy on Wayne Rooney for England. The Manchester United striker has as many goals as me in the World Cup. Uruguay is favored in this match and deservedly so; they should win this match.