And it’s probably a good thing I ran out of suitable f-words or I’d still be writing that friggin’ title.
I do not gamble, and even if I did, I would shun this year’s World Cup after reading of the match-fixing scandals in the New York Times. Furthermore, this year I see far too many strong squads with legitimate hopes to reach the semi-finals. This Cup is too unpredictable. However, as a true-blue red-blooded American, I cherish my right to wrong, and hereby present my predictions for the 2014 El Mundiale. You may think of these as your guide to what will not happen.
Surprise teams to reach the Round of 16: As in, I would feel surprised to see them reach the second round. Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Croatia. Algeria was not an easy team to beat in 2010, and they play in a weaker group this time around. Why Bosnia and Herzegovina? I don’t know; I just like writing Bosnia and Herzegovina. They do have goal-scoring potential. Croatia, despite its opening 3-1 loss to Brazil, still might sneak in. They play like maddened hornets that have drunk two too many double espressos, swarming wildly on both offense and defense, a confusing style that can inflict grief on careless opponents.
Absolutely shocking team to reach the Round of 16: Either the United States or Ghana. Whatever lies beyond brutal, that’s where Group G lives. I expect to see Germany and Portugal to record two wins and tie each other, while the USA and Ghana record two losses and tie each other. The USA has more going against it than the quality of opposition. First, Ghana (their long-time traditional rival [!?]) has kicked them out of the previous two Cups. Second, the team has alternated between Round of 16 and three-and-out since 1990, and this is another three-and-out year.
Surprise team to reach the quarterfinals: As in, I don’t expect to see this. Ivory Coast. They have had great teams in terrible draws for the past two Cups, and this year represents their last chance for glory.
Surprise team to reach the semi-finals: None. This Cup looks very, very deep to me; roughly a dozen teams seem to have good reason to believe they can reach the last four. Chile would represent perhaps a little bit of a surprise, simply because they first must survive a brutal Group B with 2010’s finalists Spain and the Netherlands. England might benefit from low expectations and leftover scorn from their last performance. I doubt that any of the London tabloids will repeat the mistake of the infamous 2010 EASY headline (England, Algeria, Slovenia, Yanks!). Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Switzerland (#6 in the world), maybe Russia, maybe Uruguay, Italy, Belgium, France–I predict a lot of high-quality games that yield low scores simply because the teams are too good.
The Final: No score terrifies Brazilians more than 2-1. Brazilians born last week have nightmares about the 1950 Final and Alcides Ghiggia (I wonder how instant deification in Uruguay feels). But I will go against the consensus and pick just that score again–with Argentina defeating A Selecao. A lot has to go right for the Albiceleste. Have you ever seen the legendary Futbol Club Barcelona live and in person? I have, and I have seen the reason Lionel Messi is Lionel Messi, and it isn’t Lionel Messi. It’s the stunning passing skills of his teammates, the fastest, straightest and most accurate I’ve ever seen. One touch passing? More like zero touch. No matter what defenses opponents use, Barca can get the ball to him. Argentina has to pass the ball as well as Barcelona for Messi to shine, and I don’t know if the team has played together long enough.
But Brazil! What a horrible burden of expectations! This is the first time they’ve hosted the Cup since 1950, and you know how that went. Adding to the pressure–the protests against the World Cup by Brazilians. The country has a lot of problems (and I don’t refer to their shaky preparations for 2014), and protests, strikes and other disruptions have erupted throughout, some of which has been directed at the players. I don’t think this is fair. Many chose soccer as an escape from poverty. A very attractive young lady and Brazilian ex-pat taught me a lot about the team in 1994; she claimed that Bebeto was the only player among the champs who grew up in a middle class family (I don’t know if this is true). They have enjoyed hero worship for years. Now their fellow citizens have grown angry with them!? This dislike won’t last, and probably disappeared with the opening whistle of today’s game, but all told, Brazil might not be able to function well in the Final will all of these psychological issues.
Now all I have to do is sit back, relax, and watch Brazil crush Spain 4-1 in the Final.
The one prediction I make that might turn out correctly? All of my previous predictions will be wrong.
Vonn Scott Bair