Alex McInnes looks forward to what to expect from Group A at this year’s World Cup.
As the World Cup is just over a month away from kicking off in Brazil, I suddenly feel that rush of excitement at the prospect of a superb summer tournament. My regard for international football these days is not all that great and that really stems from the monetary incentive in club football, bringing up the ‘club vs. country’ debate yet again. I’m not going to get in to that. As high as my disregard and even at some points, disdain, for international football can be (England fan by birth…), whenever the big summer competitions emerge every couple of years, my interest immediately switches back on to the scene. It’s definitely only a nostalgia thing for me, nevertheless I always get excited just before it all kicks off.
I’m not a football expert by any means, but I’ve decided to take it upon myself to review each of the eight groups, team by team. I’ll be having a look at their key players and chances of progression and maybe even winning the damned thing!
Brazil, Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon.
Home advantage always helps a team to do well but does not always ensure glory. With the country divided over the World Cup and stadia being completed at a snail’s pace, this summer will go one of two ways for ‘A Seleção’, but I’m sure on the pitch we will see the famous samba style that all fans of football crave. Having not won the competition since 2002, a World Cup win is well overdue. Funnily enough the man who was in charge of that success, ‘Big Phil’ Luiz Felipe Scolari, is back in charge this time around so maybe his experience will help them progress to the final. Sadly the current squad isn’t one of the classic teams of days gone by, but there is still a hell of a lot of talent and unpredictability in there. Guys like Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, Marcelo, Oscar, Willian, Hulk and of course Neymar will be the ones to watch out for, but as ever I’m sure there will be a surprise or two in the squad. I for one can’t wait to watch Brazil this summer.
The Croats have always produced very good players but the better ones have generally been kept from playing with each other – due to being born in different eras! The squads, in my opinion, have never really fulfilled their potential. Finishing 3rd at France ’98 has been their pinnacle in recent years along with reaching the quarters at Euro ’08 but they’ve never really pushed on after slight success. Now managed by national legend Niko Kovač and assisted by brother Robert, they only just qualified in the play-offs against Iceland, making it through 2-0 after both legs. They have somewhat limped into the competition but you can’t discount a team that boasts the likes of Dejan Lovren, Darijo Srna, Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić, who has really blossomed this year for a Sevilla that has reached the Europa League final. There’s also the young Inter Milan midfielder Mateo Kovačić and the relentless brute up top, Mario Mandžukić. You never quite know what Croatia are going to do at a tournament, which for me is always an exciting prospect.
As was the case with Croatia, Mexico needed a play-off win to secure passage to their sixth consecutive World Cup. ‘La Verde’ are a team that in all honesty I’m not that familiar with, which I realised after looking at their recent squads. Having won gold at the 2012 Olympics you’d have thought Mexico might push on, but their qualification struggles show quite the opposite. Managed by Miguel Herrera and skippered by the evergreen ex-Barcelona stalwart Rafael Márquez, this team will do very well just to get out of the group. I don’t like to be the harbinger of doom but it doesn’t look good, here’s hoping they surprise me! Their main threats and most well known players are Rafael Márquez, Héctor Moreno, Andrés Guardado, Giovani dos Santos and Javier Hernández.
‘The Indomitable Lions’ will be making their 7th Fifa World Cup appearance since their 1st in 1982. Managed by the German Volker Finke and captained by the infamous Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon pretty much dominated their qualification group, winning four, drawing one and losing one in a six game group that in all fairness wasn’t the toughest test (Libya, DR Congo and Togo). Cameroon’s most notable World Cup appearance was at USA ’94 in which striker Roger Milla, at 42, became the oldest player to both play and score in the competition, which he followed up by dancing with the corner flag, an image I’m sure most of you are familiar with. It’s a hell of a stereotype but the African teams generally are very unpredictable, so even if Cameroon don’t make it out of the group stage I’m sure there will be some entertaining games for the neutral. Their key players include Marseille’s Nicolas N’Koulou, Alex Song, Stéphane Mbia and of course their talisman and record goalscorer Samuel Eto’o.