Brazil, Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon
The opening game of the World Cup can be a turgid, uninspiring affair, with both teams desperate not to lose. Expect it to be different this time as favorites and hosts Brazil take on the Eastern Europeans who are also stacked with a raft of excellent players. It would be a major shock if Brazil doesn’t top the group, with Croatia clinching second.
Spain, Holland, Chile and Australia
What a way to kickoff day two of the tournament — a repeat of the last World Cup Final between Spain and Holland. The reigning champions against the talented Dutch with a grudge to settle, and expect the victor to win the section with the loser going through in second place. The Chileans and Australians should both put in strong performances without qualifying for the next stage.
Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan
What is probably the weakest group is also one of the most intriguing. There is no standout favorite — four different continents, four different styles of play, four evenly-matched teams. This is the only group in which all the teams will feel confident they have a chance of making it through — Colombia to win it and the Ivory Coast narrowly edging out Greece for me.
Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy
The Group of Death with three nations clustered in the world’s top ten: Uruguay is seventh, Italy is ninth and England is tenth. So pay your money and take your chance. … The Italians always seem to do enough to move on, so for me the England v Uruguay game on June 19 will provide the key. I can see the English causing a (slight) upset and sneaking second place.
Switzerland, Ecuador, France and Honduras
Another of the weaker sections, with only France considered a serious contender for the trophy and three other nations with little or no World Cup tradition. The French have been riddled with internal strife and disputes at recent tournaments, but they have enough quality to top this group with Ecuador my pick to join them in the knockout round.
Argentina, Bosnia, Iran, Nigeria
Another extremely interesting group symbolizing what makes this the greatest tournament on Earth with a diverse and eclectic quartet of nations. Argentina is the outstanding team and should wrap up the group comfortably, and if you assume Iran is an also-ran, then the remaining qualification spot is a straight fight between the Europeans and Africans. I think the Balkan nation, making its debut on the world stage, will overcome the more experienced Nigerians.
Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the USA
Perhaps not quite the Group of Death, but certainly the Group of Serious Injury, with Germany ranked second and the Portuguese fourth in the world. The rest of the planet is expecting these two to dander through this stage without getting out of second gear, but maybe — just maybe — the USA can upset the team from the Iberia peninsula who occasionally flatter to deceive. The Yanks to squeeze into second place. Why not, eh?
Belgium, Algeria, Russia and South Korea
Soccer is very Eurocentric, with most of the talent, money and attention focused on the continent that codified, developed and exported the sport. Consequently at the World Cup, we over-expect from the European teams and underestimate the others, but I cannot see anything other than a one / two finish for the Belgians and Russians here.
BY STEPHEN REA/Special to The Advocate