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Wednesday, 11 June 2014

World Cup 2014 Outright Picks (June 12-July 13)

There has been plenty of upheaval in Brazil with the locals unimpressed with the cost of hosting the World Cup, while FIFA are currently fighting fires when it comes to how Qatar managed to win the vote for the 2022 showing of the tournament, but now the football will get a chance to take over and make the headlines in the coming month.

Personally, I don't think I've looked forward to a World Cup more since the 1998 edition that was held in France which may be down to this being a real open tournament as well as the less than stellar season for Manchester United. There is plenty of intrigue around the teams that are competing with not one team really standing so far ahead of the rest of the pack that it is very difficult to pick a winner with confidence.

The timings of the games couldn't really work out much better for those in the United Kingdom and I think this could be a tournament with a lot more attacking, flowing football than major tournaments are perhaps accustomed to.

Of course, any World Cup being held in Brazil would get the juices flowing and it really does feel like the biggest sporting event in the world.

I will be making picks from the matches as the tournament progresses, and have separated the picks by Group.

Any picks from Group A will be made here

Picks from Group B here

Picks from Group C here

Picks from Group D here

Picks from Group E here

Picks from Group F here

Picks from Group G here

Picks from Group H here

Group A
Anything other than the hosts Brazil winning this Group would constitute a major surprise and would  likely set up a huge Second Round clash against the Spanish, a repeat of the Confederations Cup Final from last year.

Either way, Brazil are likely to have a difficult Second Round match with Group A being paired with Group B, but I can't imagine Croatia, Mexico or Cameroon being able to prevent them from possibly taking maximum points in the first stage.

A bigger question is which of the teams are going to follow Brazil into the Second Round and I do believe it comes down to Mexico or Croatia who will achieve that ahead of Cameroon.

That is going to be the final game in the Group, and there is a chance that it could come down to goal difference and which of the teams can avoid the heavier loss to Brazil. Ahead of the tournament, I would guess that Mexico will handle the conditions a little better than Croatia with plenty of their players competing in their domestic League.

From this Group, I would guess a small interest on Mexico to qualify, but lose in the Second Round is the call as I can't imagine them beating Spain, the Netherlands or Chile in a potential clash at that stage even if the Mexicans come through this Group.

Group B
The two Finalists from the 2010 World Cup, Spain and Holland have both been placed in the same section as the dangerous Chile team and I have a feeling that one of the European teams could be exiting the competition.

Out of the two teams, I would guess the Spaniards are not ready to give up their World Cup crown earned four years ago and they proved they are still a very capable team when they won the Euro 2012 tournament. The side are two years older, while Diego Costa has been struggling with an injury, but Spain are going to be very difficult to beat with the way they keep possession, especially in the testing conditions that will sap energy.

On the other hand, Holland look much more vulnerable with an inexperienced defence travelling to Brazil and I think they are more susceptible to the pace and direct football that Chile will bring to the table.

I can't imagine Australia, who are looking ahead to the Asian Cup that they will be hosting, causing any problems for the top three sides and believe the straight forecast of Spain to finish ahead of Chile may be the bet option from the Group.

Group C
All four teams competing in Group C will feel they have a chance of qualifying for the Second Round and it is going to be difficult to separate Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece.

There are some doubts about all of these teams, and I think there could be a couple of surprise results in the section before it is decided.

Losing Radomel Falcao is a big blow for Colombia who look a team that is capable of playing lovely football that is pleasing on the eye, but perhaps struggling for that focal point at the top of the formation to score the goals. Their first game against Greece is vitally important, but the latter are tough to beat and will be well organised.

The likes of Ivory Coast and Japan are both very good going forward, but there are serious doubts about their ability to keep clean sheets and that could prove costly against a team like Greece that could show enough defensively to hit those teams on the break.

Gun to the head I would probably think Colombia and Ivory Coast will show they are the class of the section, but there is nothing that would appeal to me with any confidence.

Group D
There are a couple of Groups where three teams will all feel very confident of securing their place in the top two and moving through to the Second Round and this is yet another.

I'd be more than a little surprised if Costa Rica can overcome the injuries in the squad and they look far short of the three other nations in England, Italy and Uruguay with a real battle over which teams are going to take the two places in the Second Round.

It could easily come down to goal difference as all three teams have given their supporters some concerns with poor performances in the warm up games or with key players being injured.

The feeling is that Italy will show much better than they did in 2010 in South Africa when they were beaten in the Group Stage as defending World Cup Champions and I do think Cesare Prandelli will guide them through to the Second Round and potentially much, much further.

With the pace that England have from their younger players, I think they are capable of causing a surprise against Uruguay, while finishing top of the Group could be very important which means both Italy and Uruguay will be looking for a win in the final game in most likelihood. The defensive concerns for Uruguay might give the other two teams a real chance to finish above them and an interest in the South Americans finishing third in the section is where I will go with the Group.

Group E
One of the weaker looking sections, on paper at least, should give two European teams the opportunity to move through to the Second Round. Both France and Switzerland may actually be thinking of bigger things by the time the Euro 2016 tournament rolls around, but neither could have asked for a better draw and will be expected to come though.

France have lost Franck Ribery and are not taking Samir Nasri, while the team have failed to fire at the 2002 and 2010 World Cups, although they did reach the Final of 2006 and also won the 1998 editions on the competition.

They just never seem too far from a crisis and will be desperate to top this Group and avoid having to meet Argentina early in the competition.

My feeling is that France are more likely to see off Ecuador and Honduras will relative comfort than the Swiss and the only question is whether Ecuador have enough to finish in one of the top two positions.

However, it has been mentioned a few times of the poor record Ecuador have away from their home where the altitude gives them an edge and Honduras are not really expected to pull up too many trees. They did draw with Switzerland four years ago at the same stage and cost the Swiss a chance to move into the Second Round despite beating Spain, but the two European teams should be too good.

Group F
One of the favourites to win the World Cup, as they have been on numerous occasions since last winning the competition in Mexico 1986, are Argentina and they can certainly play themselves into the event with the Group they have been given.

You wouldn't expect Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nigeria or Iran to really cause too many problems for Argentina and they will be expected to comfortably win the Group and the question is which of these teams are most likely to follow them into the Second Round.

On that, I believe Bosnia are going to be the second team out with an attacking philosophy which should see them find a way to break down Iran and also prove too much for the Nigerians to handle.

It is a shame that Bosnia have to play Argentina first as they will be playing catch up in the Group if they succumb to the expected loss and that means an inexperienced group of players have to deal with the pressure the last two games will be played under.

However, they have goals in the team and the belief should come with a win over Nigeria in the second game of the Group and I would expect Bosnia to earn a couple of wins after the Argentina game to move into the knock out stage. That is where their run would be expected to end, but Bosnia might win some plaudits with the way they approach games and I like the straight forecast of Argentina over Bosnia in this Group.

Group G
The real 'Group of Death' is in Group G, especially if you are considering the FIFA World Rankings as gospel, as all four teams from top to bottom will feel they can progress through to the Second Round.

The leading contenders are the two European nations Germany and Portugal, but it was only four years ago that Ghana were a missed penalty away from reaching the Semi Finals, while the United States are an ever improving team.

However, the latter of those teams have the worst of the travelling and the feeling is that will prove to be vital in preventing the USA reaching the Second Round as they did four years ago. In the heat and the humidity, adding the long travel is only going to make things that much tougher for the States.

Ghana have a real chance of splitting the two favourites in the Group, especially if they make a strong start against the United States in their first game, but it would still be a big surprise if either Germany or Portugal don't progress.

There are issues in both teams- neither has a top striker that can be relied upon (counting Cristiano Ronaldo as a forward who still has someone further up the field than himself) and there can also be question marks about the German defence.

I'm not sure Ghana or the United States will have enough in the tank to expose those factors, although it could prove the reasoning behind neither Germany or Portugal actually winning the tournament.

Group H
Everyone's favourite dark horse, Belgium, should prove too good for the competition they are going to face in Group H, but life will only get trickier for a group of players that haven't contested a major international tournament together.

Many of the Belgium names will be familiar to fans and they have a spine that looks very good, but inexperience at the world stage is going to be hard to replicate. With that in mind, I can see Belgium being a big threat at the next European Championships held in France in 2016, but this tournament might be a touch to early for them.

I still would be extremely surprised to see any other team top this section which includes Russia, South Korea and Algeria but the second place could be much more open than the layers believe.

Russia had a hard time in the Euro 2012 competition despite being considered one of the dark horses for that tournament and they failed to get out of the Group despite crushing the Czech Republic in their first game. Personally I don't know a lot about Russia outside of their qualification ahead of Portugal, which looks impressive if just taking that form alone.

A team like South Korea could potentially upset Russia, but their 4-0 loss to Ghana in a warm up game has to be a concern and they also were a little fortunate to qualify after losing 0-1 to Iran in the final round of games and only seeing off Uzbekistan on goal difference.

Then you have a team like Algeria who could potentially surprise with a number of young players from the French domestic Leagues playing for them who may feel they are better served than trying to force their way into the French national side.

I'd suspect Russia would grind their way through behind Belgium, but that looks tricky and you may be better served backing the Red Devils to be knocked out in the Second Round. I'd have them down as the underdog against either Germany or Portugal, who I believe will be the top two in Group G, and Belgium may find their nous at this level a step too far before the next major tournament in France in two years time.

Outright Winner
I was asked by a friend who they should pick for the title in Brazil this summer and I answered that I would be surprised if we see a winner outside of the Brazil, Argentina, Spain trio of favourites.

Boring I know, but the draw has panned out for those teams to really go deep into the tournament and I think all of those are going to need to have someone play their ultimate 'A' game to beat them.

Obviously the path through the draw comes about if my predictions were to be correct so that is the disclaimer to that claim. However, out of those teams, I do think that Brazil have arguably the toughest potential path even though they are the favourites to win the tournament.

The Group shouldn't pose a problem for the host nation, but their path to the Final from there could see them facing a dangerous Chile side (if I am correct in my belief that they will finish behind Spain but in front of the Netherlands) in the Second Round, potentially the team that finished second in Group D in the Quarter Final and then Germany or France in the Semi Final... All before they potentially play one of the other two teams I mentioned in Spain or Argentina in the Final!

That looks very tough to me and I could see someone upset the apple-cart on the way to the Final if they do bring that 'A' game I spoke about.

On the other hand, both Spain and Argentina would feel they have a very strong draw to win the World Cup, although I do lean towards the latter as being given the 'easier' path.

Spain should be too good for whoever finished behind Brazil in Group A, and I would have a real belief that they could beat Italy in a potential Quarter Final. Argentina should have far too much for their initial Group and would be expected to beat Switzerland in the Second Round, although the danger is that France start slowly and finish behind the Swiss to meet Argentina in a huge clash at the first of the knockout stages.

The Portuguese could be another threat to Argentina in the Quarter Final if the defence fails to hold up and give the attacking players the chance to win games and another doubt I do have for the second favourites is their failure to really win anything of note since 1993 despite having the talent that has passed through in that time.

There might be a mental issue there that could be exposed by a team later in the tournament, perhaps even Spain in the Semi Final. The way the Spanish keep the ball will stand them in good stead through the tournament and having someone like Diego Costa up front could be the turning point from their Confederations Cup Final loss twelve months ago. Of course, Costa has to be fit for the tournament to give team a different look from the 'false nine' that has been effective for Spain in the recent past, and may also give them another threat to change the result against Brazil from the Final last year.

I'd very much like to see Argentina win the World Cup, but I have a feeling that we could see the first team to win back to back World Cups since 1962 when Brazil won the second of their five World Cup crowns. No team has done the Confederations Cup/World Cup double, and I believe Spain can make up for the loss they suffered twelve months ago by winning the World Cup again, the first European team to do so in South/Central America.

Everyone also looks for an outsider in tournaments of this magnitude, but I would have serious doubts about all the teams outside of the three I have highlighted. Germany have been so close in the last few international tournaments, but the defence looks vulnerable and I also feel they are lacking a consistent goal-scoring threat which will see them likely get to the Semi Final at best.

Others like France or Italy are as likely to go out in the Group as they are in going all the way to the title, while Belgium's inexperience at the top level would bother me when backing a fifth favourite in any tournament.

Top Goalscorer
The top goalscorer market is always a tough one because it only takes one game for a player to disappear over the horizon (Oleg Salenko was joint top scorer in 1994 after scoring five goals in one game against Cameroon and that was despite Russia being knocked out in the Group Stage).

The last seven tournaments have seen the player finishing as top scorer, or joint top scorer, play for a team that has reached at least the Quarter Finals and my wall chart means I can consider Brazil, England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Argentina and Portugal as providing the top scorer.

Of course, the more matches played, the better it is for the chances of someone earning the top scorer position at the end of this tournament and there are two players that have been on my mind for a while now.

It won't surprise you to read that the two players I want to keep onside both play for two of the three nations I highlighted in my Outright Pick section above. The two players play for Brazil and Argentina, but they are not the two Barcelona players that most would be expecting.

I like the fact that both teams are in Groups where their players can get a chance to 'fill their boots' and my first pick is going to be Fred who will be leading the line for the hosts. Fred is playing back in Brazil these days after struggling with Lyon, but he is playing in a team that will create chances and being the most forward player on the Brazil team will at least mean a number of those will fall at his feet.

He was joint top scorer last season in the Confederations Cup and Brazil are likely to go deep into the tournament, while games against the three teams in the Group should offer Fred the chance to get his scoring tracker moving.

The second player is Gonzalo Higuain who will be leading the line for Argentina- the problem for Higuain is that he is likely going to have to share the goals with the likes of Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, but he was the second highest scorer for the team in the qualifiers. Higuain has had a decent season with Napoli and will always get chances in this attacking team as he proved at the last World Cup when he scored four goals and only missed out on being one of the top scorers by a single goal.

A Group containing Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Nigeria will give Higuain a chance to get going quickly and there is every chance he could get up to four goals by the end of that section if Argentina bring their attacking football to Brazil. The concern is that he may be rested in the final Group game if Argentina beat Bosnia and Iran in the first two games they play, but the forward should have more chances in games against likely Second Round and Quarter Final opponents Switzerland and Portugal respectively.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Diego Costa will have their backers, but I don't think either Portugal or Spain are going to batter teams into submission, while Neymar plays wider than Fred for Brazil and Lionel Messi has not had the best season by his high standards and has struggled in previous World Cups.

MY OUTRIGHT PICKS: Spain to Win the World Cup @ 7.50 William Hill (2 Units)
Fred Top Goalscorer @ 21.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit E/W)
Gonzalo Huguain Top Goalscorer @ 21.00 Paddy Power (1 Unit E/W)
Mexico Stage of Elimation- Last 16 @ 3.10 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Spain/Chile Straight Forecast Group B @ 4.33 BoyleSports (1 Unit)
Uruguay to Finish Third in Group D @ 3.40 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
Argentina/Bosnia and Herzegovina Straight Forecast Group F @ 2.50 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Belgium Stage of Elimination- Last 16 @ 2.50 Bet Fred (1 Unit)

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