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Friday, May 30, 2014

(Short) Analysis of the (length of stay for) teams at World Cup 2014 - Groups E and F

I like World Cup, quite a lot, and think it's the best of all the tournaments that exist in football and very possibly in all of sport (at least for any tournament focused on one sport since the Olympics is amazing because of the variety). So I'll be trying to figure out how likely each team is to get out of the group stages and how far they'll probably go if they do. All the odds are from www.bet365.com which is the site I use most for trend spotting in sport (it's like my sport-Bloomberg).



Group E




  • Switzerland - The fact that Fifa rankings have somehow allowed Switzerland to be a seeded team and really that in itself should say how much the Fifa rankings formula needs to be adjusted, though the Elo system is also far from flawless. The Swiss are a team no one would mind facing at all and though strong do not have the intimidation factor of other top (and not top) ranked teams. 



They did finish strongly in their group and qualified automatically and their top ranking has given them a very good chance of making it out of the group stage. They did start the last World Cup on a high, beating eventual champions Spain 1-0 but failed to progress to the knockout rounds with indifferent performances in their next two games. They were even more unlucky in 2006 to be knocked out in the Round of 16 without even conceding a goal, but could not progress on penalty kicks against Ukraine. 
The Swiss during their final World Cup 2006 match



Hard to identify and outright star, Switzerland are probably the best example of a good team full of good players but no exceptional ones (maybe a case for Xhaka and Shaqiri). This might be a team of consistency and very little deviation from a 7/10 performance every time they play but unlikely to every play good enough to win highly motivated teams. They do, however, defend exceptionally and any team that concedes early to them will struggle to score twice.

Former Basel and current Swiss stars, Shaqiri and Xhaka


Given odds of 4/6 to qualify for the knockout rounds, the Swiss are third favourites to progress and odds of 11/4 to top the group making them the only seeded team to not be at least joint favourites to finish top. At 100/1 odds, the Swiss chances seem to be correctly evaluated by the bookmakers.


  • Ecuador -  Like, Switzerland, Ecuador are a team that are tough to break down and play very well on the counterattack. While Antonio Valencia of Manchester United could be considered to be the star, the team really is more of a unit that play well together and really rely very little on individual brilliance as opposed to the collective progress, with the team banding even closer after the death of National player Chucho Benitez last year.
Antonio Valencia, with his tattoo tribute to Chucho

They do have have extensive tournament experience and this is only the third time they have qualified for the World Cup, though COMNEBOL is probably the hardest region of any to gain a World Cup place via. However, their Copa America performances have usually been quite poor and they have not made it further than the first round in that tournament since 1997.



Last time they were at the World Cup, however, they performed well and made it to the Round of Sixteen where there were knocked out by England, in Stuttgart. That and perhaps the fact that they're playing on their own continent have La Tri at 4/1 odds to win  the group and 10/11 odds to qualify. At 125/1 to win the entire thing, they probably won't make that but if they top the group (which is far from impossible) then they have quite a good chance of making it to the quarter finals against the runners up of Group F, provided Argentina wins their group. 

Antonio Valencia with the ball against England in the Round of 16 during WC2006



  • France -  Showed tremendous team spirit to qualify for the World Cup and come back from 2-0 down again Ukraine by winning 3-0 in the second leg. Not just the win but the manner of the win made the French look like an awesome prospect, as that match was probably the best I'd seen a team play during all of 2013. 
France after beating Ukraine 3-0 in a stunning comeback

The fact that France are showing team spirit is an excellent sign as in-fighting and squad discontent has marred the last two tournaments the team has played in, with the split between staff and players resulting in a strike during World Cup 2010. Teamwork will be important for the French to go far in the World Cup because there is no outright star to take them through games as Zidane did in 2006 but the team that did win the trophy in France in 1998 was one that relied very much on teamwork, to their successful end.

The French national team after winning the World Cup at home in 1998


The team is filled with good players and in Franck Ribery, one of the best in the world, though he is suffering a drop in form after surreal highs of 2013. Karim Benzema has also been in excellent goalscoring form for Real Madrid and France is probably hoping for more of the same while wearing blue.
Benzema and Ribery

France are firm favourites to qualify according to the odds-makers at 5/1 to be playing in the Round of 16 and 4/6 to win the entire group. At 22/1 to win it all, France are somewhat surprisingly rated very highly to go all the way but this might be one of the more optimistic bets to make. Though if they top the group their route into the quarter finals might be easy, but once there, it's very unlikely to be an easy match that deep into the World Cup.


  • Honduras - Los Catrachos followed their second appearance at a World Cup in 2010  by their third in 2014. Once again they'll have to play to Swiss and will hope to not be meeting them at the airport on the way home after the group stage, again.

The reality is that Honduras will have to do extremely well and hope for other teams to play badly to make it out of the group stage, since every win for them will probably be seen as a bonus. They have a mostly home-based squad with the foreign based players mostly participating in MLS and Scotland. The biggest name in the team is Wilson Palacios of Stoke City in the English Premier League, but he isn't the player to carry them to wins. Especially since he plays defensive midfield. 
Wilson Palacios on the ball

The Hondurans are given 13/2 odds to qualify from the group and their odds to finish bottom of the group are 2/7 which gives a clear indication of how well they're expected to do. Their chances of winning the group, at 33/1 puts them on the same standing as other "happy to be here" nations, Iran and Australia .


Group F




  • Argentina - A team with frightening attacking talent comprising one of the best players (recently undisputed best) in the world, Lionel Messi, who despite a drop in form is still very much a game changer single-handedly. He has a lot to prove at the World Cup, since his performances in an Argentina shirt have been (usually justly) criticized. The man Diego Maradona deemed his successor will have a lot to do to drive the team like D10S did in 1986 . It is most likely an impossible hurdle for one man to drive a team as well as Maradona did, as it is impossible to speak about Argentine football without mentioning Diego. But Messi is not the sole elite attacker in this squad, which contains Manchester City star Sergio Aguero and Lavezzi of PSG.

Maradona in WC1986. Hard act to emulate

Aguero, Messi, Lavezzi

La Albicelestes have been knocked out at the quarter final stage in the last two World Cups, this time they will be hoping to progress further than that, as they always expect since the two-time winners are usually considered favourites and have to deal with tremendous pressure from the home fans. The last time Argentina topped the qualification group they were knocked out in the first round (in 2002) and it seems extremely unlikely history will repeat itself, especially looking at the group they're placed in. 


Argentina with the trophy in 1978, the last time the tournament was held in South America (till now)

If the team tops the group, as they should, then they will probably have a difficult match against the group E runners-up but it will be one that they are expected to win. They are expected to win the group, with odds of 2/9 . Not qualifying is almost unforeseeable as they have the best odds in the entire tournament to do so at 1/25. As in the last tournament, the major flaw Argentina have is their defence being less than world class (except perhaps Zabaleta, but the centre is still soft) but taking into account that they're playing on home continent in familiar conditions (the squad has a mix of experience and youth) they are considered second favourites to win outright at 9/2
Some of Argentina's defenders: Zabaleta, Rojo, Fernandez, Garay, Romero


  • Bosnia and Herzegovina -  Making it to the World Cup for the first time since the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Bosnians have an excellent chance to progress to the knockout round and even the quarter finals, given the group they are in. 

They are lacking in any kind of tournament experience, having never qualified for the European Championships either but have several players who play in the biggest leagues in European, so at least are familiar with high level football. Though, of course, the World Cup is a level above everything else. They have experienced players such as Misomivic (most capped for the Bosnian team) and a quality front line of Edin Dzeko of Manchester City and Vedad Ibisevic of Stuttgart, who will be hopeful that Miralem Pjanic continues his good club form and creates goalscoring opportunities for them.
Dzeko and Pjanic

Only England, Germany and The Netherlands scored more than the 30 goals Bosnia did while topping their group in qualifying, which they did on goal difference. With a +24 goal difference, they were among the top five teams in Europe on that measure as well (the three teams named before plus Ukraine) and the team does have a good balance of defence and attack as well as excellent team chemistry, though how well they will manage in unfamiliar conditions, both of tropical Brazil and international tournaments, remains to be seen. 

Bosnian players celebrate qualifying for WC2014


At 5/6, to qualify from the group they are firm second favourites by the bookmakers. Given odds of 150/1 to win the tournament outright, coincidentally the same as other former Yugoslavian entity Croatia and the same as Japan and Mexico.  


  • Iran -  Iran tends to qualify every other World Cup or so, as they did this time (but not last time). Somewhat defied expectations to finish ahead of South Korea in their group and while the 49th ranked team in the world will probably not be expecting to top Group F, the teams they've been placed with might leave them tentatively hopeful of making it to the knockout stages for the first time.
Iran celebrate qualifying for World Cup 2014

Coach Carlos Quieroz has assembled a strong team (at least, compared to the recent past) in part due to his willingness and enthusiasm for contacting players throughout the Iranian diaspora, a fact he has been widely commended for. That being said, the majority of players are home-based with a few scattered around several European leagues. The team's strength, at least based on qualifying, comes from their strength as a unit. They only conceded 2 goals during all 8 qualifying matches (though they only scored 8).



Given 5/1 odds to qualify from the group, they are the least expected to make it to the Round of 16, and while it is likely that they would indeed be returning early, these are probably odds than Iran may have expected. They are 4/7 to finish bottom of the group, but despite these seemingly solid odds for such an occurrence,  that is no sure thing. At 1500/1 to win the entire thing, those odds seem, if anything, too good as there is very little chance of that happening. 


  • Nigeria -  After easily disposing of an Ethiopian team that surprised many to even be in the final playoffs, Nigeria have found themselves in an ideal group to make it to the first knockout stage for the first time since 1998. It would not be harsh to say the Super Eagles have underachieved at the World Cup stage given the considerable talent they possess. They have had an excellent 2013, winning the African Cup of Nations where the team really took their performances into high gear into the knockout phase and played some top quality football.
Nigeria after winning Cup of Nations 2013

During the last World Cup, Nigeria disappointingly fell at the first hurdle, managing only one point. That time, they were also placed in a group with Argentina and teams they would have fancied overcoming and they will be hoping the events of the past four years will not repeat. The only Nigerian player in South Africa who came out with a heightened reputation was goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who made several crucial saves, though sadly his efforts were in vain. Since that time he has established himself as the best shot-stopper in Africa and one of the best in the French Ligue 1. Nigeria has several players across Europe's bigger leagues, including Chelsea's John Obi Mikel , who despite finding playing time less regular in London was a star player during last year's Cup of Nations. Premier League attackers Peter Odemwingie, Victor Moses and Shola Ameobi are also included in the preliminary list for Nigeria.
Enyeama makes a save


While not expected to win the group, with odds of  9/1 for that happening, 11/8 for qualification does not seem to be a bad analysis at all. Whoever tops Group E are unlikely to be too scared at the prospect of facing Nigeria but they are more than capable of causing an early knockout of France or Switzerland.  At 250/1 to win it all, the odds are surprisingly (and too high) on them. 






Wednesday, May 14, 2014

(Short) Analysis of the (length of stay for) teams at World Cup 2014 - Groups C and D

I like World Cup, quite a lot, and think it's the best of all the tournaments that exist in football and very possibly in all of sport (at least for any tournament focused on one sport since the Olympics is amazing because of the variety). So I'll be trying to figure out how likely each team is to get out of the group stages and how far they'll probably go if they do. All the odds are from www.bet365.com which is the site I use most for trend spotting in sport (it's like my sport-Bloomberg).



Group C






  • Colombia - The injury of Falcao has reduced Colombia from being able to potentially match any team in the world (by outscoring them while conceding a lot of goals probably. The defence isn't the best) to being another team teams would rather avoid but no longer fear. Even though he's expected to go to the World Cup, he's not fully fit and well short of any match experience. Many of Colombia's players are playing in Europe and should have experience at the higher levels of club football, but Colombia hasn't been to a World Cup since 1998 (a tournament Faryd Mondragon, who is in the expanded squad of thirty, played in) so they may be a bit short of experience at the highest level. But they did reach the quarter finals of the last Copa America and perhaps that experience may be useful. 
Falcao, after surgery

Ranked 4th in the world at the time of the draw, they have since retained that ranking but it has always looked likely to be an overstatement of the team to believe they are the fourth best of any nation currently. Group C, however, looks very favourable and Colombia's seeding due to that high ranking has given them an opportunity not just to make it to the Round of 16 ( excellent odds of 1/5) but also win the entire group, which bookmakers have odds of 4/5 to occur. 

Winning the group won't mean an easy passage into the quarter finals as Group D runner's up will most likely be 2012 Euro finalists Italy, current Copa America champions Uruguay or England. They are given odds of 33/1 to win the entire tournament, which seems much too high for a speculative bet.

  • Greece - Managed to easily come through the UEFA playoffs, somewhat surprisingly, since Romania are a tough side to break down. They have a side with a mix of experience and youth and many players from World Cup 2010 are likely to be going to Brazil already. The captain Giorgos Karagounis was a part of Greece's Euro triumph 10 years ago and will probably be filling the team with stories and inspiration from that tournament.
Karagounis holding the Euro trophy in 2004

Greece have gotten lucky to be placed in a group which gives them a decent, though not simple, chance at qualification for the second round. They have the outside bet of the group at 9/4 and will face tough games but the kind of tough games between two teams on fairly even strengths not matches where they are outright underdogs. At 300/1 to win the whole thing, Greece have the same odds as South Korea.


Greek players celebrate scoring against Romania


  • Ivory Coast -  Les Elephants will have let out a huge sigh of relief after the draw. In their third appearance ever at the World Cup (and third in a row), the Ivory Coast finally have a realistic chance of exiting the group stages. They gave a good account of themselves in 2006, in a group containing Netherlands and Argentina and finished with 3 points. In 2010 they managed 4 points, in a group containing Portugal and Brazil, managing a commendable 0-0 draw against Portugal. This time they'll probably be hoping to continue increasing their points total. 



Highest ranked of all the African nations at 21st in the world, the Ivory Coast have a squad of veterans and youth, which is usually thought to be the best mix. Several players have World Cup experience and most of the players who are likely to be called up play in Europe. While the star player is Yaya Toure, who possesses a mix of power, speed and skill currently unmatched in football, ably supported by an older but still lethal Didier Drobga, this Ivory Coast team seems more about the team than focused on any individual players needing to take them through.

Ivory Coast players Drogba and Yaya Toure


Qualified rather easily by beating Senegal 4-2 and shouldn't be unduly worried by any team in the group, though they won't be extremely confident of a win either. At 10/11  to make it to the knockout phases, they just fractionally make the second best odds ahead of Japan but the fact that both teams are 9/4 to finish bottom of the group should indicate how close the group is. At 125/1 to win the World Cup, it might not be the best bet considering also at 125/1 are Ecuador. But should be a more sensible bet than 100/1 on Mexico. If they make it out of the group, Ivory Coast probably have the firepower to take out England in the Round of Sixteen and possibly even match up against Italy.
Ivory Coast players celebrate their first leg win against Senegal in the WC qualifiers






  • Japan-  The first nation to qualify for the World Cup, all the way back in June 2013. Having never made it to the World Cup before 1998, Samurai Blue have been to every World Cup since. Knocked out on penalty kicks at the last edition, they'll be hoping to at least make it that far and possibly cause an upset or two. 
Japan celebrating their qualification for the World Cup  

Japan has always had very good, very technically gifted players but have been accused (usually correctly) of not having the imagination or "genius spark" necessary to really change a game. In Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, they could claim to now have those players, but recent club form of them both is a cause for concern on their impact. A host of players in the squad play in Germany with the rest playing in Italy, England and Japan but there isn't a lot of players with South American experience and perhaps the conditions might be tough going, though usually Japanese players are known for their high work rate (re: Nagatomo, Uchida, Hasebe).
Kagawa and Honda for Japan

 Given 1/1 odds to progress from the group stages, Japan have about a good chance as anyone in this group of playing in the knockout phases. Their 150/1 chances of winning the entire tournament seem accurate though since they, unlike Ivory Coast, do not have the firepower to take out England and don't have the creativity to beat Italy. 

Group D 





  • Uruguay- Seeded team Uruguay had to struggle to get to the World Cup, coming fifth in COMNEBOL qualifying (albeit on goal difference) and had to go through the playoffs where they're thrashed Jordan 5-0.
Uruguay players celebrating their win over Jordan

Despite the slips during qualification, the Copa America holders are seen as one of the strongest teams in the tournament and a repeat of last time where they went to the semi-final (and really gave Holland a fight) would not be surprising. A squad of mostly the same players that went to South Africa with a front trio of Diego Forlan  (Golden Ball winner at the World Cup  ), Luis Suarez (English Premier League Player of the Season) and Edinson Cavani (record signing in French football at 64 million Euros) will not be easy to beat, especially to stop them from scoring.

Attacking trio- Cavani, Suarez, Forlan

Seen by the bookmakers as second favourite to qualify at 4/9 , somewhat surprisingly behind Italy but both teams are given the same odds of 13/8 to top the group meaning it's not a straightforward thing to even predict who seem to be favourites in this tough group. Tellingly, Uruguay are given lowest odds of finishing bottom of the group at 14/1.  At 25/1 to win the whole thing, behind Belgium and France, this is probably one of the best undervalued odds to speculate on.



  • Italy - A lot to prove after the horrible showing four years ago where, as defending champions, they failed to win a single game and finished bottom of a group containing New Zealand and Slovakia. If that group seemed straightforward, this one is anything but. 


Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 after winning the tournament

Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro in World Cup 2010 after group stage elimination

This Italy team has been extensively rebuilt from the last World Cup and during that time managed to reach the final of Euro 2012 where they lost (comprehensively) to Spain. The four-time World Cup winners are known for their strong defence termed the catenaccio, named after the Italian word for door-bolt, since they "locked up" the entire back line. This team follows in that tradition with Juventus trio (another Italian tradition of being Juventus-heavy) of Bonnuci, Barzagli and Chiellini all in dominant defensive form. In Mario Balotelli and Marco Verratti, the Azzurri have real game changers though coaxing the best out of them and getting them to behave is another matter altogether.

Bonnuci, Barzagli and Chiellini for Juventus

They are, somewhat surprisingly given the best odds in the group to qualify at 2/5 but as mentioned before they're given the same odds as Uruguay to top the group. Should have an easy team to face in the Round of 16, in theory, whether they top the group or not and 25/1 to win the tournament, they are probably a wiser bet than the Belgians who are 14/1. 

Balotelli and Verratti training for Italy



  • England - The English media are so far not hyping the team as much as they usually do before large tournaments and perhaps for once the team isn't carrying far more overbearing expectations than they should. The team won their UEFA group easily to secure automatic qualification while only conceding four goals through the entire thing. However the 1966 World Cup winners are far from sure of making it to the knockout phases of the tournament and that's not even taking into account the notoriously bad form of England in tournaments over the last two decades or so, since they have not reached a semi-final of a major tournament since Euro 1996.

At the last World Cup, England played quite poorly and unfortunately for them this squad seems, on paper anyway, a worse one defensively than the one they carried to South Africa. Gary Cahill is perhaps the only defender who can claim to be in good form (though Luke Shaw and Glen Johnson are playing well at fullback, their contributions tend to be offensive). The English attack gives more to be optimistic about with Liverpool duo Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge coming off the back of excellent seasons as do Southampton pair Rickie Lambert and Adam Lallana.
Sturridge and Sterling for Liverpool

Given odds of 8/13 to qualify and 9/4 to win the entire group, England are seen as less likely than both Uruguay and Italy to be playing any football after the 24th of June in Brazil and probably with good reason as this English team is no more than a decent team on paper and will need very strong leadership (which can perhaps be provided by Gerrard, or more likely, not provided) to be more than the sum of their parts. At 30/1, The Three Lions are probably a bit overpriced for a casual bet.


  • Costa Rica - Finished second in CONCACAF, to everyone's surprise, since anyone but Mexico and USA being top two is rarely considered (even though for World Cup 2002 Costa Rice topped qualifying, but football memory around here forgot that exception). Their reward for qualifying so well was this group, which all but seals a short trip to Brazil for them. Costa Rica are not really able to claim to be among the better half of the teams of the tournament and to make it to further stages would have required to be lucky in the draw as well as on the field. They'll have to hope for some major upsets to be playing knockout football


At 50/1 they easily have the lowest odds of any team to win their group, even lower than the 33/1 given to Australia, Iran and Honduras. Given 9/1 odds to make it out of the group and 2500/1 odds to win the tournament outright, which are the lowest of the entire tournament, this bet is perhaps only for those who have money to waste.







Monday, May 12, 2014

(Short) Analysis of the (length of stay for) teams at World Cup 2014 - Groups A and B





I like World Cup, quite a lot, and think it's the best of all the tournaments that exist in football and very possibly in all of sport (at least for any tournament focused on one sport since the Olympics is amazing because of the variety). So I'll be trying to figure out how likely each team is to get out of the group stages and how far they'll probably go if they do. All the odds are from www.bet365.com which is the site I use most for trend spotting in sport (it's like my sport-Bloomberg).




Group A





  • Brazil- Automatically qualified as hosts and at 1/20 to qualify have the second best odds of any team to make it out of the group phase behind Argentina (who have probably the softest group). It's with good reason Brazil have such low odds and they're considered favourites. Winning or even coming second in Group A doesn't mean an easy run as it probably would result in a round of sixteen clash against either defending champions Spain or the team that Spain beat in last tournament's final, The Netherlands (who knocked out Brazil last time). This Brazil team however easily swept away Spain at last year's Confederations Cup final in Rio and a young Dutch side probably doesn't hold much terrors either. 
Members of the Brazil squad

At 11/4, Brazil also have the best odds to win of all 32 teams and barring an upset (which, is always possible in World Cup. So possible that upsets are, paradoxically, expected) they'll probably be in the final in July.
Brazil players celebrate after winning Confederations Cup 2013

  • Croatia- Came a somewhat distant second in their qualification group, 9 points behind a strong Belgium side (who some are calling dark horses for the World Cup (I have my doubts about that)), Croatia qualified through the playoffs by beating Iceland (who were probably the weakest of the UEFA playoff entrants). They were, at the time of the draw, ranked 18th in the world and currently sit 20th. They also have the second best odds to get out of group A at 5/6. 
Croatian players celebrate qualifying for the World Cup

That being said I doubt they will actually come out of the group since Mexico tends to play well through group stages of tournaments (though they did struggle to qualify). If they do come out of the group, they're at 150/1 to win outright and realistically they stand very little chance of getting past Spain or the Netherlands. But then again, no one gave them much chance in 1998 and they came third. 
Croatia's Golden Generation who came third at World Cup 1998

  • Mexico- Qualified through the playoffs against New Zealand. Everyone in the region was surprised, first by Mexico not topping the CONCACAF group and then by losing matches to the USA, Costa Rica and Honduras who finished above them to take the automatic qualification spots. The Mexican team did not play well at all through the qualifying phase also drawing five games but stormed through the playoff 9-3 on aggregate, though they did play a team almost 90 places below them on FIFA rankings.
Mexican players celebrate a goal against New Zealand

 Odds of 6/5 to come out of the group seems fair based on qualification struggles but Mexico is usually strong in the group stages and probably should make it out of the group. They'll be avoiding Argentina in the Round of 16, if they make it that far, which might have provided a relief about being knocked out again by the Albicelestes , though looking at Group B, that relief probably is short lived. At 100/1 Mexico are given the best odds of a CONCACAF team of winning the tournament and they are a team that has repeatedly under-performed at the World Cup, never getting past the Round of 16  after their ban in 1990. But I doubt this will be the year Mexico makes a deep run in the tournament.  

  • Cameroon- Pele predicted that an African team would win the World Cup before 2000. That prediction was just one of many representations of his inaccurate foresight but that run to the Quarter Final in 1990 did win them a lot of fans. They only lost one game during qualifying (to Libya during the second round) and qualified after beating Tunisia 4-1 on aggregate during the CAF Third Round playoff. Cameroon are looking for their first win or points since 2002 and would be hoping to make it out of the group stage for the first time since that famous 1990 run.
Roger Milla's famous dance celebration at World Cup 1990
     They have their own talismanic veteran striker this time too,  though 33 year old Samuel Eto'o  is quite a few years younger than Roger Milla was in 1990, he'd probably be quite fine with emulating the old man (38 during the tournament in Italy) by scoring four goals. 
    Eto'o in action for Les Lions Indomitables


    At 5/1 odds, the bookies don't seem to think they'll be coming out of the group stages and I also don't think they can manage to hold off both Mexico and Croatia to steal second, far less win the entire group. At 500/1 odds to win the entire thing, they're right down with the most outside shot teams and have the same odds as Australia. Don't expect to be seeing them in the Round of 16 and anything further than there will be greeted as a tremendous upset. 


    Group B




    • Spain - Defending champions and number one ranked team at the time of the draw as well as time of writing, Spain are one of the teams to watch for World Cup. Yet they're 13/2 to win it outright which puts them as fourth likeliest according to the bookies. Spain weren't expected to win the last World  Cup but as two time defending European Champions as well as the last World Cup winners, the pressure of expectation is with them. Perennial underachievers Spain has recently come good by winning major trophies (albeit coupled with a weakening of most of the world's powerhouses, it's still impressive) but the cycle may be coming to an end. 
    Spain celebrating winning the World Cup in 2010

    Major players for them such as Xavi, Iniesta and Pique (not a coincidence all from Barcelona) have lost form and the humbling in last year's Confederations Cup final do not seem like a strong foundation to be hopeful for a repeat trophy win. Spain are a squad blessed with bountiful attacking talent and should easily make it out of the group stages (odds are 5/1 that they do). However the defence remains a problem and even with the rise in form of Sergio Ramos this season, the hole left by the departure of Puyol in the defence (he hasn't retired, so maybe he might get an unexpected ticket to Brazil) might prove to be a fatal flaw.

    These guys, catching up on reading



    • The Netherlands - The Dutch making the final at the last World Cup both galvanized and divided the country (I spent most of that summer in The Hague and by the time the final even the baker was giving out orange croissants along with ten minute discussions on why he disliked the Dutch current style of play). Not blessed with the tightest defence, they made up for it by being the roughest and rode that aggressive (at times, illegal) style of play to within four minutes of a penalty shootout.
    Van Bommel trips Xavi during the World Cup Final


    Regularly described at the best nation to never win the World Cup ( a moniker also applied to Spain before 2010), the Dutch team stormed through qualifying racking up 28 points out of a possible 30 and scoring 34 goals to have the highest goal difference in Europe of +29. They experimented heavily and several players were given debuts, with heavy emphasis on youth. The loss of Kevin Strootman, one of the players who was deemed indispensable, will have a huge impact on their chances.
    Strootman's injury affects Dutch chances greatly

    Unlucky to be drawn in a group with Spain and potential banana skins Chile and Argentina, Holland are 8/15  to qualify from the group and should really be thinking about topping the group, as this current crop are less likely to be able to knock Brazil out of the World Cup in a repeat of four years ago. If they avoid Brazil in the first knockout round and maybe ride their luck, they could yet prove decent betting value since they're 28/1 to win the entire thing, same as Colombia (and a probably much more sensible bet).


    • Chile -  The teams out of South America are always ones other teams rather avoid. This time even more so as they're playing on their own continent in familiar conditions. La Roja scored (with 29) more goals than anyone except Argentina to come third in the COMNEBOL qualification group, though their defensive lapses meant they shipped in 25 goals as well to only have a +4 goal difference. Any team that comes third in South America is strong (even without Brazil in the qualification round) and though Chile lack many players at top European clubs other than the Juventus pair of Vidal and Isla and Alexis Sanchez at Barcelona the squad can cause an upset.

    If placed in a group other than this very tough one, the odds on Chile qualifying for the knockout stages would have been much better. As it stands Chile are 1/1 to make it to the Round of 16 and that seems a fair representation after taking into account familiarity (perhaps, anyway. South America is a big place) with the conditions. They probably have the ability to take a point or even three off of Holland and one of their few big names, Arturo Vidal, can claim to be the most complete footballer in the world currently.

    Arturo Vidal for Chile

    At 40/1 to win it all, Chile are sensibly placed by the bookies. Though if they make it out of a strong Group B, perhaps the other more fancied teams might rather avoid them. With a World Ranking at #13 currently, they won't be pushovers.


    •  Australia- Most Aussies I speak to refer to football when speaking about Aussie rules football, a sport which is more popular than soccer Down Under. Football can lay claim to being at best fourth most popular sport in Australia with A-League attendances per match lower than Australian Rules, both codes of Rugby and cricket. Which makes their qualification for the World Cup even more impressive as this is the third tournament in a row they qualified for. 

    They'll be hoping to have a better start than last time, when they began by losing 4-0 to the Germans, which ultimately meant their draw against Ghana and win against Serbia couldn't prevent them from going out after the group stage on goal difference. This time around their goal difference might be even worse than the -3 in South Africa, considering who they're facing.
    Tim Cahill being sent off against Germany

    Australia do have a lot of players scattered across Europe including goalkeeping pair Mitchell Langerak and Brad Jones, backup keepers at the English (Liverpool) and German (Borussia Dortmund) second placed league teams, respectively. The main talent of the team is probably still expected to be former Everton player Tim Cahill, now at New York Red Bulls. 

    At 7/1 to leave the Group, the only team they are the team bookies consider most likely to need to buy tickets back home after three matches (their last match at Curitiba has one-stop flights to Sydney from the airport, conveniently ). They're 500/1 to win the whole thing but if they do somehow make it out of the group expect those odds to drop significantly. In an unrelated note, Australia have won three Cricket World Cups and two Rugby World Cups. Don't bet on them adding this one to the pile.