Following on from the This Is Anfield writers sharing their predictions for the World Cup, three more of the team share their more in-depth opinions ahead of the tournament.
A potentially obvious choice as so many have picked them, but the attacking strength of the Argentinian squad, which doesn’t even include Carlos Tevez, really does make me wonder how any back four will be able to stop them when in full flow. Messi, Aguero, Higuain and Lavezzi all at manager Alex Sabella’s disposal, goals will surely not be hard to come by and providing the combative midfielders and defensive line can keep them out at the other end, I fancy Argentina to go on and win it.
Runners Up: Brazil
The host nation will be expectant and the team determined to put on a show for their worshipping fans, but a powerful squad that I feel unusually lacks an element of quality in the final third will come up short at the last in an all-south-American final. Uninspiring inclusions of Fred and Jo and a hit-and-miss Hulk mean a big dependency will fall on the shoulders of poster-boy Neymar to fire ‘Canarinho’ to glory, and while he’ll give it his best shot, a shortage of assistance could be Brazil’s undoing.
Surprise Package: Colombia
Chile seem to be the publics’ pick for the surprise package of this summers’ World Cup finals and I too think they’re more than capable of causing a shock. But with them seemingly now a unanimous choice for the tournaments surprise, I’ve chosen to go for another South American side who I feel are underrated and could perform beyond the expectations of most. Although without their talisman and universal icon to injury, goal machine Radamel Falcao, there is still a host of quality players in the Colombian squad which boasts James Rodriguez, Freddy Guarin and Juan Cuadrado.
Qualifying from Group D would line them up with one of the qualifiers from England’s Group C, and I feel that ‘Los Cafeteros’ are capable of coming through that and reaching the quarter-final stages of the competition which is as far as a ‘surprise’ team are likely to progress in the tournament.
Top Scorer: Sergio Aguero
It’s been said countless times that this is the tournament that Lionel Messi finally comes of age on the international stage, and if Argentina want to win it, they will absolutely need the Barcelona man to perform the way he does for his club. This isn’t a team short of offensive talent though and I think that if Argentina do emerge victorious, it will be partly down to goals scored by Sergio Aguero. An exceptional player and lethal finisher, 26 year old ‘Kun’ seems to have shaken off injuries just in time to win the World Cup and claim the Golden Boot in the process.
England: Exit at the last 16
Being no fan of Roy Hodgson and his dinosaur style of play which we unfortunately witnessed first-hand at Anfield, I’d like England to fail miserably and exit at the group stage. However, despite his obvious tactical deficiencies, I do feel there is enough individual quality in the squad to drag themselves through to the last 16 and end one of Uruguay’s or Italy’s campaigns prematurely. A quarter final appearance isn’t unrealistic at all and arguably should be expected of this talented England squad but I think it will be a last 16 exit for Hodgson’s lethargic side.
My England Starting Eleven:
England have some exciting players at their disposal but the manager in charge means that they won’t be best utilised as he plays it safe. There’s nothing to lose for ‘Roy’s Boys’ as expectations are the lowest I’ve ever known, so they may as well experiment. That’s why I’d play technically gifted forward players with an element of pace and a compact diamond midfield with full-backs supplying width going forward.
The team would be: Hart, Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard; Henderson, Wilshere; Lallana; Sterling, Sturridge.
Overall winners: Brazil
If- and it’s a big if- they can cope with the pressure associated with being the tournament’s hosts, Brazil could win their sixth World Cup, exorcising the demons of the last time they hosted the tournament, when a 2-1 defeat to Uruguay in the final left them so psychologically scarred that they changed the colour of their shirts from white to yellow!
The fact that, unlike their major European rivals, they will not have to acclimatise gives them a significant advantage and the draw has been fairly kind to them. With Barcelona’s Neymar in attack, experienced coach Luiz Felipe Scolari in the dugout and a passionate home crowd cheering them on and creating an intimidating atmosphere for opponents, Brazil have every chance of completing a fairy-tale World Cup win on home soil.
Runners up: Argentina
A final between two of international football’s greatest rivals would be a dream contest for every football fan to savour. Thankfully, that dream might become a reality. Like the hosts, Argentina will be used to the South American climate and, with Messi, Higuain, Aguero, Di Maria and Lavezzi; the Argentines have an embarrassment of riches going forward, which will surely give them the firepower to progress to the latter stages.
An unchallenging group stage and last 16 match should see Argentina ease into the quarter finals, where they’ll probably begin to produce their best football and will be supported by an ever-growing number of Argentines making the short trip to Brazil. If they met Brazil at the Maracana for the final on 13th July then the atmosphere in the stands and the football on the pitch will live long in the memory.
Surprise package: France
Traditionally torn apart by infighting before, during and after major tournaments, the French now seem more united under Didier Deschamps and could surprise a few in Brazil. The dramatic way in which they reached the finals, beating Ukraine 3-0 in the second leg of the play-offs to become the first European side to overturn a two-goal deficit, will inspire them to perform well in Brazil, and they’ll hope to give a good account of themselves ahead of hosting Euro 2016.
Like England, expectations are low, but they have a far easier group and are likely to face Nigeria or Bosnia in the last 16 if they top the group. They could realistically reach the quarter-finals, which would represent a significant improvement on their performance in South Africa four years ago, where they bombed out at the group stages.
I don’t expect England to escape what is a very tough looking group D. Italy are the Three Lions’ bogey team and are always difficult to beat, while Uruguay’s attack, consisting of Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani, will give England’s backline nightmares. Even Roy Hodgson, who somehow managed to land the England manager’s job after a terrible time in the Anfield dugout, should be able to lead his team to victory against Costa Rica- although that’s far from certain after disappointing draws in build-up games against Ecuador and Honduras- but by that stage it could be too little, too late, as England face the group’s whipping boys in the final fixture. Knowing England, even if they still have a chance of qualifying for the next round when they come to face Costa Rica, they’ll somehow screw it up against the team ranked 28th in the world by FIFA.
Tournament top goalscorer:Lionel Messi
Messi has often been accused of failing to reproduce his club form on the international stage, failing to find the net once during both Argentina’s 2010 World Cup campaign and the 2011 Copa America that they hosted.
However, manager Alex Sabella has since decided to shape the team around their world-class captain and, as a result, Messi has begun to fire in goals more frequently for the national side, scoring at a formidable rate of a goal per game for Argentina since 2012. If, with the help of the plethora of other attacking players Argentina possess, Messi can continue that impressive form then he has a great chance of claiming the Golden Boot.
England starting eleven:
Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson, Lallana; Sterling, Sturridge, Rooney. Our best hope is to pack the team with as many Liverpool players as possible!
Overall winners – Argentina
Some gut instinct told me that Uruguay will have a really good World Cup run, potentially all the way to the final itself. However, with their less than convincing defence, coupled with the fact they are fellow group D rivals, my prediction of overall winners cannot go to Los Charrúas. That accolade instead goes to Argentina. Everything seems to be in favour for Alejandro Sabella’s men and I can’t see past an argentine success, driven by Lionel Messi. Admittedly the Barcelona talisman hasn’t had the best of domestic seasons and has certainly been performing way below his usual exceptional standards; in great part however due to painstakingly frustrating spates of injury. Yet despite this, when you consider his 28 league goals, only 3 behind the majestic season of Cristiano Ronaldo, it really does show the scale of Messi’s genius. For this reason I believe the diminutive wizard will be seeking to make amends upon the greatest stage of all and help La Albiceleste add to their two previous World Cup titles of 1978 and 1986.
Runners up – Brazil
Undoubtedly the favourites of most, particularly the book-makers, Brazil have every chance of going all the way and securing a sixth World Cup title upon home soil, the birthplace of ‘beautiful football’. Having Brazil down as runners up naturally means I envisage an all South American final, a mouth-watering prospect of which many will agree. With a solid team, Brazil will be hoping for the likes of Neymar Jr, Oscar and Tiago Silva to all have an inspired tournament. That said, my bets would be placed upon the argentines should the South American neighbours lock horns in the Estádio Maracanã on July 13th.
Surprise package – Belgium
Not so much a surprise given the world-wide status of some of their stars, but more with regards to the fact that this could finally be the time when Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ begin to show the world exactly what they are about. With the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku and Vincent Kompany in fine form – not to mention the seemingly unstoppable Thibaut Courtois keeping our very own Simon Mignolet out of the national jersey – it would take a brave and perhaps foolish man not to consider the chances of the Belgians. Battling their way out of a group H comprising Algeria, Russia and the Korea Republic shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge for Marc Wilmots’ team, and after that point, who knows how far they could go?
England – Quarter finals
It’s always a tough one to predict our own fortunes. The optimist in me says that making the semis is a very possible option, yet the pessimist takes one look at our group and nervously doubts the beating of Italy and a Luis Suarez led Uruguay. Though I believe England will struggle to secure 3 points over the Italians in Manaus, the passion to escape the group will be rife in the England camp, and for this reason I think we will be able to take second place. Given Roy Hodgson’s squad, a balanced cocktail of experience and youth, England have many more options than it initially appears. For the first time in a long while we have both exciting and dangerous players in depth, with the likes of Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling able to come off the bench and make their mark; the latter case seemingly dependent on whether or not Hodgson opts for Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck. If you combine this with the notion that Brazil 2014 is highly likely to be the last World Cup of some of our most decorated icons, namely Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and perhaps Wayne Rooney, no better motivation can be procured than having ‘one last roll of the dice’. Whilst I am quietly confident with the 23 men at Hodgson’s disposal, the quarter finals could mark the furthest point of exploration for the Three Lions.
Tournament goal scorer – Sergio Agüero
After a fine Premier League season, albeit hampered at points by injury, Agüero could well provide the necessary fire power for the Argentines in Brazil. Whilst I believe Lionel Messi will stamp his mark upon the tournament in grand fashion, the creativity of the Barca man will be best utilised to supply Agüero as opposed to consuming the limelight himself. It will take an imperial team effort if Argentina are to stand victorious in the home-land of their ridiculously successful footballing neighbours, yet the impeccable finishing of Agüero could be the trump card for Sabella’s men.
My starting England XI – 4-2-3-1
Heavily influenced by our incredible Premier League season, it would be wise for Hodgson to follow a similar regime as employed by Brendan Rodgers.