World Cup

World Cup Finals Recap: Germany - 1 Argentina - 0

Just over a month ago Germany tied Cameroon 2-2 in a World Cup tuneup. A few days before that, they found out that one of their star attackers - Marco Reus - was going to be injured for the entire World Cup. At that point, Germany looked nothing like finals contenders based on form, or, quite frankly, talent. They were a team with no attacking depth, no consistency in the midfield, and no positional awareness in the back (playing center backs at left and right back is a really, really, odd thing to do - especially when you have one of the best right backs in the world, Philipp Lahm, on the roster). So, how did a team with so many fundamental problems perform so dominantly on the biggest stage? Well... Lets find out.

Attacking depth was no problem, as fringe players like Andre Schurrle, Mario Goetze, and Miroslav Klose thrived as impact subs and in some cases surprise starters. If anything, they had too much attacking depth, as talented attackers like Lukas Podolski and Julian Draxler could hardly get a minute of game action.

Next, we visit the problem of inconsistency in the midfield, mainly concerning the two pivot-midfielders. In friendlies, we frequently saw Philipp Lahm and Sami Khedira in the pivot, with Toni Kroos sometimes stepping in to replace one of the two. However, we found ourselves frustratingly having to ask, "where is Bastian Schweinsteiger??" When the World Cup finally did come around, Schweinsteiger finally did find his spot in the team alongside Sami Khedira, while Philipp Lahm was moved to his more natural position of right back and Toni Kroos was moved back to a more attacking position, leaving us wondering why they hadn't gone with that setup all along.
The final problem was that of having four centerbacks along the back line as opposed to two centerbacks and two wing backs, creating a lack of pace and a lack of wide attacking options. The problem was easily fixed on the right hand side by having Philipp Lahm return to right back, while the left side was admirably controlled by Benedikt Howedes, but they will certainly be looking for a natural left back in years to come.

The result of these tactical maneuvers was a well oiled machine that honestly never looked like loosing against Argentina. In terms of chances, the teams were fairly even, but Argentina didn't quite seem like they were at the races today, and if it weren't for a couple of chances that the Germans accidentally gifted them, they would have looked sorely overmatched on the stat sheet and on the pitch. Argentina deserve credit, for they gave Germany an immense challenge, with stiff defense and the occasional run of possession on the counterattack (however, their finishing was woeful). Despite this loss, there is no doubt in my mind that Argentina was the second best team in this tournament and were more than deserving of their silver medal. The real loser of this game has to be Lionel Messi, who had the chance to push his credentials over the top but really struggled to have much of an impact on the game (as far as I'm concerned he wasn't even the best player on his own team, as Javer Mascherano narrowly outplayed him). The free kick which he skied over the bar with just seconds left seemed to be a manifestation of his frustrating performance.

In the end, though, all of the credit has to be given to this wonderful Germany team, who played a near-perfect tournament and finished it off with a near-perfect victory. Once again, the stars - Muller, Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Klose, and Neuer - led the way, but it was the youngsters and the super subs - Schurrle, Goetze, Boateng, and Kroos - that put in the most critical performances today. Congrats to Germany, the well-oiled machine, and condolences to Argentina... Can't wait until 2018!

The USA's Guide To Beating Belgium

We did it... I told you it would happen and none of you believed it. I also told you that if we made it out of the "Group of Death" I would write another guide for the USMNT, so here I am.
Belgium are certainly a good team, but after watching their group games, it is apparent that they are a more beatable team than their roster would indicate. Despite talented players like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Kevin De Bruyne littering their roster, they still haven't gelled together in this World Cup. Thus, the US should be fairly confident entering this contest, as long as they put out the right players into the right system - that's what I'm here to do.
The tactical situation for the US against Belgium is a bit of a catch-twenty-two; Belgium are most dangerous on the counter, so setting out to hold onto the ball for much of the game could prove deadly, but Belgium are also willing to hold onto the ball themselves, so sagging back wouldn't make sense either. However, if one style has been rewarded in this knockout round, it has been the sit back and defend style (see: Brazil-Chile, Mexico-Netherlands, Germany-Algeria, Costa Rica-Greece). In all the example matches provided, teams with less talent brought teams with much more talent to the brink of elimination by simply defending and hitting on the counter. A team like the US, that is more talented than many of the underdogs listed, should excel using this approach, especially if Jozy Altidore returns to the starting lineup and is able to continue sparking the US counter. If we go with my suggested defend-and-counter style, the most suitable formation would be the 4-1-3-2, which would eventually morph into more of a defensive 4-4-2.
I know, I know, the formation looks rather attack-minded, but in actuality, it's fairly defensive. The four midfielders are all defensive minded, as Jones and Beckerman are traditionally defensive midfielders, Bradley usually plays as a deep lying midfielder, and Zusi is really overlooked when it comes to tracking back. Thus, the entire team, with the exception of Dempsey and Altidore will be sagging pretty deep for much of the game. The defensive is going to be well locked down, but offensively, just Dempsey and Altidore being isolated up top isn't going to get it done, so that puts a huge emphasis on Jones and Zusi being the connecters between midfield and strikers. Jones and Zusi are the perfect players for this job, as Jones has the stamina to run all day, and Zusi has the stamina to run like mad for 70 minutes, at which point he can be replaced by his mirror image, Alejandro Bedoya.
Klinsmann, I hope you read up, because these tactics are the way to do it against Belgium... Good luck USA!!

World Cup Best XI After Group Stage

Here is our second edition of the World Cup Best XI, and this one comes right after the end of the group stages. Once again, so that I can fit as many top players as possible into the starting lineup, I will allow myself a small bit of leniency with the positions.
Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico, Goalkeeper - Ochoa features in the starting XI once again, as he had another brilliant game against Croatia, following two huge performances against Brazil and Cameroon. Ochoa's reflexes and decision-making have been absolutely superb thus far and Mexico will need him to stay at top form if they are going to slip past the Netherlands.

Serge Aurier, Ivory Coast, Right Back - The only person to make this XI from a team who has been eliminated, Aurier has not been incredible so far, but other right backs have been so underwhelming that there are almost no other options. Aurier had two assists in his first game against Japan, but was kept quiet against Colombia and Greece, although he still put in solid defensive performances.

Kenneth Omeruo, Nigeria, Center Back - Omeruo, like Aurier, is a beneficiary of the fact that there have been very few impressive defenders so far in the tournament. Omeruo has led a surprisingly fantastic Nigeria back line, shutting down Iran and then Bosnia (he man-marked Edin Dzeko for much of the game). Though he struggled at times to contain Lionel Messi and the Argentinian attack, his talent was still able to shine through a couple times, as he made several outstanding tackles and clearances.

Johan Djourou, Switzerland, Center Back - After France demolished Switzerland in their second group game, the Swiss back line looked as if they were in shambles. However, Djourou helped them regain form against Honduras, and he looked like the man who we saw in the Swiss opener against Ecuador. Excluding the game against France, Djourou has been undoubtedly the best center back in the tournament.

Daley Blind, The Netherlands, Left Back - Once again, there haven't been too many defenders that have impressed so far in the World Cup, but Blind has probably been the best of all of them. After dominating in the Netherlands' first game against Spain, Blind struggled a bit against Australia, but then was back to top form against Chile.

Arjen Robben, The Netherlands, Right Midfield - Arjen Robben has been, without a doubt, the best player in this World Cup so far. He has tallied three goals and an assist, all of which have been vital to the Netherlands' dominant performances in Group B. Robben's speed, dribbling, and shooting are all fantastic, but the most remarkable thing about Robben's game is that everybody knows that he can only go left but he continues to succeed in doing it.

James Rodriguez, Colombia, Center Midfield - Everybody knew J-Rod was good, but nobody knew he was this good. Rodriguez has three goals and two assists for Colombia and is the main reason why the team has been so incredibly impressive. Rodriguez just moved to Monaco for about 45 million dollars, but his transfer stock has to be rising even more with his performances in this World Cup.

Neymar, Brazil, Left Midfield - Neymar was left off of our previous XI because, even though he was scoring goals, he wasn't having the consistent effect on matches that we expect out of him. Well, in his last game against Cameroon, Neymar finally showed off all of his talents with a dominant performance all over the pitch and was rewarded with two goals.

Thomas Muller, Germany, Striker - Questions were being asked about the German striker position before the World Cup started, but Muller, who is not a natural striker, has really dominated the role for Germany. With four goals already this year, Muller now has 9 total World Cup goals and is on pace to become the greatest World Cup scorer of all time.

Lionel Messi, Argentina, Striker - Does anybody still think that Messi isn't the best player in the world? The last thing that Messi had to do was to perform for Argentina at the biggest stage, and he has certainly done that so far, with an impressive total of four goals. He wasn't in our last starting XI because he wasn't dominating every facet of the game like he should (much like Neymar) but in his most recent game against Nigeria, Messi showed us why many consider him to be the best.

World Cup Best XI After Match Day 2

Each team has played two games and the landscape of the World Cup now appears much different from what it was just a couple weeks ago. Thus, here are our updated picks for the best XI of the World Cup so far. Because I am trying to fit as much talent into a single XI as possible, I will give myself free reign over positional decisions - for example, even though Arjen Robben has played striker for the Netherlands, there have been many impressive strikers and fewer outside midfielders, so I will play him at right midfield, where he plays for Bayern Munich.
Guillerme Ochoa, Mexico, Goalkeeper - Put on one of the best individual performances by a goalkeeper that we have seen in a long, long time. He made three separate point-blank saves to help Mexico to a huge tie against Brazil.

Serge Aurier, Ivory Coast, Right Back - Was The Ivory Coast's best offensive outlet against both Japan and Colombia down the right flank. Aurier had two assists, both on beautiful crosses, against Japan and was equally as dangerous (but perhaps not as lucky) against Colombia.

Jalal Hosseini, Iran, Center Back - Iran's back line has been absolutely superb through two games against Nigeria and Argentina, and that is largely due to the play of Jalal Hosseini. Hosseini is the veteran man on the Iranaian back line, and it has showed, as he has made countless brilliant tackles and clearances.

Mario Yepes, Colombia, Center Back - Mario Yepes is 38 years old and still dominating on the 
world stage. Yepes dominates on the ground and in the air, both of which are expected of him, but also has been impressively ambitious in starting counter attacks and moving forward.

Daley Blind, The Netherlands, Left Back - Blind was not nearly as influential in the game against Australia as he was against Spain, but his two-assist game versus Spain is enough to get him into this starting XI.

Arjen Robben, The Netherlands, Right Midfielder - Without a doubt the best player in the tournament so far, Robben has three goals to his name, all of which were outrageous solo efforts. He has played at striker for the Netherlands so far but I'm using my creative license to move him to right midfield, where he traditionally plays for Bayern Munich.

James Rodriguez, Colombia, Center Midfielder - Rodriguez has been the midfield mastermind behind Colombia's recent success; he has two goals in two games as well as countless key passes and dribbles, but I'm not even sure if we've seen the best of him yet, which is a scary thought for Colombia's upcoming opponents.

Mathieu Valbuena, France, Center Midfielder - The French have great finishers and equally impressive holding midfielders, but the question coming into the world cup was whether anyone could connect the two. The answer: yes. The man: Mathieu Valbuena, who has been the most creative player for France thus far, registering a total tally of one goal and one assist.

Alexis Sanchez, Chile, Left Midfielder - Chile has experienced a surprising amount of success so far, and that is largely due to the fantastic play of Sanchez. He is not only the creator for this Chile team but is also the main finisher for them. He has played up top for Chile in the World Cup, but I'm putting him on the wing, where he traditionally plays for Barcelona.

Robin Van Persie, The Netherlands, Striker - He will be disappointed to have to miss the Netherlands final group game against Chile, but Van Persie had a brilliant first two games regardless. His diving header in the Netherlands' game against Spain is one of the best goals of the tournament so far and his total of three goals is tied for top in the tournament.

Karim Benzema, France, Striker - Benzema has a fantastic tally of three goals so far, but he should honestly have several more. He missed a penalty, was denied a goal against Switzerland due to the final whistle, and has refused to take a couple chances himself by passing them off to teammates (he has 2 assists). Benzema has been absolutely every where for France, who now look like legitimate title competitors.

World Cup Group H Update

Though the teams in this group, Belgium, Algeria, Russia, and South Korea, are not particularly talented compared to the rest of the field, they provided us with two entertaining games. Belgium came back to beat Algeria 2-1 and Russia earned a late 1-1 draw against South Korea.

What We Learned About Belgium - They looked uninventive and sluggish in the first half, but with a number of fantastic changes by coach Marc Wilmots, they looked an entirely different team in the second half. Wilmots brought on Fellaini, Mertens, and Origi, all of whom brought energy and creativity up front that was lacking previously. The struggle with this team is that they have so many players who are at the same skill level and play in the same positions so choosing who to start and who to sub on becomes a dilemma. Wilmots may not have started the right crew but he certainly made up for it with some brilliant second half subs. Another thing to watch in this Belgium team is whether the fullbacks, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who are traditionally center backs, can keep up with pacier wingers. Vertonghen yielded Algeria's early penalty because he was not quick enough to keep up with his man, while Alderweireld was the man who allowed the cross in the first place. In the end, Belgian fans will be relieved that Wilmots finally found the right group of players to deliver a win for Belgium.
Belgium's Best Player - Marouane Fellaini, Center Midfielder - Didn't start the game but came on for Dembele in the 65th minute. Scored Belgium's first goal just five minutes after coming in and was in general a dominant force throughout the rest of the second half.
Belgium's Worst Player - Romelu Lukaku, Striker - Was extremely underwhelming - didn't make any of the right runs and even struggled to hold up the ball at times. Was eventually subbed out for Origi, who, despite not playing particularly well, still outplayed Lukaku.

What We Learned About Algeria - Algeria showed very little desire to break into attack but were decently effective on the off chances that they did. The most impressive thing about their performance, though, was certainly their defending, which was absolutely on point until a myriad of second half changes gave the Belgian side a bit more creativity. In a group that appears to be fairly weak, Algeria could make some noise, having already played the most dangerous team. The question that I have concerning this Algeria team is whether they will continue to favor their defense or if they will instead try to play a more free-flowing attack style against their upcoming opponents.
Algeria's Best Player - Sofiane Feghouli, Attacking Midfielder - Provided a consistent outlet for Algeria and also converted the penalty clinically.
Algeria's Worst Player - Mehdi Mostefa, Right Back - Didn't play horribly, but many of Belgiums second half attacks came down the left flank and Mostefa was unable to do anything about it.

What We Learned About Russia - Russia were favored to beat South Korea fairly easily, but they found themselves being outplayed by a decent margin by the Koreans through the seventy minute mark. This poor performance could have been attributed to the fact three of Russia's most successful players, Kerzhakov, Denisov, and Dzagoev were all oddly left out of the starting lineup. After the three were finally substituted into the game, Russia's attack immediately looked more creative and they equalized in the 74th minute. Hopefully their manager will make the right changes for their next game against Belgium or they could be in trouble.
Russia's Best Player - Alexander Kerzhakov, Striker - Odd that he didn't start but made an immediate impact once he came in and scored Russia's only goal.
Russia's Worst Player - Igor Akinfeev, Goalkeeper - Let in a horrible goal that was reminiscent of Robert Green's horrible mistake in goal for England four years ago. Outside of that he looked extremely nervy in general, as he was making indecisive saves all game long.

What We Learned About South Korea - Korea put on an incredibly rounded performance against Russia, as they had to defend early, which they did well, but also broke into attack and had lots of possession throughout the middle part of the game. As Korea grew into the game, they started to gain attacking confidence and eventually got a bit of a lucky goal that came at the end of a great move. This was a well-deserved draw for Korea, who honestly looked the more likely team to win the game and will be confident entering their next game against Algeria.
South Korea's Best Player - Koo Ja-Cheol, Center Midfielder - Was very effective and fairly creative in possession, especially during the middle of the game when Korea dominated much of the ball.
South Korea's Worst Player - Son Heung-Min, Striker - Actually fairly decent in possession and at times one of the more inventive players on the pitch but was absolutely dreadful when it came to the final product.

World Cup Group G Update

Group G provided two extremely enjoyable games, with Germany pounding 10-men Portugal by a score of 4-0 and the United States beating Ghana 2-1 on a very late goal. The outlook of this group looks much better for the US and Germany, while Ghana and Portugal will be devastated by their results.

What We Learned About Germany - Germany put in an absolutely dominant performance against Portugal, which pretty much assures them the top spot in Group G. The 4-0 win was never in doubt, as Germany looked extremely dangerous from the starting whistle and managed to bag three goals before halftime. A big question mark coming into the World Cup for Germany was the striker position, as Miroslav Klose is the only true striker on the roster and he is 36 years old. Against Portugal, Thomas Muller was stuck up in the striker position and preformed remarkably, scoring a hat trick. Another problem position for Germany coming into the tournament was at the fullback slots. Traditionally, Lahm has played right back for Germany, but he was moved to the midfield, while Erik Durm is the only left back on the roster but is extremely inexperienced. Germany ended up playing Howedes at left back and Boateng at right back, two players who are natural center backs, and it worked surprisingly well. If Boateng and Howedes were able to keep up with Ronaldo and Nani than they should theoretically be able to keep up with anybody in the world but we will have to wait and see.
Germany's Best Player - Thomas Muller, Striker - First hat trick of the World Cup and an all-around fantastic performance.
Germany's Worst Player - Philipp Lahm, Center Midfielder - Didn't play that badly but did look a step off the pace - maybe this is just his adjustment period to playing in the midfield.

What We Learned About Portugal - Everybody knows that Portugal is a fairly talented team, and to be completely honest, their talent was on display for much of the game against Germany. Before being reduced to 10 men, Portugal looked potent with the ball and actually controlled much of the possession, however, it is the mental mistakes that eventually tore Portugal apart. Bad passes in the final third, an incredible amount of selfishness from Ronaldo, and a remarkably stupid red card for Pepe were all psychologic mistakes from Portugal on the day. You hate to see such a talented team unwind like Portugal did against Germany but if they don't make quick changes to their mentality we could have a fiasco reminiscent of France's in South Africa on our hands.
Portugal's Best Player - Cristiano Ronaldo, Winger - Hate to give this to him because he was outrageously selfish throughout the game but he did look the most likely to score for Portugal.
Portugal's Worst Player - Hugo Almeida, Striker, and Pepe, Center Back - Impossible for me to choose between Almeida and Pepe for worst player against Germany. Almeida honestly looked like he didn't want to be at the game and was completely disinterested in preforming while Pepe was beaten for the second Germany goal on Mats Hummels' header and was awarded a red card for a stupid decision.

What We Learned About The United States -Overall, the United States did not play well against Ghana so they will be very pleased that they managed to escape with a win. While the defense was extremely stout, the midfield really struggled to string together passes, and that was in a large part due to the weak performance of Michael Bradley. Bradley is usually the key piece in the US midfield, but against Ghana, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman easily outplayed him. Up front, Dempsey had an incredible game until a kick to the face broke his nose and slowed him down a bit. Meanwhile, Jozy Altidore's injured hamstring seems even more problematic as Aaron Johansson really struggled to get into the game at the striker position. If the US could get a win while playing as poorly as we did, people should be optimistic about what sort of results we can get when we play to our full potential. In the end, though, it all comes back to Michael Bradley; Jones and Beckerman can hold the ball in the defensive midfield but we desperately need Bradley to link the defensive midfield to the attackers, and he simply couldn't do that against Ghana.
The United States' Best Player - Jermaine Jones, Center Midfielder - While this could have gone to Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, or even John Brooks, none of them had as constant an effect on the game as Jones did. While he doesn't provide as much going forward as a player like Graham Zusi, Jones was absolutely superb when tracking back and providing cover for DaMarcus Beasley and Matt Besler.
The United States' Worst Player - Michael Bradley, Attacking Midfielder - I think you all saw this coming. Bradley really struggled to connect passes in the midfield, but the US is going to need him to return to form if they want to get anything from Portugal and Germany.

What We Learned About Ghana - To be fair, Ghana didn't play poorly in the least and will be extremely disappointed with the final result. After allowing Clint Dempsey to score just 34 seconds into the game, Ghana maintained nearly all of the possession, but were just lacking that final ball. When they finally got it in the 82nd minute, it seemed as if they certainly wouldn't loose the game and might even go on to win it from that point. However, the rest of the game saw very few chances fall their way while the US managed to leap back in front by means of a brilliant set piece. Because of the result, it would seem nearly impossible for them to make it out of the group, but they proved against the US that they might just have the quality to hang in with Portugal and Germany.
Ghana's Best Player - Asamoah Gyan, Striker - Struggled a bit to put away chances himself but honestly looked the most likely to score for Ghana. Even though he never did score, his beautiful back-heel pass was what set up Ayew for Ghana's lone goal.
Ghana's Worst Player - John Boye, Center Back - Distributed the ball fairly well out of the back but was pretty much responsible for letting both Dempsey and Brooks score.

Top 10 Players Of The World Cup So Far

1. Arjen Robben, Striker, Netherlands - Nobody expected the performance that Robben put on against Spain. Sure, we all knew that he was a good player, but Robben looked like a man possessed, as evidenced by his final tally of two goals on the night. Even when he wasn't directly putting the ball in the back of then net he looked outstanding; with the time wearing on late in the game, Robben recieved a bouncing ball about 5 yards outside the box. I'm not sure there is a single soccer player who could have put the hit on this ball the way Robben did, as he smashed the ball with venom towards the upper left corner. Granted, Iker Casillas made a great on the shot, but at that point it became clear that Arjen Robben is currently in top form.

2. Robin Van Persie, Striker, Netherlands - With cries of "World Cup under-performer" ringing in his ears, Robin Van Persie went out and put on an absolute masterclass performance against one of the more highly regarded defenses in the world. He scored to goals altogether, but it was the first that was truly special and may be the goal that this World Cup is remembered by. Netherlands' left wing back Daley Blind played a perfect ball over the top to Van Persie, who dove with incredible grace to head the ball over the keeper. It will certainly be exciting to see if him and Robben can maintain their form for the rest of the World Cup.

3. Thomas Muller, Striker, Germany - There go Germany's striker problems... With no true striker in the roster outside of 36 year old Miroslav Klose, Germany stuck Muller up top in a false-9 formation that is reminiscent of Spain's formation with Cesc Fabregas up front during the 2010 World Cup. Muller came through, registering a hat trick that included a penalty kick goal and two goals from open play. Though none of his goals were particularly incredible, there is something to be said for him being in the right place at the right time. If Germany have aspirations of winning the cup, they are going to need Muller to remain in form at the striker position.

4. Oscar, Brazil, Attacking Midfielder - While Brazil as a whole played poorly against Croatia, Oscar enjoyed an outstanding game. He had the pass which led to Fred's "penalty," had the assist on Neymar's goal, and managed to score a beautiful goal late in the game. Being a fan of the EPL and watching him at Chelsea, it was incredible to see the difference between his play for Chelsea and for Brazil. For Chelsea, Jose Mourinho employs him behind the striker in his preferred role, but allows him no freedom and insists that he track back on defense. For Brazil, Oscar was allowed to roam wherever he pleased, as evidenced by his 7 completed dribbles (his highest total for Chelsea is 4). Oscar was a big question mark coming into the tournament, so Brazilian fans will be pleased to see that he seems to be on top form.

5. Joel Campbell, Costa Rica, Striker - Arsenal have a real star in Joel Campbell if they ever choose to use him. Campbell's incredible dribbling skills and pace were showcased all night as he tore up the Uruguayan defense, but what was most impressive was his monstrous left foot. Campbell let several very long distance efforts fly on the night and all of them were absolute rockets that missed the net by just inches. On his only goal, Campbell fired the ball back across the goal giving the keeper no chance at a save. With the game winding down, Campbell completed his brilliant night with a beautiful pass in behind the defense that resulted in Costa Rica's final goal. If Campbell continues to play this way, Group D may be even more of a "group of death" than we originally thought.

6. Mats Hummels, Germany, Center Back - Hummels didn't have a ton of defending to do against a 10-men Portugal team, but what little he did have to do was done expertly. The real reason he ends up on this list was his fantastic headed goal. Hummels went up against two mammoths for center backs in Pepe and Bruno Alves, managing to out-jump the two of them and fire the ball into the back of the net. Hummels will have harder tests to come, but the way he played against Porugal certainly makes him deserving of a spot on this list.

7. Karim Benzema, France, Striker - Like Germany, France didn't have too stiff competition, as they were going up against a 10-men Honduras side. However, as soon as Honduras went down to ten men, they immediately packed it in on defense, so it is a testament to Benzema's ability that he still managed to find enough open space and bag two goals. Both goals were clinically finished, the second being a very impressive effort from a tough angle that he simply powered over the goalkeeper's hands. It is also worthwhile to mention that Benzema brings much less baggage than French strikers of the past, which will be a relief to French fans after the fiasco at the South African World Cup.

8. Daley Blind, Netherlands, Left Wing Back - Being a wing back, Blind had a lot of responsibilities to manage, as he needed to provide width in the attack and track back to support the wide areas on defense. He preformed both of these jobs solidly, but what set him apart was his passing. Who knew Daley Blind was going to be the next Andrea Pirlo... His two long balls to Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben both resulted in goals and were both so incredibly directed that I'm not sure they would have ended up in goals if he had even been a foot off in any direction. Many left backs struggle to make any noticeable impact in attack but that was not the case for Daley Blind against Spain - he fueled the Netherlands' attack.

9. Alexis Sanchez, Chile, Striker - For the first twenty minutes of Chile's match against Australia it looked as if the final scoreline was going to be outrageous in Chile's favor. That is a testament to how easily Alexis Sanchez sliced open the Australian defense at the start of the game. Sure, the game settled down a bit and Sanchez found considerably less space to penetrate, but those first few minutes gave us a glimpse of how good Alex Sanchez can be. In the end, he registered a goal and an assist, both in the first twenty minutes, and will be the key player for Chile if they manage to make it out of the group.

10. Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico, Goalkeeper - I'm kind of cheating by adding Ochoa here because his incredible game against Brazil technically wasn't in the first round of games, but his performance was simply too good to ignore. Even in his first game against Cameroon he was brilliant, but against Brazil he was on another level of brilliant. By my count, he made four incredible saves from point blank range and 6 saves in total, both outrageous tallies. His save on a Neymar header early in the game was the best save we had seen yet in the tournament, but he may have trumped it with another save later in the game on a wide open Thiago Silva header. Most importantly, though, he helped gain a huge point for Mexico that will be crucial to their group stage endevours.

World Cup Group F Update

Group F, consisting of Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, and Nigeria, was not incredibly exciting in its first two contests. Argentina beat Bosnia 2-1 and Iran and Nigeria labored to a dull 0-0 draw. Still, we learned lots about all teams involved that may indicate how this group will eventually turn out.

What We Learned About Argentina - They weren't particularly impressive, but Argentina will certainly not be worried about advancing out of the group. Bosnia and Herzegovina are the most talented team in the group outside of Argentina, so, having already won against them, the rest of the group should be a walk in the park for them. With all of the attacking firepower up front, they should have looked much more potent in attack. The reason that many of their attacking stars, including Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and Angel Di Maria, seemed absent may have been because the midfield of Argentina really struggled to provide service. Seeing as Javier Mascherano was the only true midfielder in the team, Argentina may want to make a tactical change and add another midfielder to the side (perhaps moving away from a five-at-the-back formation).
Argentina's Best Player - Lionel Messi, Striker - Until his goal, Messi was actually pretty poor, giving up possession in good positions a couple times. However, the masterclass goal totally redeemed him.
Argentina's Worst Player - Maxi Rodriguez, Attacking Midfielder - Was supposed to drop back into the midfield with Mascherano but instead pushed up and barely touched the ball all game, leaving Mascherano isolated in the midfield.

What We Learned About Bosnia and Herzegovina - Bosnia looked fairly forward-thinking in their first World Cup match ever, which is encouraging. Rather than it back and defend against a talented Argentina team, Bosnia dominated much of the match in the midfield with Miralem Pjanic and even looked pretty decent moving down the flanks. After Messi's goal that put Argentina up by two goals, the team looked a bit deflated, but still, they probably deserved at least a point from the match and will be encouraged that they can succeed against weaker teams like Iran and Nigeria.
Bosnia and Herzegovina's Best Player - Miralem Pjanic, Center Midfielder - Was the clear dominant force in the midfield, holding the ball in an Argentinian midfield that looked very empty.
Bosnia and Herzegovina's Worst Player - Edin Dzeko, Striker - Has historically played very well for Bosnia but struggled to get too many touches on the ball and missed the only small chance that he had.

What We Learned About Iran - While they provide little going forward, Iran looked incredibly stout in the back, albeit going against a Nigeria team that couldn't finish anything. To Iran's credit, striker Reza Goochannejhad looked pretty decent in holding up play but the rest of the team wasn't willing to commit men forward. While the strategy might not be able to hold up against Bosnia and Herzegovina and Argentina, you can certainly expect Iran to try it again.
Iran's Best Player - Mohammad Hosseini, Center Back - Was the best of an Iranian defense that played very well as a whole
Iran's Worst Player - Hagi Safi, Attacking Midfielder - Should have pushed up to help Reza in attack but was mainly concerned with his defensive duties.

What We Learned About Nigeria - Nigeria were incredibly poor on the day and will be extremely disappointed that they couldn't manage anything more than a dull draw on the day. They had nearly all of the possession but had very little creativity in the attacking midfield and were constantly frustrated up front. By the end of the game they were reduced to a bickering group of individuals with very little confidence. To move on they would have loved to have gotten a victory against the weakest team in the group, Iran. With two upcoming games against quality opponents, Nigeria's chances of advancing look rather bleak.
Nigeria's Best Player - Vincent Enyeama, Goalkeeper - Was brilliant against Iran, even with the little amount of work that he had to do. Came up with a huge save on a corner kick that was perfectly executed by the Iranians.
Nigeria's Worst Player - Victor Moses, Winger - Nigeria rely on him to provide attacking creativity, but he did not come through and was on the ball for hardly any time.

World Cup Group E Update

Though Group E is generally considered to be one of the less talented groups, the first two games were fairly entertaining, as Switzerland emerged victorious over Ecuador 2-1 with a late goal and France beat Honduras by a score of 3-0 after an early red card caused Honduras to play the remainder of the game with ten men.

What We Learned About Switzerland - The Swiss did not play well enough against Ecuador, that is, if they wish to live up to their lofty world ranking. Despite having possession for much of the game, they looked very uncreative in attack and fashioned very few clear cut chances. Despite their offensive shortcomings, they were solid in defense (Ricardo Rodriguez had 2 assists as left back and Johan Djourou was a wall) and the midfield held the ball extremely well (Inler and Behrami were fantastic). Switzerland will need their offensive stars like Josip Drmic and Xherdan Shaqiri to start performing if they wish to go anywhere after the group stages, but us neutral fans cannot complain with the exciting finish we got to see from the Swiss against Ecuador.
Switzerland's Best Player - Johan Djourou, Center Back - Was the best player on the pitch all game long, making clutch tackle after clutch tackle.
Switzerland's Worst Player - Stephan Lichtsteiner, Right Back - Was decent defensively but struggled immensely with the final product. Didn't produce a single quality cross - understandably, each of Switzerland's goals came from the opposite (left) side of the pitch, where Ricardo Rodriguez had a fantastic game in contrast to Lichtsteiner.

What We Learned About Ecuador - The big hit on Ecuador coming into this game is that they are very one-dimensional, playing almost exclusively through Manchester United's Antonio Valencia. However, against Switzerland they proved that they are much more than just that, regardless of the final result. Jefferson Montero was explosive and inventive down the left wing and Enner Valencia provided a target up front for a team that usually sees its offense transpire down the right side of the field. Not only did they look decent on offense, but the defense also absorbed pressure very well and goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez was a true bright spot. Their chances of getting past Switzerland and France are still slim, but that's not to say that they can't make it tight.
Ecuador's Best Player - Enner Valencia, Striker - Was a powerful force up front and popped up all over the place. Also detached from his man on a set piece to score Ecuador's only goal.
Ecuador's Worst Player - Cristhian Noboa, Center Midfielder - One of Ecuador's few European players, but failed to do anything positive for Ecuador against Switzerland. Sloppy in possession and fairly invisible.

What We Learned About France - As far as their performance on the field, they looked pretty impressive, which isn't saying too much seeing as they were up against a 10-men honduras side. However, French fans will be even more enjoyed to see that the off the field problems of the previous world cup don't seem to be present this year. Many of the players from that 2010 fiasco have been replaced, but even those that have remained, like left back Patrice Evra, seemed extremely invested in the team as a whole. France took care of business against Honduras and now have to be considered clear favorites in a fairly weak group.
France's Best Player - Karim Benzema, Striker - Great finishing and extremely useful up top. Also provided good passes to his wingers on either side.
France's Worst Player - Mamadou Sakho, Center Back - Had a couple nervy moments although you never truly expected France to be beaten.

What We Learned About Honduras - Considering the relative success of CONCACAF teams so far in the World Cup, people were expecting that Honduras might make some noise against France. Instead, Honduras put together an incredibly poor effort where they spent more time making rash challenges than actually trying for a goal. They were punished for their poor tactics when they earned an early red card that really took them out of the game. Costa Rica showed how a smaller team can overcome a world power in their game against Uruguay, but Honduras failed to follow in their steps and should, frankly, be embarrassed.
Honduras' Best Player - Roger Espinoza, Attacking Midfielder - Easily Honduras' best player going forward, which may not be saying too much.
Honduras' Worst Player - Wilson Palacios, Center Midfielder - Stupid, stupid, stupid play early in the game that caused him to be sent off and put Honduras in a huge hole.

World Cup Group D Update

One of the toughest groups this year, with three teams that have won the World Cup in the past, yielded two extraordinary results, as Costa Rica upset Uruguay 3-1 and Italy defeated England 2-1. The landscape of Group D certainly looks much different than it did just a week ago.

What We Learned About Costa Rica - Many people will account Costa Rica's remarkable win to Uruguay playing poorly or Luis Suarez having to sit out, but they really should be applauding a Costa Rica team that played a near perfect match. Uruguay went up early, but never looked like creating any chances after that, which is a testament to Costa Rica's sturdy defense. Costa Rica's efforts didn't just end with their defense, though, as the offense looked lethal on the counterattack, especially Arsenal on-loan striker Joel Campbell. They may never replicate this sort of performance again, but if they do, Costa Rica could have legitimate aspirations of making it out of the group.
Costa Rica's Best Player - Joel Campbell, Striker - Clear now why Arsenal bought him. He has an absolute rocket of a left foot to go along with a lot of pace, strength, and technical ability.
Costa Rica's Worst Player - Yeltsin Tejada, Central Midfielder - Ended up putting in a decent performance but had several poor tackles throughout the game and I was honestly surprised that he wasn't shown a red at some point.

What We Learned About Uruguay - Well, that was disappointing. Considering their fantastic display in the South African World Cup just four years ago, expectations were high for this Uruguay team, but they just didn't look very talented. The defense looked slow and vulnerable on set pieces, while the midfield seemed invisible and lacked any creativity. Edinson Cavani made a couple decent runs up top but was largely isolated and would have greatly benefited from playing alongside Luis Suarez. Certainly some of their problems will be solved by the return of Suarez, but there were problems all over the pitch for Uruguay that he may not be able to help with.
Uruguay's Best Player - Edinson Cavani, Striker - Really like picking the best of the worst here. Didn't play as well as he is capable is but also didn't look miserable.
Uruguay's Worst Player - Diego Forlan, Striker - For a guy that has a reputation of showing up big time in the world cup, Forlan left us all disappointed. His finishing was abysmal and he really didn't provide much of anything else.

What We Learned About Italy - At times Italy's 2-1 defeat of England was dull and defensive, but there is no denying that Italy's tactics worked and when they broke into offense they were crisp and effective. As always, their defense looked very solid, with Barzagli and Chiellini anchoring the unit, and the midfield, lead by Andrea Pirlo, was both organized and creative. Up top, Mario Balotelli was clinical when it counted, heading in the winning goal off of Antonio Candreva's cross. Italy absolutely look the favorite to exit Group D in first place after this complete performance.
Italy's Best Player - Andrea Pirlo, Central Midfielder - Tough to pick a single player as the win was such a team effort, but Pirlo's passing percentage was too immaculate to ignore, plus, his free kick near the end of the game was truly incredible, despite not going in.
Italy's Worst Player - Nobody - Every single player excelled in their specialized roles. Not a single player that didn't do what was expected out of him.

What We Learned About England - The entire performance, with the exception of the result itself, was pretty inspiring from England. For years their fans have admonished the defensive approach of English national teams, but this team came out with an attacking approach and an incredible amount of fluidity. The defense looked sturdy with the exception of one or two misplays by Gary Cahill and Leighton Banes, and the midfield and attackers morphed into a single cohesive, fairly creative unit (for god's sake even Danny Wellbeck looked good). If they can come with this sort of mentality against Uruguay and Costa Rica, they might just find their way out of Group D.
England's Best Player - Raheem Sterling, Attacking Midfielder - Flowed all over England's attack and generally provided a pacey outlet. Also provided the beautiful pass to Wayne Rooney that led to Sturridge's goal.
England's Worst Player - Wayne Rooney, Attacking Midfielder - Needs to step up and start performing for the national team if he wants to be considered a world class player. Squandered one great chance to equalize and also had a woefully embarrassing corner kick. 

World Cup Group C Update

Little was seen that we didn't already know about the teams in Group C, as both of the games yielded expected results. Colombia defeated Greece 3-0 and Ivory Coast were victors over Japan by a score of 2-1.

What We Learned About Colombia - As far as I saw, Colombia weren't even that impressive in their 3-0 win versus Greece, which is to say that we can probably expect even more from Colombia through the rest of this tournament. Colombia dominated the game early, but then sagged off of Greece for a large portion of the game and gave the ball away carelessly on the counterattack. James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado looked fantastic at times but then disappeared for much of the game. While Colombia's offense was on-and-off, the defense certainly was on point the entire game, which will be relieving to Colombian fans.
Colombia's Best Player - James Rodriguez, Attacking Midfielder - When J-Rod was feeling it, there was no doubt that he was the best player on the pitch, but he needs to maintain that level of play for the entire game.
Colombia's Worst Player - Carlos Sanchez, Center Midfielder - Colombia looked poor in the defensive midfield. They will need Sanchez to step up if they hope to have a better link between the defense and the attacking midfielders.

What We Learned About Greece - Greece have a reputation as a very defensively solid team that doesn't like to go forward, but after they let in a goal in the fifth minute, their entire mentality broke. Rather than continue to sit back and defend, Greece panicked and went on the attack, allowing for Colombia to counterattack as they wished. In a group with as much attacking power and creativity as this group, Greece may find that their defensive tactic will not work, but the most important thing is that they choose a tactic and not abandon it five minutes into the game.
Greece's Best Player - Panagiotis Kone, Attacking Midfielder - Was the most creative player in Greece's attack. Had in stunning shot that was nicely saved by Colombia's Ospina.
Greece's Worst Player - Theofanis Gekas, Striker - Was pretty much invisible except for when he headed a wide open header against the crossbar.

What We Learned About Ivory Coast - The most important thing that Ivory Coast will have learned from their game against Japan is that Didier Drogba needs to start. As soon as he was subbed on, he mad a few brilliant touches and within minutes the ball was in the back of Japan's net (twice). Ivory Coast actually played well for most of the game, but despite fashioning solid chances, their finishing was brutal. They should have scored at least one or two more goals but will be pleased with the result against a solid Japanese team.
Ivory Coast's Best Player - Serge Aurier, Right Back - Though he struggled a bit in the first half, that is understandable seeing as he is just 21 years old. In the second half he provided several brilliant crosses, two of which ended up in the back of the net.
Ivory Coast's Worst Player - Salomon Kalou, Winger - Started in front of Didier Drogba, but struggled to finish off several clear cut chances.

What We Learned About Japan - Japan started off the game looking very creative and were rewarded with a Kaisuke Honda goal, but after that they failed to muster any real chances. They were simply overmatched in terms of skill, physicality, and creativity for the entire rest of the game. Honda looked fantastic, but he will need other player, especially Shinji Kagawa, to step up if Japan want to exit the group. It is true that other teams are not nearly as physical as the Ivory coast, but Japan certainly need to manage teams with strength and pace much better.
Japan's Best Player - Kaisuke Honda, Attacking Midfielder - For much of the game was the best player on the pitch. Had a beautiful goal that gave Japan an early lead.
Japan's Worst Player - Shinji Okazaki, Striker - Was supposed to Japan's big scorer but was nowhere to be seen against Ivory Coast.

World Cup Group B Update

The first two games in Group B were absolutely enthralling, with the Netherlands beating Spain 5-1 and Chile winning out over Australia 3-1. These games told us tons about the four teams and maybe gave us a new outlook on the group as a whole.

What We Learned About The Netherlands -What a stunning effort from the Netherlands... After going down 1-0 to reigning world champions Spain, they came back to score five straight goals in a performance that caught pretty much everyone by surprise. The consensus before the game was that the Netherlands had a good attack but were very poor at the back. However, the back five was fantastic after settling in and left back Daley Blind could even make a shout for man of the match. Outside of the fact that the back five is pretty solid, we learned that when Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie are at the races, there might not be a better striker combination in the entire world cup.
Netherlands' Best Player - Arjen Robben, Striker - Could have been so many people here, but Robben put in an absolutely masterclass performance, with two goals and in general a dominant effort. Once he got in his groove late, there was absolutely nothing Spain could do to stop him.
Netherlands' Worst Player - Nobody - I've been thinking for a while but there literally was nobody that put in a bad effort for the Netherlands.

What We Learned About Spain - Everybody knew Spain was aging but nobody expected it would be this bad. The team looked fairly decent until Robin Van Persie's diving header, and it was all downhill from there. Even when the game was tied at just 1-1, Spain looked tired, sloppy, and like they didn't really want to be there. Diego Costa was supposed to be Spain's newest injection of talent but he was wasteful and struggled to connect with his teammates. Meanwhile, Spain's back line was absolutely abysmal, especially the two center backs, Pique and Ramos, as well as keeper Iker Casillas.
Spain's Best Player - Andres Iniesta, Attacking Midfielder - Spain's midfield was not the most of their troubles and that was largely due to Iniesta's efforts.
Spain's Worst Player - Iker Casillas, Goalkeeper - This honestly could have gone to anybody on Spain's back line, but Casillas was probably the worst, compounding mistake after mistake to make for a performance that he will want to forget.

What We Learned About Chile - Chile started off their game against Australia at a blistering pace, but they slowed down quickly and really allowed Australia to creep back into the game. Early goals by Sanchez and Valdivia seemed effortless for Chile, and it seemed as if the onslaught was on. However, Chile's midfield backed off a bit, which made for a stressful ending before Beausejour's game-sealing goal. Overall, we saw how easily Chile's attacking trio of Sanchez, Vargas, and Valdivia can open up a defense when on form, but they will need a much more complete effort to beat Spain and the Netherlands.
Chile's Best Player - Alexis Sanchez, Winger - Has been on great form for Barcelona which seemingly continued for Chile. Easily the best player on the pitchh
Chile's Worst Player - Arturo Vidal, Central Midfielder - Didn't have a horrible game but we must expect more from a guy considered to be one of the best central mids in the world. Looked lively early but as the game went on it became clear that his fitness is still not quite where it needs to be.

What We Learned About Australia - Australia were the lowest rated team entering the world cup, but they certainly didn't look it against Chile. After going two goals down, they were resilient and managed to get one back through a Tim Cahill header. The final scoreline was 3-1 but that doesn't truly reflect the performance Australia put on. The reality is, Chile should have had no trouble closing them out, but Australia created a very nervy ending for Alexis Sanchez and company. They may not win against Spain or the Netherlands, but don't expect them to be blown out of the water any time soon.
Australia's Best Player - Tim Cahill, Striker - Was an animal up top. None of the Chilean defenders could deal with him in the air and he got his reward with a headed goal in the 35th minute.
Australia's Worst Player - Tommy Oar, Central Midfielder - Got the ball in good positions several times but failed to make anything out of it. Also took several ill-advised long shots.

World Cup Group A Update

In Group A, each of Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, and Cameroon has played just one game, with Brazil beating Croatia 3-1 and Mexico beating Cameroon 1-0. It may only be a small sample size but these two games have told us a lot about each of the teams:
What We Noticed With Brazil - Brazil looked lethargic and not nearly creative enough in their first game against Croatia. With the exception of Oscar, nobody, not even Neymar, seemed at the races. Sure, Neymar scored two goals, but one was a scuffed effort that the keeper should have saved and the other was on a penalty that was awarded after an egregious dive by Fred. This sort of play should be enough to get Brazil to get through the group stages but it may not be enough in the next round against stiffer competition.
Brazil's Best Player - Oscar, Attacking Midfielder - Was energetic and creative throughout the game. Ended the game with an assist and a beautiful toe-poke goal.
Brazil's Worst Player - Dani Alves, Right Back - Pushed way too far up the right side leaving tons of space for Croatia to explore. Was responsible for the space on Croatia's first goal as well as numerous other chances for Croatia.

What We Noticed With Croatia - Honestly, I was a bit underwhelmed by Croatia in their game against Brazil. The reality is, they probably deserved at least a tie if not for the abysmal refereeing, but that was not because they played so well but because Brazil played so bad. Modric and Rakticic played decently in the midfield, but I expected a bit more, and Olic was fantastic in the space behind Dani Alves, but it was clear that they were missing Mario Mandzukic up front. They will look for a much better result when Mandzukic returns against Cameroon.
Croatia's Best Player - Ivica Olic, Striker - Sent in the ball that ended in an own goal and generally enjoyed himself down the left flank.
Croatia's Worst Player - Stipe Pletikosa, Goalkeeper - Had a horrible afternoon that he will want to forget. Should have probably saved each of the three goals, even the penalty, which he got both hands on before pushing it into his own net.

What We Noticed With Mexico - Mexico were the most impressive team in group A through the first set of games. Though they aren't nearly physical enough, they have more than enough creativity to make up for that lack of physicality, and their creativity was on display against Cameroon. The scoreline should have read more than 1-0, as two Giovani Dos Santos goals were wrongly called offsides and Mexico hardly ever found themselves defending. Their entire team looked very strong and they could definitely challenge Croatia for that second advancing spot in Group A.
Mexico's Best Player - Giovani Dos Santos, Winger - Should have had two goals, both of which were wrongly called back for offsides. Also had the original shot which Oribe Peralta cleaned up.
Mexico's Worst Player - Andres Guardado, Outside Midfielder - One of the few Mexican players with European experience but was fairly unimpressive today, giving the ball away several times in the midfield.

What We Noticed With Cameroon I was very disappointed with Cameroon's performance versus Mexico. Cameroon arguably have more talented players than Mexico, who have very few players that play in Europe, while Cameroon have more than a few, including Stephan M'Bia, Alex Song, and Samuel Eto'o. However, they failed to have hardly any possession in the final third and their defense didn't impress either. In the f
inal ten or twenty minutes the game opened up a bit and Cameroon finally started to make a few chances, but it was far too little far too late.
Cameroon's Best Player - Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Left Back - Was the best performer of the Cameroon back line and also pushed forward well, which nobody else on Cameroon seemed to do.
Cameroon's Worst Player - Enoh, Central Midfielder - One of Cameroon's several European players, but looked pretty invisible against Mexico except when conceding fouls, which he did a lot.

World Cup Group Predictions: Group H

First Team To Advance: Belgium
Second Team To Advance: Russia
Teams Heading Home: Algeria, South Korea

If there’s one group that may be a tad boring in this World Cup, it is Group H. Belgium are a fun team to watch, but there simply is not going to be very good competition around them. Russia are on a downward trajectory, Algeria may be on an upward trajectory, but they are still very early in their development, and South Korea just aren’t very good. Belgium should advance out of the group easily, even without injured striker Christian Benteke, as Romelu Lukaku should pick up the goal-scoring load with great service from Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Axel Witsel and Kevin Mirallas. Belgium also have a great defense, lead by Vincent Kompany and keeper Thibaut Courtois. Russia are nowhere near as talented as they used to be, but they do have enough decent players to get by. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and midfielders Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Kokorin are all good players, but in any stronger group they would likely be overwhelmed. Algeria also have several decent players, but they are all fairly young, and Russia’s relative experience will likely win out. South Korea have a few midfielders with European experience, but they are very young at the back and their end product up front will not be nearly good enough. I predict Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku to lead the group in scoring, while I expect Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne to lead the group in assists.

World Cup Group Predictions: Group G

First Team To Advance: Germany
Second Team To Advance: United States
Teams Heading Home: Portugal, Ghana

Call me a homer, call me biased, but I honestly think the two teams to exit the “group of death” will be Germany and the United States. Let’s start with Germany... In terms of talent, Germany easily exceeds all other teams. Their midfield depth is remarkable, and their back five (including goalkeeper Manuel Neuer) is up there with Italy for the best in the tournament. My one concern for Germany is that they only have one true striker on the roster, and that is 36-year-old Miroslav Klose. The reality is, goals are going to have to come from the midfield, and I think Germany’s midfield is capable, with Ozil, Muller, Gotze, Kroos, Schurrle, and Podolski all being bonafide goal scoring threats. In my eyes, the battle for second is then between Portugal and the United States, as Ghana are certainly a good team, but a first game loss to the United States would pretty much mean the end for them. Portugal fans will disagree, but they do heavily rely on Cristiano Ronaldo, and if he is not in full form, they may be in trouble. They do have other solid player like Joao Moutinho, Nani, and Pepe, but none of those players can make up for a half-fit Ronaldo. Meanwhile, the US is in fantastic form right now, winning each of their three friendlies in impressive fashion. Jozy Altidore seems to have found his touch at the pivotal moment, and Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi, and Fabian Johnson all look formidable right now. The biggest problem for the United States right now will be the center back situation, but I believe that Besler and Cameroon will perform admirable at the position. In the pivotal Portgual vs. USA game, Portugal will likely hold more of the ball and have more chances, but I just don’t believe they will be able to finish them without a fully fit Cristiano Ronaldo, while the United States seems to be in great form in terms of finishing. My prediction for the leading goal scorer of Group F is Germany’s Lukas Podolski, while I expect Germany’s Mesut Ozil to lead the group in assists.

World Cup Group Predictions: Group F

First Team To Advance: Argentina
Second Team To Advance: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Teams Heading Home: Iran and Nigeria

Group F should play out in a fairly predictable manner. There is no doubt that Argentina is the top team in the group. They have a remarkable group of forwards that includes Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, and Angel Di Maria. Though the rest of the team is not full of superstars, these four should be able to easily propel Argentina out of the group. Once out of the group they may struggle, seeing as they are asking Aguero and Messi to play wider positions that they are not particularly used to, but in the group they will be fine. Meanwhile, Bosnia and Herzegovina may not have the depth of Argentina up front, but they do have Edin Dzeko, who is a great goal scoring threat, as well as several fantastic midfield players like Adem Ljajic, Miralem Pjanic, and Senad Lulic. Argentina and Bosnia are certainly a ways above the rest, as Iran probably won’t pose any threat, and Nigeria, though they have several solid attacking players, have looked very sloppy and underwhelming in friendlies. My prediction for the leading scorer is Bosnia’s Edin Dzeko, for the simple reason that the Argentinian strikers are so plentiful that there may not be enough goals to go around. As for assists, I expect Argentina’s Lionel Messi to set up the most goals for his team.

World Cup Group Predictions: Group E

First Team To Advance: France
Second Team To Advance: Switzerland
Teams Heading Home: Ecuador, Honduras

Many people are disregarding this group as a boring group with fairly poor talent, but I’m actually really excited for it. Though Honduras isn’t likely to make any noise and France seems to have a bit of a free pass into the second round, I think the race for second is absolutely fantastic. Switzerland have a team full of young and exciting players, while Ecuador have the one and only Antonio Valencia (and a number of other Valencia’s too). The Swiss are a remarkably rounded team, with a back line commanded by Fabian Schar, a solid midfield under the eye of Gokhan Inler, and a pacey group of forwards lead by Xherdan Shaqiri. Meanwhile, Ecuador are pretty much as far from balanced as you can be, as they have a poor group of strikers and defenders but their midfield performs quite admirably. The shining star of Ecuador’s midfield has to be Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia, who plays like a stale loaf of bread for Manchester United, while he looks like Pele when playing for Ecuador, easily gliding past players on the wing and sending in beautiful crosses, which are usually put woefully into the stands by Ecuador’s strikers. In the end, I expect Switzerland to win over Ecuador, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the games will be exciting. My prediction for the leading goal scorer is France’s Antoine Griezmann, who wasn’t even set to start for France until Franc Ribery injured himself, while I predict Gokhan Inler will lead the group in assists.

World Cup Group Predictions: Group D

First Team To Advance: Italy
Second Team To Advance: Uruguay
Teams Heading Home: England, Costa Rica

This group is so enthralling because it has three teams, Italy, Uruguay, and England, who all have ambitious World Cup aspirations to go along with extremely talented rosters. Uruguay’s team sheet probably takes the cake in terms of star players, with a duo of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez up top (plus, don’t forget about Diego Forlan) that is probably one of the best striker tandems in the world. However, despite all the stars on their roster, Uruguay never seem to come together as a team as well as they should, while chemistry is one of Italy’s strongest attributes. Italy also have the veteran experience of stars like Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, and Giorgio Chiellini, to go along with one of the best back lines in the world and a striker, Mario Balotelli, who, when in form, can be one of the most electrifying forwards in the world. Thus, I see Italy taking first in the group and the competition for second place likely being between England and Uruguay. England has a fantastic mix of veterans and youth, as well as a perfect balance of composure and pace, but I just don’t see them having quite enough talent to overcome Uruguay, especially with the recent injury to budding star Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Costa Rica certainly did well to make it out of CONCACAF and qualify for the world cup, but it would be something of a miracle to see them take even a single point from this very difficult group. My prediction for the leading scorer of the group is Italy’s Mario Balotelli, while I see Italy’s Andrea Pirlo taking home the title for most assists.

USA's Guide To Getting Out Of Group G

The USA are underdogs in Group G. There's no denying that. Germany are full of world class players (even without Marco Reus), Portugal have Vogue cover boy Cristiano Ronaldo (I hear he's decent at soccer too), and Ghana tend to kick the United States' asses (plus, they've got a witch doctor working for them). However, soccer in the US has improved in leaps and bounds over the past decade to a point where the likelihood of us surviving the "group of death" is not so improbable. In fact, we have several world class player of our own, including midfield maestro Michael Bradley, star forward Clint Dempsey, prolific scorer (every once and a while) Jozy Altidore, and of course, the one and only Landon Donovan (what's that? he didn't make the team?). However, with the quality of the other teams in our group, the most important player may turn out to be coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who will need to be in top form when it comes to tactics, formations, and player choices. Now, Klinsmann may not be openly asking for advice, but I'm going to give him some anyways... here goes:

Lets start off with formations. The United States historically has utilized a 4-2-3-1 formation, with two holding and three attacking midfielders, but in the recent friendly against Nigeria, Klinsmann opted for a less traditional 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree formation, with three holding midfielders and two wingers. At times in the contest against Nigeria, the formation even morphed into a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield configuration, where the midfielders create a diamond behind the two strikers. Each of these formations lends itself to a different style of play and it makes sense that Klinsmann would change up the formation based on the opposition. Against Ghana, the formation that makes sense is a 4-4-2, because the United States will likely dominate possession and the midfield diamond allows for triangle 1-2 passes  that can slowly break open a stiff defense. Meanwhile, against Portugal and Germany, the more traditional 4-2-3-1 makes sense, because it lends itself to a counter-attacking style of play, where Jozy Altidore can hold up the ball and then distribute to lead to quick, wide attacks. Another added benefit of the 4-2-3-1 is that it uses two wider attacking midfielders, who can double down on the dangerous wing players of Germany and Portugal (see: Cristiano Ronaldo).

As for players, here's my best starting XI to play against Ghana in the 4-4-2 diamond formation:

Goalkeeper - Tim Howard - No real consternation here. Howard was always going to be the starting keeper and has performed admirable in the international friendlies.

Left Back - DaMarcus Beasley - Lightning fast defender who has only gotten better with age. However, he will always be remembered as the guy who peed on the pitch during the 2002 world cup (search at your own risk).

Center Back - Matt Besler - Conceded a penalty in the recent friendly against Nigeria, but he is still the only actual center back on the roster who is capable of managing the position.

Center Back - Geoff Cameron - Not actually a center back. He has formerly played as a defensive midfielder and a right back for his club, but he certainly has the physical attributes to play at center back and Klinsmann seems to agree with me, as he has started every friendly at the position. Honestly I would be fine with a can of corn at center back as long as it means that we don't have to start Omar Gonzalez, who has struggled mightily during the friendlies.

Right Back - Fabian Johnson - Maybe the best player for the United States right now. He is going to need to make the same sorts of forward runs that he has been making as of late if the US is going to break past Ghana's stiff defense.

Holding Midfielder - Kyle Beckerman - Great passer who seems to have some sort of calming effect while on the field. I think he is more suited for the holding role than Jermaine Jones (exciting but at times erratic), especially in a game where we will probably have most of the possession.

Left Midfielder - Jermaine Jones - Usually plays in a central role, but seeing as the 4-4-2 diamond is not a very wide formation, Jones would fit in well here. Alejandro Bedoya also could have been considered for this spot, but he would likely end up too wide and too far forward, whereas Jones will likely stay compact and is not afraid to check back to the defense to pick up the ball.

Right Midfielder - Graham Zusi - Traditionally plays a wider role, so his skills as a crosser might be a bit lost here, but there's always set pieces. Plus, if Jones stays compact on the opposite side, Zusi would likely be allowed to drift outwards and engage in some wider combination play with Fabian Johnson.

Attacking Midfielder - Michael Bradley - Usually plays in a less advanced position, but Klinsmann tried him out in a more attacking role against Nigeria and he was dominant, so I don't see why Klinsmann shouldn't try it again against Ghana.

Forward - Clint Dempsey - Would likely play just off the shoulder of Jozy Altidore making darting runs in behind. His creativity will be key to breaking past Ghana's defensive line.

Forward - Jozy Altidore - Had been in a very long scoring slump before putting two in against Nigeria. When in form, Altidore is brilliant at holding up play, playing neat through passes, and finishing off scoring chances from any position.

On the other hand, here is the 4-2-3-1 that Klinsmann should employ against Germany and Portugal:

Goalkeeper - Tim Howard - Same as above.

Left Back - DaMarcus Beasley - Same as above.

Center Back - Matt Besler - Same as above.

Center Back - Geoff Cameron - Same as above.

Right Back - Timothy Chandler - Hasn't been incredibly impressive in friendlies, but he is a proven player in Europe, and will be given a bit of
cover due to the tracking back of the wings in the 4-2-3-1. This could also be DeAndre Yedlin, who many think Klinsmann brought on the team for the sole reason of defending Cristiano Ronaldo.

Holding Midfielder - Jermaine Jones - Simply moves from left midfield to defensive midfield.

Holding Midfielder - Michael Bradley - Makes the move from attacking midfield to holding in an effort to start off counterattacks quickly from the back.

Left Midfielder - Fabian Johnson - This move provides the US back line with a lot more cover, which they are certainly going to need against Germany and Portugal. Though he would start off on the left, he could end up on the right to help Chandler out with Ronaldo or Podolski.

Right Midfielder - Graham Zusi - Same as above.

Attacking Midfielder - Clint Dempsey - Though the position name changes, Dempsey will be doing pretty much the same thing in both formations, playing off of and behind Jozy Altidore.

Forward - Jozy Altidore - Same as above.

Well... Let's hope Jurgen Klinsmann has been checking in on this blog. If the US makes it out of the group stages you can expect another one of these, so that's something to root for. Go USA!

World Cup Group Predictions: Group B

First Team To Advance: Spain
Second Team To Advance: Netherlands
Teams Heading Home: Chile, Australia

Similarly to Group A (with Brazil), predicting the winner of Group B seems fairly simple, as nearly everybody sees Spain topping the group. Simply put, no team in this group has the defensive fortitude or skill to contain Spain's Tiki-Taka attack, and now that they have Diego Costa to put the ball in the bag of the net, they should breeze through this group. It was only four years ago that the Netherlands found themselves in the World Cup finals where they matched Spain evenly for a full 116 minutes until Andres Iniesta broke through with the winning goal, but they have been on the decline ever since. Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben are both on the wrong side of thirty, and, though they are still forces to be reckoned with, they don't pose quite the same threat that they did four years ago. In the midfield, Wesley Sneijder is still one of the top midfield maestros in the world, but the depth behind him is not strong. Meanwhile, in the back, the Netherlands are incredibly weak, as evidenced by their five-at-the-back formation, which can help sort out some defensive problems, but really inhibits them going forward. Chile actually look fairly similar to the Netherlands, but they are not quite as experienced up front. They have a young and fairly explosive duo of Eduardo Vargas and Alexis Sanchez at the striker positions and they have one of the best young midfield generals in the world, Arturo Vidal, but their problems at the back will likely stop them from advancing out of the group. As for Australia, Tim Cahill is a strong striker, especially in the air, and Mile Jedinak is a solid ball-winning midfielder, but they will need much more than just those two if they wish to even gain a point in this tough group. My prediction for the top scorer in the group is Robin Van Persie, while I expect Spain's Andres Iniesta to lead the group in assists, although other Spain midfielders such as David Silva and Xavi will certainly be in the running too.

World Cup Group Predictions: Group A

First Team To Advance: Brazil
Second Team To Advance: Croatia
Teams Heading Home: Mexico, Cameroon

I don't think anybody doubts that Brazil will exit this group in first place, especially considering they will have the home-field advantage. Though they have not looked incredible in friendlies, when they have played to their potential, Brazil look nearly unstoppable, as evidenced by their recent 4 - 0 thrashing of Panama. Meanwhile, the battle for second place in Group A is much more interesting, with Cameroon, Mexico, and Croatia all being formidable teams. Cameroon certainly have the firepower upfront, with the experienced Samuel Eto'o and Ligue 1 second-leading goalscorer Vincent Aboubakar, and they have a decent back-four, but they are fairly weak in the midfield, which could be a fatal flaw against dominant midfield teams such as Brazil and Croatia. Mexico also are an intriguing outfit, as they are a historically solid team, but have failed to impress this year, especially in their recent friendly losses to Bosnia and Portugal. Finally, Croatia are extremely well endowed up front, with Mandzukic providing goals from the striker position and Modric and Rakitic dominating possession in the midfield, and, despite their minor deficiencies at the back, they should be able to ride their attack out of this group. My pick for the leading goalscorer of the group is Brazil's Neymar, but Croatia's Mario Mandzukic won't be far behind. Additionally, I expect Croatia's Luka Modric to lead the group in assists. Outside of Brazil, who are nearly locks to move on to the next round, this group becomes a very even and exciting battle for the second advancing spot.

No comments:

Post a Comment