With the world cup just over two weeks away it is time to start looking forward to the most exciting month in sport and here at Fake Pigskin we will do our best to prime you for the tournament, your bracket challenges (speaking of which join our bracket challenge and beat us!) and your fantasy games. So without further ado it is time for the World Cup Group A Preview
The home nation will be desperate to win their 6th FIFA World cup trophy in 2014 and as always they have a squad that you just can never write off. A big difference this year from previous campaigns is that not only do they have fearsome attacking players they also have a solid defensive group which allows their 4-2-3-1 formation to make them as threatening as possible. They won the Confederations Cup on home soil last summer beating Spain in the final and there is a real chance that we could see the same final in 2014 (If one of the two teams falters in their group we could also see that mouth-watering match up in the SECOND ROUND)
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- Neymar: Probably the main reason they conquered the Spanish last year and once again he will be the man Spain pin their hopes on. He had an unremarkable first season in Spain mixed in with some tough patches and he will want to prove that was just a blip
- David Luiz: This may surprise you but Luiz is crucial to Brazil because as many fans of Chelsea (and the Premier League in general) will tell you he is capable to the odd mistake that can prove costly. The new PSG defender (his new CB partner is his Brazil partner Tiago Silva) should be able to focus more on his defensive ability because in a team as superb as Brazil he doesn’t need to be as creative as he feels he does for Chelsea
Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar (Toronto FC, on loan from QPR), Jefferson (Botafogo), Victor (Atletico Mineiro).
Defenders: Marcelo (Real Madrid), Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Maicon (AS Roma), Maxwell, Thiago Silva (both Paris St-Germain), David Luiz (Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich), Henrique (Napoli).
Midfielders: Paulinho (Tottenham Hotspur), Ramires, Willian, Oscar (all Chelsea), Hernanes (Inter Milan), Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Fernandinho (Manchester City).
Forwards: Bernard (Shakhtar Donetsk), Neymar (Barcelona), Fred (Fluminense), Jo (Atletico Mineiro), Hulk (Zenit St Petersburg).
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- I expect them to go deep into the competition so Brazil players are a premium choice
- However a potential second round tie with Holland or Spain is a concern!
- Neymar and Hulk will likely start every game for them and both are superb scoring options
- Oscar is the first choice attacking centre midfielder but he has struggled with injuries late in the year for Chelsea
- A healthy Fred will be sure to get goals if he starts but Jo is a good gamble late because they will create plenty of chances and he often appears as a sub
- The remaining midfielders could all see game time so it really is your guess as to who will start: My bet is Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo
- Defensively they are fairly solid but could be vulnerable against the top teams
- Marcelo and Alves attack freely and could assist plenty
- I expect Silva and Luiz to be the first choice defensive pairing and both will be threats from corners
- Dante will be first cover for those two
They qualified the hard way by winning a playoff having faded in the group stages after a fast start and they will be desperate to prove they deserve a reputation as a European team to be afraid of. Their team for 2014 is capable of causing embarrassment to the hosts and could be dark horses further on in the competition but they do not have the talent they had 15 or so years ago and getting out of the group will be about as much as their fans could reasonably hope for.
- Mandzukic: Mandzukic was a beast in 2013 for club and country and scored 4 goals in the qualifying campaign to help get Croatia to the world cup. However, he will miss their first game but in a way they are fortunate that is the Brazil game because their key games in the group will be Mexico and Cameroon. Mandzukic is one of the best aerial players in the world and he could be crucial in determining if they make the second round or not.
- Modric: He will be a familiar name to Premier League and La Liga fans for his time at Tottenham and then his current club Real Madrid where he was/is a key player in the centre of midfield. He can provide solidity in the middle of the park and can also provide crucial goals. His experience and knowledge will be something they rely on heavily if things get tough.
- Srna: He will provide his country with solid defensive ability but his real value to them comes with his ability to take wicked free kicks which could be important in taking them through tight games.
Goalkeepers: Stipe Pletikosa (Rostov), Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Oliver Zelenika (Dinamo Zagreb).
Defenders: Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Dejan Lovren (Southampton), Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Gordon Schildenfeld (Panathinaikos), Danijel Pranjic (Panathinaikos), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Genoa), Igor Bubnjic (Udinese).
Midfielders: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Niko Kranjcar (Queens Park Rangers), Ognjen Vukojevic (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Perisic (Wolfsburg), Mateo Kovacic (Inter Milan), Milan Badelj (Hamburg), Marcelo Brozovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Mocinic (Rijeka), Mario Pasalic (Hajduk Split), Sammir (Getafe).
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich), Ivica Olic (Wolfsburg), Eduardo (Shakhtar Donetsk), Nikica Jelavic (Hull City), Ante Rebic (Fiorentina), Duje Cop (Dinamo Zagreb).
- Mandzukic will likely score goals but he will potentially only play two games in the tournament
- Eduardo is probably the top choice to replace Mandzukic but may not play any more games in the tournament
- Modric is the main man for this team and should play every minute of every game and is a real goal scoring threat
- Rakitic is another regular in the midfield for Croatia
- Srna and Corluka and the two main stays in the defence and Srna could pop up with a goal or two from free kicks
- May only play 3 games in the tournament so should not be high choices
Mexico probably had the most up and down qualifying period of all the teams in this world cup and could only scrape into the tournament by beating New Zealand in a qualifier. They used four different managers in their qualifying campaign and their latest boss (Herrera) is not afraid to experiment which could make them an underrated dark horse. They tend to play 3-5-2 but with a number of ageing players in key positions this formation could get found out fast. Something else to watch out for is the rumours that Herrera may prefer the Mexican based players over the European based players which much like their formation could go either way. They won Olympic Gold in 2012 and if they click then they could be a serious threat not only to take 2nd in the group but also to the hosts.
- Giovani dos Santos: Whoever starts up front for Mexico it is likely that Giovani will be the man in behind them and that means he could see plenty of opportunities for assists and goals. Both the two striking options will be depending on decent service and after a good season Giovani could be the man for this.
- Pena: He is a solid midfielder who will not only be crucial to the defensive solidity of this 3-5-2 formation but also has the ability to get forward and has a reputation in Mexico as a goal scoring midfielder.
- Marquez: He is a key player in the same way Luiz is for Brazil in that if he is at his best then they have the solid back bone for their flair players to build on. However, if he gets found out for pace or is off his game then Mexico may get stuck in a situation where they need to score 3 or 4 goals to win and even with good fair players that could be tough for them.
Goalkeepers: Jose de Jesus Corona (Cruz Azul), Guillermo Ochoa (Ajaccio), Alfredo Talavera (Toluca).
Defenders: Miguel Layun (America), Carlos Salcido (Tigres), Paul Aguilar (America), Andres Guardado (Bayer Leverkusen), Hector Moreno (Espanyol), Francisco Javier Rodriguez (America), Diego Reyes (Porto), Rafael Marquez (Leon).
Midfielders: Miguel Angel Ponce (Toluca), Jose Juan Vazquez (Leon), Luis Montes (Leon), Hector Herrera (Porto), Isaac Brizuela (Toluca), Marco Fabian (Cruz Azul), Carlos Pena (Leon).
Forwards: Oribe Peralta (Santos), Javier Hernandez (Manchester United), Giovani dos Santos (Villarreal), Raul Jimenez (America), Alan Pulido (Tigres).
- It’s not sure which of Peralta and Hernandez will start but with the flair players in their side there is the opportunity for goals from whoever gets the nod
- Giovani is likely to be the link man behind either of the strikers and should be a sure thing for assists or goals
- Similar to the strikers it is really tough to predict which goalkeeper will play
- Defensively their formation and age could get them found out so taking a Mexican defender could be costly
- The speed of Guardado could give him plenty opportunities to provide assists and goals
- Of the midfielders Pena is the one most likely to get you goals and as stated with the defenders they may leak goals preventing clean sheet bonus
- If they get out of the group it is unlikely they will get further than the second round so be prepared for at best 4 games from the Mexican players in your squad
Once a team that were feared in world cup draws Cameroon have been out in the wilderness for the last few years and have missed out on the last two African cup of nations. They round out a group of interesting qualification stories as they required a FIFA ruling to help them even reach a playoff where they secured their place in Brazil with a 4-1 victory of Tunisia. They have a real lack of creative players and with Samuel Eto’o being one of the most up and down players emotionally their chances of escaping from this group is low. A realistic aim for them is probably to try and snatch a victory and they would love to cause an upset about the big name hosts.
- Eto’o: Briefly retired from international football only to return and claim there was a plot amongst his team mates to not pass him the ball but they will put up with it because of his ability to make a goal out of nothing. He is an ageing player now (33) but his experience and head for goal could prove key in their attempts to cause a big upset.
- Song: Any player that is highly coveted by Barcelona must be good but the Alex Song story is complicated by the fact he will spend the world cup playing out of position due to their lack of creative ability. A naturally strong defensive player but if he can prove to be a creative genius then Cameroon could have a shot to sneak into the second round
Goalkeepers: Charles Itandje (Konyaspor), Guy Roland Ndy Assembe (Guingamp), Sammy Ndjock (Fethiyespor), Feudjou Loic (Coton Sport).
Defenders: Allan Nyom (Granada), Nounkeu Dany (Besiktas), Cedric Djeugoue (Coton Sport), Aurelien Chedjou (Galatasaray), Nicolas Nkoulou (Marseille), Jean-Armel Kana-Biyick (Rennes), Henri Bedimo (Lyon), Benoit Assou-Ekotto (QPR), Gaetang Bong (Olympiakos).
Midfielders: Enoh Eyong (Antalyaspor), Jean Makoun (Rennes), Joel Matip (Schalke 04), Stephane Mbia (Sevilla, on loan from QPR), Landry Nguemo (Bordeaux), Alexandre Song (Barcelona), Cedric Loe (Osasuna), Edgar Salli (Lens).
Forwards: Samuel Eto’o (Chelsea), Eric-Maxime Choupo-Moting (Mainz 05), Benjamin Moukandjo (Nancy), Vincent Aboubakar (Lorient), Pierre Achille Webo (Fenerbahce), Mohamadou Idrissou (Kaiserslautern), Fabrice Olinga (Zulte Waregem).
- Eto’o will likely start all the games and could pop up with a goal or two
- They are creatively short but if anyone can pop up for the assists a player of Song’s quality could be the man to do it
- Defensively they have no stand outs and chances are they aren’t going to be keeping many clean sheets so goalkeepers and defenders should probably be left well alone.
- The other midfielders are a little bit of a mix match but a potential shot for a goal or two if you’re desperate is Jean Makoun
- They will probably be knocked out in the group so don’t invest too heavily.
This group should be fairly straight forward for Brazil and Cameroon should finish last but the battle for second could be intriguing. If Mexico click then it will be theirs but if they falter then Croatia are more than capable of taking it away from them.
PREDICTION: 1st Brazil, 2nd Mexico, 3rd Croatia, 4th Cameroon.