For soccer disciples, the World Cup draw might be the most exciting day of all, when billions of fans all over the globe start filling in their brackets and saving up for flights. Friday’s event in Brazil offered the mystique and thrill of discovering your group opponents before the harsh reality of missed chances and last-minute defeats. Read on for draw details and predictions.
Who is going to beat the U.S.?
The bad news is that every team in the U.S. group, G, will expect to defeat Jurgen Klinsmann’s men. Germany has won three World Cups and three European Championships, Portugal boasts arguably the world’s most in-form player in Cristiano Ronaldo, and Ghana knocked the U.S. out of the tournament in 2010. It’s a pretty catastrophic draw—probably the most difficult of all.
How does it work?
Thirty-two teams, divided into eight groups of four, will travel to Brazil. (Here they all are.) After playing the other teams in the group—1 point for a draw, 3 points for a win—the best two teams in each group will progress to the knockout stages. The remaining 16 teams then face off in games that will be decided by extra time and penalty kicks if they are tied after 90 minutes.
Which are the toughest groups?
We’ve already covered the nightmare U.S. group, G. England was consigned to the next toughest group, D, by its greatest World Cup hero, Sir Geoff Hurst, who was the man responsible for pulling the team’s name out the hat. The 1966 winner, which hasn’t even got close since, will play four-time champions Italy and double-winners Uruguay. The latter has a devastating strike force and the added advantage of playing on the home continent. Greg Dyke, head of the English football association, responded to the draw by shaking his head and running a finger across his throat. The final team in the group is Costa Rica. It is toast.
Since the U.S. has no chance, who should I support?
If you want an exciting team with a decent chance of winning it, Argentina and Germany are your best bets. Lionel Messi, the Argentine star who plays in Spain for Barcelona, is the world’s best player. Before now he’s struggled at major tournaments, but 2014 could be his year. Germany is probably the quickest, most attacking team—Ozil, Muller, Gotze and Reus go at teams like a squadron of fighter jets. If you’re looking for an outsider, why not pick the team with the best nickname? That’s a straight fight between the West African contenders. Ivory Coast is “The Elephants,” Nigeria “The Super Eagles,” but doff your cap to Cameroon: “The Indomitable Lions.”
What’s the hipster group?
Spain vs. the Netherlands in Group B, a replay of the 2010 World Cup final, is the obvious heavyweight matchup. But football hipsters (obviously they don’t use the word soccer) will be licking their lips at Group C. Japan, Ivory Coast, and Colombia aren’t going to lift the World Cup in Brazil, but with their free-flowing style and clash of tactical styles, they are three of the coolest teams in the tournament.
Who is going to win?
Brazil, of course. The public will certainly accept no less. It has a pretty straightforward group, and the host nation has won the World Cup on six previous occasions. This season, the team is short of a single superstar leader, but Neymar is the up-and-coming global icon and, for once, it has a solid back four and strong defensive midfield. Spain was the second favorite before getting a tough draw—it will play Brazil in the second round if it fails to top Group B, which also contains the Netherlands. Still, Spain will be tough to beat, after an unprecedented three tournament victories in a row, the Euros in 2006 and 2012 and the last World Cup in 2010.