Welcome to the second part of our early Brazil 2014 group preview. In this part we detail the final four groups from E – H.
You can read Part 1 (Groups A-D) here
Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
The Swiss come into the tournament as top seeds, thanks to their FIFA rankings and have been given a superb chance of getting past the group stage for the first time since Germany 2006. They finished top in qualifying, in a fairly poor group, winning seven and drawing three of the ten matches, only conceding six goals. After a run of fourteen games undefeated, they did surprisingly succumb to a 2-1 friendly defeat to South Korea, but this run included a cracking 1-0 win over Brazil and a 4-2 away win in Croatia.
A fair bit is expected from the side that features players from both the 2002 and 2009 Under-17’s World Cup winning squads, including Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka, yet despite what should be an easy passage through, it would be a surprise if they reach the quarters. To top the group Skybet offer 3/1 , while the same firm offer 4/5 to qualify for the next stage.
Ecuador qualified via the last automatic place in South America on goal difference, ahead of Uruguay. Much of their success comes from their home form, which saw them go undefeated in the campaign. However, their form since March has been worryingly poor, with just one victory in their last ten matches, including last months 2-2 draw away to fellow group side Honduras on neutral ground in Houston, USA.
Although several players ply their trade in Europe, including Antonio Valencia of Manchester United, Ecuador have only played twelve games against European nations in the last seven years. with success only on two occasions. This unknown quantity, could be both a blessing or a curse against the Swiss and French. If the slump in form carries on into the New Year, I suspect they will not go through, as they are very much a confidence driven side. To qualify, Ladbrokes offer a decent 11/10, while to win the group, both Coral and Stan James offer 9/2.
France, some would say, have gotten away with murder after the draw was made. Although seeded in pot two and having qualified via the play-offs, after being two goals down to Ukraine in the first leg. The French have drawn arguably the kindest draw imaginable. They went into the play-offs thanks to a lucky loser spot, after losing out to Spain for top spot by three points and as mentioned got through after eliminating Ukraine 3-2 on aggregate. In the last couple of years, they have generally failed against top opposition, with a friendly win over Italy, the only victory of real note.
The side, no doubt have the quality, with Karim Benzema firing in goals and Ballon D’or candidate, Franck Ribery providing the chances, yet with infighting being a regular occurrence like the Dutch, it remains to be seen if they can go far into World Cup month and stay harmonious. Only complacency will stop France winning the group, with the possibility of goal difference being important, if the Swiss can hold them when they meet. They are currently 5/6 favourites to win the group with Paddy Power, while to simply qualify is 1/5 with many firms, including BetVictor and Bet365.
Honduras will be seen by many as the whipping boys of the group, with nothing in their form or squad to say otherwise. They are the rank outsiders at 5000/1 to win the World Cup. They qualified from the North American section in fourth place, with just four wins from the ten games. The fact that Mexico struggled so much was their saving grace. The squad has many remaining members from the previous World Cup finals, and it will be interesting to see how the likes of Wilson Palacios, Emilio Izaguirre and Roger Espinoza’s experience will help.
Form is a mixed bag of late for the Hondurans, with the best of their eight victories in twenty matches coming against Mexico, away from home. However two matches played in the United States last month against Brazil and Ecuador, ended in a 5-0 hammering and a 2-2 draw, so on their day, they can cause the odd surprise. In group betting, they are rank outsiders to even qualify with Bet365 offering 15/2 to go through, while the unlikely chance of winning the group is out there at 33/1 with Boylesport.
Group F: Argentina, Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nigeria
Group F looks intriguing with Argentina‘s seemingly good draw, full of potential pitfalls. The Lionel Messi lead side, topped the South American group by two points, and only lost twice in the sixteen games. while scoring 35 goals.
Taking friendly matches into consideration, the Argentines have only lost five games from thirty-one, since the Copa America in July 2011.
The only concern for the side, will be the physical nature of the matches, with both Nigeria and Bosnia looking likely to bully an attacking line that is generally small in stature, with Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Erik Lamela and Lionel Messi, all well under six feet tall.
I think it’s fair to say that although they are expected to walk the group, (2/7 with BetVictor to top the group), it won’t quite be so easy. To qualify, William Hill offer a best price of 1/14 to go through, so a forecast bet is where the value is.
Iran come in as the outsiders of the group with little to really offer any encouragement. They came through qualifying via an away victory to South Korea on the last day, squeezing through on goal difference. The main problem for the side is the lack of competitive play they have had in recent years, with the last match against a non-Asian side, coming against Tunisia in August of 2012, which incidentally finished 2-2.
Being a big fish, in a small pond does wonders for confidence, but little else. Of the forty-three games played since October 2010, they have played six sides from outside Asia, which gives some insight into how they see themselves on the world stage. 5-0 wins against Lebanon are all well and good, but as was seen with Jordan, it makes little impact to performances against better opposition. To qualify, Sporting Bet offer a modest 15/2, considering how unlikely it is, while BWin offer a large 80/1 to top the group. Both prices should only be taken if you have seen the future!
Bosnia-Herzegovina join the World Cup party for the first time in their short history, after qualifying as group winners on goal difference ahead of Greece. Thirty goals were scored in total, seeing Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic finish in 2nd and 3rd positions in the goalscoring charts. Against stronger opposition they tend to have very indifferent form, with recent friendly defeats against U.S.A (3-4) and fellow group members, Argentina (0-2), sandwiching their only qualifying defeat, at home to a useful Slovakia side, which prompts a question of which Bosnia are we going to see in Brazil.
Without a doubt, their main strength is going forward, with the two aforementioned players in Dzeko and Ibisevic, backed up by the considerable talents of Maralem Pjanic. If they can avoid going into their defensive shell, they could have enough to top the group, although a lot rides on their opening game against Argentina. If they can get at least a point against Messi and co, then the 8/1 offered by Skybet looks extremely appealing. Failing that, Skybet also offer a more credible 11/10 to qualify.
As champions of Africa, Nigeria have a bit of expectation on their shoulders this time around. The “super eagles” qualified relatively comfortably with an undefeated campaign, which culminated in the 4-1 aggregate disposal of Ethiopia in the play-off. After the farcical government disbanding of the side, which was reversed as quickly as it was ordered in 2010, the side have slowly rebuilt and finally reaped the rewards with February’s African Nations Cup win.
Nigeria arguably have one of the most mobile attacks in the game, with Ideye Brown and Albert Musa particularly quick, although with fellow forwards including Victor Obinna, Emmanuele Emenike and Shola Ameobi, they have the ability to mix it up quite well. Jon Obi-Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi are mainstays in central midfield and provide cover to an average defensive unit. They can hold their own at times as the recent 2-2 draw against Italy suggests, and on their day can beat anyone. I can see Nigeria squeezing through, with the 7/5 offered by Ladbrokes giving good value. To win the group, they are 10/1 with Boylesport.
Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, U.S.A.
Germany come into the tournament as a likely favourite for at least a semi final birth in 2014. They came through qualifying undefeated, and some eight points ahead of Sweden. Since the last tournament, the likes of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan have grown into their club and national sides with great success, as the German production line continues to roll.
To be considered to have a chance of becoming the first European side to win in South America they will have to sort out some defensively frailties, having shipped four against U.S.A., three against both Paraguay and Sweden, plus two against Ecuador in the last ten matches. If they sort the defensive side out, they should comfortably advance, although Portugal will have a big say in who finishes top of the group I feel. To win the group, Totesport offer 8/13, while Bet365 offer a best price of 1/6 to simply qualify.
Portugal are the epitome of nearly men. A side with so much potential, yet they have an amazing knack of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. They finished second behind Russia in qualifying, but came through the play-offs against Sweden without too much fuss. In general, performances have been great, with just three defeats in the last twenty-two games, succumbing to Brazil, Russia and Ecuador only.
They come with a decent squad, built inevitably around Cristiano Ronaldo, with notable supporting roles from Joao Moutinho, Nani and young striker Nelson Oliveira. A question mark has always been held against Portugal’s defensive unit, especially now, with Pepe and Fabio Coentrao, who are both prone to a red card every now and again. If the back line can perform to its highest and keep its discipline, then Portugal have a chance of topping the group. They could equally fall apart and exit the first round, such is their unpredictability. If like me, you feel it will be the former, 3/1 from Skybet looks good to win the group, while qualifying is 4/7, also with Skybet.
Ghana reached their third consecutive finals, thanks to a stunning 6-1 1st leg victory over Egypt in the African play-offs, which helped them to a 7-3 aggregate win. Oddly, for a side that has the majority of players based in Europe, they rarely encounter sides outside of the African continent, having played such sides, just four times in the last two years.
Like Nigeria, the side have good midfield and attacking line-ups, but fall short in defence, with the majority of defenders plying their trade with Europe’s lesser sides.
A lot will depend on the form of Kevin-Prince Boateng and Michael Essien, as the majority of the play will go through these two, while Christian Atsu and Wakaso Mubarek will try to harness their pace to create opportunities. I don’t feel that the “black stars” have enough to really worry the two European sides, but they’ll certainly pick up a point or two. To qualify, Ladbrokes offer 16/5, which seems a little short, while a group win is 16/1 with Sporting Bet.
The U.S.A. could cause a few problems, but nothing more. The squad has slowly improved over the years, thanks to more players going to Europe and the development of the MLS, with the fruits of labours past, finally showing for current manager, Jurgen Klinsmann. They qualified with four games to spare, finishing ahead of Costa Rica, and have been in great form in 2013, losing just four from twenty-three matches. The highlight being a 4-3 victory over an admittedly second string Germany side in June.
The over reliance on Landon Donovan has been broken by Jurgen Klinsmann, but there really isn’t a genuine world class player in the side without him. It would be impossible to expect the 31 year old to play three full games in the Brazilian conditions, as is the case with a large chunk of the first team, who are all over 30. They may cause some problems, like I said, but beyond that, its difficult to find encouraging signs. To qualify they are 7/2 with BetVictor, yet conversely, they are shorter than Ghana at 12/1 with Ladbrokes to top the group!
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea
“Group H” initially looks pretty cut and dried with the European contingent receiving quite a favourable draw. Belgium are expected to go far in Brazil, and with good reason. In all departments, they look strong, with the midfield alone, boasting seven genuine world class talents, arguably lead by Eden Hazard. In qualifying they finished a mammoth nine points clear of the Croatians, dropping points only twice and conceding just four goals.
Its not quite all plain sailing, with their last two games ending in defeats to Colombia and Japan, with a full strength line-up . Preceding this however, was an excellent run of one defeat in fifteen, which included wins over Holland, Croatia and Serbia. There is no doubt, they will qualify for the next stage, with bookmakers agreeing. PaddyPower offer 1/5 to go through, Whilst to win the group, Skybet offer 8/11.
Algeria qualified for their fourth appearance via an away goals victory over Burkina Faso, thanks to former Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra’s goal in the second leg. They come into the tournament with no expectations, and will be looking to repeat the feat of their last appearance, when they picked up their only point against England.
The side doesn’t boast any real household names, although Sofiane Feghouli is arguably the biggest star, with the midfielder becoming a regular in the Valencia side. Like a few other nations that have qualified, Algeria‘s international fixture list is continent specific, with just two non-African sides played since the 2010 World Cup. Short of getting a result against the Koreans, I don’t anticipate much more, but for the more frivolous of punter, qualification is 9/1 with SportingBet, and the unthinkable group victory is a cool 40/1 with the same firm.
Fabio Capello’s Russia will be looking to put a spanner in the Belgian works and finish top of the group. They pipped Portugal to top spot in qualifying, despite a surprise defeat in Northern Ireland, and overall, only conceded five goals. In the last 33 games, they have only lost on three occasions, which is testament to how solid the side is.
Its difficult to really pick out a star man, but the likes of Igor Akinfeev, Igor Denisov, Yuri Zhirkov and Alexander Kerzhakov are integral to the way the team plays. they should qualify easily along with Belgium, with only the conditions able to cause issue for them. They are 8/15 to qualify, while a group victory is worth a look at 5/2 as the group winners may well be decided by goal difference.
South Korea qualified for their eighth consecutive finals, thanks to goal difference ahead of Uzbekistan in a tight group. Their appearance in the second stage in 2010 was the first time since 2002 that they had progressed past the group stage, with the likelihood of repeating that in 2014 very low. Since qualification, form has been poor, with just three wins in the last eleven, although this has included a 2-1 home victory against Switzerland.
Star men include Sunderland’s Ji Dong-Won and Ki Sung-Yong, along with Arsenal’s Park Chu-Young, and they will have to be at their peak to give the side a sniff of progressing past the group stage. The European sides should be too strong for them, but if they can beat Algeria in the second game, they will at least give themselves a chance to qualify. Sporting Bet offer 5/2 to go through, while Stan James and BetFred offer 9/1 to top the group.