Prepare to take a walk down the Road to Brazil!
As domestic leagues across Europe draw to a close in the coming weeks, all eyes will inevitably turn to this Summer’s showpiece sporting event, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
With many lucky England fans jetting off for a couple of weeks of sunshine and (hopefully!) thrilling footy in June and July, we thought it’d be a good idea to compile a helpful dossier of practical advice, fun facts and of course some sound football betting tips and predictions for everyone’s favourite World football spectacle!
With the help of our in-house football experts here at BetBright, we’ve set out a list of 20 Questions on the World Cup in Brazil which we hope you’ll enjoy!
1: Will the stadia be finished in time?
Concerns over the completion of stadia remain, with almost every one of the 12 venues being built or renovated for the World Cup missing completion deadlines – and three yet to be finished.
Seven workers have now perished in accidents, including two in Sao Paulo following a crane collapse last November. The problems remain especially acute in the host cities of Curitiba and Sao Paulo. FIFA went as far as threatening to axe Curitiba as a host city and it is now a race against time to be ready for the finals.
Meanwhile Sao Paulo’s Corinthians Arena, which is due to host the opening game between Brazil and Croatia on June 12th, still resembles a building site and it has been confirmed that it will not be completed until less than a month before the big kick-off.
Elsewhere, in Belo Horizonte, the Mineirao Stadium (due to host one of the semi-finals amongst others) had pieces of its roof blown onto the pitch hours ahead of a regional match last month.
Even if all stadiums are finished in time, FIFA typically needs 90 days to fit out the venues with necessary facilities, which include media seats, corporate hospitality marquees and giant screens.
The overall construction costs involved have soared by more than 40 per cent and the greater funds being diverted into the completion of these venues is taking away much-needed funding from other infrastructure. All of which can only add to the ongoing restlessness among the natives.
2: Which of the big-name strikers can replicate their club form?
Luis Suarez – No longer playing second fiddle to Diego Forlan, the Liverpool striker has been virtually unplayable at club level this season. His record at international level isn’t too shabby either, with 38 goals in 77 appearances.
Suarez will go to Brazil with a point to prove following his ignominious sending off at the quarter-final stage in 2010. Despite his shenanigans against Ghana – when his self-proclaimed ‘hand of God’ stopped a goal-bound shot in the final minute of extra-time – the then-Ajax player did contribute handsomely to Uruguay’s campaign, scoring three goals in his side’s run to the semis.
At 16/1, Suarez looks a decent punt to contend in the top goalscorer market, although his prospects of claiming the Golden Boot may be hindered by a tough run of preliminary matches against England, Italy and Costa Rica, with no real cannon-fodder to boost his individual goalscoring tally.
Conversely from the other side of Merseyside, Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku could benefit from playing weaker opposition in the race for top goalscorer – Marc Wilmots’ side face Algeria, Russia and South Korea in Group H.
However, we are reluctant to tip an Everton striker (albeit on loan) to top the scoring charts at a major championship after seeing an in-form Nikica Jelavic flop at Euro 2012 for Croatia two years ago!
3: Can a European team win in South America?
Only two continents, South America and Europe, have ever provided World Cup winners and no European team had ever won the Jules Rimet trophy outside their home continent until 2010, when Spain broke the mould.
The reigning World champions, along with Germany, look the most likely challengers from Europe and despite the presence of three-time winners Italy and 2010 runners-up Holland, it’s difficult to see beyond a ‘home’ winner.
That home South American contingent is arguably as strong as it has ever been. The traditional big two of Brazil and Argentina are tournament favourites but there is also a very strong supporting cast, featuring Uruguay (fourth last time around) and Colombia (currently ranked 4th in FIFA’s world rankings), while an improving Chile will look to build on their promising showing in South Africa.
As it stands, 9/10 represents a decent value bet on South America as the Winning Continent come World Cup Final day on Sunday, July 13th.
4: Will the Samba beat return?
It’s hard to believe it’s 12 years since Brazil last won the World Cup under head coach Phil Scolari – and Big Phil is confident they can do so again.
If last year’s Confederations Cup dress rehearsal is a key indicator then the favourites will take some stopping. The hosts played extremely well, winning the title with five straight victories, including a commanding 3-0 result against Spain in the final. More importantly, Scolari figured out his best side and it is one he looks set to persevere with for these finals.
Of their 2002 World Cup triumph, Scolari said:
“We didn’t have a squad ready at the time, so I said that if we finished among the final four teams it would have had to be considered a good result. Now I’m playing in Brazil, in front of my people, I have the 12th player (fans) on my side. If I can’t say that we are good, that we have a lot of quality and that we have good players, then there’s nothing I should be doing here.”
Hard to argue with that.
5: Can Spain complete an unprecedented quadruple?
No side has ever completed a run of four consecutive major championships as La Roja look to add back-to-back World titles to consecutive European gongs.
The decline of Barcelona, and the waning influence of Xavi in particular, suggests opponents may have figured out how to stop Spain’s possession-based game. Indeed they have been criticized – despite their array of attacking talent – for not scoring enough goals at recent tournaments. However, it is their defensive solidity that really stands out.
Amazingly, Vicente Del Bosque’s side have not conceded a goal in 10 consecutive knockout games stretching back to Euro 2008. Whether backing Spain to win outright or not, they look a considered punt to boast the tightest defence and are favourites to top Group B at 3/4 in the betting.
6: How much of an effect will the climate have?
Thankfully, for those traveling from this part of the world, these finals will be played during Brazil’s winter. So while soaring temperatures and sunburnt heads should not be a factor for England fans, the real issue is humidity.
Before the draw, the Amazon’s tropical climate caused Roy Hodgson to declare that Manaus was ‘the place to avoid’. Manaus’ humidity is renowned in Brazil as the most challenging of conditions to play in… sure enough England are scheduled to play their opening match (v Italy) there!
Manaus is right up in the northwest of Brazil, where humidity levels will typically range between 57-99 per-cent for the time of year. That’s the sort of humidity where you begin to sweat profusely once you’ve stepped outside your air-conditioned hotel. Never mind running around for 90 minutes. Fortunately England will then play their remaining two Group D games in the cooler south.
Italy, meanwhile, play their other group matches in the sweltering north-eastern heat of Recife and Natal, with both currently set for controversial 13:00 kick-offs (local time). When Italy laboured to a 4-3 victory over Japan in Recife at the Confederations Cup last June, head coach Cesare Prandelli complained:
“We struggled like crazy tonight. The humidity is something we have to deal with, as it really is difficult.”
Spare a thought, too, for Croatia who will play Cameroon in Manuas, Mexico in Recife and Brazil in Sao Paulo. Images of Spain’s Jose ‘sweat patch-io’ Camacho in 2002 spring to mind. Phew.
7: Can England fly in under the radar?
Roy Hodgson’s England side are currently eleventh favourites in the World Cup outright betting market at 29/1. They were 11/2 third-favourites with some bookmakers ahead of the 2010 edition. For once, it seems, there is no mass hysteria surrounding England’s prospects at a World Cup.
Hodgson’s demeanour has helped dampen expectations and that can’t be a bad thing. Less encouragingly, a run of uninspiring friendly results has also brought a dose of reality.
England have tended to perform better in tougher group stages at major championships and the necessity to ‘hit the ground’ running could work in their favour here too.
There’s no longer any talk of the so-called golden generation fulfilling their destiny, but crucially England still have some star veterans – Gerard, Rooney, Lampard, Cole – to call on. Even more encouragingly are the potential unknowns who could take the opposition by surprise if given their heads.
England may not yet have stumbled upon their best team but that, too, could work to their advantage with a host of unheralded youngsters ready to be unleashed on unsuspecting opponents.
Sturridge, Barkley, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling all have the potential to become superstars. Unlike their England predecessors they will not be burdened by the weight of expectation. A nation, for once, hopes rather than expects. Navigate the choppy waters of Group D and who knows where that hope may lead…
8: Are we any closer to the African breakthrough?
Ever since Roger Milla and Cameroon danced a merry jig to the 1990 quarter-finals, it’s been a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ an African qualifier would take their place at football’s top table – also known as the World Cup semi-finals.
However, 24 years later we are still no closer to an African side making that elusive last-four breakthrough. Ghana came closest last time around, when they were a last-minute missed penalty and subsequent spot-kick shootout defeat away from a last-four tie with Holland.
Four years on the ‘Black Stars’ look best placed for another attempt at smashing through FIFA’s glass ceiling. They still retain some of the stars from the last World Cup with AC Milan’s Sulley Muntari and Juventus wideman Kwado Asamoah supplying the bullets for hitman Asamoah Gyan, while Kevin-Prince Boatang and Michael Essien both recently returned from their self-imposed exile.
It’s a big ask when you consider they must emerge from a group containing Germany, Portugal and USA. However they will no doubt still be smarting from the injustice of 2010 and that may provide the extra motivation required.
Ivory Coast look the next best of the African contingent but – despite the presence of the indomitable Yaya Toure – their best days seem to be behind them. Ironically, they face a much easier passage through to the knockout stages this time around (Group C also includes Colombia, Greece and Japan) having been scuppered by fiendishly difficult preliminary stages in the last two editions (Brazil and Portugal in 2010, Holland and Argentina in 2006).
9: Which Holland side will turn up?
Ah the Dutch, with their famous oranje shirts and their equally bright and enlightened football. Cryuff, Neeskens, Van Basten, Kluivert and Bergkamp; names that conjure up images of a romantic notion of ‘total football’. And then four years ago we got the pragmatic approach of Bert Van Marwijk, which culminated in Nigel de Jong’s karate-kick on Xabi Alonso in the final.
Coach Louis van Gaal has been attempting to rejuvenate the Dutch philosophy, mixing a variation of Holland’s traditional 4-3-3, with a more pragmatic and modern 4-2-3-1. That is not to say the Dutch can no longer dazzle, as they did in their 4-0 demolition of Romania in qualifying, and still possess some of the best attacking talent out there in the likes of Robben, Sneijder, Van Persie and Van der Vart.
The problem for the Dutch is the conveyor belt of talent has dried up in recent years with many promising youngsters failing to shine when moving onto Europe’s bigger leagues. One of the few exceptions has been Roma’s Kevin Strootman but injury has ruled him out of the finals.
Of their remaining big-name players only Arjen Robben is currently playing anywhere near the peak of his powers. With a tough group, featuring Spain and Chile, the wily Van Gaal will have to cajole one last hurrah from his group of ageing superstars if they are to avoid a repeat of their Euro 2012 flop.
10: Who can be this year’s Uruguay/Turkey/South Korea/Croatia/Bulgaria/?
Belgium would seem the obvious choice outside the ‘big four’ to make the semi-finals, but as fifth favourites at 13/1 could hardly be deemed surprise packages. This is the each way punt that can pay dividends but is difficult to predict as so many factors – chief among them luck (a la South Korea in 2002) – have to go your team’s way.
Uruguay, providing they make it out of a tricky group, have the firepower to emulate their 2010 achievements. However they only finished fifth in qualifying and needed a play-off victory over Jordan to make it to Brazil, with persistent doubts remain over an ageing and creaky defence.
Chile look a side capable of springing a surprise. Impressive in South Africa before falling to Brazil in the second round, they also finished third in the ultra-competitive South American World Cup qualifying. In the past year, they have drawn against Brazil, Spain and Colombia and comfortably beat England 2-0 at Wembley last November.
The Chileans must progress from a group containing the two 2010 finalists, but if they can do that all sorts of possibilities open up for Alexis Sanchez and co.
Colombia are another of the South American contingent to watch. Competing in their first finals since 1998, only Argentina finished ahead of them in qualifying. Radamel Falcao looks unlikely to be fully fit in time but is expected to make the World Cup squad.
They will not lack for firepower with the Bundesliga’s third top scorer, Adrian Ramos ready to step into the breach. Behind him, Falcao’s Monaco team-mate James Rodriguez – touted as the successor to Colombian legend Carlos Valderrama by no less than the fuzzy-haired one himself – will pull the strings in midfield. A handy looking Group C also bodes well and they are sure to benefit from playing in their next-door neighbour’s backyard.
Or how about Switzerland? Undefeated throughout qualification and seeded in one of the easier group, the Swiss will hardly set the pulse racing but the only team to beat Spain at a major finals since 2006 have the potential to frustrate some of the bigger nations.
11: Who will be this year’s Mesut Ozil?
Before the 2010 finals, Ozil featured high on the list of rising stars and was certainly one young pretender who more than justified his pre-tournament billing as ‘one to watch’.
The obvious place to start this time around is closer to home, where Ross Barkley is tipped to announce himself to a wider audience. The Everton midfielder seems to have the lot; great strength, balance and dribbling ability reminiscent of a young Paul Gascoigne.
Raheem Sterling looks another primed to explode onto the biggest stage of all, should he get his chance, while great things are expected of Barcelona’s new 17-year-old Croatian signing Alen Halilovic. In the case of all three it remains to be seen if they will even make the final cut and even then it will be a question of how much game-time each is afforded.
Two, albeit more established, young stars who should make a big impact at the finals are Germany’s Marco Reus and Italy’s PSG midfielder Marco Verratti. This will be Reus’ first World Cup and having firmly established himself as a regular in Die Mannschaft, the Dortmund flyer looks set to light up the world stage. Verratti, heir apparent to the ageless Andrea Pirlo, also looks primed to shine at these finals.
12: Can Belgium justify their pre-tournament seed status?
Everybody’s favourite dark horses, the Red Devils’ price continues to shrink as their veritable who’s-who of top players across Europe’s biggest clubs continue to impress.
At first glance, it appeared folly for Belgium to be seeded for these finals ahead of the likes of 2010 runners-up Holland, especially considering they have not appeared at a major championship since 2002. But their impressive qualification form (only dropping points in two draws, the latter when they had already secured qualification) and roster list – which features amongst others Atletico Madrid pair Toby Alderweireld and Thibaut Courtois as well as Premier League stars Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku – suggests they will be formidable opponents for any side.
Expectations could be tempered by the loss of Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke through injury but they look a side – on paper at least – capable of emulating the semi-final spot achieved by Jan Ceulemans’ class of ’86.
13: Can Messi deliver the final piece of silverware required to secure his immortality?
Nobody can doubt the little playmaker’s genius. Or his goalscoring stats. Or list of achievements. However there remains one large blot on his resume.
Pele, Maradona and Zidane have all led their sides to ultimate glory. Then there are others who may not have won the title but at least lit up respective World Cups – think Johan Cruyff (’74) and Ferenc Puskas (’54). At the very least, Lionel Messi needs to define a finals, in this his third tournament.
He was the youngest goalscorer at the 2006 World Cup but amazingly, for a player who has broken all sorts of goalscoring records since, he failed to score in the 2010 edition. That’s not to say Messi didn’t play well in South Africa, he just couldn’t apply the finishing touches we have all become so accustomed to.
His international record, which reads a respectable 37 goals in 83 appearances, pales in comparison to his club feats. For that reason there are those in Argentina who remain sceptical. There is only way to silence those doubters and take his place among the pantheon of greats. Land the big one.
As ever, Argentina will have one of the strongest squads on show but can they bring it all together to become more than the sum of their individual parts? Competing in South America will help. Winning at the home of their fiercest rival will provide an extra incentive. Will that be enough to secure Messi’s immortality and confirm him as Maradona’s heir and possible better… only time will tell.
14: Can Ronaldo leave his mark on the world stage?
If his great rival is struggling to find his very best form, then the Portugese star is undoubtedly at the top of his game. The difference is Messi, with Argentina, has the supporting cast capable of backing up his talent and competing for overall honours. Sadly for Cristiano Ronaldo, if would take something special to see his side go all the way.
However Ronaldo is just that: something special. We’re not saying Portugal are live contenders and the 30/1 about them seems just about right in our view, but Ronaldo is primed to leave his mark on this tournament.
14/1 in the top scorer market represents good value for a player of his proven ability. However a challenging Group G lineup (Germany, Ghana and USA) could scupper those chances.
15: Who can be this year’s Toto Schillaci?
Okay, Diego Costa may not be as unheralded as the bug-eyed top-scorer at Italia ’90 but the Brazilian-born striker has only one Spanish cap to his name.
Prior to the start of the 1990 World Cup, Sicilian Schillaci had amassed just one cap for his country. Schillaci, too, was hardly an unknown then, coming off the back of successful first season with Juventus where he picked up Coppa Italia and UEFA Cup honours.
Costa is so good that the two best counties in the world have courted him, with the Brazilian-born striker only making his Spanish debut in March, after making a couple of friendly appearances for Phil Scolari’s side a year previously.
To put his goalscoring prowess this season in perspective – he has scored the same amount of goals as Ronaldo in La Liga. His tally of 28 league goals is two more than Messi (at the time of writing). With great movement and ability to bully opposition defenders as he constantly seeks contact, Costa could make all the difference to a Spanish attack that has at times looked predictable. A false nine he is not.
16: Do questions remain over the issue of security?
Nobody predicted the strength of popular discontent on the issue of public spending on a football tournament in football-mad Brazil. But that is what happened, with one million protesters taking to the streets to demonstrate against perceived social injustice and the lack of money spent on public services during last year’s Confederations Cup. Is such public unrest likely to flare up again?
The hope is that demonstrations will not be as widespread as the natives get behind their World Cup, while many of the general public are being put off by over-zealous activists intent solely on causing trouble. But there is also the issue of general street violence, with gun-point muggings of tourists not uncommon in some of the bigger urban sprawls.
To counter this, Brazil will implement the largest security operation ever at a World Cup with 170,000 police, military and secret service personnel – a figure that is 22% higher than the number used at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
One gets the impression that our fans will be well looked after as the mass exodus of Three Lions supporters undertake the trip of a lifetime.
17: Which team will fail to live up to their pre-tournament billing?
While it would be remiss to write off the current World and (double) European champions, there is a suspicion that Spain’s time has passed. The nucleus of the successful squad that has achieved so much glory over the past six years remains but winning a fourth consecutive major title is a tall order for any side. Even one that has been as good as Spain.
As with Barcelona, it feels something like the end of an era for this group of champions. Of course Spain don’t solely rely on the Catalan club’s players and there are others, like Thiago Alcantara, ready to take up the tiki-taka baton in midfield. But anything less than a successful defence of their title will be deemed a failure.
For all Spain’s undoubted brilliance, achieving their unparalleled success to date also required a degree of luck. Remember this is the team that required the lottery of penalties in 2008 (v Italy) and 2012 (v Portugal) en route to European glory. While four years ago they failed to score more than one goal in the knock-out stages; recording four consecutive 1-0 victories from the second round through to the final.
Indeed since Euro ’08, bar their 4-0 thrashing of Italy in the Euro 2012 decider, Spain have only scored more than one goal on one occasion in the knock-out stages at a major finals. In big games, teams have figured out how to nullify or at least blunt their attacking brio.
A disciplined side could hold them goalless and then look to take their chances in extra-time or penalties. Their run of good fortune here has to end some time. They certainly won’t flop like France in 2002 when Les Bleus fell at the first fence when defending their title, but La Roja could well prove to be this tournament’s major choke-a.
18: Which is the Group of Death?
England, Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica would all argue that they have dialled D for Death in Group D.
However, ask Jurgen Klinsmann about his side’s chances of progressing from a group containing the Fatherland, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal and Team USA’s conquerors from the last two finals, Ghana, and even the happy-clappy optimist won’t take a dive on that one. Jah for sure – “the worst of the worst”, admitted Klinsmann.
Or what about the Socceroos facing up to the might of the champions and runners-up from 2010 as well as dark horses Chile in Group B? ‘Strewth!
The simple answer is there is no solitary Group of Death but rather a morgue of treacherous preliminary pools.
Things won’t get any easier for any of the sides qualifying from Groups D, B or G but those who survive the Grim Reaper’s scythe will be battle-hardened and as well-prepared as any for the knock-out stages that lie ahead.
19: Is there a Group of Life?
For every group of death there must be a corresponding group of life, right?!
There appears to be no standout contenders for overall glory in a Group C that contains Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan. None of those sides look pushovers either, but it’s one of the few groups where each team will have genuine ambitions of coming out on top.
Elsewhere, Group E looks there for the taking for either of the Europeans, Switzerland and France, with Honduras and Ecuador likely to make up the numbers. “It’s true, I won’t hide it from you, it could have been tougher,” admitted France coach Didier Deschamps after the draw.
The winners of Group E will then take on the runners-up of Group F (likely to be Bosnia or Nigeria) so could conceivably make the quarter-finals without breaking a sweat (unlike poor Camacho!).
20: Go on then, gives us the final four!
It’s hard to look beyond the hosts and favourites Brazil, certainly to make the last four at least, while rivals Argentina must surely make it beyond the last eight for the first time since 1990 on South American soil.
Germany are the third side taken from the top four in the market to advance to the penultimate stage. The Germans have now qualified for at least the semi-finals of every World Cup and European Championships since 2006 and it would be a major surprise it they did not do so again. They have a phenomenal record at the finals and, four years after their young side lit up South Africa, are now more experienced with even greater strength in depth.
Players added to the 2010 squad include Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle and Mats Hummels while peripheral players like Jerome Boatang and Toni Kroos have grown in stature alongside an impressive core of Sebastien Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Muller, Sami Khedira, Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil, Miroslav Klose et al. German football is on a high, as demonstrated by the success of Bayern Munich and, to a lesser extent, Borrusia Dortmund in the Champions League.
After successive World Cup semi-finals there remains unfinished business for Jogi Low’s side.
As mentioned above, the feeling is Spain’s luck may be about to run out. Teams will close them out, perhaps take them to penalties and win – potential quarter-final opponents Italy could prove just such opponents.
Having surprised many with a run to the Euro 2012 decider, Cesare Prandelli’s side have steadily built on that success. They have a tradition of peaking at major finals and the experience garnered from playing at last year’s Confederations Cup should stand to them.
Provided the Azzurri can progress from their group, they possess the right blend of experience – Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgi Chiellini, Thiago Motta, Giuseppe Rossi – and rising stars such as Marco Veratti and Mario Balotelli to still be standing come the final four.
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