World Cup Preview: Part IIDate: June 12, 2014
by John Fanta
John Fanta's World Cup Preview for the all new WSOU.net continues. Follow @WSOUSports and @John_Fanta for continuing updates on the tournament. Brazil opens the World Cup taking on Croatia on Thursday at 4 p.m. ET. For a preview of Groups A-E, go to http://www.wsou.net/news/worldcuppreview1.cfm#.U5jzvKWAbnc.
Just as Groups A and B have clear frontrunners in Brazil and Spain, Argentina appears to have a clear path to the Round of 16 in Group F. All eyes will be on Lionel Messi on the attack for Argentina, and there will not be a shortage of offensive opportunities for them. The question mark for the squad actually lies in goal. Sergio Romero will start after spending most of his time at Monaco on the bench. Argentina is more than just Messi, though, and they have to be if they want to win the whole thing. Fellow attacker Gonzalo Higuain can take a backseat at times in the Argentina attack, but if Messi gets just a little hope, that's what could be the boost for them to make a bigger run than just get to the Round of 16. As for Bosnia-Herzegovina, they are similar to the role that Croatia is in for Group A. While there's a clear frontrunner in both Groups A and F, Bosnia-Herzegovina will be able to get Argentina out of the way in their first game. In qualifying, Edin Dzeko was the standout after scoring 10 goals. It's not just about the attack for the Bosnians. A name that is brought up when looking at the best of the best in net in the English Premier League, Asmir Begovic is at keeper. This will also be the nation's first appearance. Iran is a solid defensive team, but the question in place is their offense. If Iran wants to make any noise, Javad Nekounam is the key. The defensive midfielder also has a striking ability, and if manager Carlos Quierez's style is to work, Nekouman needs to control possession early and often. Quierez was run out of Portugal because they were unable to score in three of their four games in the previous World Cup. While Iran does not seem to have the explosiveness, Nigeria is a team that has a legitimate shot to get out of the group stage against a newbie in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Finding balance from the defensive end into the counterattack is the question that needs an answer for Nigeria. John Obi Mikel is the captain in the midfield and will be key to possession. If that balance is present, a young, but talented Nigeria squad has the chance to be the second-best in the group.
While it wasn't in the best of tastes for US Manager Jurgen Klinsmann to say that it is "unrealistic" to talk about the team winning a World Cup, the fact of the matter is that his comments have some validity to them. They don't call this edition of Group G the "Group of Death" for nothing. If the US is to have any shot of getting out of the group, it must start with the opener against Ghana on Monday. All indications point to Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore finding opportunities, but the question becomes whether this team can finish on the big stage without a guy who has done it time and again in Landon Donovan. Bradley has to be the general, and Tim Howard has to be an anchor in net that continues to guide a defense with many question marks. Fabian Johnson is also a make-or-break player that could very well determine how the defense operates. He did shine at right back in the friendlies, and will need to with the center of the defense not in the same category as he has been. Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler do carry uncertainties. While Klinsmann isn't afraid of making bold statements that aren't always what people want to hear, the fact is that the US is either going to rise to the occasion or completely collapse. In this group, there's no middle ground. What did one expect Klinsmann to say? Was it smart? Not really for the public, but it can be used as an under-the-radar motivator. As if it wasn't enough to face the Group of Death, the US has the busiest travel schedule out of anybody in the group. As for Germany, a veteran group will once again compete for not only a berth in the Round of 16, but for a title. Miroslav Klose is one of many in a deep corps that can masterfully strike the ball. He is two goals away from becoming the World Cup's all-time leading scorer. While Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo banged up, he still will be active and they will not have a shortage in getting possession. Portugal has a defense that is quick, but if their physicality is tested, it could lead to them allowing some goals. Ghana, like the US, is young, but extremely quick. The US does have some good things on their side. No team has ever lost three straight World Cup team when that opponent comes from Africa. The US will put that to the test Monday.
Belgium appears to be the frontrunner in a Group H that doesn't have much hype surrounding it. They scored 18 goals, but more importantly only gave up four in qualifying. Romelu Lukaku, a superstar in the Premier League, is an outstanding talent. With the position they're in, Belgium needs to win the group to really make it a big possibility that they can be a dark horse. If they don't win the group, it sets up a potential Round of 16 match-up with Germany. Belgium is complete, more than anything, and with a clear path in Group H, they can save their best for later in the tournament. South Korea is back to the World Cup for an eighth straight time. Playing in the Saudi Premier League, the key will be 32-year old Kwak Tae-Hwi in the back line. What makes this team arguably the second-best in the group is that they don't give much away. They're not going to play out of control. Algeria has lost just one of its past 12 matches coming in and is led by a strong scorer in El Arbi Hillel Soudani. This team will not sit back in its attack, unlike the approach that South Korea will take, leaving a contrast between the two teams that will likely be battling for second in this group. Russia will be powered by its back line. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev is familiar with his back line, with two of his teammates playing for CSKA Moskow. Because this team is based on defense and there is so much familiarity going on, the potential is there for the Russians to get something done. It really is wide open for second place.
While the soccer begins Thursday, the atmosphere around Brazil is anything but boring. Flooding across the southern state of Parana has reached the host city of Curitiba, but that's not the least of Brazil's worries. Rio de Janeiro's two airports are in a perplexing situation, with workers declaring a partial stoppage on Wednesday night. Only 20 percent of the workers are walking out during the first 24 hours, according to a union rep. Galeao international and Santos Dumona are both expected to be the busiest in the world, with Santos Dumona including flights to Sao Paulo. According to ESPN, a labour court has issued an injunction ordering the unions to maintain staffing at 80 percent of normal levels or face fines of up to $22,400.
This comes after a subway strike was jeopardizing the transportation to Thursday's opener between Croatia and Brazil. The workers will hold a march on Thursday demanding that 42 workers be rehired. More than 1,500 voted against going on strike. With the World Cup counting on these people, it is necessary to have them continue to work.
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