Group Dynamics: World Cup Profiles, vol. i

Group Dynamics: World Cup Profiles, vol. i
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World Cup - Groups A and B

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

For any host nation, there is the heavy expectation to perform. With Brazil, however, the pressure is as intense as the combined weight of the country’s 199 million souls, all of whom demand success.

Brazil have Neymar, the 22-year-old poster kid of this World Cup. The boy possesses a devilish flash and flair more readily displayed for his country than it is for his club Barcelona, where he experienced a somewhat disappointing season. In central defence they rely on the stolid brilliance of Thiago Silva and the postmodern exuberance of David Luiz, for whom the entire pitch is a stage and defending merely a stepping stone on the path to footballing enlightenment. Luiz is mad – and madness can both hurt and aid a team.

Despite their myriad talents, Brazil’s path out of the group will not be as simple as stepping stones. Sixteen years ago at France 1998, Croatia rammed playmakers galore into their midfield for their first World Cup – and finished a surprising third. Those faintly glorious days have faded, but in the dual threat of Real Madrid’s Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić of Seville they possess danger. The main striker is Mario Mandžukić, a whippet-bendy beanpole of a man who plays like a cross between a proverbial lamppost and a verbial predator, alternating between amateurish uselessness and professional cool with the flick of a proverbial switch. Croatia will give Brazil a game on June 12th– and they might even pip them to the top of the group.

Mexico lurched their way through qualifying like a drunk Englishman on Acapulco Beach, only making it to the big dance by beating New Zealand in a playoff over two legs. Javier Hernandez of Manchester United is the main star – a striker as comfortable poaching goals as a bed and breakfast owner with an egg and a pan of boiling water. Mexico are the neo-classicists of the group, constantly harking back to former glories. Their best World Cups occurred nearly three decades ago, a statistic that the new generation looks unlikely to improve upon.

Cameroon have the best nickname in the group – “The Indomitable Lions”- and the worst chance of roaring or even clawing their way out of it. Samuel Eto’o provides the blunted, ageing spearhead for a nation whose greatest World Cup moment came back in 1990, when they made it to the quarterfinals thanks to the indomitable Roger Milla.

Prediction: 1) Croatia 2) Brazil 3) Mexico 4) Cameroon

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Group B should play out as a fist fight between Spain and the Dutch for first place, with Chile darting around the fray and landing the occasional significant blows of their own. Australia are the group’s pacified pacifists, their claws well and truly withdrawn.

Spain have won the last three major international tournaments – Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 – through a progressively more soporific brand of passing football they call “tiki-taka”. The theory, and the practice, is that the unfairly gifted Spanish midfielders Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and occasionally Manchester City’s David Silva pass and move around their opponents like some madly organised footballing carousel until those opponents are dizzy with confusion and tiredness. Then Spain strike.

Their potency is abetted this time around by Diego Costa, a swarthy siege-tower of a striker Brazilian by birth but representing Spain through residency. For his counterpart on the Dutch side, Robin Van Persie, 2014 may represent a final chance to win the World Cup. He came razor-close four years ago in South Africa, when the Netherlands abandoned the principled beauty of Total Football – upon which tiki-taka is based – and embraced the thug life to reach the final. The abiding memory of that game is not Iniesta’s extra-time winning goal for Spain – it’s Nigel de Jong planting his studs into Xaabi Alonso’s chest like the orange-belted kung-fu artist of an arcane videogame. The Dutch are unlikely to be as uncompromising this time around.

Chile have a definite Spanish influence to their team – not simply due to a shared mother tongue. Alexis Sánchez of Barcelona acts as the buzz to Gary Medel of Cardiff City’s rusty saw. Medel has a history of violence both on and off the pitch – playing for his country in the Under-20 World Cup semi-final, he was sent off and then tasered after the match following a violent confrontation with the referee. If Medel plays Michael Bay to Sánchez’s David Cronenberg, then the explosive Chileans have a chance.

Australia will act as the convenient, gold-and-green doorstep of the group. There’s little chance of either Spain or the Dutch tripping over a static side featuring the luminous talents of a venerable Tim Cahill and, um, Mile Jedinak of Crystal Palace. Australian football has seen better days – most notably the 2006 World Cup, when they should have reached the quarters. This time around, a slight stomach upset of a result is all they can hope to achieve.

Prediction: 1) Netherlands 2) Spain 3) Chile 4) Australia

Teddy Cutler

About Teddy Cutler

Teddy is a sportswriter exploring where the worlds of literature and sport intersect. His writing highlights sport as metaphor: as an expression of cultures, and, on a human level, as a technicolour image of our own lives. He supports Aston Villa Football Club, which has taught him that sport's losers invariably have more interesting stories to tell.

Teddy is a sportswriter exploring where the worlds of literature and sport intersect. His writing highlights sport as metaphor: as an expression of cultures, and, on a human level, as a technicolour image of our own lives. He supports Aston Villa Football Club, which has taught him that sport's losers invariably have more interesting stories to tell.

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