Former Holt Rams Soccer Standout Brendan Finnerty Breaks Down 2014 World Cup
Editor's note: Brendan Finnerty is one of the great high school soccer players to come out of the Lansing area in recent years. He helped lead the Holt Rams to a 26-1-1 record in 2010, finishing the season as state runners-up. He was first team All-CAAC, all-area, all-district and academic All-CAAC for several seasons. Now he's a midfielder at Wheaton College near Chicago, and he plays for the newly formed Lansing United.
He's also interning with The Game 730 AM this summer.
Check out his thorough analysis and breakdown of the 2014 World Cup, including his expert predictions:
World Rankings: Brazil 3; Croatia 18; Mexico 20; Cameroon 56
Group A features strong teams from four different continents. Each team in the group has a strong soccer tradition and has had past success on the world stage in their own right. Mexico and Cameroon seem a little down presently with Mexico struggling throughout most of the qualifying, but with a new coach at the helm they could be a surprise in the group despite losing a recent tune up game against a fairly talented Bosnia side.
Cameroon is always one of the best teams in Africa, but have not been putting out the big name players at major clubs like they have in the past. Despite fielding one of the strongest teams in Africa in past world cups, the Lions haven’t found the success of getting out of the group like they would hope.
Croatia boasts a strong team with some big name players such as Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, and Mario Mandzukic playing at Real Madrid, Sevilla, and Bayern Munich, respectively. They are strong in defense and have a solid supporting cast around the big name players. Look for them to play an attractive style of soccer.
Brazil are the hosts this time around and many have them favored to win the entire tournament. They feature stars from major clubs at every position on the field, and it will be interesting to see if they play as a collection of individual stars or as a unit like they did in much of the Confederations Cup last year, beating Spain in a convincing win in the final game to raise the country’s excitement and expectations for the team. Luiz Felipe Scolari is managing the Brazil side for this world cup, which is important to note because the last time he was in charge in 2002, Brazil won the tournament, although with a completely different group of players.
Picks to advance: Croatia, Brazil
Croatia and Brazil should be the teams to come out of this group. The European nation has a lot of talent and the high level experience that you want in a team when trying to have success at the World Cup. I look for them to play well consistently throughout the tournament with the trio of stars leading the attack.
Brazil is the easy favorite to win the group with all of their world class talent. Look for them to make it out of the group in sure fashion, especially because Croatia star Mario Mandzukic will miss the opening game against Brazil due to a red card suspension.
World Rankings: Spain 1; Netherlands 15; Chile 14; Australia 62
Group B features the previous world cup winners and repeat contenders Spain. Spain’s squad looks very similar to the previous world cup winning team, with young talent mixed in to a group of established world stars from powerhouse clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid, as well as English premier league teams.
The Netherlands return star forwards Robin Van Persie (Manchester United) and Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich) and will be dangerous going forward. There are questions as to who will play in the midfield as well as the back for the Oranje, with a very young group of defenders as well as the huge loss of emerging world class midfielder Kevin Strootman (AS Roma).
Chile finished a close third in South American qualifying behind Argentina and Colombia. They have been an enjoyable team to watch in recent years, and now have more experience especially behind stars Alexis Sanchez (FC Barcelona) and Arturo Vidal (Juventus).
Australia is the massive underdog in this group. They qualified for the tournament through a relatively easy Asian qualifying group. With recent 6-0 losses to Brazil and France, they will be hoping for a big upset in every game under new coach Ange Postecoglou.
Picks to advance: Spain, Chile
The Spanish have all of the right pieces to make it very far in the tournament, with a world class player at every position, much like Brazil. If they are fully mentally engaged, they will be very difficult to beat.
Chile has more experience than the Netherlands, and Arturo Vidal will be a feature in midfield for La Roja playing box-to-box. They play a high pressure style that will look to generate chances off turnovers. Look for the South Americans to make it through playing close to their home soil.
World Rankings: Colombia 8; Greece 12; Ivory Coast 23; Japan 46
Group C features four teams that all have a shot to reach the knockout rounds. Colombia finished second in South American qualifying, and could have fielded one of the best teams their country has ever seen, but the loss of one of the world’s best strikers in Radamel Falcao changes things for Los Cafeteros. They still have a talented group with players such as Juan Cuadrado (Fiorentina) and the Portuguese league’s leading scorer Jackson Martinez (Porto) who will have to step up if Colombia are to advance.
Greece’s signature defensive style of play always makes them a tough team to face. They don’t score a ton of goals, but they rarely concede either. Ivory Coast has world stars such as one of the world’s best midfielders in Yaya Toure (Manchester City) and former Chelsea star Didier Drogba, but they have never achieved international success like one would expect. They will look to change that pattern this time around in Brazil.
Japan are lacking a bit in defense, so talented attackers such as Kosuke Honda (AC Milan), Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United), and Shinji Okazaki (FSV Mainz 05) will have to be dangerous and score for one of Asia’s best sides.
Picks to advance: Colombia, Greece
Ivory Coast has it in their power to advance with all of their talent, but look for Colombia’s lineup of strong players to step up in the absence of their leading goal scorer and move on in the tournament, especially playing close to home. Greece will get through by playing to their defensive strength and capitalizing on few scoring opportunities. The Greek style isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done.
World Rankings: Uruguay 7; Italy 9; England 10; Costa Rica 28
Although Costa Rica seems outmatched in Group D, there isn’t a team that you can count out right away. The Ticos ended qualifying playing very well allowing only seven goals in 10 games, which included wins over regional powers USA and Mexico.
Uruguay is always a strong side, and their success could be directly related to perhaps the most in form player in the world right now in Luis Suarez (Liverpool). Suarez had knee surgery and his recovery is on track for him to play as it stands. Edinson Cavani (PSG), another star name, will feature up top next to Suarez. The team looks fairly shaky in back aside from Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid) and will have to adjust to cover that, so it will be up to the attack to carry the load for this team.
England always has a very talented side coming into the world cup, but can never seem to live up to the expectations that are set for the group of world stars. This tournament follows the same way. The speedy Theo Walcott (Arsenal) is out injured for the three lions, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal) is questionable as well. Rooney will have to step up this time around for his country, failing to do so in past world cups. England has a good mix of young talent and experience.
Italy, similarly to England, have a talented overall squad coming into the tournament. Andrea Pirlo will run things for the Italians as a deep-lying midfielder. Italy boast big names all over the field such as forward Mario Balotelli (AC Milan), midfielder Daniele De Rossi (Roma), and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), all with world cup experience.
Picks to advance: Uruguay, Italy
Suarez’s progress is on track for him to be back for the world cup, and he is a big part of the team’s success. Even without one of the best forwards in the world in the lineup, Uruguay has disciplined players who know how to get the job done. Italy always brings a talented side and are strong in goal as well as the back line. Look for them to give up few goals, as well as Andrea Pirlo to run things for the Italians out of midfield. England is a very talented side, but always seem to stumble on the world stage when it matters the most, much like in 2010 when they struggled to make it out of a weaker group with teams such as the US, Slovenia and Algeria.
World Rankings: Switzerland 6, France 17, Ecuador 26, Honduras 33
Group E could be one of the most difficult to predict. France have by far the biggest amount of recognizable world stars in their squad. That doesn’t always translate to success, much like the previous world cup in which France’s team imploded with it’s stars feuding with the team manager and even boycotting practice. Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich) is the country’s best player, but will miss this world cup due to injury. Switzerland are a very solid side and pressure teams very effectively. They may be a bit highly ranked by FIFA, but their pressure and group of young attackers up front make them something to watch.
Ecuador are a bit of a wild card. La Tri is led by Manchester United’s Antonio Valencia, and while they showed well against England recently in a tune up game, there is uncertainty as to whether that form will continue on the world’s biggest stage.
Honduras are the underdogs of the group, one of North America’s lowest qualifying teams. They aren’t as much of a long shot as Australia to make it through to the knockout stages, but it would take something very special to see the Central Americans go through.
Picks to advance: Switzerland, France
The Swiss don’t have as much recognizable talent as the French, but they are very effective in the attack and are capable of challenging the best teams in the tournament, much like when they upset Spain in the group stages of the 2010 world cup.
France have a new manager in Didier Deschamps that has the team looking more cohesive than under previous management, and when their big guns are focused and engaged, they can be one of the most dangerous attacking teams in the world. They have the depth in attack to fill in for Ribery on the wing, although few wingers in the world can be considered at his level.
World Rankings: Argentia 6, Bosnia/Herzegovina 21; Iran 43; Nigeria 44
Group F features one of the tournament favorites in Argentina. La Albiceleste have previous 4-peat World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi. The South Americans have one of the best attacks in the world supporting Messi with players like Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli) and Ezekiel Lavezzi (PSG). They aren’t as impressive in the midfield or back as Brazil or Spain, but they have experienced veterans in each line to lead.
Bosnia is in its first major tournament as a unified country. They are led by Edin Dzeko (Manchester City) up front, as well as Vedad Ibisevic (Stuttgart) and midfield creator Miralem Pjanic. They have faired well against the higher end of world competition, including defeating Mexico in a recent game.
Iran has one of its most talented sides ever, and could be a serious sleeper in Brazil. Their coach has done well to recruit dual-eligible players that give the side potential to surprise people in Brazil.
Nigeria was recently crowned the best team in Africa after winning the African Nations Cup. They are always a talented side, but have failed to win a game in the past two world cup group stages. They are led by John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses who each are under contract at Chelsea in England. They did not show well in their most recent tune up game against the US, despite coming away only losing by one.
Picks to advance: Argentina, Bosnia
Argentina is by far the best team in the group. Look for them to go through with three straight wins. Bosnia sets themselves apart from the other teams in the group with a world class striker in Dzeko who can score goals when they need him to, and their supporting cast looks solid enough to lift them into a second place finish in Group F.
World Rankings: Germany 2; Portugal 4; United States 13; Ghana 37
Group G is referred to as the “Group of Death” in this years world cup. Germany have one of the best chances to hoist the trophy, and Portugal could possibly be placed into that category as well. The Germans are missing some key players to injury such as Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus of Borrusia Dortmund, currently two of the world’s best players.
Portugal are led by current World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), and it will be up to him to do most of the offensive work for the Sellecao. Despite a few holes to fill in the lineup, they have a handful of major club players that know how to win against good opponents.
Ghana has the tournament’s youngest side, but have good experience with players such as Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus) and Kevin Prince-Boateng (Schalke 04). They are perhaps a bit underrated by FIFA at 37.
Many Americans would even consider the US the underdogs in the group. Led by Goalkeeper Tim Howard (Everton FC), as well as Michael Bradley (Toronto FC) and Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders) the Americans will have to play at the highest level every game in order to have a shot at making it out of the group. Jurgen Klinsmann is the manager the team needs for success and Jozy Altidore looks more confident after scoring twice against Nigeria.
Picks to advance: Germany, Portugal
No one would argue Germany advancing out of the group. They have one of the deepest, most talented sides in the world and have had very impressive world cup results in the past three tournaments. The US will have to get every point they can get to make it out, but the best player in the world in Ronaldo will show why he received the award and carry his country on.
World Rankings: Belgium 11; Russia 19; Algeria 22; South Korea 57
Belgium are many people’s favorite to not only win the group, but also make it far into the competition. They have players at every position playing at major clubs throughout Europe. Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City) and Eden Hazard (Chelsea) are the biggest names, but Belgium has the right players to have real success in Brazil.
Algeria caused trouble for teams in the previous world cup, and bring back much of the same team with more experience. They could pick up the way they left off only this time winning a close contest or two. Russia don’t carry any of the world’s best in their squad, but each player has plenty of talent and they work together very well within the system, particularly defensively. They are a difficult match-up for any team.
South Korea are overmatched in comparison to the top teams, but you can count on them to be one of the hardest working teams in the tournament to pull out a favorable result.
Picks to advance: Belgium, Russia
The Belgians are easily the best team in Group H. They are strong in every area on the field, and should be one of the more entertaining teams to watch this summer. Russia’s discipline and organization will be key to them going through. Manager Fabio Capello will be looking to make sure the team follows their signature style.
Knockout Picks (winners in bold)
Round of 16
- Brazil vs Chile Spain vs Croatia
- Greece vs Italy Uruguay vs Colombia
- France vs Bosnia Switzerland vs Argentina
- Germany vs Russia Portugal vs Belgium
- Brazil vs Italy Spain vs Uruguay
- France vs Germany Argentina vs Belgium
- Brazil vs Germany Spain vs Argentina
- Brazil vs Argentina