Our next installment of the bluffer's guide takes a look at surprise package Mexico and possible title-contenders Netherlands.
Everyone around you in the office, in the pub and at home is probably watching or talking about the World Cup, so if you want a quick cheat sheet to get involved in the conversation and throw out a few knowledge nuggets, then our series of World Cup bluffer's guides will be able to cover everything you need to know about the teams, the stars and the tournament.
Check out the other parts here:
Or if you want some background to all the protests in Brazil during the tournament, head over here.
Where: Group C with Colombia, Greece and Japan
Need to Know: Ivory Coast would be considered by most commentators as having the most complete squad of all the African teams in Brazil '14. The spine of the team comprises players of proven quality, even if one or two of them might be slightly past their sell-by date. Their defence is marshalled by Liverpool's Kolo Toure who, as even the most ardent Merseysiders will admit, looked shaky throughout last season. His brother Yaya, though, is arguably the best central midfielder in the Premier League and is someone who would walk into virtually any team at this World Cup.
Up front, the hopes of the West African country fall on the square shoulders of their captain, talisman and leader Didier Drogba. Drogba's popularity in his home nation eclipses the events on a football pitch. The former Chelsea man is credited with ending a civil war at home and he is celebrated with almost God-like status on the streets of Abidjan.
After an opening round victory against Japan, Drogba's Ivory Coast will face a winner takes all battle with Colombia - the winner of which will likely win the group and get a slightly easier route to the quarter finals... in theory.
One to Watch: Swansea's Wilfried Bony seems to be the logical successor to Didier Drogba's throne in the national team. The former Vitesse player has all the necessary attributes to become a top striker: he's great with both feet, wonderful in the air and excellent technique. He already has one goal to his name in Brazil '14 and who would bet against him grabbing a handful more?
Where: Group C with Colombia, Greece and Ivory Coast
Need to Know: They suffered a defeat to the hands of Ivory Coast very late on Saturday night/Sunday morning over this side of the water, which is not the start they would have wanted in a tough group that has a few teams that are likely to take points off each other.
Although they were very impressive at the Confederations Cup in 2013 when they attacked and produced one of the best games of the tournament against Italy, they have yet to fix the problems they have at the back, which has meant that they are vulnerable to conceding goals and coughing up a lead, which is what happened on the weekend. This is Japan’s fifth tournament in a row, and with plenty of players based in Europe and at big clubs around the world, fans will be asking for more than a group stage exit this time around.
The problem is that their key creative players, Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda, although definitely gifted technically, have not been getting much of a look in at club level at Manchester United and AC Milan respectively. Yuto Nagatomo of Inter is a fantastic player who will look to push forward at the back given any opportunity, and that may leave them open to the counter attack.
This is a side with plenty of experience in the World Cup and in Alberto Zaccheroni they have a very accomplished coach, but their lack of physical presence at the back and their porous defence means that they will probably need to outscore teams. They hope to pressure from the front, but the fact that both goals came from headers against Ivory Coast will probably inspire their other opponents to look for similar tactics.
One to Watch: Shinji Okazaki plays in the Bundesliga for Mainz, and he had a pretty fantastic season this year. He’s on his way to becoming the best Japanese player that the league has seen statistically, and he’s no stranger to finding the back of the net, either at club or international level.
Where: Group A with Brazil, Cameroon and Croatia
Need to Know: Despite winning the Olympics in 2012, Mexico barely, and we mean barely, made it into the tournament after a goal from near-neighbours and bitter rivals USA meant that they finished in the playoff places. Even then, they barely got past New Zealand.
That said, they have shown something different at this World Cup after they halted Brazil and beat Cameroon in their opening two games, and were unlucky to not have done so by a few more goals. The secret, perhaps, is in the manager. Miguel Herrera has brought a spirit and coherence to the team that was missing under other managers, and their style of play is fluid, having been inspired by the Brazil teams of yesteryear. He was their fourth coach of the qualifying campaign, so a more settled state of affairs has clearly helped the team perform on the pitch.
Rafael Marquez, formerly of Barcelona, is still sitting in a three-centre back system in the national side as he captains the side to his fourth World Cup (an amazing achievement) and he looks so calm and assured in possession that the rest of the team knows they can depend on him. Giovani Dos Santos, a player who showed unbelievable talent and promise at a young age, is beginning to look like he can fulfill the good things we saw in those early glimpses we got of him.
He too was at Barcelona, but if rumours are to be believed himself and Ronaldinho had a bit too much fun out and about at night time, and he went slightly off the rails. He had an unsuccessful period at Spurs, but at Villareal this season in La Liga he has been superb, and is the creative force that can keep their brand of Mexican tiki-taka moving. We call it tiki-azteka. He moves the ball well and has an eye for an imaginative through ball, which makes him a joy to watch. Javier Hernandez of Manchester United hasn’t earned a starting spot, rather they have opted for the quick feet of Oribe Peralta, whose goal won them the gold medal in London. However, with 35 goals already for El Tri at just 25-years-old, don’t expect Hernandez to spend his time sitting on the bench for every game.
One to Watch: A huge fan favourite back in Mexico, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was opportunistically signed by Ligue 1 (now Ligue 2) side Ajaccio after a failed drugs test, but is now a free agent after the end of the season. That won’t last too long we imagine after his amazing display against Brazil, and any side that does sign him can expect to get a whole pile of new fans from Mexico after Ajaccio’s website crashed when he signed for them from the volume of traffic and orders for his kit from the official shop.
Where: Group B with Chile, Spain and Australia
Need to Know: Seen as a side in transition before the tournament started, they came in with little expectations given the difficulty of their group. However, the manner in which they beat Spain in their opening game was a huge surprise to everyone, including Dutch fans and probably the team themselves. It was sweet revenge for the 2010 World Cup final, but they were also playing a totally different style of football to the hard hitting and frankly ugly side of the last competition, and were much more positive and attacking this time around.
They defeated Spain mainly because of their pace on the counter and Arjen Robben playing like a man possessed, determined to make up for missing a good chance in the final in South Africa. The mix of talent and experience, under the stewardship of Van Gaal, a brilliant manager who is headed to Manchester United after the tournament and really has nothing to lose, may well prove to be the prefect mix, and he will have them playing attacking football.
That plays to the strengths of their biggest players: Arjen Robbe is in the form of his life, Wesley Sneijder is still a world-class player and in Robin Van Persie, they have a technically gifted striker who, despite Manchester United having a poor season, showed against Spain that he’s more than ready for this tournament. Even the players who many would considered as ‘risky’ choices from Van Gaal, like Daley Blind (seen to be a bit too slow) are working out at the moment, but other teams may find a weakness in a team that looked formidable on day one.
The simple truth is that they may be unable to keep up the sheer level of intensity they showed in the last game, but that’s not to say that they won’t be able to still give a tough game to a few of the biggest teams, as they’ve already shown. It should be noted that the Netherlands have started tournaments in a similar stunning fashion before, and gone on to lose in their next games: in Euro 2008 they hammered the opposition in their group, before being knocked out by Russia at the first ask.
One to Watch: Bruno Martins Indi is a tough-tackling and uncompromising centre-back who is already a first choice for both his club Feyenoord and the national team at the age of just 21-years-old. In a position that requires a great deal of experience, he seems to have an old head on young shoulders, and a good tournament will see him on his way to a big club, we would imagine. Plus he has fearsome eyes…
Pic via OffThePost.info