The Man Cave breaks the teams down one by one in series of handy articles so you have all the details without any of the hassle.
No matter what you do for the next few weeks, you'll probably be surrounded by people with World Cup fever as everyone turns their attention to Brazil, and we can’t help but get involved too. With that in mind, we’ve got a handy bluffer's guide to each team, in alphabetical order, so you can jump in with a quick fact every now and then to sound like you know what’s going on in the conversation around you in the pub. If you missed the first part (Algeria to Belgium) check it out over here.
Where: In Group F along with Argentina, Iran and Nigeria.
Need to Know This is a team that has come close to qualifying before for a major tournament, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion in a playoff. Not this time though, and they will finally achieve their dream of playing at their first World Cup, an achievement for any player in their career. However, their squad is not just there for the jaunt abroad, and they have some players of note who can change games on their own with Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic and Asmir Begovic in goal.
They scored 30 goals in their qualification campaign so they have attacking talent without doubt, but perhaps they are not so well-equipped at the back. However, in a group where Argentina should claim nine points if they do their job right, then Bosnia may have enough to defeat Iran and Nigeria (who didn’t look up to much against Scotland when they weren’t throwing the ball in to their own net) and may well progress to the next round, which would be a real achievement for the debutantes.
One to Watch: Sead Kolasinac emerged at just the right time for Bosnia at left-back to help them fill a problem position. Even with just two caps to his name, he’s a first choice for manager Safet Susic, and while he’s not as attacking as others, he likes a tackle and gets through the workload. He’s got Champions League experience with Schalke too, so this should prove a great stage rather than a difficult step up for the young “Destroyer”
Where: Group A along with Cameroon, Croatia and Mexico.
Need to Know: The tournament returns to Brazil for the first time since they last hosted in 1950, an event that ended in a seminal defeat to Uruguay in the Maracanã and a fall from grace for a team that had been crowned champions by the media before a ball was even kicked. This time around, anything other than victory will be considered a failure for what is surely one of the, if not the, most talented squad in the tournament.
From back to front, the Brazilian side has depth, and players who are at the biggest clubs in the world in every position. Fred will start up front more or less guaranteed, and while European audiences will remember him mostly for his spell in France with Lyon, he has been playing and scoring at Fluminense in Brazil with regularity, and made himself an automatic selection for Phil Scolari.
At the back, Brazil have Thiago Silva, who may well be the best centre back in the world at the moment, as well as David Luiz, a vital character and a big game player who sparkles on occasions when the pressure is on. The team balances midfield and attacking flair in Oscar, Hulk and Neymar with serious dynamism and tough tackling from Fernandinho, Gustavo, Ramires and Paulinho, any combination of which could make up the middle two in the centre of the park. Their win at the Confederations Cup last year was important not only to the team but the supporters also, who will pile the pressure on the squad with expectations so high. If things start to go wrong early on, expect those fans to get irritated very easily.
One to Watch: Unlikely that he’ll get much game time given the depth at his position, but Marquinhos is a fantastic talent at centre back. With an eye to the future, Scolari may give him a few minutes hoping that he learns and grows from the experience. At just 20, he has already made a name for himself in Roma before moving to Paris Saint Germain, which isn't a bad CV to have.
Where: Group A with Brazil, Croatia and Mexico
Need to Know: It’s been a rough few months and years for Cameroon, who have more than a little bit in common with Ireland in that we both wear green and our World Cup hay day was 1990. Like us, the “indomitable lions” outdid themselves at that rather extraordinary tournament, and despite having a team with a few recognisable stars such as Samuel Eto’o and Benoit Assou-Ekotto at this tournament, they are not the force they once were.
Problems seem to be as plentiful off the pitch as on it, with their federation’s president in jail, players protesting about unpaid bonuses, and Eto’o accusing team-mates of conspiring against him and not wanting to pass to him. That said, he will still be the focus of their attack, and his record backs up his claim to be the main man. In midfield they have two seriously quality players who are perhaps underrated in Alex Song (a good player for setting the tempo and moving the ball quickly, as well as breaking up attacks) and Stephan M’Bia, whose heroic performance in the Europa League final did not go unnoticed. While he spent his time donating his body and making some perfectly-timed interceptions, even through to extra-time when he was nearly out on his feet, he has also had a fine season at Sevilla where he has evolved into a player who can guide the game and has improved his passing too.
M’Bia doesn’t seem to be the preferred player there for manager Volker Finke, but his performances this season surely can’t be ignored. Speaking of Finke, he spends a lot of his time simply trying to get the team to gel, and if they get out of the first round he’ll be dusting off the CV fairly quickly one would imagine. That's easier said than done though, as Brazil, a classy Croatia and Mexico, who won gold at the Olympics, are waiting for them.
One to Watch: Vincent Aboubakar had a stunning season in France for such a young player, and will more than likely be on a few shopping lists, in particular if he shines at this tournament. Direct, powerful and pacey, he is already getting comparisons with the aforementioned Eto’o. He might be forced out wide to accommodate the star striker of the side, but he knows where the goal is no matter where he’s placed.
Where: Group B with Spain, Holland and Australia.
Need to Know: A team that many are calling "dark horses", a term that really is thrown around too much without a lot of thought. What they do have is a team that plays aggressively, that moves the ball quickly from defence to attack and has boundless energy, having been shaped in the image of legendary manager Marcelo Bielsa. Current manager Jorge Sampaoli is also Argentine, and a disciple of Bielsa (they speak of him having disciples, that's how important he is) so their style has remained the same: press high up the pitch and force the opponents to make a mistake, creating situations where Chile attack in numbers against the players on your team who are least comfortable on the ball or can't afford to take chances.
They have been a force on the international scene for a few years now, so calling them an "unknown" is incorrect, as they have players plying their trade at the highest level for some of the biggest clubs around. They are very adept at committing the cynical, small fouls in the right places too, so expect to see them stopping opponents from catching them on the break with a sly tackle at just the right time. Speaking of sly tackles, Gary Medel is a player who is passionate and excels in the physical side of the game, but really hates garden furniture.
He is deployed in defence for the national side rather than the midfield, where he plays at club level, but don't expect him to ease up on the aggression as a result. The reason he's pushed back is the sheer talent ahead of him in the squad, with Arturo Vidal chief among them. One of the most highly rated players in Europe and coming off the back of some very successful seasons at Juventus with 11 goals under his belt last term, he is vital to this team, as is Marcelo Diaz, who not only holds in front of the back four but organises the team from back to front.
Up front, Alexis Sánchez has had his best season to date at Barcelona, and it looked as though, after scoring one of the goals of the season, that he had given Barcelona the title in the final game. It wasn't to be, but if he continues the form he showed at club level then he will cause defences problems without a doubt. Eduardo Vargas is a player who has not really settled at his club Napoli yet, but has talent and is still young. If he wants to show his manager that he deserves to be in the team rather than out on loan, he'll have no better opportunity than this.
One to Watch: Jorge Valdivia is in the last chance saloon. A player who, at 30, may not have another tournament in him, and has never really lived up to his early promise, he has shown flashes of the skill and ability he has throughout his career. On the biggest stage possible, he is likely to sit in the midfield behind Sanchez and Vargas, hopefully providing them with plenty of opportunities and showing no little flair in the process.
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