Sounders coach Sigi Schmid scouts the 2014 World Cup
The U.S., which includes two Sounders, must contend with a difficult Group G, which includes Ghana, Portugal and Germany. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect.
Special to The Seattle Times
Every four years this massive event takes place called the World Cup. A different country hosts the tournament every four years. In 2014, it’s in Brazil, where they play beautiful soccer, or joga bonito.
Let the fun begin!
Soccer, football, futbol, fussball — it’s all the same around World Cup time. Everyone is glued to their TV awaiting results with emotions on their sleeves. Watching the United States is emotional for me. But I am also of German heritage and their games are personal to me as well. How will this tournament play out? Who is your favorite? Who can surprise? Let’s talk.
Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA
Let’s start off by looking at Team USA in Group G. With two of our own — Clint Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin — all of Seattle should have a great interest following this team. The group is very difficult. Ghana knocked us out of the last two World Cups, and Portugal might have the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo. Germany has finished in the final four the last two Cups. No wonder it’s called the “Group of Death.”
The first game is key for USA. We play Ghana first, which experts say might be our best chance at a positive result. I feel, however, that Portugal is our ideal opponent. For some reason their style of play and slower buildup seems to be a better fit for us to have success against.
Ghana has speed up front and is athletic and a little unconventional in its style. Our back line is a work in progress, and that first game might be the first time that group plays 90 minutes together. Fabian Johnson at right back is athletic and fast. Tim Chandler and DaMarcus Beasley are risky at times at left back. But it is the glue in the middle that helps the outside guys, and Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron do not have a lot of minutes together.
The midfield, with Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley, is solid, especially if they both play a little more side by side and take turns going forward. I do not know if one up, one back works as well.
The outside guys are also a work in progress. Up front there is Jozy Altidore, who is looking for his mojo, and Dempsey, who is our most creative player and the one who always plays as if he has something to prove. We need at least one point here.
Game 2 is Portugal. If we keep them from counterattacking and make them connect passes, we will have a chance. It will be hot in the Amazon and that should help us slow down the tempo. Also, by Game 2, we will have gained confidence from the opener, or the American mentality will take over where we always battle when backed against the wall.
The last game of group stage is against Germany, and hopefully advancing will not hinge on that game. I think it will be difficult for the USA to advance; but, my heart hopes that we will and that we will get out of the group — together with Germany.
I believe many of the European teams will have a hard time in Brazil with the weather and the travel. No team from Europe has ever won a World Cup in South America. The weather and travel will help the USA, since our MLS players are used to this.
Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia, Mexico
Brazil will advance, resulting in a battle between Mexico and Cameroon. Mexico has had poor form through qualifying, and Cameroon is inconsistent. Croatia is solid, but I do not feel they get out of the group. I think it will be Cameroon, but it will be close. It might be goal difference to advance.
Australia, Chile, Holland, Spain
For me, this group is definitely Spain and Holland. Favorites do not always advance, but Spain still has too much quality, and the disappointing season for Barcelona will be motivating for Iniesta and Xavi. With Costa injured, we will get to see more of David Villa, who will be in MLS with New York City FC in 2015. Holland needs to ride on the finishing of Van Persie and his health; Huntelaar needs to come to the rescue if goals do not come. If Chile does move on it will be at the expense of Holland, and then it could surprise.
Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
Group offers a darkhorse candidate in Japan. The Japanese have so many players in European leagues now, and Kagawa is of the highest quality. They are skillful and will have a large following in Brazil, which will help in close games. Colombia suffered a huge blow with Falcao getting injured. Ivory Coast has the most character of the African countries due to the large personalities of Drogba and Yaya Toure. It is the last World Cup for many of their players, and I think Ivory Coast will advance over Colombia.
Costa Rica, England, Italy, Uruguay
It’s all about Uruguay. Forlan seems ageless, and Cavani can do it until Suarez is ready. Godin is a solid defender, and Stuani has really improved. England will struggle with the conditions and the high expectations that always exist for this team. With Italy also in the group, it will be tough for England. Italy usually finds a way. Costa Rica will provide points for teams, but Italy and Uruguay should get through.
Ecuador, France, Honduras, Switzerland
Might be the weakest group. None of the teams is in really good form. This group could lead to many surprises. Ribery is out for France, but coach Didier Deschamps will have the team disciplined. Honduras is very inconsistent and does not have enough big performers, especially if Boniek Garcia is out. Ecuador is another team that is hot and cold. Caicedo is a high-quality forward but plays in a poor league, so he might not be up to the daily grind of this tournament. That leaves Switzerland. My guess will be France and Switzerland by a whisker.
Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Argentina, Argentina, Argentina. If Messi wants to leave his mark on a World Cup, this is the one. His form of late has been poor by his standards, and he’s said to play his best for Barcelona, not Argentina. Time to change that. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria will battle it out for the other spot. Dzeko and Misimovic are their keys. Can they make the offense go? Nigeria is an enigma. Obafemi Martins in his form would have helped them. If the camp stays together they could surprise. I think Bosnia-Herzegovina, but would not be shocked if Nigeria moved on.
Algeria, Belgium, Russia, South Korea
Belgium has talent and youth and could cause many upsets in the knockout round. If the team stays focused and finds good team spirit, they could do a lot here. They have some names you know like Hazard, Lukaku and Komapny. Add Witsel, De Bruyne and Courtois, and you have a talent-laden team. Russia has more than South Korea or Algeria. But whoever finishes second will not last long. I give the edge to Russia on experience and solid coaching.
Upsets can occur, creating unexpected matchups, sending all predictions out the window. Based on my picks, however, I see a semifinal four of Brazil, Germany, Argentina and Spain. The big boys are no real surprises. Uruguay or Belgium are the most likely to surprise, but if Portugal grabs second from the USA in Group G, they could find themselves in the semifinals playing Spain. That would be interesting.
The final is a classic Argentina-Brazil. Will it be the time to shine for Messi or Neymar? It all starts Thursday. I cannot wait.
Sigi Schmid, the coach of Sounders FC, will contribute occasional columns, postgame analysis and video throughout the World Cup.