MASTER GUIDE: Everything You Need To Know About World Cup Group A
Here it is, soccer fans. The Daily Caller’s Ultimate Master Guide To Everything You Ever Need To Know About The 2014 FIFA World Cup In Brazil.
Brace yourself for over a month’s worth of whining from the MLB/NFL/NBA purist who doesn’t understand the offside rule and insists the game “still sucks.” Prepare for some thoroughly embarrassing “expert” opinions from that guy in the bar who thinks the game was invented in 1992. And yes, there will more than likely be some tedious BuzzFeed listicles about the best player simulations, eccentric jerseys and players that look like cats.
All that aside, there should be some great entertainment on the field.
For the entirety of the tournament, Ewan Watt will be providing grizzled, foul-tempered Scottish punditry for The Daily Caller on everything you need to know about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. This will range from a comprehensive background on each team, short posts on the games and some history, ranging from failed drug tests to a team’s struggle to understand the rules to why an Arab prince halted the game and got a referee’s decision overturned.
In the build up, we’ll be releasing guides to the different groups, so buckle in, study up and become the master you’ve always said you were anyway.
Click Here For Everything You Need To Know About Group B
Click Here For Everything You Need To Know About Group C
Click Here For Everything You Need To Know About Group D
Click Here For Everything You Need To Know About Group G
Click Here For Everything You Need To Know About Group H
Overview: Although the Brazilians qualified as hosts, they have done a pretty good job of living up to their reputation in the last two years. Some poor results in 2012 and 2013 (losses to Mexico, England and Switzerland) have given way to an ominous stretch of eight consecutive victories, conceding just two goals. Having said that, Australia, Panama, South Africa and Zambia aren’t likely to be Brazil’s nearest challengers this summer.
And yet, comfortable victories over Italy, Uruguay and Spain in last year’s Confederations Cup (another FIFA money-spinner) gave fans hope that they had just seen something akin to a World Cup dress rehearsal. However, other than Barcelona’s Neymar, this Brazilian side seems to lack the flair and execution of previous sides, especially when going forward. In previous years, Brazil has boasted some of the game’s greatest forwards, but the class of 2014 might have to rely on players like Jo and Fred — hardly renowned as world-beaters. Although impressive, all 5’5″ of Bernard is untested on the global stage.
At the back, Brazil will likely boast one of the tournament’s strongest defenses, although competition for their goalkeeping position leaves a lot to be desired. The Brazilians go into the World Cup knowing that anything but a convincing victory will be regarded by the home fans as an unmitigated failure. The political controversy and social unrest surrounding the tournament only adds to the pressure.
Best World Cup Performance: Winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
FIFA Ranking: 3rd
Best Players: Neymar, Dani Alves (both Barcelona), Thiago Silva (Paris Saint-Germain), Ramires, Oscar (both Chelsea), Dante (Bayern Munich) and Hulk (Zenit Saint Petersburg).
Most famous World Cup moment: There are plenty of them, but arguably the most famous goal ever scored in a final, from arguably the greatest team of all time, was Carlos Alberto’s strike against Italy in the 1970 World Cup.
… Most infamous: The parliamentary inquiry that followed Brazil’s shock 3-0 final defeat to France comes to mind. But this truly pales in comparison to the events in 1950. Having won the first World Cup on home soil in 1930, Uruguay was seeking to claim a second when they faced-off against host Brazil at the first World Cup since the end of the World War II. Before 200,000 spectators at the world-famous Maracanã, the Brazilians took the lead through Friaça, only for the Uruguayans to equalize through Alberto Schiaffino. However, with just 11 minutes to go, Alcides Ghiggia stunned the home crowd and devastated the entire nation with a tidy finish. Uruguay would go on to claim their second World Cup, leaving the Brazilians to cope with what some described as a “national tragedy.” Some 64 years later, it’s a result the entire country has still not got over.
Sound like an expert: “Brazil will be favorites, but they don’t just need to win it, they need to win it with style.”
Overview: Despite being top seeds in their qualifying group, Croatia scraped into the finals by virtue of winning a two-legged playoff with Iceland. Along the way, coach Igor Stimac was a casualty, fired after a second defeat against a rejuvenated Scotland and a run of form that saw the Croats win just one game out of six. Although they possess some real talent, this Croatian side is, to put it lightly, inconsistent.
The Croats will be relying on the inspirational Luka Modric, who has put in some great displays for European Cup Champions Real Madrid this season after a tough first year. Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic, a transfer target for most of the top five teams in England, might also see this tournament as an opportunity to raise his wage demands as first-team opportunities in Bavaria become more limited. However, Mandzukic’s performances have been found wanting of late and he will be suspended for Croatia’s opening match against Brazil.
Since their impressive debut in 1998, the Croats have disappointed, falling at the group stages in 2002, 2006 and even failing to qualify in 2010. In a group that’s seen as a race for second place, the Croats will need to lift their game if they are to even come close to bettering their 1998 performance.
Best World Cup Performance: Third (1998)
FIFA Ranking: 18th
Best Players: Luka Modric (Real Madrid), Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich), Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla), Mateo Kovacic (Internazionale) and Ivan Perisic (Wolfsburg).
Most famous World Cup moment: Although they were part of several momentous moments while still part of Yugoslavia, Croatia only made their first World Cup appearance in 1998. High on national pride, they finished third, pushing eventual winners France all the way in the semi-finals. The highlight of their tournament was a 3-0 demolition of reigning European Champions Germany.
… Most infamous: In the 1998 semi-final against France, the Croatians were trailing the hosts 2-1 after Lilian Thuram struck his only goals for the eventual winners. With the French going on the offense to finish off the Croats, Laurent Blanc grappled with Slaven Bilic. Blanc, the French captain who had never been red carded in his life, looked to shrug off Bilic only for the Croat to fall theatrically to the floor. Blanc walked and was suspended for the final. To this day, Bilic claims his actions were justified.
Sound like an expert: “They might not have the same quality as The Golden Generation, but if Croatia can get Modric on the ball, then they could really start to hurt teams.”
Overview: Getting to Brazil was ugly for the Mexicans, staggering into the finals without any real conviction, winning just two games in the qualification group, and only making the tournament by virtue of a 9-3 playoff win over New Zealand. In fact, had it not been for two American injury time goals against Panama, the Mexicans would be watching the action on TV. It also took something special for Mexico to qualify with a negative goal difference, scoring just seven goals and conceding nine.
Although certainly impressive on paper, that aggregate win over the All-Whites can’t hide the fact that Mexico has been inconsistent since winning the 2011 Gold Cup, even losing to Panama in 2013. This inconsistency is further highlighted by the fact that throughout qualifying, some 47 different players were picked — leading many to question whether Mexico will have struck the right balance or gelled in time for Brazil.
A few comfortable friendly victories over Israel, Ecuador and South Korea, and a goalless tie against Nigeria might provide some indication that this side is moving in the right direction, but qualifying through to the knock-out stages still looks like an uphill task. Defeat against Bosnia, despite some encouraging play, raised some additional concerns. This is a team not just questionable in quality, but highly suspect against impressive opposition.
Best World Cup Performance: Quarter-final (1970 and 1986)
FIFA Ranking: 20th
Best Players: Hector Moreno (Espanyol), Giovani dos Santos (Villarreal), Andres Guardado (Bayer Leverkusen), Javier Hernandez (Manchester United) and Oribe Peralta (Santos).
Most famous World Cup moment: Mexico’s performance at the 1986 World Cup helped restore some pride in a national team still licking its wounds from 1978 and its failure to qualify in 1982. Bora Milutinović’s side would go all the way to the quarter-finals, losing to eventual finalists West Germany on penalties. The run had many memorable moments, but this fine finish by Manuel Negrete is still seen as the highlight.
… Most infamous: This is really between Mexico being infamously disqualified from appearing at the 1990 World Cup and their disastrous 1978 campaign. I’m going for the latter. The squad, which included future Real Madrid legend Hugo Sanchez, was hardly lacking in talent but that was not reflected on the pitch. In their opening game against Tunisia, the Mexicans were defeated 3-1, becoming the first-ever team to lose a World Cup fixture against African opposition. It didn’t get any better, losing 6-0 and 3-1 to West Germany and Poland respectively. It would be another eight years before Mexico would play at a World Cup, qualifying as hosts thanks to Colombia’s economic meltdown.
Sound like an expert: “They’ve made the second round in each of the last five World Cups, but never made it any further. Given their troubles, I’d be surprised if this Mexican side matched that.”
Overview: Once the standout nation in Africa, Cameroon has found it hard to recapture that mantle in recent years, winning just one World Cup match since their first foray to the tournament in 1990 when they were only knocked out in the quarter-finals by two Gary Lineker penalties.
While Nigeria and Ivory Coast have cemented their position as the African sides most likely to make a significant impact on the World Cup, Cameroon has struggled to even get to tournaments, failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2006 or to make the African Cup of Nations in either 2012 or 2013. Their road to Brazil was slightly more straightforward, topping a group that included Libya, Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo before seeing off a solid Tunisia side 4-1 in a playoff.
Having been written off earlier this year as too old by manager Jose Mourinho, Samuel Eto’o (who played in the 1998 World Cup aged just 17) might have a point to prove as he looks for a new club. The same can be said of Alex Song, who looks likely to leave Barcelona. A 2-2 tie with Germany was ideal preparation, but if this group is in a fight for second place, Cameroon might find themselves scrapping just to stay off the bottom. They might count themselves lucky that Croatia and Mexico are struggling to perform too.
Best World Cup Performance: Quarter-final (1990)
FIFA Ranking: 56th
Best Players: Alex Song (Barcelona), Samuel Eto’o (Out of contract/unattached), Nicolas N’Koulou (Marseilles) and Jean Makoun (Rennes).
Most famous World Cup moment: In 1990 Cameroon defeated World Cup champions Argentina, while also endeavoring to finish the game with nine men. But the Cameroon team won everyone’s hearts in 1990, thanks to Roger Milla, who despite being 38 years young, scored four goals in the tournament and forever became part of World Cup history for dancing by the corner flag. Alas, the Indomitable Lions would go all the way to the quarter-finals before getting knocked out by England.
… Most infamous: Argentina’s Claudio Caniggia had a great deal of pace. No problem, thought Cameroon’s Benjamin Massing, I can quite easily slow him down.
Sound like an expert: “They’ve got a good spine of a team, but there’s still too much weight on the shoulders of Samuel Eto’o.”