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.
Overview: As the first team to qualify for Brazil, Alberto Zaccheroni’s Japan has certainly set the expectations high, and with good reason. Zaccheroni can boast of possessing a solid team unit with the creativity of Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa. Yoichiro Kakitani, who has impressed in the J-League for Cerezo Osaka, may well be far from the finished article, but could be set for a big-money move to England after the tournament.
Despite their straightforward path to qualification, the Japanese experienced some indifferent performances — leading many to question whether they can come close to matching their campaigns in 2002 and 2010. While some even contemplated drawing up a shortlist to replace Zaccheroni after some disastrous results against Serbia and Belarus in a matter of days, his job was saved after a thoroughly impressive victory over Belgium.
Although their group is clearly challenging, the Japanese have come through far more difficult challenges at World Cups with considerably less quality. If Honda and Kagawa can pull the strings and shine, Brazil may well be a tournament to remember for the Blue Samurai.
Best World Cup Performance: Second Round (2002 and 2010)
FIFA Ranking: 46th
Most famous World Cup moment: Japanese fans will have fond memories of their path to the last 16 when they co-hosted the World Cup with South Korea in 2002. However, their 2010 campaign in South Africa was just as impressive, particularly a 3-1 demolition of Denmark. The result included one of the goals of the tournament form Keisuke Honda, a 30-yard freekick that Danish goalkeeper Thomas Sørensen had no chance of stopping. The Japanese would double their advantage through another masterful free kick from Yasuhito Endo, who curled his effort in a similarly impressive fashion. The victory sealed Japan’s second visit to the last 16 of the World Cup, where they were unfortunately defeated by Paraguay on penalties.
… Most infamous: The 2006 meltdown against Australia comes to mind, but so does Japan’s 1998 World Cup debut. Even though the Japanese put in some fairly impressive performances against Croatia and Argentina, their lackluster showing against fellow debutants Jamaica left them bottom of Group H without any points to their name. Two goals from Theodore Whitmore gave the Jamaicans a two-goal cushion, thanks in part to sloppy defending. The Japanese pulled a goal back through Masashi Nakayama, but Jamaica would hold on and inflict Japan’s third defeat on the campaign.
Sound like an expert: “Heading into their fifth World Cup, if the Japanese can put aside some of their inconsistency they could be a force to be reckoned with in Brazil.”
Overview: This is certainly the strongest Colombian team in 20 years, except this time they don’t have the weight of expectations on their shoulders (nor the curse of Pele’s predictions). After a thoroughly impressive qualification campaign where they were pipped by Argentina, the Colombians are again a force to be reckoned with in global soccer.
Losing Monaco striker Radamel Falcao to injury has obviously been a massive blow for the Colombians. Falcao, who has been out since he suffered anterior cruciate ligament damage in January, had been included in José Pékerman’s 30-man preliminary squad. But due to ongoing concerns pertaining to his fitness, the coach decided at the last minute it wasn’t worth risking the man Monaco paid $90 million for last summer.
Even though losing Falcao is a huge disappointment, the Colombians certainly have other weapons at their disposal, particularly Jackson Martinez and James Rodríguez — and they are blessed with a thoroughly stubborn defense. This might be Colombia’s first World Cup since France ’98, but with a team of this quality, they should be expected to at least match their best World Cup performance.
Best World Cup Performance: Second round (1990)
FIFA Ranking: 8th
Most famous World Cup moment: The Colombians are hardly renowned for their playing prowess at World Cups. However, in 1990 they tied the game at the death against eventual winners West Germany. Having lost a late goal to the West Germans, the Colombians continued to fight, and thanks to Fredy Rincon’s cute finish from a Carlos Valderrama pass, they made it into the tournament’s knockout stage. Unfortunately, the journey stopped there thanks to some clownish antics from goalkeeper Rene Higuita, and they were eliminated in extra time by Cameroon.
… Most infamous: At the 1994 World Cup, Colombia was one of the favorites. They’d taken apart Argentina 5-0 in Buenos Aires during the qualifiers, and boasted the best squad of players they’d ever had. However, one of the reasons for the swift improvement was that the illegal cocaine empires had helped to fund clubs and training facilities. After the death of the most notorious figure, Pablo Escobar, the power vacuum in Colombia allowed numerous crime figures to exert authority over the football team. Ahead of the 1994 World Cup, under perceived pressure from gambling syndicates, the cartels or both, manager Francisco Maturana dropped influential midfielder Barabas Gomez. Charismatic goalkeeper Rene Higuita was deemed “not fit” to go to the tournament because of his links with Escobar. Players reported receiving death threats in their hotels. Colombia lost their first match 3-1 to Romania. They were then beaten 2-1 by the USA, with defender Andreas Escobar (no relation) scoring an own goal. The Colombians were eliminated. Less than a month later, Andreas Escobar was assassinated. There were 120,000 people at his funeral. His killer, the cartel bodyguard Humberto Castro Munoz, was released after 11 years in prison.
Sound like an expert: “Despite Falcao’s absence, this Colombian team has plenty of quality. These players can deliver.”
Overview: This will be Greece’s third visit to the World Cup. In truth, the Greeks can only improve from their two previous attempts in 1994 and 2010. Since Greece won the 2004 European Championships under Otto Rehhagel, they’ve earned a reputation for their energy and closing teams down, often hitting teams on set-pieces.
Giorgios Karagounis and Kostas Katsouranis, veterans from the 2004 campaign, will be in Brazil. They are (and continue to be under Fernando Santos) what some pundits might call hard to beat, and that remains the focus of their philosophy. They conceded just four goals in qualification, but scored just 12 — two more than lowly Latvia.
Though they qualified via the play-offs, they did so only after losing out on automatic qualification on goal difference. Having only won one game out of their six at the World Cup, the folks at home will expect better, but this is a side still struggling to come to grips with the legacy of 2004. An early flight home would not be too surprising.
Best World Cup Performance: Group Stages
FIFA Ranking: 12th
Most famous World Cup moment: Not a tough one, but Greece’s single World Cup victory against Nigeria in 2010. It wasn’t pretty, and the outcome can really be attributed to a mistake by Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama. But having come from a goal down, it still gave the Greeks hope that they could qualify for the next round. Alas, they fell to Argentina 2-0 and were on the plane home.
… Most infamous: Despite topping their group for qualification, Greece’s World Cup debut in 1994 was nothing short of a debacle. In addition to some questionable squad selections by coach Alketas Panagoulias, the Greeks went home without any points or goals scored, having been humbled 4-0, 4-0 and 2-0 by Argentina, Bulgaria and Nigeria, respectively.
Sound like an expert: “The Greeks have still retained a great deal of the Rehhagel-era’s discipline. The question is whether they can surprise people like they did ten years ago.”
Overview: Despite their status as Africa’s No. 1 ranked team, Côte d’Ivoire has continued to disappoint in the African Cup of Nations, and particularly in the World Cup, where their performances have a lot to be desired. Whereas other African nations have possessed a handful of quality players, Côte d’Ivoire has consistently been able to boast a squad of stars plying their trade at some of Europe’s top clubs.
After going through their qualification group unbeaten, Côte d’Ivoire coasted through their preliminary group before experiencing a shaky moment in their playoff against Senegal, where they needed a late Salomon Kalou’s equalizer to ensure their place in Brazil. Heading into the tournament, Côte d’Ivoire’s form has been mixed, with two defeats in the last six (against Bosnia and Mexico). This also included a spirited 2-2 tie against a heavily favored Belgium in Brussels.
At their last two tournaments, Côte d’Ivoire has come to rely heavily on Didier Drogba, but Manchester City’s midfielder Yaya Touré will likely seize greater status than the ageing forward. Even though he often plays as a deep-lying midfielder, Touré had his best season yet in Manchester scoring 20 goals — a rate of return most strikers would be more than content with. If Côte d’Ivoire is to come close to qualifying for the last 16, they’ll need his experience, but most importantly, his goal-threat.
Best World Cup Performance: Group Stages (2006, 2010)
FIFA Ranking: 23rd
Best Players: Yaya Touré (Manchester City), Kolo Touré (Liverpool), Didier Drogba (Galatasaray), Wilfried Bony (Swansea City), Cheik Tioté (Newcastle United), Salomon Kalou (Lille), Gervinho (Roma) and Serge Aurier (Toulouse).
Most famous World Cup moment: Even though defeats against Argentina and the Netherlands had made it impossible for Côte d’Ivoire to progress beyond the group stages of the 2006 World Cup, their game against Serbia and Montenegro provided them the opportunity to restore some pride. However, after going two goals down in the space of 20 minutes it looked like Les Éléphants were set to face their third defeat. Then came the turn-around. Two goals from Lens’ Aruna Dindane tied things up before Bonaventure Kalou struck a late penalty to win Côte d’Ivoire’s first World Cup fixture.
… Most infamous: Abdelkader Keita might be up there with Slaven Bilic and Rivaldo when it comes to the most disgraceful examples of play-acting at a World Cup. With his team 3-1 down to the Brazilians, Keita walked into Kaka’s elbow before throwing himself to the ground clutching his face. Kaka, who had just been yellow-carded minutes before, received his second and was unfairly dismissed. With the game already lost, it’s still perplexing what Keita was trying to achieve. If it was bringing shame to his side, he did so with flying colors.
Sound like an expert: “At their other two World Cup appearances, Côte d’Ivoire had some fairly brutal group draws. This isn’t just a group they can qualify from. It’s one that can look to top.”