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: What can you say? The English national team’s “Golden Generation” (2002-2006) came and went with nothing but silly haircuts, WAGS and sleeve tattoos to show for it. After a testing qualifying round, many England fans are simply glad to be on the plane. Naturally, some English fans have gone into the World Cup thinking of themselves as among the favorites, but after a draw that saw even the head of the nation’s soccer association making a cut throat gesture, the goals are far more modest.
A sense of realism (especially in the media) might not be a bad thing for England. This is the first tournament in decades that England doesn’t necessarily expect, perhaps alleviating some pressure on the players. Roy Hodgson, who enjoyed some success at the helm of Switzerland at the 1994 World Cup, was expected to take a blend of youth and experience to Brazil. Ultimately, he went heavily for the former, sacrificing mainstays such as Chelsea’s Ashley Cole.
By his own admission, this is probably Wayne Rooney’s last opportunity to impress at a World Cup, after some disappointing campaigns in 2006 and 2010. Captain Steven Gerrard is also said to be contemplating his international future. With talents such as Everton’s Ross Barkley and Southampton’s Luke Shaw, the future of the English game appears to be heading in the right direction. It’s a tough group, but qualification is more than feasible. England could build from there.
Best World Cup Performance: Winners (1966)
FIFA Ranking: 10th
Most famous World Cup moment: “They think it’s all over…” You know the rest.
… Most infamous: Everyone remembers Gazza’s tears in 1990, but most English fans will acknowledge this symbolizes more disappointment than shame. Although things have markedly improved, at World Cups “England” and “hooliganism” was as synonymous as “Italy” and “play acting.” France ’98 stands out in particular, with the “Battle of Marseille” bringing shame on an English side that actually promised a great deal on the field.
Sound like an expert: “At previous World Cups, England has always had great players, but not a great 11. I’m not convinced they have either this time around.”
Overview: After their highly successful 2010 campaign where they reached the semi-finals, Uruguay is back at the World Cup with a squad oozing talent and confidence, but also heightened expectations. Since their World Cup exit, Uruguay has won a record 15th Copa America where they humbled Paraguay 3-0 in the final. Some of their other performances, however, have left a lot to be desired.
Despite signs of promise elsewhere, Uruguay was thoroughly unconvincing in qualification, losing a quarter of their games and missing out on an automatic spot in Brazil due to Ecuador’s superior goal difference. Their convincing victory over Jordan in the playoffs was to be expected, but for a team of Uruguay’s quality it was fairly embarrassing to not have qualified at first call.
Although Uruguay certainly possesses a great deal of depth, the nation is still sweating on the fitness of Liverpool marksman Luis Suarez. Injured on the final day of the English Premiership season against Newcastle, Suarez has been in inspired form for both his club and country, scoring 31 goals for the former and becoming the record goal scorer for the latter. In the event of his absence, Uruguay will still be a potent threat in Brazil. But it’s hard to identify many players in any division who had a more inspiring 2013/14 season.
Best World Cup Performance: Winners (1930 and 1950)
FIFA Ranking: 7th
Most famous World Cup moment: At the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay, the hosts were hot favorites. At the final in Montevideo, however, they came up against an Argentine side that had comfortably made their way to the final. After going 2-1 down at halftime, a resurgent Uruguay side fought back, and thanks to goals from Pedro Cea, Santos Iriarte, and Héctor Castro, defeated Argentina 4-2 and become the first ever side to win the World Cup.
… Most infamous: It’s hard to think of a moment that has riled up so many neutrals at a World Cup than Luis Suarez’s handball in the 2010 World Cup. With seconds to go before a penalty shoot-out, the game was locked at 1-1 when Ghana’s John Paintsil floated the ball into the Uruguayan box. A goalmouth scramble erupted and Ghana’s Dominic Adiyiah headed the ball toward the goal, only for Suarez to handle the ball on the line and save his country from near certain elimination. Suarez was rightly sent off. Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan, however, missed the resulting penalty. Uruguay would go on to defeat Ghana on penalties. The incident drew protracted debate, primarily because of Ghana’s underdog status. Yes, Suarez had cheated, but had he not been punished? Was it not Gyan who missed the spot kick? Incidentally, few commentators picked up on the fact that Ghana had only won the free kick because of a thoroughly embarrassing dive by Adiyiah that fooled the officials. Suarez is still vilified for the incident, but perhaps the football gods leveled things out.
Sound like an expert: “If Suarez is fully fit and produces the kinds of performances we’ve seen in the English Premiership, Uruguay will be a match for any side in this tournament.”
Overview: Costa Rica is probably regarded as the weakest side of Group D, if not of the whole tournament, though that speaks more to the strengths of their competitors. Ask any Scotsman whether Costa Rica should be underestimated and you’ll be met with a baleful glare and sad recollections of 1990. Scotland’s neighbors to the south, England, might wish to take note.
After a fairly disappointing performance in 2006, Costa Rica will be taking a stronger squad to Brazil — a fact exemplified by their impressive performances in qualifying: They booked their place in Brazil with two games to go. This also included a perfect home record and conceding just seven goals. Having qualified, Costa Rica’s performances have been mixed with a victory over 2010 quarterfinalists Paraguay, and four defeats in a row against fellow World Cup participants Australia, Chile, South Korea and Japan.
But the team that showed so much promise has also been ravaged by injuries to key players such as Everton’s Bryan Oviedo and Real Salt Lake’s Álvaro Saborío. As a result, a lot will depend on the form of both Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell, the latter of which impressed while on loan from Arsenal at Greek club Olympiakos. For all the talk of Costa Rica simply battling to stay off the bottom, they are more than capable of springing a few surprises.
Best World Cup Performance: Second Round (1990)
FIFA Ranking: 28th
Most famous World Cup moment: Before Scotland failed repeatedly to qualify for the World Cup, they just used to just fail repeatedly at getting out of their group. If you’ve ever mentioned “Costa Rica” to a Scotsman you probably jeopardized that pint he was about to buy you. In Italia 90, the Costa Ricans were drawn with Brazil, Scotland and Sweden — a group that even the most pessimistic of fans could see them qualifying from. But one moment of magic changed that. A beautiful build-up culminated in Hector Marchena back heeling the ball through to Juan Cayasso, who slotted the game’s only goal past Jim Leighton, making Costa Rica the first ever Central American side to win a game at the tournament. The Costa Ricans would go on to narrowly lose to Brazil and defeat Sweden, making it through to the last 16 in their first ever World Cup.
… Most infamous: Few fans in Costa Rica have many fond memories of the 2006 World Cup campaign. Despite stunning their German hosts in the opening game through Paulo Wanchope’s equalizer, the rest of the tournament was downhill, losing 4-2, 3-0 and 2-1 to Germany, Ecuador and Poland, respectively. In fact, Costa Rica’s record at the tournament placed them second-last out of all 32 competitors. Only Serbia & Montenegro would have a more miserable tournament.
Sound like an expert: “This uphill task for Costa Rica is now looking even more daunting because of injuries. Triumph over a British side led to their finest performance in 1990. What does Brazil hold?”
Overview: The Italians cruised through their group becoming the joint first European (alongside the Netherlands) team to qualify for Brazil. After a disastrous World Cup in South Africa as defending champions, coach Cesare Prandelli appears to have restored some pride to the national team, taking an unexceptional squad to the finals of the European Championships two years ago and overcoming a vastly superior (at least on paper) Germany in the semi-finals.
But even if this Italian side lacks the quality of previous years, anything short of a dignified quarter-final exit will be seen as a disaster at home. Midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, both veterans of the 2006 triumph, will go into the World Cup knowing that it’s likely their last. Both players might be getting on in years but they still show flashes of brilliance and are still central to this side. Despite attempting to blood new players in qualifying (Prandelli used 40 overall), it’s hard to see where their replacements come from.
Italy’s fate might well depend on the form of Milan striker Mario Balotelli, who tends to be either anonymous or the center of everything. Unfortunately, that dictum also holds true off the pitch. At club level this season he’s been the former, but Milan has struggled overall. Despite scoring just 12 goals in 29 international appearances, he does have the tendency to strike in crucial games. Preparations were hardly aided by a leg-break to Balotelli’s club captain, Riccardo Montolivo. A tie against Luxembourg was just downright pathetic. Italy is now seven games without a win.
Best World Cup Performance: Winners (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)
FIFA Ranking: 9th
Most famous World Cup moment: Marco Tardelli’s celebration after scoring Italy’s second in a 3-1 victory over West Germany in the 1982 final. It’s what every Italian kid dreams of.
… Most infamous: When their blue jerseys clashed in their 1938 match-up against France, the most obvious option for Italy was to simply change into their white “away” kit. Instead, a certain soccer-mad Il Duce wanted the Italian side to walk onto the field in black so they’d resemble his own paramilitary force. The infamous fascist salute was another grim touch.
Sound like an expert: “This is an ageing Italian side without the quality of previous tournaments. They surprised everyone in Euro 2012, but it’s hard to see how they can produce similar performances at this World Cup.”