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: It’s strange to think that just ten years ago, German soccer had reached its nadir. After two disappointing ties against the Netherlands and Latvia at Euro 2004, the ageing Germans were defeated 2-1 by group leaders Czech Republic and sent home from the tournament. Losing shouldn’t have been that much of a big deal, except Czech coach Karel Brückner’s side had already qualified and therefore fielded a team primarily consisting of reserves.
By equal measure, the improvement in German soccer has been such that it’s hard to fathom that this team has not won anything in the last decade. The four “survivors” of the dark days (Philipp Lahm, Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski) are now flanked by some of the most talented individuals in the game. The Germans also possess a great deal of depth in their squad, including some of the most exciting prospects in the game.
Apart from a 4-4 tie against Sweden, the Germans easily swept aside every team in their qualifying group and scored more goals than any other. Given their impressive performances at recent tournaments and the ease in which they qualified, the Germans will be expected to make significant progress in Brazil. Some countries may put too much pressure on their national team before the World Cup. Even with the loss of Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus to injury, Germany’s quality means expectations to win the tournament are justified. But as a result, so too is the public pressure.
Best World Cup Performance: Winners (1954, 1974, 1990)*
FIFA Ranking: 2nd
Most famous World Cup moment: West Germany went into the 1974 World Cup knowing that they could become the first side to win the World Cup after also winning the European Championship (1972). They were also hosts. With a quality squad (a quarter of which came from the great Bayern Munich side; 2014’s squad is a third Bayern) led by Franz Beckenbauer, the Germans struggled for form in the group stages, losing to East Germany in the two sides’ only ever encounter. After the setback against the East, Beckenbauer led his team to the final where they met a formidable Dutch team under the inspirational Johann Cruyff. History suggests that the Dutch were unfortunate to win the game, a claim that’s questionable at best. The Germans deservedly triumphed over their rivals 2-1 to win their second World Cup.
… Most infamous: This is a toss-up between the West Germans disgracing football and the German goalkeeper nearly killing his French opponent. Both occurred in the 1982 World Cup, so let’s just include that entire campaign. After Algeria defeated Chile 3-2, the West Germans needed just a 1-0 victory over Austria to qualify. After 10 minutes, the West Germans went ahead, and with both sides knowing that if the score remained the same, they’d qualify and force Algeria out of the tournament. What resulted shamed football. In a match that resembled a light training sessions, the Germans and Austrians contrived to play the most boring game of football with neither side creating any chances. They succeeded and the Algerians were sent packing. One Algerian newspaper accused both sides of “Anschluss” — Adolf Hitler’s annexation of Austria.
The other infamous incident was when Harald Schumacher, West Germany’s goalkeeper, decided he’d take out his French opponent, Patrick Battiston, by almost decapitating him. Don’t believe me? The French can take a while to forget being slighted by another country—just ask them about Fashoda and the British. Nobody in France will ever forget the Schumacher incident. Except Battiston, of course, who lost not just his senses but three teeth, as well as damaging vertebrae in his neck and falling into a coma.
Sound like an expert: “Ultimately they’re just a very disciplined side. I mean, it’s Germany, isn’t it?”
Overview: Like England, Portugal’s “Golden Generation” (Luis Figo, Rui Costa and Nuno Gomes) have come and gone with very little to show for it. Like four years previous, the Portuguese needed a playoff to qualify for the World Cup, where an inspired performance by captain Cristiano Ronaldo saw off Sweden.
Ever since the retirement of other key players, Portugal has come to rely heavily on the Real Madrid forward — something their Group G opponents will most certainly have picked up on. One of the main criticisms thrown at Ronaldo is that he’s not a big game player, and when it comes to delivering on the world stage he tends to disappoint all too often.
His performance against Sweden answered critics, but for a player who is in his prime and continues to score for fun at club level, the World Cup will offer another level of expectations. Unfortunately, if his lackluster performance in the Champions League Final is anything to go by, it looks like he could be half-fit when he takes to the field in Brazil, much to the pleasure of his opponents.
Best World Cup Performance: Third (1966)
FIFA Ranking: 4th
Most famous World Cup moment: If Portugal’s 1966 team is still remembered as one of the greatest sides to have never won a World Cup, the late (and very great) Eusébio’s performance at that tournament ranks him as one of the best players never to earn a winners medal. A thumping half volley from “The Black Pearl” (one of his nine at the tournament) not only dumped champions Brazil out of the tournament, but also would become one of the most famous goals ever scored at a World Cup.
… Most infamous: A 3-1 drubbing by Morocco, which sent the Portuguese crashing out of the 1986 World Cup, certainly comes to mind. As does the so-called 2006 Battle of Nürnberg between Portugal and the Netherlands (four reds and 16 yellows). But these are pipped by Cristiano Ronaldo’s infamous “wink” after he, to put it nicely, squealed at the referee to send off his then-Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho in 2006. Rooney even acknowledges he deserved his red card, but it was Ronaldo’s lack of sportsmanship (and cheeky head butt on Rooney prior to kick off) that demonstrated yet again why he’s a player fans revere and despise in equal measure.
Sound like an expert: “Paolo Bento has warned that the team must not rely on Ronaldo. But if he doesn’t finally shine at a World Cup for Portugal, who else will?”
Overview: Every impartial soccer fan couldn’t help feel a little bit sorry for Ghana four years ago. A Luis Suarez handball away from becoming the first-ever African country to make the semi-finals of the World Cup, their dreams quickly evaporated as Asamoah Gyan missed the resulting spot kick and they lost to Uruguay on penalties. It was a performance many didn’t expect from Ghana, who surpassed their exploits from 2006.
In what will be their third World Cup appearance, Ghana’s retained many of their quality players with much of the class of 2010 returning for the Brazilian campaign. Alas, had Ghana been drawn in nearly any other group, people would be talking about how far they can go, rather than whether they can escape an early plane journey home. The team remains solid and has a nice mixture of youth and experience; Ghana had the youngest squad in South Africa and will again in Brazil.
Getting to Brazil was never a problem for the Black Stars, cruising through qualifiers and then hammering a solid Egyptian side. But they lost to Burkino Faso in the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations and they have struggled against more accomplished sides, tying with Turkey, losing to Montenegro and the Netherlands, and being thrashed 3-1 by Japan. Ghana can perhaps find some solace in the fact that they’ve twice dumped the United States out the World Cup in the past two tournaments. While this United States’ side has improved markedly since then, it remains to be seen whether the Black Stars have as well.
Best World Cup Performance: Quarter-final (2010)
FIFA Ranking: 37th
Best Players: Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain), Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari (both Milan), Jonathan Mensah (Evian), Kwadwo Asamoah (Juventus), Kevin-Prince Boateng (Schalke 04), Abdul Majeed Waris (Spartak Moscow) and Andrew Ayew (Olympique Marseille).
Most famous World Cup moment: After defeating the United States to qualify for the knockout stages of the 2006 World Cup, Ghana faced the same side four years later for a place in the quarter-finals. Ghana took the lead through Kevin-Prince Boateng before a Landon Donovan penalty tied things up. Although both sides had several chances to win the game in regulation, it would go into extra time and Ghana wouldn’t have to wait long to go ahead. Just three minutes into extra time, Ghana’s André Ayew played a beautiful long ball to Asamoah Gyan, who shrugged off a challenge from Carlos Bocanegra to thump the ball past Tim Howard with his left foot. The remainder of the game would have some tense moments and the United States squandered some good chances. But Ghana would progress, becoming just the third African side to make it to a World Cup quarter-final.
… Most infamous: After impressing in their first World Cup, Ghana was up against holders Brazil in the last 16. The Brazilians were two up and cruising, but Ghana showed glimpses of getting back into the game. Rather than make an effort to get on the end of a through ball, however, Asamoah Gyan decided to throw himself to the ground with arguably the least convincing dive at a World Cup. He promptly received his second yellow for simulation and Ghana would lose 3-0.
Sound like an expert: “They’ll be out to avenge what happened to them four years ago, but getting out of this group will be a major achievement in itself.”
Overview: After a thoroughly impressive World Cup showing in 2002, the United States has seen mixed results at the tournament since. Despite a great deal of promise, they disappointed in 2006, a stoic performance against eventual winners Italy being the only real highlight. Although they made it through their qualifying group in 2010, defeat still left the sense that they had underperformed. Even with a tough group, however, Brazil could be a different story.
Since his appointment in 2011, Jurgen Klinsmann has overseen a side that’s not just tough to beat, but also attractive to watch. Klinsmann took the United States on a 12-match unbeaten run, oversaw Team USA’s first away victory over Mexico, and the Gold Cup triumph. And yet Klinsmann is already facing some scrutiny for his bold decision to leave out golden boy Landon Donovan. Rather than getting behind Klinsmann, some already look set to attribute the L.A. Galaxy forward’s omission to an excuse-in-waiting in case the Germans fail to take the side through the group stage. In truth, Donovan’s omission is nothing to be upset about; it’s actually a sign of U.S. soccer’s growing strength.
Although most commentators outside of the U.S. tend to highlight Clint Dempsey or even Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore, all eyes should be on Toronto’s Michael Bradley, who is fast becoming the closest the United States has ever come to producing a real world-class player. Having moved from Roma to the MLS, it’s disappointing that Bradley took the backward step as he starts producing such stellar performances. After a 2-2 tie against the U.S. in April, Mexico’s coach Miguel Herrera remarked, “Bradley looked as if he was the best player in the world.” In Brazil, he’ll have the opportunity to show exactly what he can do on the world stage. He might even find himself having to ponder another crack at it across the Atlantic.
Best World Cup Performance: Third (1930)
FIFA Ranking: 13th
Best Players: Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Tim Howard (Everton), Aron Jóhannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City) and Julian Green (Bayern Munich.
Most famous World Cup moment: In 1950, England were one of the finest sides in the world. The squad contained the likes of Stan Mortensen, Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews, Jackie Milburn, Alf Ramsey and Bill Nicholson. They were drawn against a USA side which included a Haitian-born dishwasher, several former soldiers, a newspaper columnist and a Scottish captain. Miraculously, the underdog emerged victorious, with the U.S. recording a 1-0 win, thanks to the aforementioned dishwasher, Joe Gaetjens. The English newspapers assumed that there was a misprint, and they had actually won 10-1.
… Most infamous: There was certainly the 2-1 defeat by Iran in 1998, but after a forty-year hiatus from the World Cup, one might point to the United States’ disastrous 1990 campaign. The United States lost all three of their games, conceding eight and scoring just two. A 5-1 thumping by Czechoslovakia in their opening game was made all the more ugly after a needless red card for Eric Wynalda. After tussling with future Celtic star Lubomir Moravcik for most of the game, Wynalda opted to shove the Czech star to the ground, leaving his side with a mountain to climb. Although performances improved ever so slightly for the United States, the 1990 World Cup was certainly one to forget. Only the United Arab Emirates had a worst tournament.
Sound like an expert: “Donovan’s omission has certainly raised the stakes for Klinsmann, but with this squad, U.S. soccer fans should certainly be looking forward to Brazil with enthusiasm.”
*The winners of these tournaments were the German Football Federation (Deutscher Fußball-Bund). Therefore, despite what some smart arse in a bar/sloppy journalist will tell you, ‘West Germany’s’ World Cup victories (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) are also reunified Germany’s victories.