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: Belgium has been portrayed as the “dark horse” for the World Cup. To some, this is a little strange given that the Belgians cruised through qualifying undefeated and have one of the most expensive squads in the world. However, for a team that boasts some of the world’s greatest talent (including Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj who has, finally, opted to play for Belgium), Belgium’s recent preparations have been anything but impressive, winning two games out of their last five — one of which was a humbling of lowly Luxembourg.
And yet, writing off the Belgians in Brazil would be foolish—if their top players can remain disciplined and stay fit. Despite this being their first foray at a World Cup since 2002 (they qualified for six in a row between 1982 and 2002), some claim that this is Belgium’s second “Golden Generation” of stars. In fact, long before qualification for the World Cup had even started, one journalist with London’s Times (and soccer’s greatest pundit for his reverence of Aberdeen’s Willie Miller) predicted over four years ago that Belgium would be the side to watch. Few teams in Brazil will possess both the physical and skillful attributes of Belgium.
Their captain, Vincent Kompany, who commanded his defensive area like a veteran when he made his debut for Anderlecht aged 17, has enjoyed yet another tremendous season with Manchester City. Thibaut Courtois is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world right now. Roman Lukaku excelled for Everton while on-loan from Chelsea. Eden Hazard, Chelsea’s £32m signing from Lille, has often struggled for fitness but is as good as anyone on his day. Marouane Fellaini, alas, has had a season he’d rather forget. But a lackluster performance at the tournament (like 1998) won’t be enough. Even for a country with just 11 million people, certain expectations will have to be met.
Best World Cup Performance: Fourth (1986)
FIFA Ranking: 11th
Best Players: Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Kevin Mirallas (Everton), Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois (all Chelsea), Kevin De Bruyne (VfL Wolfsburg), Axel Witsel (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Marouane Fellaini, Adnan Januzaj (both Manchester United) and Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur).
Most famous World Cup moment: There was Belgium’s shock 1-0 victory over champions Argentina in the opening match of the 1982 World Cup. But it’s hard not to include the 1986 World Cup run. Leo Van der Elst may only have played 13 times for his country, but he’s still remembered as the man who thumped home the decider in Belgium’s quarter-final penalty shoot-out victory of Spain. The Belgians would go on to the semi-finals, still their best ever performance at a World Cup.
… Most infamous: Tricky as the Belgians have never really disgraced themselves at a tournament. If infamous can also mean heart-breaking, then the 1990’s defeat against England in the last 16 comes to mind. Most England fans will remember the game for one of the most delightful finishes at a World Cup, with David Platt’s volley in the last minute of extra time. But for Belgium, it was frustration throughout. They largely dominated the game and twice hit the woodwork. Unfortunately, Platt’s cruel volley ended the dream of exceeding, or even matching, the performance of four years previously.
Sound like an expert: “I really like the look of this Belgian side. I wouldn’t put it past Wilmots’ team to get to at least the quarterfinals.”
Overview: Algeria’s return to the World Cup four years ago was hardly filled with glory, tying one game, losing two and failing to even score a goal.It did, however, signal the re-emergence of one of Africa’s soccer powers. But it’s not all been pretty. Despite a great deal of promise, and some shining talent, the Algerians continue to frustrate in tournaments. After their pathetic display at the 2013 African Cup of Nations, Bosnian coach Vahid Halilhodžić is still probably scratching his head as to how he held onto his job.
Having lost just one game in their qualifying group, Algeria made tough work of the final hurdle during their World Cup playoff against African Cup of Nations’ finalist Burkino Faso. After losing the first game 3-2 (thanks to a harsh penalty decision), Algeria went through on the away goals rule thanks to a fortuitous goal from captain and former Rangers player Madjid Bougherra. The performance hardly assuaged concerns surrounding Halilhodžić, but making it to Brazil was greeted with a sigh of relief. Although opponents may not have been too concerned facing the Desert Warriors in the past, Algeria has taken great strides of late thanks to FIFA making eligibility changes.
Several African countries, particularly Algeria, had campaigned for FIFA to address the fact that “players with dual nationality, who had already played for a country’s national team at youth level, were only allowed to switch loyalties until the age of 21.” The switch has allowed Algeria to call-up players who had previously represented France at youth level, but never appeared for the full national team. As expected the number of quality players in Algeria’s ranks have swelled. Whether it’s enough to overcome their testing group remains to be seen.
Best World Cup Performance: Qualifying Round (1982, 1986, 2010)
FIFA Ranking: 22nd
Best Players: Nabil Bentaleb (Tottenham Hotspur), Nabil Ghilas (FC Porto), Sofiane Feghouli (Valencia), Islam Slimani (Sporting Lisbon), Madjid Bougherra (Lekhwiya), Faouzi Ghoulam (Napoli), El Arbi Hillel Soudani (Dinamo Zagreb) and Djamel Mesbah (Parma).
Most famous World Cup moment: The World Cup has seen several famous African sides humbling some of the tournament’s favorites. In the 1990 and 1998 World Cups, Cameroon and Senegal defeated holders Argentina and France respectively in the opening match. Algeria’s defeat of then European Champions West Germany remains one of the greatest moments for any African side. The West Germans were one of the tournament’s favorites after easily qualifying, but their confidence quickly transformed into cockiness and they were stunned by the North Africans. After Algeria took a shock lead, Germany’s Karl Heinz Rummenigge equalized. What immediately followed shocked the footballing world: Right from the kick off. a series of intricate passes finished with Lakhdar Belloumi tapping in from close range. Algeria would go on to win the game. The West Germans would make it through qualifying, but not before they disgraced themselves.
… Most infamous: The most obvious injustice inflicted on Algeria has already been highlighted. But other than 1982, the Algerians’ other two forays at the World Cup have hardly been dazzling. The comical 2010 World Cup game against Slovenia comes to mind. After the United States and England played out a 1-1 bore draw, Algeria took on Slovenia knowing that a victory would place them with a great chance of qualification. What followed was farcical. In a game that they largely dominated, the Algerians sent on striker Abdelkader Ghezzal to force a victory. Ghezzal was yellow carded after one minute and then received his marching orders from the referee 13 minutes later, setting a new World Cup record. Algeria’s misery would be compounded six minutes later, when goalkeeper Faouzi Chaouchi let Robert Koren’s tame shot slip through his arms.
Qualifying would be an uphill challenge from then on for the Algerians, and after a goalless tie against England and a last gasp defeat against the United States, they were going home.
Sound like an expert: “This is certainly not an easy group for Algeria, but with some added depth and quality, don’t count them out from making a strong challenge to qualify for the second phase.”
Overview: Fabio Capello’s only experience coaching at a World Cup was not a particular happy one. At the helm of England four years ago, his side struggled to get through their group before they were comprehensively dismantled by Germany. After losing his England job in 2012, Capello became Russia’s coach, inheriting a squad that had just been dumped out of Euro 2012 and showing very little quality. And yet, Capello, renowned as one of soccer’s greatest coaches (and disciplinarians), has still developed a solid team that topped its qualifying group, even while losing back-to-back games against Portugal and Northern Ireland.
The Capello regime has also witnessed some fairly impressive performances, with a last gasp equalizer preventing them from a famous victory over World Cup hosts Brazil. Russia is now unbeaten in its last ten games. Interestingly, given that the Soviet Union broke up in December 1991, Magomed Ozdoyev’s failure to make the squad means that Russia appears to be the only team at the World Cup with no players born in the country they represent. But what does Brazil hold?
Faded stars such as Andrey Arshavin were rightfully left out of Capello’s squad – the only 23 at the tournament made up entirely of home-based players – but there is a distinct lack of quality in this Russian side. This became something of a national embarrassment when Capello accidentally called-up Lokomotiv Moscow’s reserve Andrey Semenov for a game against Armenia instead of his namesake with Terek Grozny. The loss of captain Roman Shirokov is also a major blow. The Russians have not had too many recent happy experiences at the World Cup, but even matching Capello’s last venture at the tournament could be deemed a success.
Best World Cup Performance: 1966 (Fourth)*
FIFA Ranking: 19th
Most famous World Cup moment: Between 1994 and 2006, FIFA would present the World Cup’s best goalkeeper with the Lev Yashin Award, named in honor of arguably the best goalkeeper to ever play the game. Of the three World Cups that he played in, 1966 continues to stand out. The Soviets cruised through their qualifying group, defeating North Korea, Italy and Chile on the way, and then through some inspired goalkeeping, they defeated Hungary in the knockout stages. The Soviets were defeated 2-1 in the semi-finals by West Germany. The 1966 World Cup had many memorable moments, particularly Eusébio’s exploits. Yashin’s performances were not that far behind.
… Most infamous: It was deep into extra-time in the quarter-final match between the Soviet Union and Uruguay when Valentin Afonin attempted to thwart an attack. As he attempted to shield the ball out of play, Uruguay’s Luis Cabilla artfully robbed Afonin before crossing for Victor Esparrago to head home from close range with three minutes to play. The Soviet’s were furious and immediately surrounded the Dutch referee, claiming that Cabilla had claimed the ball when it had gone out of play. They might well have had a point. But the defeat signaled the end of an era for Soviet football with key players retiring and performances faltering. They would refuse to face Chile in a playoff for the 1974 tournament and they failed to qualify for the 1978 in Argentina.
Sound like an expert: “This Russian team might have topped their qualifying group, but I think they’ll be lucky to make it through to the knock-out stages.”
Overview: In the last three World Cups, South Korea has twice progressed beyond the group stages, including a trip to the semi-final as co-hosts in 2002. Although South Korea has certainly produced some good players and become a force in global soccer, their recent performances, especially after a bronze medal at the Olympics, highlight a great deal of inconsistency, suggesting that for all their quality they are a team lacking in confidence.
The Red Devils finished second in qualifying but lost twice to table toppers Iran. In what should have been a fairly easy group to qualify from, South Korea’s other performances were extremely disappointing. They needed goals six minutes into injury time to overcome both Qatar at home and tie against Lebanon in Beirut. A 2-2 tie against Uzbekistan also highlighted their vulnerabilities. South Korea would make it to Brazil ahead of the Uzbekistan by virtue of a better goal difference.
Performances heading into the World Cup have also raised some alarms. Since qualifying by the skin of their teeth, South Korea has won just five games in 15, defeating Haiti, Mali, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Greece, 4-1, 3-1, 2-1, 1-0 and 2-0, respectively. These games have also seen South Korea concede 18 goals and score 15, which is hardly the kind of form one would come to expect of a side widely regarded as Asia’s soccer power. With Hong Myung-bo at the helm, South Korea will expect a soccer legend to put out a team that can deliver on the field. Given some recent performances, they need to start soon.
Best World Cup Performance: Fourth (2002)
FIFA Ranking: 57th
Best Players: Ji Dong-Won (Borussia Dortmund), Son Heung-min (Bayer Leverkusen), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton Wanderers) Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea City), Park Chu-Young (Unattached) and Kim Bo-Kyung (Cardiff City).
Most famous World Cup moment: As co-hosts, South Korea stunned the world when they made it all the way to the semi-finals in 2002. Although the Koreans would overcome Spain in the quarter-final, arguably the most memorable moment of the tournament was in the last 16 fixture against Italy. After Seol Ki-Hyeon canceled out Christian Vieri’s opener with a late equalizer, the game went into extra-time with both sides squandering chances, the latter being Italy’s main culprit. Italy also had Francesco Totti controversially sent-off in the 108th minute for diving, a decision that’s still a bone of contention among the Azzurri’s fans. But with just minutes to go in extra time, Ahn Jung-Hwan, who had earlier missed a penalty, out-jumped Italian captain Paolo Maldini and headed Lee Young-Pyo’s cross into the net. The result would spark furor among the Italians, who felt that Byron Moreno, the Ecuadorian referee, had more than provided the Koreans with an edge. Ahn Jung-Hwan, who played for Italian side Perugia, was told by the club’s owner never to return. For the jubilant co-hosts, however, none of that appeared to matter.
… Most infamous: Maybe this is being a little unfair, especially since a lot of people would rank this as the greatest moment in South Korean soccer. Most impartial pundits, however, would acknowledge that the South Korea’s victory over Spain in the quarter-finals was more due to egregious human error, if not outright corruption.
South Korea would go on to knockout Spain on penalties, but not before the referee controversially chopped-off Kim Tae-young’s own goal and a perfectly fine finish from Fernando Morientes. Spanish coach Jose Camacho was rightly incensed and corruption allegations were made against the Egyptian official. The shocking refereeing performance took the shine off what should have been South Korean soccer’s finest hour.
Sound like an expert: “Coming into this World Cup, South Korea has suffered from some indifferent performances. If they want a third appearance in the knockout stages they’ll need to improve significantly.”
*Although the Football Federation of the USSR dissolved in 1991, FIFA voted to reinstate the association as the Russian Football Union. Russia therefore inherited all the achievements of the USSR.