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: At some point during this World Cup, Argentina will be regarded as favorites. Whether it’s a five-goal demolition during the group stages or one of the greatest goals scored at a World Cup, pundits will start raving about Argentina’s prospects only for La Albiceleste to fall short and disappoint.
Since losing their title in a rather temperamental 1990 World Cup final, the Argentine’s have had no shortage of talent, but have failed to get beyond the quarter-finals. Worse still, since winning the World Cup in 1986, Argentina have won just three World Cup knockout matches in normal time.
As ever, Alejandro Sabella brings a team filled with quality, most notably their captain and the greatest player of his generation, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. And yet, like Cristiano Ronaldo with Portugal, Messi has often been criticized for struggling to bring his exploits at club level to big games on the international stage. As Argentina qualified comfortably for Brazil, Messi’s recent performances for his country suggest that he could answer some of his critics at the World Cup.
But others have also come under the microscope, including Sergio Agüero, who has enjoyed yet another fruitful season in England with Manchester City — and will be expected to deliver in Brazil.
After his inspiring performance in the Champions League Final, Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria will also have captured a bit more attention.
Like qualifying, the Argentine’s should coast through their group, but similar predictions were made when they crashed out, albeit against tougher opposition, in 2002.
Best World Cup Performance: Champions (1978, 1986)
FIFA Ranking: 5th
Most famous World Cup moment: The best goal ever scored at a World Cup. Or perhaps the best goal ever scored? In the 1986 World Cup quarter-final, Diego Maradona picked the ball up in his own half and went on a little run. Despite England’s tackling being nothing short of pathetic, it was still a stunning goal.
… Most infamous: Some may point to the infamous “Hand of God” moment, when the arm of Maradona denied England the chance of a place in the World Cup semi-finals. Or even the fact that the Argentine’s became the first team to have players sent off in a World Cup final. Far more serious was his failed drug test at the 1994 tournament, which tarnished the legacy of one of the all-time greats. It wasn’t as if there were no obvious signs.
Sound like an expert: “They’ve certainly got the players to do it, and Messi is starting to replicate his club form for his country.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Overview: This will be Bosnia’s first ever World Cup appearance, but certainly not the first time a Bosnian has played at a World Cup, thanks to Yugoslavia’s eight appearances. Finishing ahead of Greece in their qualifying group due to a superior goal difference, the Bosnians looked by far the most accomplished of the former Yugoslav nations. But since securing their tickets to Brazil, Safet Susic’s side has had some fairly inconsistent performances.
The Bosnians surrendered a two-goal advantage (in Sarajevo, no less) against the United States, ultimately losing 4-3. Victories over Liechtenstein and Lithuania followed, but so did 2-0 defeats against Argentina (granted, a good side) and Shawky Gharib’s first match as coach of Egypt. Recent victories over fellow World Cup participants Côte d’Ivoire and Mexico have certainly helped with preparations and allayed some fears.
But after their defeats against the U.S. and Egypt, cracks started to appear in the team camp, especially between striker Edin Dzeko and Susic. What’s more, the fans were also becoming more vocal about Susic’s regime. Still, even though it’s still their first World Cup, due to their prowess in-front of goal, the Bosnians have got to be fancied to get through this group. Edin Dzeko might even be an outside bet for the tournament’s top goalscorer.
Best World Cup Performance: N/A
FIFA Ranking: 21st
Best Players: Edin Dzeko (Manchester City), Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), Senad Lulic (Lazio), Sejad Salihovic (1899 Hoffenheim), Miralem Pjanic (Roma), Zvjezdan Misimović (Guizhou Renhe) and Vedad Ibisevic (VfB Stuttgart).
Most famous World Cup moment: N/A
… Most infamous: N/A
Sound like an expert: “Edin Dzeko’s really been a player on form for Manchester City. If he can take that form to Brazil, Bosnia might even go further than the last 16.”
Overview: In what will be their fourth World Cup, soccer’s most prestigious stage has not been kind to the Iranians, who have won just one victory out of nine games. That victory, against the United States in 1998, certainly mattered to everyone back home, but the Iranians have had little else to show for their appearances. Their distinct lack of quality across the board suggests that Iran’s campaign in Brazil is likely to see further disappointment.
Having impressed in qualifying, Iran’s preparations for the World Cup have been far from perfect. At the helm is former Real Madrid coach Carlos Queiroz, who after a controversial tenure in charge of Portugal, led the Iranian side to qualification.
He is also known to make his views heard. Recently, Queiroz has been engaged in a very public spat with the Iranian soccer federation after Iran’s kit manufacturer delivered “shrinking socks, boots that are too small, and not enough equipment.” Not surprisingly, the Iranian authorities have not taken too kindly to Queiroz airing “dirty laundry” (pun intended, perhaps).
Fashion dilemmas aside, one needs to search high and low to find a player in this Iranian side who could even come close to inspiring the team to the knock-out stages. A lot has been made of Charlton Athletic’s Reza Ghoochannejhad (try sticking that name on the back of a jersey), who having represented the Netherlands at youth level, switched following a request by Queiroz and represented Iran at the tail end of their World Cup qualifiers. Already admired at home, Ghoochannejhad has an opportunity to make a name for himself elsewhere.
Best World Cup Performance: Group Stages (1978, 1998, 2006)
FIFA Ranking: 43rd
Most famous World Cup moment: Despite being billed as one of the 1998 World Cup’s grudge matches, Group F’s fixture between Iran and the United States started off on a positive note with both sides exchanging gifts and taking a joint team photograph before kick-off. But that was where the niceties ended.
The United States were unlucky not to go ahead, but also found themselves fortunate when the Swiss referee decided not to send off goalkeeper Kasey Keller. It was the Iranians who eventually got ahead, and then doubled their lead on a breakaway. The U.S. got a late consolation, but this result was huge for Iran. After the match, Ayatollah Khamenei told the players that “Tonight, again, the strong and arrogant opponent felt the bitter taste of defeat at your hands.”
Both sides would fail to qualify for the World Cup knock-out stages, but the Iranians were treated as champions.
… Most infamous: Despite not getting too many good results at their three World Cup journeys, the Iranians have not been renowned for letting their country down, either. The one that might come to mind was in 2006 against Mexico. Having been the first team to qualify for the World Cup (alongside Japan), expectations were high for the Iranians.
But with the game delicately poised at 1-1, the Iranians displayed some of the tournament’s most sloppy defending, allowing Omar Bravo in to put the Mexicans ahead. A third goal from Siña wrapped up the points, and the Iranians were already preparing to head home.
Sound like an expert: “In qualifying, the Iranians showed that they are no walk-overs. It’s difficult to see, however, how this will translate into anything but a brief stay in Brazil.”
Overview: Most soccer fans will have fond memories of Nigeria at the World Cup, especially their performance at the 1994 tournament and their shock defeat of Spain four years later. In both instances, Nigeria overcame the odds and made it through to the knockout stages, where only a late Roberto Baggio goal prevented them from reaching the quarterfinals.
Their current coach, Stephen Keshi, captained the legendary 1994 side, although he was controversially dropped for the Italian fixture. Nigeria’s more recent World Cups (2002 and 2010), however, have finished in disappointment with the Super Eagles falling at the group stages on both occasions. Nigeria failed to make the tournament in 2006.
Qualifying for Brazil, however, was very straightforward: The Super Eagles were undefeated during both group stages and finished a comfortable five points ahead of Malawi. In their playoff against Ethiopia, Nigeria booked their trip to Brazil with a comfortable 4-1 victory on aggregate. In addition to their impressive performances in qualifying, Nigeria put in a competent performance at the Confederations Cup and also ended a 19-year wait to win their third Africa Cup of Nations.
It will be noted that the last time Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations they would go onto impress at the World Cup in the United States, and Nigeria certainly appears to be better equipped to put in a better showing than they did four years ago. Chelsea winger Victor Moses switched his affiliation from England to Nigeria, although his performances this past season on loan at Liverpool left a lot to be desired. His teammate (for the time being, at least), John Obi Mikel, will also be key.
It will be a tough ask for Nigeria, especially after losing Monaco’s Elderson Echiejile to injury, but at least matching their 1998 performances is possible.
Best World Cup Performance: Second Round (1994 and 1998)
FIFA Ranking: 44th
Most famous World Cup moment: Nigeria’s first World Cup campaign in 1994 would be a tournament to remember for the Super Eagles. Victories over Greece and Bulgaria would lead them to the top of Group D, before a Roberto Baggio-inspired Italy would break their hearts in the last 16. But Nigeria’s first-ever World Cup goal, a simple tap-in by Rashidi Yekini against Bulgaria, is still constantly replayed. The celebration has become one of the most memorable World Cup moments, symbolizing both the passion of the tournament and the Beautiful Game.
… Most infamous: FIFA doesn’t look too fondly upon national governments interfering in football affairs. After a disappointing showing at the 2010 World Cup, Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan opted to suspend the national team for two years. Although the government later withdrew the suspension, FIFA, showing a characteristic lack of irony, decided that the initial act broke their rules, so they suspended the Nigerians “with immediate effect on account of government interference.”
The ban was later overturned, but not after the reputation of Nigerian football was dragged through the dirt.
Sound like an expert: “Having won the Africa Cup of Nations, we’ll hear a lot about how Nigeria has a lot to prove in Brazil. It’s going to be tough, but Stephen Keshi has put together an impressive team.”