Four groups down and four to go. Here’s the look at how Groups E & F shape up for this year’s World Cup.
France lucked out with one of the easiest groups of any true top-eight team despite having to qualify through the European playoff. They’re loaded with young talent, but they’ll miss best player Franck Ribéry due to his injury and have the cloud of the last World Cup disaster hanging over their heads. Karim Benzema should challenge for the Golden Boot if only because he’ll score at least four goals in the group stage against these weak opponents. France will only go as far, however, as their midfield takes them. The pressure now falls on Paul Pogba, who’s going to cash in on a big contract if he shines in this World Cup, and Yohan Cabaye, in Ribery’s absence. They’ve got the talent on paper, but they’re not exactly battle-tested.
Switzerland was the seeded team in the group, but they’re clearly a paper tiger. Somehow they achieved a high enough FIFA ranking despite a weak qualifying group. They’ll fight for the second place in the knockout round, but Gökhan Inler and Josip Drmiæ won’t become famous. Ecuador will be greatest threat to Switzerland’s place in the next round. The question truly is how well they’ll play in Brazil since most of their qualifying wins came at their home stadium, which is 9,127 feet above sea level. We all know Antonio Valencia from his Manchester United profile, but things are different here when he has to be the team’s best player. Honduras is happy to be here, but they shouldn’t pose much trouble as the fourth team in the group. The mix of mostly MLS and Honduran league players just can’t compete on this level.
Karim Benzema to score more goals than Romelu Lukaku (-140) – Belgium will share the wealth on their goals while Benzema will scoop up most of France’s opportunities.
Ecuador over Switzerland (+110 – draw no bet) – The talent is reasonably even but Switzerland has a target on them after being the seeded team.
France to make quarterfinal (-105) - France has new blood and is ready to bounce back after the 2010 failure. They’ll miss Ribéry, not enough to not roll through the group and then Bosnia & Herzegovinia
The pressure is as much on Argentina as it ever has been. We all know Lionel Messi and he will have to be as great as advertised, but these guys have plenty of firepower elsewhere. Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Agüero, and Ángel di María could carry this team by themselves without Messi. But there’s always a catch. Argentina has struggled in recent time to build a capable back end and it’s no different this year. Keeper Sergio Romero doesn’t even start for club team Monaco. Somehow Martin Demichelis is a factor in the back even though he was miserably for Manchester City this year. I could go on, but it’s not worth it. Argentina has all the pressure on them to make it to the final and they’ll have to win with luck and as many goals as they can score.
Fortunately for Argentina, they shouldn’t struggle at all to get out of the group. Bosnia and Herzegovina is the clear #2 in the group. Their attacking style will be fun to watch, especially in the game against Argentina, and these guys will be enjoying life in their first World Cup. Edin Džeko had a great season at Manchester City and is primed for a good tournament. Asmir Begoviæ will see a lot of work in goal and has come through the Premier League with reasonably good reviews. Nigeria didn’t look great in their tune-up against the USA, but they pose the greatest threat to Bosnia & Herzegovina. John Obi Mikel gets a lot more liberty than he does at Chelsea, so you may be confused when you see him attacking more often. It still likely won’t be enough. Iran is the worst ranked team in the tournament and deservedly so. If they can scratch together any points it’ll be a surprise.
1st Argentina / 2nd Bosnia to finish in the group (+125) – The competition just isn’t strong enough to prevent this from happening.
Argentina vs. Bosnia over 2.5 goals (-125) – Get ready for the flood gates to open.
[Photo via Presse Sports]