Back Page Football predicts the World Cup

Staking their ‘reputations’ on the line we asked the BPF editorial team and Ger and Willie from the Hold The Back Page podcast to make their predictions for the forthcoming tournament in Brazil.

World Cup

Winner

Kevin Coleman: I look at Spain’s squad and see an amazing strength in-depth, a wonderful internationally proven squad and a powerful goalscoring talent that they haven’t had in a while in Diego Costa. If he stays fit then it’s hard to look past a second consecutive World Cup, and Brazil are making me look really hard.

Neil Sherwin: If Brazil top their group they have the potential banana skin of Chile is the first knockout phase. Negotiate that and they should be good to go all the way to the final at least. Them or Argentina, sorry Spain… and England.

Charles Pulling: Many predictions are being based on no country outside the continent winning a cup held on South American soil, but considering the last one was in 1978 I think that stat is a red herring. With that in mind, I think Germany’s project could bear fruit this summer.

Ger McCarthy: Argentina. Think about it, all the pressure is on Brazil to deliver as the host country whilst an experienced Argentinean squad, well supported and playing on their home continent enjoy a relatively straightforward path to the quarter-finals. The attacking trio of Messi, Higuain and Aguero are capable of firing Alejandro Sabella’s side to glory.

Willie Gannon: It’s very hard to look past the big trio of Brazil, Argentina and Spain. A year ago, Germany seemed like a great bet, but poor preparations, injuries to too many key players and a very tough season will mean they won’t be contenders, for me. Looking at the others, they do have major weaknesses that can be exposed, but Spain’s experience and tournament mentality mean they will be the team to beat.

Paul Little: Doubts over the hosts seems to revolve around a lack of serious striking talent. But for me, the balance, athleticism and power of their squad plus quality out wide and in attacking midfield positions should compensate. Moreover, Fred and Hulk are still good enough and should get a steady stream of chances. Scolari has been there and done that. And he’ll put out a well organised and obdurate side. In a way, I’m plumping for Brazil because they may well end up being the hardest team to beat.

Golden Boot

KC: There’s some interesting outsiders in the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Edin Dzeko, but smart money is on Neymar. He is Brazil’s goals.

NS: I set out my stall weeks ago and got on Edin Dzeko at 99/1 for the Golden Boot. Great end of season form with Manchester City and a handy enough group draw has me feeling over-confident.

CP: A top scorer generally benefits from a relatively easy group and a good run to the semi-final stages at the least, I think Higuain could get a hat-full playing against deep defences who are too busy concentrating on Messi and Aguero.

GM: France’s Olivier Giroud and Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani are good outside bets for the Golden Boot but the likelihood is that Neymar will score a hatful in the group phase and carry that form into the knockout stages.

WG: The top scorer normally scores around five or six goals, and after looking at some groups, this tally could be reached be some players after the first week. For that reason, I’m choosing France’s Karim Benzema to finish with the Golden Boot.

PL: Sergio Aguero – if fit, he should be pretty fresh after City’s title winning season and raring to go. Argentina have a pretty favourable gtroup and should be able to provide him with ammunition. Outside bets, Hulk, Sturridge, Bony. Being in a competition all the way through is a help for any prospective Golden Boot hopeful, and I just have a feeling about Hulk in this tournament, as if people have kind of forgotten him. Sturridge is striking class for me. Think he can get goals at any level – but his hopes are probably reduced by the limits of Roy Hodgson’s abilities and hopes. Bony was brilliant for Swansea last season. Have a feeling he’ll bag a few.

Player of the Tournament

KC: Neymar. Should dazzle and score a few goals. If Brazil go far it’ll be because of him.

NS: If Brazil do end up winning then their defence will have played a massive role so I’ll go for Thiago Silva to do a Fabio Cannavaro job on it.

CP: If he remains injury-free and can carry his club form into the tournament I think Luis Suarez has the potential to grab the headlines for the right reasons this time around.

GM: Outside of about nine or ten Brazilian candidates and provided they overcome their recent injury woes than Cristiano Ronaldo or Luis Suarez could emerge as the tournament’s top dog. I’ll give the nod to Ronaldo on this one.

WG: You can rule out Cristiano Ronaldo from the start as he simply doesn’t have the back-up in Portugal. Lionel Messi will eventually surpass Robbie Keane’s world cup goal scoring record, but I think he too will suffer from not having the team built around him. Germany’s key players are struggling with injuries and poor end of season form, so I think the Player of the Tournament will come from a slightly unexpected source. Before the tournament, I would have chosen Franck Ribery, but he is out with a back injury so I guess I’ll for the old midfield general that is Xavi Hernandez of Spain.

PL: Neymar. Whilst I’ve not been overly impressed by him at Barca, he’ll be on home soil, where he looked inspired in the Confederations Cup last summer. One way or another, he’ll be the subject of much talk.

Golden Glove

KC: He has a group that could make him look good and a stout defence, so Thibaut Courtois. But this requires Belgium actually doing well.

NS: Courtois is too obvious and I don’t think Belgium will go as far as the hipsters expect. The last four awards have gone to keepers who played in the final and Brazil should do well so I’ll go with Julio Cesar.

CP: Manuel Neuer, a superb goalkeeper and Germany’s route to the final doesn’t pit them against any real attacking threats until the semi-final where they’ll probably face the hosts.

GM: It is a coin-toss between the Azzuri’s Gianluigi Buffon and Germany’s Manuel Neuer. I’ll go for the Juventus shot-stopper as I think the Cesare Prandelli’s side will go far in the tournament.

WG: I rate Hugo Lloris as one of the best ‘keepers in the world and reckon he’ll keep a couple of clean sheets in the group stage, as will England’s Joe Hart. Greece only conceded four goals in qualification and their ‘keeper, Orestis Karnezis, kept the most clean sheets in the entire qualification process. They’ll be tough to crack again, but I think Spain’s Iker Casillas is the man to bet on here, providing he stays on his line during deep crosses.

PL: Easy enough for pick the keepers from Brazil, Spain and Germany, really. But again, I fancy that Brazil are going to be very tough to score against – so I’ll plump for old campaigner Julio Cesar.

Surprise Team

KC: I’m firmly off the now all too mainstream Belgium bandwagon and boarding the Bosnia & Herzegovina hipster train, who have looked fantastic in friendlies and could easily end up in the final eight.

NS: Bosnia for me as well, they’re my tip to do a Croatia ’98 and go deep into the tournament. Hat tip to Chile who should get out of their group along with Spain.

CP: I suppose it’s what we define as ‘surprise’, I can’t see any country outside the top six winning it, but I think Ottmar Hitzfeld’s young Switzerland side could impress, also don’t be too shocked to see Algeria make it out of Group H.

GM: Unlike the rest of the world I’m not going to say Belgium. France have endured a torrid time at recent World Cup tournaments but (on paper at least) they have an easy group, winnable last sixteen tie and a possible quarter-final with Germany gives Le Bleus every chance of reaching the last four in Brazil.

WG: This is such a hard tournament to predict because of how the groups have been drawn, but I look at France’s end of the tournament and think they’ll do a lot of damage to unprepared teams. Their group looks like a cake walk as Switzerland, Honduras and Ecudor are no great shakes. After that, they could end up against Portugal or Germany, and I think they could beat both and get as far as the semi-finals.

PL: England, despite the lack of managerial quality, I have a feeling England could surprise a few. Much depends on whether Hodgson can shake his focus on organisation before football. But I feel that England’s talented attacking options might do well despite the manager. And a quick word for Japan. Always look forward to watching them play. Always play attractive, imaginative, quick attacking football. Their games always excite, so would love to see them progress.

Surprise Player

KC: If he gets a decent run in the side, Raheem Sterling will have the world in awe at his talent. He has a phenomenal dribbling ability and tasty ball control that most Brazilians would be proud of.

NS: Mat Ryan of Australia. He’s going to be busy between the posts and has just come off a great season with Club Brugge where he was named the Jupiler league’s Goalkeeper of the Year. Still only 22, there were rumours of interest from Real Madrid recently.

CP: Fiorentina’s Juan Guillermo Cuadrado really impressed me when I watched him this season, and with Falcao absent I think he could be a real highlight of Colombia’s tournament.

GM: Jackson Martinez. The Colombian striker will be asked to fill the void following star striker Ramadel Falcao’s inability to overcome a cruciate ligament injury. Watch out for talented Porto striker who has netted 7 goals in 27 appearances.

WG: I think the world and his mother will be expecting Belgium to do something either team-wise or player-wise, but I think the weight of expectation and a lack of tournament experience will make sure they don’t go as far as they could. With the footballing world being so small these days, it is next to impossible for a player to come from nowhere. With that in mind, I reckon the surprise of the tournament will be Swansea City and the Ivory Coast’s Wilfried Bony. The striker has had a fine season and heads to Brazil on form and with a team built to attack. If he gets the service and support from the likes of Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure, he will bang in the goals.

PL: Raheem Sterling – it’s all Brazil and England for me. Brilliant season for Liverpool. Probably not all that well known to opponents. If Roy can figure out what to do with the kid, he could scare quite a few – starting with Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi on Saturday. He was a revelation for Liverpool in the number 10 role in the latter half of the season. He’s strong, he’s clever, he sees the game and increasingly, he can finish.

Biggest Letdown

KC: Brazil, off the field. If reports about unfinished stadiums are true then it’s a shame to see a World Cup go ahead in building sites. On the field I fear for Italy and the Netherlands.

NS: Italy. People will be too hung up on their man love for Andrea Pirlo’s beard to realise that the squad isn’t very good, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll get to the knockout stages ahead of Uruguay and England.

CP: If ever there was a one man team it is Portugal, and while that one man may be Cristiano Ronaldo the pressure of the biggest games seems to get to him, sorry fanboys.

GM: England. In my opinion, simply getting out of their group would represent an achievement. Roy Hodgson still hasn’t settled on his strongest starting XI, a preferred formation or Wayne Rooney’s best position just eight days before the tournament begins.

WG: I’m going to plump for Colombia, here. The loss of their main player and main goalscorer, Radamel Falcao, will hit them hard in a tough looking group where Greece and Ivory Coast will progress as the once-hotly tipped South American’s bow out in the group stage. I’d also add Uruguay for the same reason. I have severe doubts about whether Luis Suarez will have recovered from his operation to play tournament football and feel that they could also suffer.

PL: Suarez. I love Luis. He is fantastic to watch. But I his injury will not have cleared sufficiently to allow us see the very best of him. If that proves to be the case, then it’ll be very sad because at the World Cup, you want to see the best players at their best.

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