View from Brazil: assessing favorites to advance

Posted by Gustavo Hofman

SAO PAULO -- Now that the draw is over, it is time for analysis and predictions. I think that the temperatures and the distances traveled will have a great impact on the first round.

Currently, Germany, Brazil and Spain are the favorites for the title, not necessarily in that order. Argentina and Italy are close behind.

GROUP A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
The Brazilian team is far and away the favorite in this bracket. It will face mid-sized opponents, i.e., good tests ahead. Technically, the Croatians, led by Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic (suspended for the opening game) are better, but the Mexicans, who will have their "foreigners" Chicharito Hernández, Andres Guardado and Guillermo Ochoa, will travel only 1,058 km on trips, far less than their rivals, who are all among the top ten teams that will travel the most. The Cameroonians have Samuel Eto'o, who barely talks to his teammates.

PICK: Brazil and Mexico

GROUP B: Spain, Holland, Chile, Australia

Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesAlexis Sanchez is in good form anchoring Chile's attack.

The roster that Vicente del Bosque has available to him does not allow for comparisons with those of his colleagues in Group B. The number of excellent Spanish players is amazing, some of them, such as the maestro Xavi, are seasoned veterans. In theory, Holland is the second force, but it has an aging team (Robben, Snejder, Van Persie) and it has not prospected so much talent (Narsingh, Leroy Fer, Ola John) during its renovation. Meanwhile Chile, under the command of the excellent Jorge Sampaoli and with Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez in good form, can easily surprise with their play in South America. The Australians should go back to Oceania with three defeats.

PICK: Spain and Chile

GROUP C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
Radamel Falcao Garcia, Kostas Mitroglou and Didier Drogba. Three great center-forwards in a well-balanced bracket, with Colombia going to the next round. The Greeks have a good team, which also has the remaining Euro 2004 veterans (Karagounis and Katsouranis). The Ivorian generation of Yaya Toure, Zokora and Drogba is accompanied by younger players, such as Doumbia, Kalou, Gervinho and Max Gradel. Meanwhile, the Japanese place their hopes on the midfield duo of Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa.

PICK: Colombia and Ivory Coast

GROUP D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy
Poor Costa Ricans... There is not much Alvaro Saborio, Joel Campbell and Bryan Oviedo can do against the Uruguayans, English and Italians. Three world champions, vying for two spots. Italy's team is the best among them, with a good generation of players and long, very good work by Cesare Prandelli. Roy Hodgson, who did not want Manaus because of the temperature, won the Amazonian state capital and the Group of Death. It is a very good English team, with Rooney and Wilshere, in addition to veterans Gerrard and Lampard, but it is a bit under Edinson Cavani's and Luis Suarez' Uruguay.

PICK: Italy and Uruguay

GROUP E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
In the end, France turned out to be the bracket's apparent top seed. Although Switzerland has an excellent team made up of Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka, and Diego Benaglio, the French have a strong roster, with Paul Pogba, Samir Nasri, Yohan Cabaye, Raphael Varane, Mamadou Sakho, Franck Ribery. Honduras will not be able to add much, while Ecuador is traveling much less than its rivals, which could balance out the fight for second place.

PICK: France and Switzerland

GROUP F: Argentina, Bosnia, Iran, Nigeria
If the burden of debuting in a World Cup does not weigh on its team, Bosnia can advance with no problems. It is a team that is much better than Nigeria and Iran. The Nigerians are rebuilding their team, while the Bosnians have Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic, Senad Lulic and Vedad Ibisevic at an excellent moment in their careers. Argentina is among the favorites for the title and will have the huge support of its fans in Brazil, in addition to traveling only 1,710 km.

PICK: Argentina and Bosnia

GROUP G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States
This is the group where all the national teams can at least be ranked as good. Ghana is the strongest African team, one that is well-drilled in tactics and has good talent, such as Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng. The Americans' national team undergoes changes each year; it is now coached by Jurgen Klinsmann and well served by Major League Soccer. The Europeans, the favorites, have history, tradition and a lot of talent in their favor. A very dull bracket.

PICK: Germany and Portugal

GROUP H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea
There is a major difference between the first two teams and the other two teams here. Belgium has the greatest potential to be the surprise of the tournament, with its funky generation. With Fabio Capello, Russia is a very orderly team and has good talents, such as Roman Shirokov, Aleksandr Kokorin and Alan Dzagoev. Meanwhile, the Algerians and South Koreans lag behind them, mainly on this point. A determinant factor for the next round of the tournament: the Belgians will be traveling less than all of their Cup rivals, traveling just 709 km in the groups phase.

PICK: Belgium and Russia

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