The 2014 FIFA World Cup is underway. Gauntlet Sports writers Mark Villani and Scott Strasser got into a squabble over it and we documented it.
Who is this year’s dark horse?
Mark Villani: Forza Italia! Being an Italian football fan all of my life, I must say, the chances of Italy going all the way are slim. However, once they get past an usually tough group stage, they are bound to upset even some of the best teams in the world. Look back to the semi-final of Euro 2012 when Italy stunned the world and beat one of the best teams Germany has ever fielded.
The Italians have an interesting style of play. They play a ‘Catenaccio’ style, which emphasizes defence as players operate in a chain to avoid offensive attacks on their backline. Andrea Pirlo is a midfield genius at this who can single-handedly control the play. However, with the likes of Mario Balotelli, I expect Italy to take a few risks this tournament. Surely, the flair and creativity will come out in full force and the Italians could even make it to the semi-finals — but no further.
Scott Strasser: What do Belgian waffles and their national team have in common? They’re both stacked.
Belgium is enjoying a “golden generation,” with the majority of their World Cup squad playing in Europe’s top leagues. Every few months it seems another great Belgian player comes out of nowhere. Midfielder Adnan Januzaj, Goaltender Thibaut Courtois and Forward Romelu Lukaku are names few people would recognize a couple of years ago. They’re ready to supplement a team of hardworking Belgiums who are used to playing at a high level year-round. Led by premier league stalwarts Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany, expect great things from the Belgians.
Who will be the top rookie?
MV: The World Cup is notorious for bringing out the best performances in first-time players of the tournament. My pick this year is Neymar of Brazil. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch the creativity and flair of the Barcelona striker. His stats have been incredible for the national side. He has scored 30 goals in his past 47 appearances for Brazil. Neymar’s dribbling skills, his play-making ability, passing and clinical finishing will earn him success, especially in his home country.
SS: I’m expecting a great World Cup from French midfielder Paul Pogba. The Manchester United reject proved at Juventus that his old team made a mistake releasing him two summers ago. Pogba’s performances for Juventus these last few seasons show a blend of Zidane-like vision and Ronaldinho-esque trickery. France probably won’t win the World Cup, but they have an easy group, which will give Pogba the perfect stage to exhibit his talents. Assuming they top Group G, they shouldn’t have too many problems with their opponents in the round of 16 either — the first elimination round. Expect France to go out in the quarters, with Pogba looking impressive until then.
Who will be the top goal scorer?
MV: The top goal scorer will be none other than Fred. Who? My point exactly. The low-profile striker for Brazil is in fine form with his Fluminense side and will put together a stellar performance alongside the younger, more creative Neymar. As the front man playing before his home fans, we can expect the veteran to showcase his skill and finesse on the field. His ability to dribble past defenders and clinically finish will set him apart from the pack. He has great chemistry with the Brazilian style of play and he will have no trouble adjusting to the pace. Fred will shine early in the group stages and come out in the clutch as a leader as the tournament goes on.
SS: It looks like Mark was drinking some vino while he was writing his answers. Fred? Come on amico, we all know it’s going to be Diego Costa. The striker is healing from a hamstring injury that will likely keep him out of the first few games, but after that, the World Cup is going to be the Diego show. Costa went god-mode for Atletico Madrid this season, scoring 36 goals in all competitions for the Spanish champions and Champions League silver medalists. With Spain’s range of passing from the likes of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Juan Mata and others, Costa will have plenty of scoring chances when he steps on the field.
What will be the biggest upset?
MV: When Scott stole my pick for the dark horse, I knew it would be tough to choose another squad. It’s true that the world has to watch out for Belgium. The young team with solid chemistry, skill and talent should be fun to watch. I see them advancing through the group stage and possibly upsetting a team like Portugal in the quarter-finals. With a combination of solid forwards like Eden Hazard and world class Atletico Madrid goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, anything is possible. Don’t count them out.
SS: The last time the World Cup was hosted in Brazil was 1950. One of the biggest shocks came when the United States beat favourites England 1–0. With the odds stacked against them this time around, don’t be surprised if the United States repeats their Brazilian miracle of 64 years ago. They have a great coach in Jurgen Klinnsman, and their most important players (Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey) are in great form for their clubs. If the United States gets out of a group that includes Germany, Portugal and Ghana, it’s Ghana be a miracle, but that’s why it would be an upset.
Who will win?
MV: The winner of this year’s coveted World Cup will be Germany. The Germans are a relatively up-and-coming squad that have developed strong chemistry with one another over the last three years. With strong performances in the past, they are sure to come out swinging. Backed up by legendary midfielders Mesut Ozil, Mario Götze and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany is the definition of a hard working team. They will beat you on offense with the built-up play of arguably the strongest defenders in the world and some of the fastest strikers on the counterattack. Combine this with strong goalkeeping from legend Manuel Neur and the perfect positioning formations — the Germans have a foundation built on leadership and success. The German style o play is efficient and organized, they play a disciplined game and after years of heartbreak and agony, 2014 is their year to win it all.
SS: Spain will win again. However, I doubt they will have as easy a time as they did at the 2010 World Cup or the 2012 Euro Cup. Spain’s maestros are getting older, and this may be the last World Cup for influential players like Xavier “Xavi” Hernández, Andres Iniesta, Iker Casillas and Xabi Alonso. That being said, a new generation of Spanish players has begun to establish themselves on the world stage, and this year’s Champions League final proved that Spanish futbol is not lying down anytime soon. Young Spanish players like Cesar Azpilicueta (24), Isco (22), Diego Costa (25) and David de Gea (23) have all had a great season and are ready to step up to the challenge of continuing Spain’s lasting legacy.