That’s it really, the wait is over. Brazil 2014 plans can become reality for the nations involved, destinations are no longer unknown, foes revealed through the swirling colours. With a history of chicanery, there was no surprise that Fifa managed to bring about a, well for want of a better word, frig to ensure that the continents were all evenly represented throughout the group stage. From the Arsenal perspective, 18 will be looking to make the trip to Brazil:
Vermaelen (Belgium); Campbell (Costa Rica); Gibbs, Wilshere, Walcott (England); Sagna, Koscielny, Giroud (France); Ozil, Podolski, Mertesacker (Germany); Frimpong (Ghana); Miyachi (Japan); Monreal, Cazorla (Spain)
Even then, Kieran Gibbs may miss out depending on whether Ashley Cole is fit. If the former Arsenal player is, Roy Hodgson will probably take him and not one of his heirs. Of the rest of the squad, only Carl Jenkinson might harbour hopes of appearing for his country and even then, you sense that it is a forlorn hope which will only be realised with a chronic injury list impacting on Hodgson’s squad. That the right back was not included for the recent friendlies against Chile and Germany, used instead for the Under-21s, is the best indicator that Jenkinson is a prospect for the future.
Based on the draw, a first pass at how it all might pan out was as follows. Contentious as it may be, call it the usual over-enthusiasm associated with an international tournament but I think England will qualify from their group. However, England tend to perform better when they are in harder groups than those considered a formality. That said, they won’t win the tournament, most likely exiting in the quarter-final stage provided Hodgson doesn’t revert to England-type and decide the spirit of Charles Hughes is alive and well.
The opening game being against Italy probably works in England’s favour. They know their opponent better and it will be cautious – stereotypically, you could not wish for better opponents – with neither side wanting to win. Equally, the following match against Uruguay can be drawn, presuming the South Americans beat Costa Rica, goal difference will come into play. Arrogantly, I presume the, cough, superpowers, ahem, will be too strong for the Costa Ricans. For many, it will be the first real chance to see Joel Campbell in meaningful competition. His presence adds some spice to their match against England.
Other groups have some mouth-watering matches. As opening games go, Brazil playing Croatia is not a bad starter but a rerun of the last final isn’t a bad way for Group B to start either. It would be nice if the Dutch decided to play the Spaniards at football this time. Each group has interesting games, resonating of previous tournaments such as Nigeria and Argentina meeting once more. Will Maradona turn up for this one?
My first thoughts on the tournament as a whole is:
Arsenal head-to-heads are prevalent for the German contingent, tough games against the French and Belgians. The latter might be the surprise European team, although emulating their 1986 predecessors might be beyond them this time if the group phase pans out to leave the draw as above. Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Russia strike me as the most obvious losers in the second round above, to give a ‘surprise’ result.
No doubt all the above will have changed in my mind before the first ball is kicked in anger.