2014 World Cup Group A Picks and Betting Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 1/9/2014
Group A is the international soccer community’s gift to Brazil for going to the expense and effort of hosting the World Cup. It would be tough for the tournament favorites to have found themselves in an easier group than they have found here. Mexico is talented but redefines what it means to be an underachiever. A team that should have cruised through to win their region needed to slip through the back door to make the field here. Cameroon and Croatia both have miracle runs in their World Cup past, but that past is long gone.
Group A at a glance
Best team: Brazil. Obviously. The gap between them and the rest is massive. Gigantic. Enormous. Impossibly large. It’s not silly to say that Brazil could play at 50 percent of their potential and still win this group — even if they weren’t playing in front of a wildly-enthusiastic home crowd.
Worst team: Croatia. It could be Cameroon, too — I don’t like much about either team — but I’ll give the Europeans a small edge in the fight for the basement. To get into the field they needed to beat Iceland in a playoff. Good teams don’t get into positions like that. Their coach is very inexperienced and probably over his head, and star Mario Mandzukic, by far the team’s best player, has been suspended for the team’s game against Brazil.
Best game: Brazil plays Mexico on June 17. Brazil won’t lose, but if anyone can make it interesting, it’s Mexico.
Predicted order of finish: Brazil wins three games and advances easily, with Mexico getting the second spot with two wins. Croatia and Cameroon fight out for the meaningless third spot in the group.
Team-by-team Breakdown (odds to win Group and tournament from Sportsbook.ag)
Brazil (+300 to win tournament, -400 to win Group A): The host team is the solid favorite to win it all, and it is really their tournament to lose — at least as much as that is possible in a tournament as tough as this one. The storylines aren’t tough to figure out. They are a stacked and loaded roster. Neymar is a freakish talent at the top of the pyramid, but he sure doesn’t have to carry the team alone. They are playing at home where they are comfortable. To maximize the advantage, all of these games will be in tropical settings — a climate that they will feel very comfortable in. There is always a concern with the host nation because they haven’t been seasoned by the tough qualifying process. They won the Confederations Cup, though, and looked good doing it, so they should be ready. The head coach took an underachieving team all the way to a win in the 2002 World Cup win, so he knows all about winning in this tournament. They are ready. The only real concern is that they could underperform early because the group is so weak, and they know it. Given the weight of the expectations they face, though, that’s not a major concern.
Cameroon (+60,000, +2500): Cameroon was one of the great stories in tournament history when, in 1990, they made the quarterfinals out of nowhere. They have appeared in four tournaments since, though, so they are no longer a Cinderella. They haven’t done well since 1990, and they aren’t going to do well here. Star Samuel Eto’o is over the hill and past his prime, and they don’t have a lot behind him to get excited about. I like them to finish third only because I really don’t like Croatia here, but this is not a good team.
Croatia (+20,000, +800): In 1998 the Croatians shocked the world, knocking off Germany and the Netherlands en route to a stunning third-place finish in the World Cup. The result came from nowhere — they didn’t even win their group in round robin play. In two subsequent appearances, they have gone nowhere, and that’s not going to change. Their qualification process wasn’t smooth, their depth is underwhelming, and I don’t like their chances of handling the incredible heat and humidity they will face in their games very well. I am not at all bullish on this team.
Mexico (+13,000, +600): Two years ago I thought that Mexico was going to be an attractive long-ish shot pick to win it all. They have talent, they have had success in the past, and they aren’t playing too far from home. The qualification process dissuaded me from backing this squad, though. They looked just terrible qualifying, and had to beat New Zealand in a last-chance playoff to earn this date with the hosts. They won the Olympics in 2012, so nationally they are relevant, but that squad is different than what we will see here, and I don’t expect the success to carry over. I would be surprised if they didn’t advance but even more surprised if they did anything in the playoff round.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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