World Cup Handicapping: Teams That Have Struggled in Preps
by Trevor Whenham - 5/19/2014
When handicapping the World Cup, you have to overcome a lack of true information about the current form of the teams before the tournament starts. They have played together few times in the months before the tournament, and they haven't played a truly meaningful game since the rosters were finalized. You can't read too much into how teams have played in the six months or so before the tournament, but you also can't completely overlook the recent form of the teams, or the momentum they bring into the tournament.
Here are five teams that have raised real concerns about their World Cup potential based on their play in recent months:
Colombia: No team has suffered a bigger potential loss than Colombia did when Falcao, by far their best player and one of the finer strikers in the tournament, blew his ACL at the start of this year. He says that he will be ready to go, but that is hard to believe given how tough that injury is to come back from. The team has played only once since he was lost - a very underwhelming 1-1 draw against Tunisia in a friendly. This is a fragile team at the best of times, but with this injury they are really hard to get excited about. It's a shame because their group was very winnable for them.
Cameroon: This squad was a great Cinderella story when they made their run to the quarterfinals in 1990. They have largely underwhelmed since, and they could be about to hit a new low this year. In the last year they have a record of just 4-2-4, and with the exception of a draw against Ukraine that has come against a very weak slate of African opponents. When they should have been making statements they have instead been raising serious concerns. They are going to lose in a big way to Brazil, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if they failed to gain a point in their group play.
Australia: If this team had to play in any other region they would stand no chance of ever making this tournament, so they owe everything to geography. The sad fact is that this team just isn't any good. In July of last year they embarrassed themselves in the East Asian Cup, losing two games and drawing a third. They followed that up with a pair of humiliating 6-0 losses to Brazil and France. Last time out they opened up a 3-0 lead against Ecuador in London but then lost 4-3. This is just a terrible team, and even a single win against a group that includes Spain, Netherlands and Chile would be one of the biggest shocks of the entire tournament.
Netherlands: The Dutch finished second in the 2010 World Cup, and after their impressive 9-0-1 run through qualification this time around their fans had to be thinking that the same - or better - was possible again. I really struggle to trust this team at the best of times, though, and the four games they have played since qualifying has done nothing to change that. They have played to draws against Japan, Colombia and Ecuador - the last two at home, and that Ecuador game coming just on May 17. There is no reason that they shouldn't have won all three games. The other game was a frustrating 2-0 loss to France. Losing to a former World Cup winner in Paris is not a problem by itself, but the Dutch just didn't play very well.
Belgium: The Belgians are a sexy pick for many in this tournament - at 14/1 they are the fifth choice to win the tournament behind only mega-powers Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain. I have struggled with the notion of getting this excited about a team this young and unproven despite their massive potential, and the way they have played lately certainly hasn't convinced me I am wrong. They do not have a win in their last four games, which stretches back to last October. They played Wales to a 1-1 draw in their final qualifying game, but that's the least of the concerns since they had long since clinched their World Cup berth by that point. After that, though, they lost friendlies to Colombia and Japan in the same week in November, and then they played an Ivory Coast squad I don't like at all to a 2-2 draw in March. The biggest concern of all is that all four games were played in Brussels. If they couldn't get up for games against inferior opponents at home then how will they fare in crucial games against strong teams in a hostile environment with a far different climate than they live in at home?
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