The group stage of Brazil 2014 has not failed to entertain. With the focus prior to the World Cup being on Brazil not being prepared, the world’s greatest sporting event has started much better than many were expecting. There has been no shortage of goals in the games and just about every game has been fun to watch no matter what team you are rooting for. Many teams have surprised in the groups of death. Below I will share my highlights and disappointments of the group stage.
South America – With 5 of the 6 teams from South America qualifying for the final 16 (and Ecuador almost qualifying), South America has shown that it is the dominant continent in this tournament. Columbia has arguably been the most impressive team so far from South America this tournament and looks primed to battle for a semi-final spot. Both Brazil and Argentina have not been at their best, both have shown in glimpses why they are projected to face off in the finals. With both Neymar and Messi in great form, a Brazil-Argentina final would be one for the ages. Chile has also impressed by knocking the reigning champions Spain out of the tournament in just their second game. Unfortunately, four of the five remaining teams all been paired up in the same leg of the bracket, meaning only a maximum of two South American teams making it to the semi-finals.
CONCACAF – Similar to South America, 3 of the 4 Concacaf teams have advanced to the final 16. Costa Rica has shocked the world by finishing first in a group of Italy, England, and Uruguay. Given only a 9% chance of advancing, Costa Rica has shown they are a legitimate team and have a favorable matchup against Greece in the second round. Mexico has complete a miraculous turnaround under Miguel Herrera by going from luckily earning a playoff qualification spot, to the elimination round. Finishing second to Brazil by just goal differential, Mexico has shown the progress that Concacaf has made in competing with some of the World’s elite teams. Finally, the United States survived the group of death with very gritty performances in all three matches. At times in all three games, the USA looked over matched, but they managed to do just enough to advances in a very difficult group. It was unfortunate for them to receive just one point against Portugal, but all that matters is that they are moving on. Belgium has not been as impressive as expected and the United States have a strong chance of making a surprising quarterfinal appearance.
Europe – Europe has flat-out been awful so far in this tournament. With Spain, Italy, England, and Portugal all already eliminated, it appears it will be up to either Germany, Netherlands, or France to make a deep run in the competition. Most surprising is that Spain was eliminated in just two games. Europe has had a bad track record in tournaments hosted in South America and Brazil 2014 looks to be no different. The Dutch, however, have been the best team in the tournament so far. With a group of experienced leaders and young talent, the Dutch have a great chance to return to the finals of the World Cup and redeeming themselves from four years ago. France has looked much improved from a year ago, but in my opinion don’t appear to have enough to contend for the title. The Germans have the necessary talent to contend, but have not shown so far they will perform at a level high enough to win. With that said, everything that has happened to so far is now forgotten and Europe will have a chance to redeem themselves with a strong showing in the knockout stage.
Africa – Africa has failed to make an impression on the World Cup. With Ivory Coast and Ghana failing to qualify, and Nigeria and Algeria just barely sneaking into the second round, the African nations still need some development in order to truly compete for a World Cup title. Both Ghana and Ivory Coast have some pieces in place to compete in Russia 2018, but still have a long way to go.