We've spoken to dozens of pundits, former players, coaches and journalists from each of the World Cup countries to find out how they think their team will fare in Brazil.
“Algeria have been strong competitors for a long time.”
Claude Le Roy, vastly experienced coach of Congo.
“It will be difficult for Algeria because there are two big teams in their group in Russia and Belgium, and to get past both of them would be a miracle.”
Joseph-Antoine Bell, former Cameroon goalkeeper and now French radio analyst.
“The team is very young and inexperienced. It will therefore have to compensate with a passion in their play.”
Yazid Mansouri, former captain.
“Algeria can imagine they will qualify with the group they’ve been given – but it’s a group that will be decided on very small details.”
Philippe Troussier, former South Africa and Japan World Cup coach.
“We are candidates for the title – along with Brazil, Spain and Germany – but with one clarification: we depend heavily on how Messi makes it to the World Cup. We have to light not just one candle but many so that he makes it in good form. With Messi playing well we are a totally different team. Without him, we drop down a level and that puts us alongside national teams like Holland, Portugal, France, England, Uruguay
Marcelo Gallardo, former Argentina international.
“In Brazil we’ll have to play against 40,000; in Italy, we were lucky to play in Naples, but the rest were terrible. In Brazil it is different. They still think about the Maracanazo. For us it is the worst country to play in. Brazil is football. The team selection and tactical decisions are Sabella’s decision. I had the same with Ramon Diaz in 1990. There is always a player who is left out. I hear people mentioning Tevez, but you only know if you are right after the World Cup.”
Carlos Bilardo, coach of the 1986 team.
“I think Messi is in good form, this has to be his World Cup. He’s 26 years old, I hope it happens. He has more than enough ability but you can’t compare him to Maradona – for me there never was nor will there ever be a player like him. I am a big fan of Tevez, he’s a player who would have fitted into the 1986 team. Wherever he has gone he has been a champion. I’d definitely take him, instead of the fantastic four [Messi, Aguero, Higuain, Lavezzi] it should be the fantastic five.”
Hector Enrique, 1986 World Cup-winner.
“I don’t think the national team has found its form yet. We have the best player in the world, and another three who would play in any team in the world. But you have to make a team from 23 players. Brazil has become a utilitarian team, but then it also has technique. Everyone thinks Brazil will reach the Final but I think it’s going to be tough and very difficult.”
Cesar Luis Menotti, 1978 World Cup-winning coach.
“The expectations for this tournament are realistic. The World Cup is important for performances more than results – the Asian Cup is more important six months later. We want to see a future; a philosophy on which way we are going to go. There was a need at one stage for foreign coaches, but Pim [Verbeek] and Holger [Osieck] didn’t do enough to ensure the future of the ’Roos because their mandate was to get results.”
Robbie Slater, ex-Socceroo and Fox Sports TV analyst
“Qualification from the group would be a dream, but a highly unlikely one. Beyond that, I’d like to see a competitive Australian team, one that is not embarrassed the way we were four years ago – one that looks to the future, where the young players show there is hope.”
Sebastian Hassett, Sydney Morning Herald journalist
“They will struggle. The golden generation is finished, and it seems the coach is heading in a different philosophical path and taking a longer term view. I actually think things could get really ugly – Chile are underrated here and I think they could get out of the group.”
Scott McIntyre, reporter for SBS Television
“Australia will probably lose all three games. There’s no shame in that in such a tough group, but the key is how they play. Postecoglou has lots of goodwill, based on his willingness to play in an ‘Australian’ way, and giving the youngsters responsibility. He’s also got to focus on the Asian Cup – so the World Cup is not the end, but the means to the end.”
Tom Smithies, Daily Telegraph journalist.
“The results in recent friendlies have meant that the team have their feet on the ground and it’s better that way as Belgium performs well when viewed as an outsider. The group means that we could go through to meet Germany or Portugal, and with luck we could go even further. Remember, in 1986 the team only won one game in 90 minutes but we still reached the semi-finals. Kevin De Bruyne could prove that Chelsea were wrong to let him go – he could be a revelation to some people.”
Jan Ceulemans, Belgium’s most-capped player with 96 appearances.
“It’s after the group stage where the difficulty starts. If it’s Germany, then it could be over. I’d be more confident against Portugal as we could beat them if we play to our best. The loss of Benteke could lead to a change in style but Michy Batshuayi could come in and surprise people”
Ex-international Franky Van der Elst.
“Belgium had a good qualifying campaign and it’s certain that they will progress from the group stage. After that, anything could happen. In a one-off match, it depends on the circumstances. This team has many good individuals – Witsel, Lukaku, Defour, Mertens – but it all depends on the team playing well together on the day.”
Enzo Scifo, played in four World Cups for Belgium.
“It would be difficult if they play Germany or Portugal, but if you want to achieve something you have to beat at least one big team at a major tournament. We have to prove that we are no longer an underdog. Dries Mertens is performing well for Napoli and could be a surprise for many people. If Belgium reach the quarter-finals it will be a huge performance.”
Geert De Vlieger, ex-international.
“We have to know that we are outsiders, the only debutants, and that there is no need to put pressure on our backs. The group is difficult, but I think a lot depends on our approach. I hope for a good result and a promotion of our country’s football and the country itself.”
Meho Kodro, ex-Bosnia captain.
“It is difficult to discuss Bosnia’s chances at this World Cup, primarily because we have no experience of such a tournament. Matches against Nigeria and Iran are crucial, while Argentina is on the different level. It is important for the players to see this as the beginning of the job, not as a job done. It is a really big responsibility for both Susic and the players to create a winning atmosphere in totally new surroundings.”
Dario Mehmedovic, Federalna Televizija TV station.
“Bosnia is in a specific situation where anything is possible. With our mentality, it would not be surprising to see some sort of chaos, with things going downhill if they lose to Argentina in the first match. However, I am an optimist. We have a solid team that can get to the second round and then meet teams like Switzerland, France, maybe even Ecuador, and eventually create a miracle. It is the first major tournament, we’ll see the reaction to it, you never know.”
Aleksandar Hemon, Bosnian-American writer.
“The mentality can be a problem, but this generation proved through the qualifiers that they have matured and that they know how to focus. If they retain that approach, anything is possible. The group is difficult, but Nigeria and Iran are not unbeatable and, with some luck, we could enjoy a good run in Brazil.”
Slaven Niksic, Dnevni list.
“I believe Brazil have an 85 per cent chance of being champions, based on the way the team have been playing and the balance that Scolari has achieved and the manner the public have been brought close. The support that the fans gave in the Confederations Cup will be even bigger this time. We have a top team, full of great players, which doesn’t depend on just one or two of them. All of the world powers have won their home World Cups and Brazil have everything it takes to triumph this time.”
Zico, who played in three World Cups for Brazil.
“My expectations are high. In the Confederations Cup the team looked solid, it imposed itself on the games – you could see its strength. The players looked focused, aware of the importance of what they’re doing, and they’ve built up credit with the supporters, meaning that they’re unlikely to be booed by the crowd in the early games even if things are not going well.”
Falcao, a former World Cup player and ex-national team coach.
“I think Brazil have real chances of winning the World Cup, as was shown by their performances in the Confederations Cup, especially the game against Spain. Brazil got their confidence back and the people saw the spirit in which they approached the competition, with lots of unity, and no vanity. The undoubted star of the team is Neymar, and we saw that his team-mates were demanding the best from him, just as he was from them – all pulling together to achieve the victory.”
Juninho Paulista, former Brazil player.
“We’re one of the strong candidates for the title. Everyone, including myself, was pessimistic about our chances until the Confederations Cup, when the team totally transformed the perception. The coach Scolari has built a team that play modern, compact, attacking football, very different from the stuff played by our club sides, and with the support of the fans we have a great chance of going all the way.”
Andre Rizek, SporTV.
“Cameroon football really needs to step up a notch otherwise its going to lose ground against the other countries.”
Jacques Songo’o, former Cameroon goalkeeper.
“There is a culture of performance in this country. Cameroonians are mentally strong despite all the difficulties back at home – and they always seem to come to the fore at World Cup tournaments.”
Claude le Roy, ex-Cameroon coach.
“Cameroon has some history with Brazil. On a purely sporting level for Cameroon, it could also have been worse – at least they have a prestigious opponent.”
Joseph Antoine Bell, ex-goalkeeper and now French radio analyst.
“The group is not simple but it is far from insurmountable for Cameroon. It will be a dream for us to play against Brazil.”
Former Cameroon international striker, Patrick Mboma.
“We’re in a very difficult group, but I have a lot of confidence that Chile will qualify from it. Whatever happens, I think we’ll see a very good Chile side, as in the time of Bielsa. Sampaoli took over at a tough time, but he’s got Chile playing very well; not only qualifying in style, but also winning the respect of Europe in the last few friendlies.”
Manuel Pellegrini, Manchester City’s Chilean manager.
“It’s a complicated group, but there’s no reason to be afraid. If we start lamenting our luck before the thing has started then it would be better not to go to the World Cup! There’s plenty of faith in this team and we have to keep dreaming because we have players operating at a top level in Europe and it’s clear that we are capable of beating anyone.”
Nelson Acosta, Chile coach at the 1998 World Cup.
“If we don’t beat Australia then we don’t have much chance of getting out of the group, so that first game puts us in a must-win situation. But this group of players have shown that they can take on the world’s best on equal terms, and for that reason I believe that we have a team who can go on to do something important in the World Cup.”
Leonardo Veliz, played for Chile in the 1974 World Cup.
“It’s obvious that the draw could have been kinder, but also that we have to have faith because it’s clear that we’re in the presence of a tremendous generation, who are playing at a high level and who are well capable of giving us something to celebrate.”
Jorge Garces, former caretaker coach of Chile.
“In the last three World Cups Colombia have participated in, we’ve been our biggest rivals. From being knocked out by Cameroon at Italia 90, where the team was left chewing on the rage of unfulfilled promises, to Asprilla bizarrely abandoning the camp in 1998, our biggest problems have always come from the head rather than the feet. The main virtue of Pekerman’s team, however, has been its maturity and the aplomb shown by his players. There is therefore reason to be optimistic about our chances.”
Federico Arango, editor of website Bestiario del Balon
“Colombia’s return to the World Cup comes on the back of what has been a tortuous 16-year wait. Following qualification for three consecutive finals in the 1990s, Colombians got used to playing against the world’s top teams. However, we were unable to build on that and also failed to properly support our coaches. Using the generation of players who were South America youth champions in 2005, Jose Pekerman achieved qualification as group seeds for the first time in our history. Now the most pressing target is to get out of the group and equal our best performance from Italia ’90. There’s a lot of belief, but our group isn’t easy. Nobody in Colombia wants a repeat of the fiasco of 20 years ago, but at the same time nobody wants to be on that first plane back after just three games.”
Alejandro Pino, online editor of GolCaracol.com.
“Colombia got it right in qualifying by showing the team’s collective and individual talents. They proved that by using a credible coach they are capable of achieving big things. We needed to appoint a foreign coach as a way of making a clean start. Previously there were a lot of uncertainties surrounding the team, with journalists knowing who was going to be called up before the manager. It was a difficult environment but a new cycle began following the arrival of Pekerman. Colombia’s first game [against Greece] is going to be important, but we will have to wait and see how the team responds to the enormous responsibility of playing a World Cup.”
Jorge Bermudez, ex-Colombia international who is now a journalist living in Argentina.
“It could hardly be more difficult or complicated for us: two great European sides and the 2010 semi-finalists. But we want to go to Brazil to compete, not just to participate. We want to make history and leave a footprint for the future generations.”
Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica captain.
“Costa Rica’s players are relishing their surprise package status. They will play a defensive formation against Uruguay and Italy but will switch to a more aggressive stance for the game with England, whom they don’t see as being as strong as the other two. They will try to counter-attack and take advantage of the speed of their forwards.”
Juan Carlos Aguero, Teletica.
“Costa Rica know that they will need more than their best football to make history. The team is mentally prepared to play their souls out, even if that might come short in the end. The idea is to make life hard for their rivals and try to get as much as they can. All eyes will be set on Keylor Navas and Joel Campbell.”
Andrea Zamora, Canal 13.
“Objectively, Croatia have a better team than Cameroon and Mexico. I believe we can make it through to the knockout stage.”
Igor Stimac, former national coach
“We have a beautiful task at Brazil 2014: to open the World Cup and make all Croatians around the world proud. I’d like that we progress to the next round and that we get Spain there.”
Davor Suker, former player and president of the Croatian football federation
“We have perhaps the strongest midfield line at our disposal – Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic are able to outplay most opponents. We have Mario Mandzukic as well – a player who is able to take advantage of semi-chances to score. We should get through the group stage of the competition. I would like to play Spain next because in that game we would not be without chances.”
Tomislav Zidak, reporter for daily paper Jutarnji List
“Croatia may be a surprise, as in France 1998 when we ended up in third. We have excellent players. I’m sure we’re going through.”
Miroslav Blazevic, national coach at the 1998 World Cup
“I think that we have to make it through to the second round in Brazil – not because it’s some kind of obligation but because I believe we have the best Ecuador side we have ever had. The quantity of players who are doing well abroad is far greater than we have ever had in my lifetime. The order of the group games should also help us to make it through. Then, in the knockout round, we’ll just have to see what happens, but I’m betting our team can do well.”
Alex Aguinaga, former Ecuador World Cup player.
“In our group we have the advantage of knowing Honduras, who we’ve beaten before in friendlies. Switzerland have a strong team, but I’m sure that we can beat them, and against France we have to take advantage of the fact that they are not as good as they have been.”
Polo Carrera, former national team player and coach.
“The first match, against Switzerland, is going to be vital to our chances. We have the strength in depth to beat Honduras, and hopefully Switzerland as well – because things will be a bit more complicated against France, an opponent with much more tradition.”
Alfredo Encalada, former national coach
“In my view Ecuador are certainly in the fight to make it out of their group. If we do, then we will take on someone from Group F – a group that has Argentina in it. With a bit of destiny, luck and football we will qualify from our group, which will already be a success, and with a bit more luck we’ll make it to the quarter-finals.”
Oton Chavez, daily newspaper El Universo
“We’ve got some really good players that are young, and they’re almost unexposed to failure at any level. And when I mention those players I’m looking at the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Ross Barkley, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling.Players like that, nobody knows if you throw them in at the deep end in a World Cup, one of them might absolutely shine and take the world be storm and you try stopping them after they play well once or twice. There’s something about being really young [at a World Cup] and having no fear at all, and having pace and a mindset that says you’re going to dominate someone and not have any fear of anyone. We’ve got a bit of that.Yes, there are probably better teams in the competition than us but if we get on a nice little run then I don’t see us without a chance.”
“There are always ifs with England. If Wayne Rooney stays fit. If the balance is right in midfield. If the players can keep the ball. If the players don’t melt when the heat rises. If they don’t sit deep on taking the lead. If they find some psychological strength. If the game doesn’t go to penalties. England have some strengths. The keeper Joe Hart is in form. The captain Steven Gerrard is on a mission. Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana all bring energy and ideas. If England get out of a tricky group that will be success.”
Henry Winter, Telegraph football correspondent
“All depends on the period from May 19 to June 14, when Roy Hodgson will have almost uninterrupted access to his players. If they can develop a club-style pattern of play, England could be one of the big surprises. Especially if the club they come to resemble is Liverpool.
The outfield player they can least afford to lose is Steven Gerrard, who has become a true leader during Hodgson’s brief era and is key to the creation of an Anfield-ish core.
Raheem Sterling could be a sensation. But it’s equally important that there are good team men around: Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka (if fit), Wayne Rooney (if in the mood), Gary Cahill, Jordan Henderson, James Milner. Teamwork is usually England’s weak suit.”
Patrick Barclay, Evening Standard columnist.
“The key is to go to Brazil with a competitive side. You know it’s going to be difficult and you want to go a long way in the competition. You’re not there to dance the samba or go sightseeing for a fortnight. You’re there to win the World Cup. That’s the objective and the team have to get that into their heads from the start.”
Raymond Domenech, former France coach.
“I think France are in good shape. The players are aware of the qualities they have. I’m not talking about individuals, but the team as a whole. They’re a strong group, and in a big tournament that’s the most important thing.”
Claude Makelele, World Cup finalist in 2006.
“For me the mark of sporting excellence is to be able to get good results even on an off day. That’s what great teams do – and we’re not a great team yet. If we could get to the quarter- finals and some young players really came through, then that would be a good World Cup for us.”
Bixente Lizarazu, 1998 World Cup winner.
“The draw’s been kind to us, but you still have to go out there and win. And if France qualify for the knockout phase they will be up against some big teams, so they have to be ready for that.”
Jean-Pierre Papin, scored 30 goals for “Les Bleus”.
“We have the quality to win our first world title in 24 years. We certainly have the strength in depth. ‘Jogi’ Low has 30 to 35 top-class players and has two or three good alternatives for every position. There’s a good atmosphere in the camp, everyone involved communicates well and there’s no rivalries between the Bayern and Dortmund players. We’ve nearly all the ingredients one needs to go all the way. The only thing we lack is the nasty characters.”
Lothar Matthaus, captained Germany to 1990 World Cup success.
“Germany will be world champions. There’s no better team than us. Spain are not as strong as they were in 2008 and 2010. The only side who could pose problems to us are Brazil, who are used to the climate and conditions and performing under pressure. We’ve some injury concerns at the moment, but it’s always been like that in the run-up to a big tournament. But we have the pool of players to cope. In fact, we’ve never had a wider choice than now.”
Jurgen Kohler, a member of Germany’s 1990 World Cup-winning team.
“You don’t have to be an expert to place Germany alongside Brazil and Spain as the favourites. The champions will come from this trio, with Argentina as more of an outside bet. Personally, I’d say Germany and Spain were stronger than Brazil, but home advantage will count for a lot. I think we have every right to consider ourselves in with a great chance. At the end of the day, the smallest of details will decide the eventual winner.”
Rudi Voller, a winner in 1990 and coached the national team to second place in 2002.
“We’ve our best squad ever, we’ve an outstanding coach and some super individual players. Our team is in a great position to take the title. We’ve played some extraordinary football under Low, but now is the time for the next step. Without doubt, Mesut Ozil has all the potential to play a vital role in Brazil. He’s not a dominant personality, and the role of leader is not part of his character, but with his huge talent he still has much to offer the team creatively.”
Gunter Netzer, German footballer of the Year in 1972 and 1973.
“I believe the tournament is really going to show us high-class football – and one thing also I have noticed in tournaments is that there is always a revelation.”
Tony Baffoe, former Ghana full-back.
“Against the A-class nations Ghana have struggled. The team, while solid, is one grossly lacking in an ability to win with trophies at stake.”
Colin Udoh, TV analyst.
“We have been there twice and on both occasions we made progress. In 2010,
most people thought we couldn’t make it out of the group stages but we made it through to the quarter-finals.”
John Mensah, former centre-back.
“Portugal against Germany is a potential World Cup Final on its own – and to find Ghana alongside them in the group clearly tells you that we have an uphill task ahead of us.”
Isaac Vorsah, centre-back who played for Ghana at the 2010 World Cup.
“We are proud of a national team which demonstrates that Greek football maintains consistent growth in international competition. I’m sure our players will do their utmost to distinguish themselves in in Brazil and that the FA will be there to form the most ideal preparation. Our team has done its duty in qualifying for the finals and now the aim, is to qualify for the next round.”
Giorgos Sarris, president of the Greek FA
“We will play in the group stage against three different styles of football from three different schools. We have much work ahead of us to the final phase of the World Cup, but again our goal is to get the ticket for the last 16.”
Takis Fyssas, team technical director
“We always have better performances when our opponents consider us the outsiders. See what happened to the Romanians in the World Cup play-off. At the 2010 World Cup we failed to advance from a group we thought would be easy. The group for this World Cup will be wide open. Qualifying for the last 16 is our goal, but it will not be easy.”
Giorgos Mazias, writer for SportDay newspaper
“The draws of major tournaments are divided into two categories: easy and difficult. But over the last 10 years, a third scenario has emerged: that of Greece, with coaches Rehhagel and Santos creating ways towards the happy end. The players can make things difficult for opponents. The draw has not opened the road to the last 16, but it has not stopped us from dreaming.”
Antonis Katsaros, sports website pamesports.gr
“I think Holland have a good chance against Spain because they are a bit over the hill. Holland have got a solid line-up, but much will depend on what Van Gaal can manage during the preparation time. Holland have to rely on the vulnerable Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder. If these players aren’t in form it’s impossible to be successful. Brazil are the favourites and one of the other South American countries will also go far.”
Jack Van Gelder, radio and TV reporter for NOS.
“The general feeling is that European teams won’t stand a chance on South American soil, but I don’t agree. The pressure on Brazil, and Argentina, will be immense. I have real doubts that they can handle it. Brazil usually don’t deliver when they are the big favourites: see the 1982 World Cup. For me, Germany are the favourites. Low will use the Bayern Munich players as the nucleus of his team and will introduce Guardiola’s tactics. I think that putting opponents under pressure in their own half is the right tactic in Brazil’s climatic conditions.”
Aad De Mos, former coach of Ajax and PSV.
“The football will be excellent with players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi and Suarez available. Brazil are the favourites but don’t underestimate Italy. Holland, on the other hand, won’t gain enough points to reach the next round. They have only two world-class players and the rest of the squad is mediocre. That’s nothing to be optimistic about.”
Jan-Hermen de Bruijn, editor of Elf Voetbal.
“By starting against Spain you can immediately show what you’ve got. For that game there are no excuses, you’ve got to be at your best. There is a lot of criticism that we’ve got many players from the domestic league. It’s so typically Dutch to disregard our own clubs and league. Why be so negative? Ajax have beaten Barcelona this season – that’s a huge effort and not many teams are capable of doing that.”
Kevin Strootman, injured Roma and Holland midfielder.
“Honduras need to improve their performance of the last World Cup, where they couldn’t win a game or even score a goal. I think we can beat Ecuador and Switzerland and advance to the round of 16. We beat Spain at the London Olympics and could do something similar again. I expect much of Najar, Espinoza and Palacios.”
Diego Daniel Paz, Diario Diez.
“I had about four or five of Ecuador’s current squad when I was there so I know something about them. What might help us more is playing in Manaus against Switzerland as it will be hotter and more humid than playing France in Porto Alegre which will be cold. Our challenge is to get into the next round.”
National coach Luis Fernando Suarez.
“Iran’s preparation has been hugely affected by the sanctions and economic hardship. Having said that, I think Queiroz has done a positive job considering the resources made available to him, which were nowhere near what he would have been used to at this level before. I expect that Iran will play the Italian catenaccio way: allow their opponents to have the ball, sit in their own half, try to defend solidly and look for opportunities on the counter. People want to see brave performances with a never-say-die attitude.”
Amir Hajrezaei, a TV Channel 3 pundit.
“The opener against Nigeria is important and the performance against Argentina will be vital in terms of the team’s character building. The team we had in 1998 was better in terms of technical, physical and character levels. But this time around, without significant friendlies in the past year, Iran have a huge mountain to climb. Queiroz will go for a cautious 4-5-1 and that is the main reason for Iran’s lack of goals. Teymourian and Dejagah will be the character and technical leaders of the team on the field.”
Bijan Zolfagharnasab, Iran assistant coach at 1998 World Cup.
“We all expected to be in Brazil, but to be honest Carlos Queiroz did a wonderful job in the last three crucial qualifiers. He is the man for the difficult days. Trying to stop Argentina’s fluid front three is one hell of a task for Iran but they need to stay together and play like a unit. On paper, at least, we are miles behind our opponents, but you never know with the World Cup; as we all remember the likes of Senegal in 2002. Everybody hopes Iran can defend Asian football’s credibility in Brazil.”
Mehdi Mahdavikia, played in the 1998 and 2006 World Cups for Iran.
“I think it will go very well for Italy. We have a good team with a good coach who has been able to create his own space and impose his own ideas, both tactically and ethically. Our record is good and history also shows that when little is expected of Italy, then Italy does well. Some people say that, given the climatic conditions, Prandelli will pick as many young players as possible but I doubt that. A national coach has to pick the best players available, regardless of age. Sometimes it matters more to have experienced players. Look at Buffon and Pirlo, they’ve had great seasons in Serie A so you have got to pick them.”
Gianni Rivera, former Italy international.
“I think much will depend on the opening game against England in the heat of Manaus – since historically the English can be difficult opponents for us. But, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t make too much out of the climatic conditions, given that they are the same for everyone. Rather, I would say that the side which arrives in Brazil in optimal physical and mental condition is the team that has the best chance of winning, but that is always the case. Today’s players will arrive at the finals after exhausting domestic league and Champions League campaigns – and often some of them just don’t have the time to recover their best form.”
Simone Perrotta, a member of Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning squad.
“We come into this World Cup on the back of a total failure in South Africa four years ago, so this Italy has to do better but, unfortunately, we find ourselves in a very tough group. That would suggest that, this time, Italy cannot allow itself its usual slow start. This is a good Italy but not a great one, we have no outstanding match winner in the side. Balotelli might have been that player but he seems to have lost his way a little. The fact that Prandelli is thinking about using Cassano or maybe Immobile or Destro says it all. As for Pirlo, he is a fantastic player but he is not in the first flush of youth is he? All in all, I would think this Italy is good enough to make the quarter-finals but no further. Sides like Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Spain look stronger than us.”
Fabrizio Bocca, La Repubblica.
“In the last two World Cups, the draw was unkind. This time, God has answered our prayers. The draw gives us a good chance.”
Yeo Martial, former Ivory Coast coach.
“It’s an exceptional generation of players that the Ivorians are taking to Brazil.”
Claude le Roy, well-travelled Franco-African coach.
“Ivory Coast will be ‘the eye of the storm’. They will be familiar with the hot weather.”
Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan coach.
“It’s important that we start well. The team can realise its dream of getting past the first round after God smiled on us with the draw.”
Lassina Kone, newspaper correspondent.
“I’m worried about the Ivory Coast, it will be difficult for them. ‘The Elephants’ will pass the first round. I see Colombia and Japan in the second round.”
Philippe Troussier, Frenchman whose first national-team job was with Ivory Coast.
“Japan are capable of matching almost any team for style, but recent performances have been very inconsistent and there is no telling which Japan will turn up on the day. The team has been undone by careless defensive errors several times over the past year, but there is real talent in the side and players like Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda could make a real impact in Brazil. They look well placed to qualify and after that a place in the quarter-finals seems a reasonable goal to aim for.”
Andrew McKirdy, Japan Times football writer
“Japan’s fate is completely in their own hands as not much separates them from the others in the group. The current team has more international experience than previous World Cup sides and technically they will be among the best in Brazil. When fit – and they should be this summer – Japan can cause a lot of problems for even the biggest of opponents as they showed versus Italy at the Confederations Cup. With such an emphasis on attack in Alberto Zaccheroni’s concept, however, Japan can be prone to leaking goals, especially with a less-than-stellar central defence. Injuries to captain Makoto Hasebe and defenders Atsuto Uchida and Maya Yoshida have made them doubtful, and it remains to be seen how their potential absences will impact a team which has largely been unchanged since Zaccheroni took over Japan after South Africa.”
Shintaro Kano, Kyodo News sportswriter
“This is Japan’s fifth consecutive World Cup and simply qualifying is no longer enough. Japan reached the round of 16 last time, their best-ever aside from when hosting, and winning through the group must now be seen as the norm. None of the teams in Group C has won the World Cup. Of course, it is very hard to call but this isn’t a hopeless draw. They beat Cameroon in the opener in 2010 and many of the same players will be back – and they can surely ride the wave if they repeat the trick against Ivory Coast this time. If all goes well they’ll meet a team from Group D in the round of 16 and that will be their chance for a first-ever quarter-final place. Yes, there are worries. Key defensive players have been injured this year and attackers Honda and Kagawa have been struggling at their clubs. And if the manager cannot react more flexibly than he did at the Confederations Cup, including in player selection, an early exit really could be on the cards.”
Naoya Tanizawa, Weekly Soccer Digest.
“Mexico’s main problem is having enough time to arrive at their best. Miguel Herrera will say they have done so, but the reality says otherwise.”
Rafael Ocampo, chief editor of national sports newspaper La Aficion.
“Not even the coach Miguel Herrera knows what the real level of the team will be when they face Cameroon in their World Cup opener. Mexico has been a huge question mark so far and will remain so until the ball starts rolling.”
David Faitelson, ESPN Mexico.
“It’s a good group for us. Argentina are the world powers, but you cannot afford to underrate Iran or Bosnia. We will respect all the teams and take it game after game.”
TV analyst and assistant coach Daniel Amokachi.
“The players know what they are up against. They need to play their hearts out.”
Ex-Nigeria goalkeeper Joseph Dosu.
“Once we’ve roughened out the edges the ‘Super Eagles’ will be ready to fly very, very, very high in Brazil, like the true Eagles they are supposed to be and which we know them to be.”
Enthusiastic commentator Cyril Nwokeji.
“With an African Nations Cup victory in the bag, and confidence high among fans, media and players, Nigeria’s timing for chaos has arrived earlier than usual in the form of an open Cold War between federation and coach.”
Journalist Colin Udoh.
“Portugal have to approach the first phase with optimism, but also with realism. Portugal now have a responsibility to put in a good performance, with consecutive qualifications and good showings at major tournaments and World Cups. The year 2014 started very badly for Portuguese football with the passing of two great footballers in Eusebio and Mario Coluna. Their passing can act as a source of courage, inspiration and self-esteem for everybody involved with the Portuguese delegation. I think it can act as inspiration to try and emulate the glory that Eusebio and Coluna brought to Portugal.”
Antonio Simoes, finished third at the 1966 World Cup with Portugal.
“I expect Portugal to cause a surprise. I expect Portugal to give performances in the group phase that will make people see them as one of the potential favourites for the World Cup. I hope to see them go from outsiders to one of the favourites to win the tournament. It’s crucially important for Portugal that Cristiano Ronaldo is playing at full fitness. The favourites for this World Cup, because they are the hosts, are Brazil. Then you have to include Spain, Germany and Argentina as the major favourites. But like I said, I expect Portugal, after the opening phase, to join this group as one of the favourites to win the trophy.”
Vitor Baia, capped 80 times by Portugal.
“I think the opening group game against Germany is very important. Portugal are seen
to be highly reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo, both in Portugal and abroad, but the important thing is that Portugal play as a team. I don’t think Portugal have such a balanced group of players as they had in 2000 or 2004, for example. There are 10 or 11 good players, but the alternatives for each position are not as strong as they were back then. But the fact that the tournament is in Brazil can be a positive factor. For sure, the Brazilians will want Portugal to win every game – as long as we are not playing against Brazil!”
Domingos Paciencia, former Porto and Portugal striker and ex-Braga coach.
“The group is seemingly easy, but Belgium are the top contestants here, taking into account that their players occupy key positions at some of Europe’s best clubs. Russia can cope with the other two rivals if we play our best game. My biggest concern is defence – with two experienced but ageing players in the centre. Much will depend on Ignashevich and Berezutski’s physical condition. In attack the only sure candidate is Kokorin, so finding four strikers for the World Cup is a problem.”
Mikhail Gershkovich, former national coach.
“Much will depend on Russia’s first game against South Korea, who are physically fit, aggressive, disciplined and motivated – the qualities our players often lack. Belgium are very good, but their time may come later. Individual work and self-preparation will be the key issue for Russia. For many of the payers it will be their last chance. I can foresee only half of the present squad surviving till 2018.”
Yegor Titov, former Spartak Moscow and Russia midfielder.
“The Russian team is in the middle of major changes. Arshavin and his Euro 2008 team-mates have been replaced by Kokorin and others who will form the bulk of the World Cup squad in 2018. Unfortunately, Capello does not have a wide choice of players. What he has to work with is an experienced but ageing squad. The progress of Dzagoev, Shatov and Kokorin does not change the overall picture. Russia are capable of making it to the last 16, but are unlikely to get past Germany or Portugal.”
Konstantin Kleschev, former editor-in-chief of Sport-Express.
“The only real Russian advantage is the outstanding manager. I’m sure that Fabio Capello learned from his experience with England in 2010. Russia do not have world-level stars, but captain Shirokov is a very smart playmaker and striker Kokorin can make a goal by himself. Russia may reach the second round, but will have no chance later if they meet Germany. All other options, including Portugal, give Russia a chance of reaching the quarter-finals – which is by far the maximum for this team.”
Igor Rabiner, Russian football journalist
“South Koreans would love their team to reach the knockout stage at least but it won’t be easy. It is still a young squad and one of the lowest-ranked teams to qualify for the World Cup. However, not having a South American team in the group could work in Korea’s favour as all four teams will be playing in an unfamiliar environment.”
Rachel Hur, Sports Donga newspaper.
“This is a team with a lot of lingering questions. I think people look at the defence and say it could give the team some headaches, but I’d say goalkeeping should be an even bigger concern. Jung Sung-ryong, who started every game at the 2010 World Cup, already seems to be on the downhill at the age of 29. Can anyone step up to take his place? On a brighter note, South Korea has some depth on the wings and in midfield. Son Heung-min, Lee Chung-yong, Koo Ja-cheol, Kim Bo-kyung and Ki Sung-yueng are still in their early to mid-20s and should form the core for years to come. South Korea may be able to pull out a victory, but I don’t think it will be enough to put them in the round of 16.”
Yoo Ji-ho, Yonhap News Agency.
“Hong has all the coaching experience except managing a senior team at national or club level. He is a specialist in motivating younger players and has had success in tournaments. He knows how to manage tournaments like the World Cup and Olympics. His short experience of managing the senior team is a risk because the average age of the starting XI is relatively young. That’s why the first game is very important; not so much the result but the performance. If Korea play well against Russia in the first game I think they will qualify for the second round. This is a young but well-organised team with players who have played together since teenagers.”
Seo Hyung-wook, MBC-TV commentator.
“It’s a good draw but still Korea will have to be at their best to get through, especially the goalkeeper and defenders. If Korea can be solid then the attacking talent is there to get out of the group, although that will probably be as far as they go and everyone will be happy with that. A lot depends on coach Hong Myung-bo; he doesn’t really know failure and seems to have a talent to do well in tournaments.”
Oh Ban-seok, freelance sports writer.
“If Iniesta and Xavi arrive fresh at the World Cup, that’s a big problem for all their opponents. They’re the ones that make the machine work. Those players who are playing their last World Cup will do so with hunger. The veterans are not a problem.”
Louis Van Gaal, Holland coach.
“I think Spain will win again. It’s difficult because it is in Brazil but they still have the best squad in the world.”
Marcos Senna, former Spain international.
“When I look at Spain I see a huge amount of fatigue. They will be tired, emotionally and physically, when they get to the World Cup. If they can reach 80 per cent of their capabilities they will be candidates.”
Cesar Luis Menotti, 1978 World Cup-winning coach.
“Spain are favourites but I think it will be very, very hard. Argentina, Brazil and Germany all have a chance of winning it too.”
Ronald Koeman, Feyenoord coach.
“Any team which is among the top seeds does not need to hide from opponents who are seeded two, three and four. We can and should go into this group phase with great self-belief. Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Switzerland team shouldn’t even be overawed by the French. I am optimistic that we will get to the quarter-finals.”
Basle coach Murat Yakin.
“The chances of surviving the group stage aren’t that bad. The last few times Switzerland played France we were really close, but after that it’s probably over for Switzerland. Xherdan Shaqiri doesn’t play that regularly, so it’s really tough for a team if they depend on one or two players – and Switzerland don’t have that many good players. If the one or two good players don’t bring their A-game to Brazil, it’s over for them.”
Rene Rodiger, St Galler Tagblatt.
“It’s certainly do-able, but it certainly won’t be easy for Switzerland. Ecuador will be unpleasant opponents, they are a very robust and physically strong team with Antonio Valencia as the key player.”
Alain Sutter, former Switzerland forward.
“Switzerland has never had such a high-standing collection of players who have imposed themselves at big foreign clubs. They have everything needed to get a good result at the World Cup. I trust them to get at least to the ‘eighth-finals’ [the last 16]. The second-generation immigrants are cheekier than the typical Swiss and carry this through to the rest of the squad.”
Ex-Grasshoppers and Aarau coach Rolf Fringer.
“On paper, the United States has little or no chance of getting out of their group in the World Cup. But the US is a group of believers and their coach Jurgen Klinsmann is a masterful motivator. Michael Bradley is in great form and will need to stay healthy for Klinsmann to play the possession-oriented football he so desperately desires. Probably the biggest factor going against the US is the fact that they have gained enough respect that teams will now take them very seriously.”
Steve Sampson, former national coach.
“The USA’s record over the last two years under Jurgen Klinsmann is – on paper – impressive, but the USA has rarely played like a team capable of matching its formidable rivals in Group G. Of its three best players, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey were lured back to MLS because of huge paydays but also because of their concerns about playing time with their European clubs, while Landon Donovan has slowed down considerably since returning from his hiatus at the start of the 2013 season.”
Paul Kennedy, editor-in-chief Soccer America.
“For coach Jurgen Klinsmann, secure in the knowledge that he has four years remaining on his contract, the knockout stage and beyond is the goal. It’s no secret that the US have to play at the top of their level – or over their heads – to accomplish this. The spirit of the US players is high; if they are competitive but miss out on advancing, the players will see this as a failure. The bar in America has been raised and cries of ‘atta-boy’ and ‘good try’ will no longer do.”
Roberto Abramowitz, Futbol Mundial magazine.
“Obviously, it’s a very tough group, but I think that if, on the day, we bring our ‘A’ game, our chances of advancing are fair to pretty good. We played well – and beat – Portugal in the 2002 World Cup, and we’re certainly due for a win against Ghana. That’s the troublesome game, the first game. But I like the way Klinsmann has them playing, the way he wants to pressure and attack opponents.”
Nick Sakiewicz, CEO of MLS club Philadelphia Union.
“We have two of the world’s best strikers in top form and a team which has been together for a long time. But there’s a big difference between now and back in 2010. Four years ago there were no expectations and the team grew during the competition. This time we arrive with a certain obligation. It will be seen by many as a failure if we don’t go all the way to the Final, or at least equal what we did last time and get to the semis. Being the protagonists in this way is often difficult for Uruguay, and our group is not an easy one.”
Luis Eduardo Insaurralde, El Pais.
“It might be better for Uruguay to start off against a big team and play Costa Rica in the third game. They’re usually poor starters and Tabarez often needs a game or two to sort the side out. This is an ageing team, but one well aware of its strengths and its limitations. If Cavani and Suarez are in good shape, they can carry “La Celeste” into the quarter-finals. And Martin Silva should be the first-choice keeper.”
Martin Fernandez, O Globo.
“Uruguay have one of the most promising strike partnerships in world football, backed up by a sold team behind them. I think that at world level Uruguay are not given the respect we deserve and this could be a favourable point for the chances of Tabarez and his team.”
Diego Perez Ilundain, El Pais.
“Uruguay are not a one-man team. They have a system of play and they are very difficult to play against, with commitment, an identity and two very good strikers. If I have to choose between England and Uruguay then I would put my money on Uruguay – and I’m not being biased.”
Gustavo Poyet, former Uruguay international.