The 2014 World Cup is now officially upon us after what seems like a countdown that has lasted forever, thank you BBC Sport. Anyhoo, looking past all the various controversies surrounding this tournament in Brazil and FIFA in general (these are arguments that will continue for a long time yet) I've decided to jump on the bandwagon and make my own predictions about the outcome of the tournament, mainly because I'm feeling left out.
Also partly responsible is my new found sporting knowledge stemming from the fact that I just passed a course at university entitled 'Economics of Sport'. As part of this course, I had to create a forecasting model which allowed me to forecast, which is a posh word for predict, upcoming English Premier League results. Astonishingly, my predicted results compared rather favourably to the actual match outcomes in reality. I even managed to defeat the BBC's Lawro, a particularly large feather in my cap. I've not employed my model here for this blog, partly out of laziness, but largely out of misbehaving software, so these predictions rely on traditional knowledge of the beautiful game, my confidence however, remains high. So with this new found 'Mystic Meg' quality of mine, and armed with the fact that economists around the world are delving into the world of sport with much more frequency and passion than ever before (hence, the existence of such a university course!) let us get down to business.
First of all, it is worth noting that economists from Goldman Sachs, Danske Bank and Unicredit, all compiled vast quantities of data and crunched the numbers to reveal a reasonable and well-backed prediction that Brazil will beat Argentina in the final on July 13th, in Rio de Janeiro. Deutsche Bank however, were far more outgoing with their predictions. They completely bypassed their own much fancied German team and forecasted that England (yes England!) would emerge victorious. They claim that their findings are based around statistics regarding previous winners of the tournament as well as the fact that the last time an England Squad featured so many Liverpool players, was in 1966, and we all know what happened then.
Almost inevitably, I immediately disagree with this prediction, and that's not just because I'm a Scot. I sincerely wish England the best of luck, and like the look of their squad but realistically it has to be accepted, against serious competition in the form of a Brazil, or a Spain or a Germany etc. they will come unstuck. Their defensive capabilities are questionable and the attacking flair is going to have to come from players relatively untested and unproven on the world's biggest stages or aging stars. What's more I understand the Liverpool connection made by so many, not just Deutsche Bank, but you ask any football historian and they'll tell you the soul of that 1966 team came from West Ham United with the likes of Captain Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst.
And with that in mind here are some of my own predictions, hold on to your hats. You know the usual suspects. Spain, Italy, Brazil, Argentina and Germany, to name a few. Interestingly, I agree with a majority of the economist's predictions that both Germany and defending champions Spain will lose in the semi-finals. Spoiler Alert!
Had I been making these predictions a month or so ago, before squads were released and what not, Germany, absolutely would have been my nailed on favourites. However, studying their squad, whilst it is undeniably loaded with talent and I see immense amounts of creative potential from midfield led by Mesut Ozil, Tony Kroos et al. I don't know where the end product will come from, a problem which appeared to plague national champions Bayern Munich later in season just past, especially in the Champions League.
Of course the Germans do have Miroslav Klose, who hopes to become the leading World Cup goalscorer of all-time in Brazil but realistically at 36 years old is past his best and is likely to be used predominantly as a substitute. Moreover, Lukas Podolski is much more comfortable on the left-side of a forward duo or trio as opposed to alone upfront. Many predicted starting line-ups predict attacking midfielder Mario Gotze as the out and out striker for Germany, hence my scepticism as to if they can score the goals to get past the better teams.
Germany actually find themselves in arguably 1 of 4 potential 'groups of death'. They should come through from Group G (which they share with Ghana, USA and Portugal) relatively comfortably on paper. Ghana do have some quality names and players to call upon however and Team Ronaldo also has some excellent players to complement their star captain if they can organise themselves. The US team under the command of German legend Jurgen Klinsman left out all-time leading goalscorer Landon Donovan who could have had a major impact as a substitute you feel and appear to be the weakest in this group. It could be a rough World Cup for the Americans.
Group B also contains considerable intrigue, not least as it features the 2 finalists from the 2010 edition of this tournament in Spain and Holland. Both will be much fancied to escape this group (with the runner-up likely meeting Brazil in the first knockout stage) but a talented Chilean team on their home continent cannot be discounted as potential party spoilers for the Europeans. Australia appears to have drawn the short straw here.
Columbia had been the unquestioned favourites in Group C, but the landscape appears to have changed since the confirmation that they'll have to cope without their star striker Radamel Falcao. Hopefully Falcao's Monaco millions will aid the pain of missing the tournament. Also in the group are the athletic but aging Ivory Coast, featuring the likes of Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba who will provide a tough game for many as well as a well organised and technically sound Japanese team led by the creative talents of Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda. Greece complete the group and will be tough opposition, not simply making up the numbers (remember when they won Euro 2004?).
Then of course there is England's Group D which also features Italy Uruguay and erm, Costa Rica. The Italians were a massive disappointment in 2010, failing to win a single game or escape the group stages as defending champions from 2006, for the first time since 1974. They redeemed themselves at Euro 2012 however, losing to Spain in the final and I fancy them to win this group with 2 remarkable different players in Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli spear-heading their charge. Unlike many, I refuse to buy into Uruguay. I know they were semi-finalists last time out (thanks largely to Ghana's woeful penalty taking) but they were lucky to draw Jordan in the qualifying playoffs having failed to qualify automatically from the South American Group. Star man Luis Suarez is also struggling for full fitness and having watched Edison Cavani play for PSG, I don't rate him as highly as others do. The rest of the team is getting up there in years and England's midfield appears far superior and should be able to easily boss the game between the two, meaning they will finish above the Uruguayans.
Other storylines? Well how lucky were the French when the draw was announced? They drew the weakest Pot 1 team in Switzerland and should win their group which also includes Ecuador and Honduras. Switzerland, whilst impressive in qualifying ultimately lack star power and the overall talent of France. The much fancied home continent favourites of Brazil and Argentina will win their respective groups with relative ease.
I toyed with idea of setting up a dream quarter-final for the organisers and fans alike between Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal and Lionel Messi's Argentina, however eventually decided it against it. Ronaldo gives Portugal a chance, he is the best in the world today, and the Portuguese can play strong in both defence and midfield but lack consistency and it is for that reason they will lose to Belgium in the last 16.
What's more Belgium will go on and defeat Argentina in the quarter-finals. I accept that Argentina are stacked offensively. As if having Lionel Messi, wasn't enough, they also have Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria, a group of attacking players most nations simply can't match. However, their midfield is average at best, Javier Mascherano has been playing central defence for Barcelona for the past few seasons and will need to adjust to his original playing position and the less said about Argentina's defence the better. Defence wins championships and Argentina has none.
Meanwhile this Belgium team is stacked with quality folks. Led by superstars in the mould of Eden Hazard in attack and Vincent Kompany in defence, they will dominate Group H and continue into the knockout stages. Up and comer Romelu Lukaku is a golden boot candidate also upfront and against that Argentine defence I fancy the Belgians.
Lets fast forward to the semi-finals then. I've got Brazil (following wins over the Dutch and English) vs. Germany (who defeat Russia and France) and Spain (conquerors of Croatia and Italy) vs. Belgium (who we stated earlier will beat Portugal and Argentina). My previous reservations regarding Germany's lack of striking options comes back to haunt them against the host nation as Brazil progress to the final. And you know what; I'm going to continue my Belgian based fun by predicting that they will defeat the defending champions. The more I study their squad the more I like it, a couple of young highly rated goalkeepers, a strong, experienced defence with Premier League talent, a young, creative midfield featuring yet more Premier League talent plus a delicious looking strike force.
Of course, Spain are still a good team and they do well to reach the semis but they are getting steadily older, particularly in midfield and picking a centre forward who is fully fit and in form appears a challenge a few days from their first game. Do they also have the hunger to win their 4th major tournament in a row? I don't know.
Ultimately in the final, it's kind of difficult to bet against Brazil. They'll have home advantage, as well as the benefit of the climate, crowd and recent tournament records. You can also see their hunger and just how much the players want to win this in front of their home fans. The only question is can they cope with the pressure and under Phil Scolari's management, I believe they can. Even my new found love for Belgium can't argue against that. So there you have it, Brazil will defeat Belgium to become world champions for the 6th time. That's enough predicting and discussion though, lets get the tournament started already!