Andy Maynard’s tips for the first World Cup Colossus
The World Cup Colossus Verdict: Game By Game tips
The World Cup is finally upon us and is just days away from getting underway! Here’s the first £10,000,000 Colossus coupon of the tournament which begins with hosts Brazil and ends with England’s opener.
Here’s my preview and selections and remember you can play with 20p, 50p, £1 and £2 stakes…
Brazil v Croatia (Thursday 12th, 9pm)
Hosts Brazil get the 2014 World Cup underway on Thursday 12th in what could be a crucial game that may decide who gets top spot in the group.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men will be under huge pressure to deliver but we saw in last year’s Confederations Cup how they reacted to the crowd after they came away as winners.
There’s no denying the squad has excellent depth but unlike previous Brazil World Cup teams the main strength of this one seems to be in defence with world class PSG centre-back Thiago Silva alongside either David Luiz or Dante, while La Liga pair Dani Alves and Marcelo will be a constant threat from the wing back positions.
The midfield does lack creativity though and is top heavy with defensive minded players such as Luiz Gustavo, Ramires, Paulinho and Fernandinho, although Chelsea duo Oscar and Willian should excite going forward.
Croatia, meanwhile, certainly don’t lack any creativity in a midfield containing Sevilla’s Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic of Inter and Real Madrid’s Luka Modric.
You can also throw Wolfsburg’s Ivan Perisic into the equation, while at the back, although they lack pace, the likes of Vedran Corluka and Dario Srna certainly make up for it in experience.
The key to this game could be the fact Croatia’s main striker Mario Mandzukic will miss out through suspension after he was sent off in his side’s second leg qualifying play-off.
Ivica Olic and Eduardo will battle it for the advanced role should they go with the lone striker but they only chipped in with three goals between them in qualifying.
This will be Brazil’s first competitive match since thumping Spain 3-0 in July last year so don’t be too surprised if they start slowly.
Croatia should give them a good game but will ultimately miss their star striker, so I think it’s safe to back the 1-0, 2-0 and 2-1 scorelines for Brazil.
2-1, 2-0, 1-0
Mexico v Cameroon (Friday 13th, 5pm)
If we are to assume that Brazil will top the group being such strong favourites, then the match between Mexico and Cameroon will be key in deciding who joins them in the last 16.
A win for either side will ease any pre-tournament pressure but with Mexico playing Brazil in their second match they’ll be eager to come away with at least a point here.
The North American outfit changed managers four times during qualifying as they only just made it to Brazil via a play-off versus New Zealand.
They finished fourth behind Honduras, Costa Rica and USA in the group with just two wins in 10 matches; however they now look more settled and have a notable goal threat in Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez and 30-year-old Oribe Peralta who top scored in qualifying with 10 goals in 11 appearances.
Mexico have been eliminated in the round of 16 for the last five World Cups and their tournament experience could prove crucial.
Cameroon, on the other hand, have a dreadful record in this competition and have failed to make it out of the group in their last four attempts.
Coach Volker Finke’s side qualified from their African section easy enough topping their group before smashing Tunisia 4-1 in the play-off following a goalless first leg.
Despite being 22 Schalke’s Joel Matip boasts plenty of Champions League experience as does Barcelona’s Alex Song, while Marseille centre-back Nicolas N’koulou has 26 caps at 24 years old.
The defence is probably their main strength, with a lack of creativity in midfield and veterans Samuel Eto’o and Pierre Webo upfront.
Only one of the African side’s six qualifying group games was settled by more than a single goal margin so I think we’ll be in for a low scoring affair.
This is the first game being played at 1pm local time, although Natal isn’t one of the hottest locations in Brazil, so the conditions shouldn’t come into effect too much here.
I’m going to cover the 0-0 draw and 1-0 for each team here as they’ll be keen not to drop any points with the hosts still to play.
1-0, 0-0, 0-1
Spain v Netherlands (Friday 13th, 8pm)
Holders Spain take on Netherlands in their opening group match in what will be a repeat of the 2010 World Cup final.
Andres Iniesta’s goal in extra time settled the tie in South Africa but we’ll have result within the 90 minutes this time around.
Competing in their 10th consecutive finals, Spain stormed their qualification group, which included France, going unbeaten in all eight matches scoring 14 and conceding just three times.
The strength in depth throughout the squad is outstanding especially in midfield where they boast many Barcelona and Real Madrid regular starters.
If there are to be any question marks over this team then it would have to be in the forward positions – Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa only just made the final 23-man squad after he suffered an injury in the last La Liga game of the season and lasted just 10 minutes in the Champions League final.
Alongside him are Pedro and David Villa as well as Chelsea’s Fernando Torres – the trio haven’t exactly had a prolific campaign.
Holland, on the other hand, come into this tournament in a transitional period with the likes of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder providing the experience, while the defence mainly consists of young, but talented Eredivisie players such as Feyenoord trio Bruno Martins Indi, Daryl Janmaat and Stefan de Vrij who are all likely starters.
They topped their European qualifying group by nine points ahead of Romania and rarely look troubled as they went unbeaten and won all but one of their 10 matches.
The Dutch were disappointing in Euro 2012 though crashing out in the group stages losing all three matches.
A loss against Spain in the first match could damage the confidence of the more inexperienced players within coach Louis van Gaal’s team, so avoiding defeat is crucial.
Spain only scored more than two in a game once in qualifying, while they never managed to do so in any of their 2010 World Cup games.
Holland have their weaknesses in defence which, with their abundance of talent, Spain should to be able to exploit so I’m going for 2-1 and 1-0 victories for the holders.
Chile v Australia (Friday 13th, 11pm)
Chile are being perceived as potential dark horses for the tournament with their attacking style gaining many admirers.
They qualified third behind Colombia and Argentina in the South American group where they finished with a goal difference of plus four despite scoring 29 goals in the 16 games, which shows they are vulnerable at the back.
England fans will know all too well of their ability after Chile came away with a 2-0 win at Wembley in November with Barcelona star Alexis Sanchez grabbing both goals.
He’s one of two world class players within their ranks, the other being Juventus’ midfielder Arturo Vidal but he’s facing a battle to be fit in time for the opening fixture.
Head coach Jorge Sampaoli adopts the Marcelo Bielsa style of play which is to focus on attack and they should have fun against this inexperienced and generally poor Australia side.
The Socceroos look weak all over the pitch and it could be down to 34-year-old Tim Cahill to lead the attack despite the former Everton man not being a natural forward.
Defensively is where they could come unstuck, especially against a rampant Chile. Dinamo Moscow’s Luke Wilkshire provides the only real experience and it’s believed he’ll line up alongside home-based pair Ivan Franjic and Matthew Spiranovic or Ryan McGowan who plays in China.
This will be a huge step up in class for those players and the gulf between them could tell early on.
22-year-old goalkeeper Mat Ryan could be their saving grace though – the Club Brugge stopper was named the best ‘keeper in Belgium this season.
Despite Chile focusing on attack rather than defence they have kept clean sheets against Uruguay in qualifying as well as in the friendly win over England so I’m going to cover Any Other Home win and a 3-0 victory for Sampaoli’s team.
Colombia v Greece (Saturday 14th, 5pm)
Like Chile, Colombia are also being talked up many pundits and should progress from a relatively easy group containing Ivory Coast, Japan and their first opponents Greece.
Coach Jose Pekerman waited until the as near the deadline as possible to name his final 23-man squad to give Monaco striker Radamel Falcao the best chance of making the cut.
The 28-year-old, who scored nine goals in 13 qualifying games, failed in his fitness battle though and will not be joining his teammates in Brazil.
Even without Falcao, they should have enough depth within the forward department to fill the void left by the former Atletico Madrid man.
Porto star Jackson Martinez and Europa League winner Carlos Bacca could feature, while Teofilo Gutierrez is a likely candidate after netting six goals in 11 qualifying fixtures.
Behind them Falcao’s club teammate James Rodriguez is an outstanding talent and will provide numerous chances for the forward line as will Fiorentina winger Juan Cuadrado.
Defensively they could come unstuck but the likes of Mario Yepes and Juan Zuniga have a wealth of experience, while ‘keeper David Ospina had a fine season for Nice in Ligue 1.
Their opponents, Greece, needed a play-off to reach Brazil after missing out on top spot to Bosnia on goal difference.
Coach Fernando Santos’ team have a history of failure at the World Cup and have never made it out of the group stage.
Eight of their 10 matches in their qualifying group were under 2.5 goals as they kept eight clean sheets – although when they came up against fellow finalists Bosnia they were defeated 3-1.
There is experience throughout the squad, especially in midfield and they do work well together as a team but up against an exciting Colombia side, I think they’ll struggle.
My selection for this match is a 2-0 win for Colombia.
Uruguay v Costa Rica (Saturday 14th, 8pm)
Uruguay and Costa Rica kick off proceedings in England’s group when they meet in the hot surroundings of Fortaleza.
Liverpool’s Luis Suarez looks like he will be ready in time after doctors revealed they were satisfied with the striker’s progress following a knee injury and trained without any pain.
The South American side needed a play-off to reach the finals after missing out on automatic qualification to Ecuador on goal difference.
They were strong at home though where they remained unbeaten, while 20 of their 25 goals scored came in Montevideo.
They showed weaknesses in defence that were highlighted by the fact they managed just three clean sheets in 16 matches, although two came against Chile and Colombia.
Costa Rica, meanwhile, were dealt a cruel blow recently when their star striker Alvaro Saborio was ruled out of the entire tournament through injury.
He accounted for eight of their qualifying goals in his 15 appearances and it will now be up to the likes of Arsenal youngster Joel Campbell and former Fulham player Bryan Ruiz to fill the void.
Everton’s Bryan Oviedo was also ruled out a while ago and that will be a huge blow.
Given this is the opening game I think they’ll put in a battling and respectable performance against Uruguay but the loss of Saborio could prove crucial so I’m going for a 1-0 win to the South American side.
England v Italy (Saturday 14th, 11pm)
England get their tournament underway on Saturday 14th with a rematch of the Euro 2012 quarter-final fixture against Italy where they were defeated on penalties.
Roy Hodgson’s men will be out for revenge this time though and I think this game will pivot around what style and selection the England manager decides to go with.
If Raheem Sterling starts then his pace will undoubtedly cause concern for an ageing Italian side but with the fixture being played in hot and humid Manaus this may not be possible.
Coming away without at least a point here will increase the pressure for either team whereas I think both teams will be happy with a draw given that they’ll fancy their chances against Uruguay and Costa Rica respectively.
Italy’s defence and midfield is made of experienced regulars, although there is the odd exception with young stars such as PSG’s Marco Verratti.
Cesare Prandelli’s squad looks exciting in attack though with likes of Mario Balotelli and Ciro Immobile, who finished as top scorer in Serie A this season and subsequently, has earned a move to Borussia Dortmund.
Ultimately I think we could see a slow paced game here and a 90-minute result similar to the Euro 2012 match – I’m going for a 1-1 draw.
Good luck to everyone following!
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