2014 World Cup Finals predictions

From the start I’ve been predicting a final with Germany and the Netherlands, and I’ve got to say I was terribly disappointed by the Dutch performance in the semifinals game against Argentina.

Germany and Argentina make it to the final. Germany will win.

Germany and Argentina make it to the final. Germany will win.

Vlaar was so good in defending Messi, but in the attack Robben was ineffective and Robin van Persie was asleep offsides.

Both defenses played a strong game, resulting in no goals scored in 90 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of extra time.

I was not surprised that Germany beat Brazil. I’ve felt all through the tournament that Brazil wasn’t playing that well. I never saw a 7-1 defeat, though. I thought maybe 3-0. Even with Neymar and Thiago Silva, I don’t think Brazil would have performed much better against the Germans.

So that gives us Germany and Argentina in the final and Brazil and the Netherlands playing for third place.

Brazil v. Netherlands

I’ve thought since the group stage that Brazil was not performing well in this World Cup. They’ve been lucky in some instances. Neymar carried them in others. For all the talent and passion Brazil had coming into each game, the passion seemed to carry them through while the talent let them down.

Oscar seems reluctant to take the lead on the field. Neymar is an individual threat, but without him a defense playing against Brazil is able to relax a little.

The Netherlands are the most successful country to never win a World Cup. Playing for third place means something to them. Meanwhile, for the Brazilians who have allowed emotion to overcome them, I think if they give up the first goal they will lose, possibly significantly. The Dutch may well win this thing 4-0 and send Brazil back to the drawing board.

Germany v. Argentina

I’ve been as disappointed in Argentina as I have Brazil. I have seen them possibly going out at any point in the knockout stages. But Argentina has proved me wrong each time. In every match, they’ve not been good but they’ve been good enough. Probably the best game they played was against the Netherlands.

Germany, meanwhile, have only a couple of times really played like you would expect them to, but after playing like you would expect them to against Brazil and winning 7-1, I have to think they will come into the final firing on all cylinders.

Expect a strong German team. Expect the same kind of Germany that played against Brazil.

I see Germany winning 2-0, maybe more. Because Messi is on the field, you might have to expect him to score or create a goal, so maybe it’s 3-1 to Germany. Anyway, I don’t believe Argentina will win this game.

2014 World Cup goes to Germany.

World Cup 2014 semifinals predictions

I only missed one game in the quarterfinals. I saw Belgium beating Argentina. I still think Belgium should have won that game.

That kid from the Simpsons did a great job of coming in for the PKs in the Holland v. Costa Rica game (is it just me or does Tim Krul look just like Nelson Muntz?).

That kid from the Simpsons did a great job of coming in for the PKs in the Holland v. Costa Rica game (is it just me or does Tim Krul look just like Nelson Muntz?).

But I was correct about the Brazil v. Colombia game – don’t miss it! The ref has deservedly received a lot of criticism for not pulling cards in the first half and letting so many poor tackles go, but I really enjoyed watching this game. It was wide open and just a lot of fun. That’s tough on Neymar to have such a bad injury and miss the rest of the tournament, but the reports so far are that he will make a full recovery, and we should all be glad about that. Neymar is a young kid with amazing skill, and whether you’re a fan or not, it would be tragic to see all that promise come to an end because of a poor challenge.

So here are my semifinal predictions:

Germany v. Brazil (7/8 4 p.m. est)

Neymar is injured and Thiago Silva is suspended from the game based on two yellow cards. Brazil has found a way through so far, and maybe the momentum gained from playing the World Cup at home is all it takes to push Brazil through to the final.

I don’t think so.

In my initial bracket I had Brazil going out in the Round of 16. I didn’t see them getting past Chile because, I think, Brazil have played poorly. To get past Chile, Brazil had to take it to penalty kicks, and there, all bets are off. Anything can happen in a PK shootout, and what happened in that PK shootout was Julio Ceasar came off his line and blocked a shot.

I expected Brazil to beat Colombia because Colombia had not had a rough path to the quarterfinals.

Now Brazil will play the toughest opponent they’ve faced so far, and they’ll do it without their goal scorer Neymar and their captain Silva.

Even with Neymar and Silva, I would not expect Brazil to advance past Germany.

Germany have been good throughout the World Cup. They haven’t been great in most of their matches, but they have been steady and composed. They have done enough.

Expect Germany to have a stellar performance.

The Germans took third place in 2006 and 2010. Do not expect them to settle for playing for third place again. This is a very, very good team. They will score goals. They will defend like a solid wall.

It will be a good game (we’re talking about the semifinals of the World Cup). Brazil and Germany play very different styles of soccer, and it will be fun to watch the disciplined Germans against the creative Brazilians, but ultimately I see Germany going on to the final and Brazil playing Argentina for third place.

Holland vs. Argentina (7/9 4 p.m. est)

The other semifinal match is just like the first. The disciplined Dutch against the creative South Americans. But you saw this match up when the Netherlands played Costa Rica. The Costa Ricans never had anything in the game. Possession, shots – it all went to the Dutch.

Granted, Costa Rica defended well and played Holland to a draw and the game had to be decided by penalty kicks, but you’ve got to believe with three shots off the post and one curling off a defender the Dutch were unlucky not to finish that game in regulation time.

You also saw a preview of this match when Argentina played Belgium. Argentina bested Belgium by a goal, but Belgium was never out of the game.

The Netherlands must finish better than they have been. They won’t be able to waste opportunities, and a one-goal advantage will never be enough until the referee blows the final whistle because Messi is always a threat.

But I predicted a Germany-Netherlands final for World Cup 2014, and I have seen nothing to make me back off of that.

The Americas have been very good in this World Cup. Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, the United States – all underdog nations that performed better than expected and went father than expected.

Brazil and Argentina, though certainly not underdogs, went farther than I thought they would go. I never felt that Brazil was playing up to their level of talent, but they have managed to find a way through at each point, and that’s all that matters. Argentina must be grateful for Messi.

But I fully expect to see a European final again this year.

Quarterfinal predictions

Well, that Round of 16 shot holes all through my bracket!

I was wrong with Brazil, Colombia and Belgium. I should have just picked group winners to advance and I’d have been fine (for the first time ever, all 8 group winners advanced).

Here’s what I got wrong: Brazil v. Chile (I had Chile to win); Colombia v. Uruguay (I had Uruguay to win); and USA v. Belgium (I had the United States advancing).

I conceded up front that Brazil and Colombia could very well win their games. It was tough to know how Uruguay would react without Suarez (and I didn’t expect them to crumble). Chile took Brazil to PKs, so I was justified in thinking they might go, but Julio Ceasar was great (and got away with coming off his line during the PK shootout).

The other one I got wrong was the USA v. Belgium game, and let’s be honest, I couldn’t be an Alexi Lalas and go against my country. Besides, I really did think we would beat Belgium, even though I acknowledged that they are an outstandingly talented team.

Here are my predictions for the Quarter Finals:

France v. Germany (7/4 at noon est):

France have been great through the World Cup. They’ve scored a lot of goals and done really well. If you’re a French supporter, you have every reason to have belief and be excited.

Germany advance.

Brazil v. Colombia (7/4 at 4 p.m. est):

You don’t want to miss this game! This should be great. Colombia are riding a wave of confidence and storybook success. Can they do it? Can they make it to the final? Probably not. They’ve played Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan and Uruguay. If the USMNT had this path, we’d be in the quarter finals, too.

Brazil, meanwhile, should be the absolute favorites for this World Cup. They are unquestionably one of the top footballing nations in the world, consistently producing some of the greatest players every generation. And this team in particular has huge skill. But something about Brazil just doesn’t feel right to me. They don’t seem to be connecting the way they should be. Brazil will go out before the final, and Colombia may do it to them. It will be a good, close game. Ultimately, I think Brazil advances, but they have been so unconvincing in all their previous matches that it’s possible for a big upset.

Argentina v. Belgium (7/5 at noon):

Argentina have Messi, but the question I’ve been asking through this whole World Cup is whether or not Messi is enough. Sergio Aguero, who is a top goal scorer for Manchester City, has been suffering through injuries and hasn’t been there for Argentina.

As I said before the Ro16 game against the US, Belgium has immense talent. Barring unforeseen events over the next four years, I see Belgium winning the next World Cup in Russia. These guys are a young and hugely talented team. I thought their youth would be a disadvantage against the US and we could get through them, but the fact is the Belgians had great composure and saw that game through to the end. Late substitutions with fresh legs in extra time (Rom Lukaku) helped, but the few threats the US offered were dealt with. Can Kompany stop Messi? Maybe not. But can Messi score enough to compensate for Belgium’s offense that is sure to hit the back of the net?

This will be a good game. I give it to Belgium.

Netherlands v. Costa Rica (7/5 at 4 p.m.):

Costa Rica came out tops from the Group of Champions. They helped to send Italy and England home. Then they bested Greece in the Ro16. But let’s be honest about it. Italy weren’t all that great. England were awful. And Costa Rica beat Uruguay before Suarez returned. And Greece in the R016? I didn’t think Greece should have made it to the Round of 16 anyway.

Netherlands looked shaky against Mexico, and it came down to a controversial call at the end of the game for the Dutch to get a PK and win. Nevertheless, Holland came into this World Cup with something to prove after losing to Spain in the finals four years ago, and they are proving it. 5-1 v. Spain. 3-2 v. Australia. 2-0 v. Chile. 2-1 v. Mexico.

I like Costa Rica and have enjoyed watching them play, but I suspect the composure of the Dutch will overcome.

Look for Netherlands to advance.

While my bracket has been chipped away here and there, I have said all along this goes to Germany and the Netherlands in the final. I’ve picked the Netherlands to win it, but I’m starting to lean toward Germany. The Dutch were shaky against Mexico. They lacked pace and purpose for much of the game.

But through the World Cup, with a lot of games in a few days, top teams are going to have bad games. The best teams are the ones that win bad games in the knockout stages. The Netherlands did that.

I still see Germany and Holland at the end with an Oranje victory.

US Ro16 loss is hearbreaker, but we’ll be back

The World Cup 2014 Round of 16 was the most heartbreaking thing since the World Cup 2010 Round of 16 when Ghana, in extra time, knocked the US out of the World Cup.

It was a tough game to watch on Tuesday.

Fabian Johnson went out early, forcing Klinsmann to use an early substitution. In a 120-minute game, an inability to get fresh legs on the field when your opponent does can hurt very badly.

Then there was Wondolowski’s missed opportunity.

Extra time.

De Bruyne’s goal. Rom Lukaku’s goal. It was all so bad. I was gutted. Devastated. When I chanted, “I believe that we will win!” I was serious. I did believe.

When I grow up I want to be just like Kyle Beckerman. I've already stopped washing my hair.

When I grow up I want to be just like Kyle Beckerman. I’ve already stopped washing my hair.

But then Julian Green scored one to bring us back! And everything was USA momentum! The entire game shifted as the US started to press hard. I’ve seen countless late equalizers. And if you’re Jurgen Klinsmann would you want to go to PKs against Belgium with Tim Howard having the kind of day he was having?

Of course you would!

When the fourth official held up his sign signaling 1 minute of stoppage time, Klinsmann and I both had the same reaction.

Klinsmann on the sideline could be clearly heard on ESPN all across America: “One minute? Why is one fucking minute?”

He was right, too. You’d had substitutions and injuries and we should have had a minimum of three minutes of stoppage time at the end of the second extra time. Maybe we should have had five minutes.

But it was one minute and that minute went by pretty fast.

In my alternate reality we got three minutes, scored the equalizer and Tim Howard blocked every single Belgian PK. Except Lukaku’s. In my alternate reality, Lukaku shot his over the post.

But in the real world, we beat our way out of the Group of Death and it took everything we had to do it. Did you see Clint Dempsey in the Belgium game? He looked like me after I’ve been playing for 15 minutes – exhausted. Clint didn’t have much in it.

Tim Howard had an amazing game, but Tim Howard is an amazing keeper. It’s common for him to make unbelievable saves. It’s just not common for him to have to make so many in one game.

There were other promising things you can take away from the game against Belgium: DeAndre Yedlin was great. If we’d had anybody who could have connected with his crosses we’d have won that game. People keep talking about Julian Green being the future of US soccer – and he may be – but I’d say look to Yedlin. There’s a kid who has the skill to take us far.

And hats off to Kyle Beckerman who was outstanding in this World Cup. I will forever be a Beckerman fan, and I get chills thinking about what a dream come true this was for him.

I have been a fan of Graham Zusi for a long time, and I think he did very well.

Jermaine Jones was also outstanding. DaMarcus Beasley is always, always, always solid, but in the game against Belgium he was extra special. He and Tim Howard both deserved to be rewarded with a win in that game.

Our back four have taken a lot of criticism. Geoff Cameron with the whiffed ball against Portugal, and Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and even Beasley for allowing Belgium to take so many shots and force Howard to make so many saves.

I’ll say this about our defense: They had a good tournament. They’re not as good as some of the teams they played against, and they were forced to work very, very hard because we did not possess the ball. It’s tough playing on a defense that is constantly on its heels and getting battered. You clear the ball away and look up and it’s coming right back at you.

I know it’s hard – I’ve played in those defenses many times.

You can blame the midfield for not possessing, but the midfield is too deep because they have to come back to help the defense.

The fact is, we weren’t good enough. Germany and Belgium were both better teams. We played them hard and created chances and frustrated them, but we just simply weren’t as good as they were.


I’m bullish on the USA.

There’s a lot of talk about why the US doesn’t do well internationally in soccer. The book Soccernomics has a great section about this and, I think, is dead on right. If you’re interested, check that out.

Ultimately, though, I think you’ve got to believe that it’s coming.

I believe that we will win.

In qualifying for the World Cup, we were the best among the CONCACAF teams, winning our group with room to spare.

It may take another four years or eight years, but soccer players in America are getting better. Right now we are developing top players, and with the MLS continuing to grow, they are getting more opportunities to play at a high level. I think we’ve passed the time when top American players had to look overseas for opportunities.

Yedlin plays for the Sounders. Zusi and Besler both play for Sporting Kansas City. Omar Gonzalez is at LA Galaxy. Beckerman is at Real Salt Lake. Brad Davis is at the Houston Dynamo. Wondo is at the Earthquakes.

These MLS guys played against some of the best players in the world the past couple of weeks. They took Belgium to extra time, held Germany to a single goal, tied a game with Portugal that we should have won and beat an African powerhouse that we have never beaten before.

For the past five Gold Cups, the USMNT has either won or come in second.

I’m a fan of the USMNT. I watch most all of their games – friendlies and CONCACAF and qualifiers. I love the USMNT, and I think Klinsmann (whose contract takes him through the next World Cup) is doing great things with this team.

Our time will come.


I believe

I believe that

I believe that we

I believe that we will win!

Round of 16 prognostications

We’re done with the group stages in World Cup 2014, and I’m offering my observations and predictions for the Round of 16.

I did okay in my predictions for the group stages of World Cup 2014.

Georgios Samaras celebrates screwing up my bracket by scoring a late PK against Ivory Coast to send Greece (or Grease, as a friend of mine saw it on the closed captioning).

Georgios Samaras celebrates screwing up my bracket by scoring a late PK against Ivory Coast to send Greece (or Grease, as a friend of mine saw it on the closed captioning).

I made my predictions after every team had played one game in the group stages, and so my predictions were based in part on the standings when the first games were over and on performances in those first games.

I’m not suggesting I’m 13 for 16 before the World Cup started. Prior to the World Cup I thought surely Spain would do better. I thought England and Italy would do better. I didn’t see those teams going out at the group stages until they’d all played their first game.

I got three teams wrong – I predicted Ivory Coast would advance out of Group C and Greece scored a late goal to prove me wrong. That was the one I got really wrong. The other two I only sort of got wrong because I didn’t care enough to think about it. Groups F and H were so exceedingly dull I couldn’t even focus long enough to guess what team would come out second.

Obviously Argentina came out of Group F on top and likewise I never doubted that Belgium would win Group H. I had Russia coming out of Group H in second place and Iran coming out of Group F. Instead, it’s Nigeria coming out of Group F and Algeria coming out of Group H.

Good to both of those African teams. At the start of the World Cup I’d have been more likely to put money on Ivory Coast and Ghana coming out of group, but it’s pretty much meaningless. I don’t see any way that either Nigeria or Algeria move on to the Quarter Finals. Russia and Iran served as placeholders for me, and they’ve just simply been replaced by new placeholders.

Here’s where I see the Round of 16 going:

Brazil v. Chile (Sat. 6/28 noon est): Brazil has been unconvincing and Chile has been amazing. Obviously, the good money is on Brazil moving forward. It’s a home crowd. Even by Brazil’s lofty standards they’ve got a decent side. It’s Brazil. However, I think Chile has momentum and I think for all the quality Brazil have when faced with a tough opponent they haven’t been stellar. Of the Ro16 games, I think this is one of two not to miss. I pick Chile to advance, and I’ll concede now the likelihood that I’m wrong.

Colombia v. Uruguay (Sat. 6/28 4 p.m. est): Luis Suarez did himself and his team a great dishonor with that bite of Italian he took on Wednesday. FIFA’s ban is too easy, in my opinion, but if you’re Uruguay it’s got to feel like a kick in the gut. I originally had Uruguay advancing out of the Ro16, and I’ll stick with that. Colombia are good, but Uruguay have more than Suarez. But I also had Uruguay advancing out of the Quarter Finals (where they will face winner of Chile v. Brazil), and I do not now see that happening. Suarez can score goals, but he’s a liability. I also won’t be terribly surprised if Colombia upset Uruguay. This game should be entertaining. And if you are Colombian, you have every reason to have belief in your team.

Netherlands v. Mexico (Sun. 6/29 noon est): Mexico have been great. You really have to feel good for them and for their manager that they’ve overcome a lot of the troubles they were having through qualifications. But I don’t see any way that they stop Netherlands from winning. Netherlands go through, and if I’m wrong I’ll be shocked.

Costa Rica v. Ivory Coast (oops!) Greece (Sun. 6/29 4 p.m. est): I didn’t see Greece getting this far and I don’t see them going farther. Costa Rica advances to Quarter Finals, and good for them.

France v. Iran (meh) Nigeria (Mon. 6/30 noon est): France was so good in its first two matches. The French drew nil-nil against Ecuador in a game they did not have to win. I don’t view Nigeria getting past a French team that’s been playing very well. France moves on.

Germany v. Russia (meh) Algeria (Mon. 6/30 4 p.m. est): Algeria rightfully celebrate coming out of group, but I don’t see any way that this game ends well for them. If Germany score four or five goals I won’t be surprised. Germany advances.

Argentina v. Switzerland (Tues. 7/1 noon est): Obviously Messi and Argentina are the favorites here, but Argentina had a weak, weak group and seemed to struggle to get through. Don’t be surprised if there’s a Swiss upset here, but I’ll stick with my original prediction of Argentina moving on. Messi will score goals, and I believe the Swiss defense has proved its ability to allow goals to be scored.

Belgium v. USA (Tues. 7/1 4 p.m. est): Though my bracket shows the United States making it to the semi-finals, I will confess that I had serious doubts about us getting out of group. Those doubts were there when I first saw our draw and those doubts were there when Portugal got a late equalizer in our second game.

But I have a lot of belief in what Klinsmann is doing with this team. I think the evidence is there – he’s making thoughtful substitutions, thoughtful changes from one game to the next. The US is not going to the World Cup with one starting XI but with several starting XIs based on who we play. Tim Howard is unreal and he’s having an amazing tournament. Dempsey is maybe the best player the United States has every put on a soccer pitch. I’m a huge fan of Zusi and Jermaine Jones and Matt Besler. DeMarcus Beasley is just consistently good. Fabian Johnson has done well. Beckerman is our unsung hero. At some point, Michael Bradley has got to start playing to his ability. He was better against Portugal and Germany, but I still don’t think Americans who have never watched him before this World Cup have seen how good he is.

Belgium, pound for pound, is as talented as any team in the World Cup. The players on the Belgium team range from the very good to the absolute superstar. Maybe Fellaini is the weakest field player on the team. Vermaelen, van Buyten, Vertonghen, Kompany, Dembele, Witsel, Mertens, Hazard, Chadli, de Bruyne, Januzaj, Mirallas, Lukaku. Good Lord! If you follow European soccer, these names are all well known to you. Mertens, de Bruyne, Mirallas and Januzaj are majestic soccer players, and Hazard, I believe, is a future winner of the Ballon d’Or (the prize that Messi and Ronaldo vie for year after year). Eden Hazard is wonderful to watch and I believe the best player currently in the English Premier League.

I will already pick Belgium to win the World Cup in Russia in four years.

But Belgium this year is a young team. I literally, no joke and no hyperbole, have shirts hanging in my closet that are older than a fair number of the guys on the Belgium team. Most of them are between 22 and 26 years old. If it weren’t for 36-year-old Van Buyten I think Vincent Kompany would be the oldest guy in the squad at 28.

Experience matters. Belgium hasn’t been in the World Cup since 2002. Most of these guys weren’t even teenagers the last time their country played in the World Cup.

If Belgium win against the USMNT no one will be too surprised. They were the fifth favorite team coming into the World Cup.

But Belgium didn’t have a tough group. The US has got to be coming into the Ro16 with a healthy confidence. We escaped the Group of Death. Through genius leadership from Klinsmann and strength and determination and grit the US got out of the Group of Death. But maybe it was more than that. Maybe American soccer is reaching a level where we can talk about the skill of the players and not just grit and determination.

I mean, Nani’s goal came down to a poor clearance from Cameron. Did Portugal out-play the US? Were they better? Jermaine Jones’ and Dempsey’s goals were goals we made happen. Nani’s goal was a mistake combined with some luck.

Mueller’s goal, too, doesn’t suggest a weak US side. Tim Howard cleared the ball, it fell to Mueller. Now – nothing away from Mueller – what a shot! But still, did the Germans really do us up? Zusi had a great shot. Bradley, too. Dempsey nearly scored. A few inches, and that US v. Germany game could have ended much differently.

We earned our way out of group, and though there were some nail biting moments, you’ve got to think maybe we’re a better side than what we get credit for.

Belgium, meanwhile, came out of an easy group with narrow 1-goal victories.

A year ago Belgium beat the US team 4-2. Michael Bradley didn’t play for the US in that game, but Hazard wasn’t playing for Belgium, either. Particularly on the US side, there were folks on that roster who aren’t even in our 23 in Brazil.

Outside of Brazil v. Chile, I think this will be the best game of the Ro16. Though Belgium has more talent, I think the US matches that with determination and strength. Maybe even some skill of our own. I pick the USMNT to advance, but it will be almost as tough as beating Germany. Which we didn’t do.

I’m excited for Tuesday’s game. I think it will be a great match. And, I believe that we will win.