As the largest sporting event in the world is set to kick off on Thursday, June 12, CalBears.com and members of the Cal men’s soccer program are here to help guide you throughout the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament. The festivities get underway with the opening ceremonies in São Paulo at Arena Corinthians on Thursday afternoon, which precedes the opening match between host nation Brazil and Croatia.
The Brazilians, winners of five World Cups, will be gunning for number six on their home soil. Opening against a talented Croatian side will be no easy task for the Seleção, as the European outfit is littered with quality players such as Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, Shakhtar Donetsk defender Darijo Srna and Bayern Munich forward Mario Mandzukic. One would have to assume the pressure is on the Brazilians from the outset, and three points in front of their adoring fans is a must to open the tournament, and solidify themselves as the favorites in Group A.
While American fans still have a few days to wait before the United States does battle with their nemesis of World Cups past, Ghana, their neighbors to the south in Mexico are slated to begin their campaign on Friday against Cameroon. El Tri needed a playoff victory over New Zealand just to qualify for the field of 32, but now that they are in Brazil, their focus shifts to the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. Key storylines from this match are whether head coach Miguel Herrera keeps Manchester United forward Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez out of his starting XI, and how Mexico deals with talented striker Samuel Eto’o and FC Barcelona midfielder Alex Song.
Other delectable fixtures on tap for the first few days of the tournament include a rematch of the 2010 World Cup Final between defending champions Spain and the Netherlands, which airs at noon PT on Friday on ESPN, as well as a pair of European battles between England and Italy on Saturday and Germany facing off with Portugal early on Monday morning.
Fans of the United States will undoubtedly have an eye on the result between fellow group members Germany and Portugal, as they prepare for the match with Ghana. The Black Stars have eliminated the United States in successive World Cups, and figure to be another potential stumbling block for the Americans; however, the third time may be the charm. Ghana enters Monday’s fixture after dispatching fellow World Cup side South Korea 4-0 rather easily this past Monday in Miami, while the U.S. enter the tournament following a three game sweep of their Send-Off Series, most recently defeating the African champions Nigeria 2-1 on Saturday.
American striker Jozy Altidore led the red, white and blue with a brace against Nigeria, his first two goals for club or country since December of 2013. Finding the back of the net for Altidore is paramount, as he needs to be in form come Monday for the United States to have an opportunity for three points against Ghana. It remains to be seen what effect the absence of Landon Donovan will have on this run for the U.S., however, it is likely that regardless of the outcome, it will remain a discussion point for American supporters and detractors, alike. Being drawn into the “Group of Death” is a cruel fate for all four sides in Group G, which makes the opening match all the more important. Three points from the opener will go a long way in securing passage into the knockout stage.
CH: The World Cup is only 24 hours away. Anticipation and anxiety have overcome almost every soccer fan in the world as they await the best month of soccer there is. The World Cup is all I think about as I sit here at my desk, pretending to get some work done. I have my United States Jersey ready to go, and I will wear it probably every day for the next month, even when the U.S. isn’t playing. I couldn’t be more excited, yet nervous to see how the United States fares against the best in the world. I believe the World Cup is up for grabs. In my opinion, there are four favorites to win the tournament; Brazil, Spain, Germany, and Argentina. These teams have world-class talent and play entertaining soccer. However, I believe other teams have a chance to win as well. I could see England and Belgium both making a run for the title. They are both young squads with lots of flare, and I am excited to see them compete. While I believe all of those teams have a decent chance of winning, my dark horse is the United States. I have confidence in the United States, and I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN. There are some great games in the upcoming days, and I am excited to watch them all. Here is the one game I am looking forward to the most each day: Thursday: Brazil vs. Croatia Friday: Spain vs. Netherlands Saturday: England vs. Italy Sunday: Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina One Nation. One Team.
OJ:There is nothing as powerful as the World Cup. Friends of mine who never watch soccer games have been calling me to talk about how excited they are for the tournament. It goes without saying that I can barely contain myself.
This year is interesting as it's hard to pinpoint a clear favorite for the tournament. Brazil is young, Spain and Holland are old, Germany is without a clear striker, Argentina is a monster up front but weak in the back, and you never know what you're going to see from Italy or France. Because of this, I think one of the second-tier teams is going to surprise the world and take the tournament. A team like Belgium, Uruguay, Portugal, Chile, or one of the unpredictable African nations. Between the first few games, I'm most excited for the Spain and Holland matchup. After that game, I think it will become clear if we are going to see the Spain team that ran over everyone in their path to three straight major championships, or witness the beginning of the end of their "golden generation". I love the way the USA has been playing as of late. We impose our style on teams, rather than letting opponents dictate play. I think we will beat Ghana 2-1 in our first game. I would be surprised if there is a bigger team USA fan than me - so I admit to a tad bit of bias - but I think we will get out of the group. It's pretty much just a toss up to see if we will come out on top or take it easy on Germany or Portugal and settle for second in the group.
Keep an eye on: Argentina forward Lionel Messi The diminutive striker is widely known as arguably the best player in the world with his club FC Barcelona in Spain, but has yet to lead his country past the quarterfinals on the world’s largest stage. Argentinean fans have a World Cup championship in mind this time around on South American soil, and Messi will need to be the driving force for La Albiceleste if they are to raise the trophy. They kick off their tournament with Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday at the Estadio de Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.
European sides in South America A European team has never won the World Cup on South American soil. 13 European nations will be in contention this year, including 2010’s champion (Spain) and runner-up (the Netherlands), as well as world powers Germany, France, Italy, England and Portugal, amongst others, who aim to rewrite history.