Orange in the Oven will be on-the-ground in Brazil and reporting on the action as our own Leopold Ponce hops a flight there on June 14th. Leo will be bringing us a Brazil digest while following the United States Men’s National Team around the country, so keep your eyes out for that. In anticipation of the start of the tournament, we bring you our mini-Preview to be followed soon by our group-by-group, round-by-round predictions.
Players to Watch
I always have my eye on breakthrough stars in the World Cup. Everybody knows the Arjen Robben’s and Cristiano Ronaldo’s of the tournament. Some of the guys you might not know who could make a name for themselves this year:
Son Heung-Min – The Korean forward/attacking midfielder made the move to Bayer Leverkusen this season from Hamburger SV and scored 10 goals in 31 appearances. At 21 years old, he has already proved himself as a real talent to keep an eye on.
Mateo Kovacic – 19-year old Croatian midfielder who made the move from Dinamo Zagreb to Inter Milan this year and was given the number 10 shirt immediately. Immensely talented player who could show well at the World Cup.
Miralem Pjanic – 24 year old forward who already has 48 CAPs and 8 goals for Bosnia and Herzegovina and a became a featured part of the Roma offense this season.
William Carvalho – While everyone will focus on Cristiano Ronaldo, Sporting Lisbon’s young Angolan born Portuguese midfielder has been making a name for himself this season. The defensive midfielder made his international debut in the playoff against Sweden and is attracting the attention of the big European clubs.
Oscar Boniek Garcia- If he performs well enough, his time donning orange will soon be coming to a close.
Miroslav Klose- He’s looking to become the player with the most World Cup goals ever. He’s only one shy of tying Brazil’s Ronaldo record. We may have a new leading goalscorer by the end of the tournament.
Michael Bradley- Can an MLS player that left Europe in his prime still perform at a “European” level? He can prove to the World that Major League Soccer is no longer just a retirement league.
Players Who Will Flop
Cristiano Ronaldo – While Ronaldo has overcome the reputation he gained early in his career of failing at the international level, carrying the hopes of a nation while nursing an injury amid the travel and weather fluctuations of Brazil will prove to be too much for the player of the year.
Wayne Rooney – Rooney has generally been poor this season, that trend will continue in the World Cup.
Lionel Messi – Will succumb to the pressure once again.
Lionel Messi- He hasn’t performed in the past and tends to give out less than stellar performances for Argentina when pressure is on.
Neymar- Brazil is the favorite to win it all because they’re hosting. However, Neymar is under too much pressure to perform. He’s almost seen as the next Ronaldinho and that is an almost impossible name to live up to.
Didier Drogba- Drogba doesn’t have the support that’s required of him to perform. He will try his best but just like last World Cup, when he was younger and better, he will disappoint.
Teams That Will Flop
Netherlands – The Dutch will continue their tradition of under performing in the World Cup. Group B is a more difficult group than people give it credit for. Spain, of course, is dominant. Australia is no pushover and Chile is good enough to beat the Netherlands to 2nd place and will do so.
England – A tough group with Uruguay, Italy and England. This English squad is simply not good enough to compete with Italy and Uruguay and will get knocked out at the group stage.
Portugal – The Portuguese are going out in the first round at the expense of the United States.
Argentina- They’re always favorites to make a splash and rarely perform. This year with Messi in less-than-stellar form, I don’t see anything changing.
Spain- They’re the defending champions but their key players are much older. They’re semi-finalists on a good day.
Portugal- They’re practically Ronaldo and ten other random players. They’re a decent team, but Ronaldo is going to play after recovering from an injury. He won’t be in his best form, and without him Portugal isn’t as dangerous as they would like to think.
World Cup Finalists
Brazil beats Spain in the World Cup in front of their home crowd.
Germany and Brazil, one of them is the host and favorites, and the other team is finally the right age and seems like the perfect mix of experience and youth.
Dark Horse Teams
Japan is both a fun team to watch as well as a team that has the ability to get to the quarterfinals in this tournament. Keisuke Honda will be one of the stars of the tournament, but Japan is loaded with talent. They will finish 2nd in the group and will upset Italy in the 2nd round.
It is tough to call Belgium a dark horse, but this is a team that could very well run all the way to the semi-finals. They are loaded with talent, including Chelsea FC’s dynamic midfielder, Eden Hazard.
United States just because making out of the group stage will build their confidence enough to take on any opponent. Also, why not cheer on for a team that has nothing to lose but everything to gain?
Teams Not Called USA that We Will Be Watching
Those who know me know that I have a strong connection to Korea, follow K-League and generally stay on top of what the Taeguk Warriors are doing. This year, Korea has arguably more individual talent than any prior Korean team. However, they also have larger gaps and play much less as a team than in the past. For this reason, they are destined to get knocked out in the Group Stage. I will also have an eye on Boniek Garcia and Honduras.
Leo: The host country is always a treat due to the atmosphere, and Brazil being a great technical team only makes it that much more exciting. However, I’m going to go with Honduras because they have our very own Oscar Boniek Garcia. These games can dictate whether he stays a Dynamo or moves on to better things. Honduras will also be looking for their first ever victory in the World Cup. I expect three very hard fought games.
How the USA Will Fare
Hal: I firmly believe that the US will finish 2nd in the group stage. I do not see them getting past Belgium in the 2nd round, however.
Leo: If the United States makes it past the group stage, I believe they’re favorites to make it to the quarterfinals and then anything can happen. I don’t see them making it past that stage but with some luck, you never know.
American Player of the Tournament
Julian Green Jozy Altidore – If Green sees a minute of playing time in the World Cup, I’ll be shocked. Altidore, on the other hand, looked to rapidly be regaining form and confidence in the warm up matches prior to heading to Brazil. I see him having a good tournament and resurrecting his career in Europe as a result.
Leo: Michael Bradley- His form didn’t take a dip by going coming to Major League Soccer, and may actually be in better form now than before. That’s say a lot considering he was considered one of the best in the team prior to his move.
Stay tuned for our round-by-round projections.