Soccer

TSN's soccer panel reveals its group stage World Cup picks

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TSN.ca Staff
6/12/2014 2:31:15 AM
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With the 2014 FIFA World Cup kicking off Thursday in Brazil, TSN.ca's panel of experts is here to provide you with sage advice, or at least best guesses.

We asked TSN's team of soccer analysts to provide their picks for the group stage. Read on to find out who is in contention and who might be looking at an early exit.

The panel consists of TSN Soccer Analysts Jason deVos, Luke Wileman and Kristian Jack, TSN Radio 1050 Toronto host Gareth Wheeler, TSN Radio 690 Montreal's Noel Butler and TSN.ca soccer editors Shane McNeil and Ken Rodney.

Group A: 1. Brazil, 2. Croatia 3. Cameroon, 4. Mexico.

No one seems to have much doubt that the hosts are advancing to the second round and they have been chosen unanimously as group winners by TSN's experts. While Neymar's training scare did sound a few alarms, it was pretty clear that Brazil was the team to back in Group A, and for several of our analysts, the team to take it all.

Second place is a bit more of a toss-up with three perennially competitive teams rounding out the group, but Croatia got solid backing from more than half the TSN team. The likes of Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric make them an offensive force and will likely provide the offence they need to make the Round of 16.

Mexico has advanced to the Round of 16 in each of the last five World Cups, but their appalling qualifying performance has them on the outside looking in. The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon have only once advanced out of the group stage but still got some second-place consideration.

Picks - deVos: Brazil, Croatia. Jack: Brazil, Mexico. Wileman: Brazil, Cameroon. Wheeler: Brazil, Croatia. Butler: Brazil, Croatia. McNeil: Brazil, Croatia. Rodney: Brazil, Croatia.

Group B: 1. Spain, 2. Netherlands, 3. Chile, 4. Australia.

One of the more stacked groups in the competition, Group B was a divisive force amongst the TSN soccer team with the two reigning finalists pulling first- and second-place votes away from one another. The Champs, though, did prevail, and Spain is the consensus pick to top the group. They've won three straight tournaments dating back to Euro 2008 and there's not much to suggest they aren't going to be competitive in Brazil.

Don't underestimate the importance of group play here, because whoever finishes second will in all likelihood draw Brazil in the Round of 16.

While Chile was picked as a second-place finisher on more than one ballot (and first by Kristian Jack!), the Netherlands took the second spot in the group. And why not? With the likes of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, the Dutch are wired to score in droves.

The Australians will have to settle for a participation ribbon in this competition.

Picks - deVos: Spain, Chile. Jack: Chile, Netherlands. Wileman: Spain, Netherlands . Wheeler: Spain, Netherlands. Butler: Spain, Chile. McNeil: Netherlands, Spain. Rodney: Spain, Netherlands.

Group C: 1. Ivory Coast, 2. Colombia, 3. Japan, 4. Greece.

This is another balanced group that prompted a wide variety of scenarios from our analysts.

In the end, though, two teams emerged well ahead as the cream of the group. Unfortunately, those two teams wound up in a dead heat in terms of votes received. We're giving Ivory Coast the nod by virtue of having more first-place votes, so watch out for Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and the rest of the Elephants to step up amid fierce competition.

Colombia was the easy choice for second place and may well have been the favourite here if Radamel Falcao were fit enough to play. We still like their chances to advance and make a serious run at topping the group.

Japan's Samurai seem to succeed at the World Cup every other tournament (they made the Round of 16 in South Africa), but they are up against some serious competition in this group that doesn't really have a minnow. Greece is a team that can usually lull its way into the playoffs with staunch defence, but they were unable to convince our analysts that they will silence Colombia or the Ivorians.

Picks - deVos: Colombia, Ivory Coast. Jack: Colombia, Japan. Wileman: Colombia, Ivory Coast. Wheeler: Ivory Coast, Colombia. Butler: Ivory Coast, Colombia. McNeil: Ivory Coast, Greece. Rodney: Ivory Coast, Colombia.

Group D: 1. Uruguay, 2. Italy, 3. England, 4. Costa Rica.

Yes, we know, you probably disagree.

As you can see below, the vote was razor thin with little wiggle room between the reigning the perennial picks from England and Italy and the reigning bronze medalists from Uruguay.

Here's the logic: Luis Suarez is not 100 per cent, but he is still probably the breakout player of the group. The Uruguayans will be buoyed by the fact that they won the World Cup last time it was held in Brazil and were the top-ranked team in the group at the time of the draw. They received the most first-place votes of any team in the group from our panel.

The margin between England and Italy is harder to discern. All our analysts conceded that both have the talent to go through but both are facing obstacles. England has the tougher games to start their group play, while Italy's travel schedule works against them.

There's no easy way to pick this group, since it's one of several Groups of Death in this competition. If you don't like our picks, change them. The vote was so split in this group that it's hard to call this a true consensus choice.

Picks - deVos: Italy, Uruguay. Jack: Uruguay, Italy. Wileman: Italy, England. Wheeler: England, Italy. Butler: England, Italy. McNeil: Uruguay, England. Rodney: Uruguay, Italy.

Group E: 1. France, 2. Ecuador, 3. Switzerland, 4. Honduras.

In the second unanimous decision, France emerged as the clear favourite from Group E. They've alternated between sublime and ugly at each World Cup since hosting in 1998. The 2010 effort in South Africa could not have been uglier, so that leaves nothing but room for improvement. Losing Franck Ribery stings, but Les Bleus have the depth to at least top this quartet.

The race for second was tight. Ecuador's Antonio Valencia showed he's in full compete mode by getting a red in a recent friendly against England, so if he comes out and plays at the top of his game, it should propel yet another South American team into the playoffs.

The Swiss were one of the surprise teams in the top seeding pot for the 2014 draw and as such should also be considered a serious threat to advance.

No one seems to be a believer in Honduras.

Picks - deVos: France, Ecuador. Jack: France, Switzerland. Wileman: France, Ecuador. Wheeler: France, Switzerland. Butler: France, Switzerland. McNeil: France, Ecuador. Rodney: France, Ecuador.

Group F: 1. Argentina, 2. Nigeria, 3. Bosnia and Herzegovina, 4. Iran.

To the surprise of few, we're picking Lionel Messi, Kun Aguero and the rest of Argentina's potent attack to easily run this group and – like their rivals from Brazil – they're a popular pick to take the entire tournament.

Nigeria's Super Eagles are our pick to take second in the group behind some English Premier League talent in their midfield in the forms of John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses.

Some of our resident internet nerds from TSN.ca really like Bosnia and Herzegovina's chances and the team did score a heap of goals in qualifying, but Edin Dzeko and co. came up short in the vote and may have to settle for thrilling their fans simply by making their first-ever appearance.

Iran has won just one game in three previous trips to the World Cup.

Picks - deVos: Argentina, Bosnia/Herzegovina. Jack: Argentina, Nigeria. Wileman: Argentina, Nigeria. Wheeler: Argentina, Nigeria. Butler: Argentina, Nigeria. McNeil: Argentina, Bosnia/Herzegovina. Rodney: Argentina, Bosnia/Herzegovina.

Group G: 1. Germany, 2. Portugal, 3. USA, 4. Ghana.

The deepest of the groups from top to bottom, the only thing everyone could agree on was that the Germans are going through. They don't tend to leave the group stage to chance and have finished in the top eight at every World Cup since being banned from the 1950 World Cup (also in Brazil). They will get through and in all likelihood as group-winners.

Portugal gets the second-place vote here but it wasn't a unanimous decision. Cristiano Ronaldo will carry the Portuguese, the only question is: how far? He out-willed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to get his team here. Does he have it in him to carry the team deep?

The U.S. got some love as potential spoilers, so keep an eye on them. They surprised a lot of people in South Africa and Jurgen Klinsmann has been busy sowing the seeds of doubt around his team before the tournament. Is he just trying to get other teams to let their guards down?

Ghana is a strong team and would be a threat to advance in most other groups... just not this one.

Picks - deVos: Germany, Portugal. Jack: Portugal, Germany. Wileman: Germany, Portugal. Wheeler: Germany, USA. Butler: Portugal, Germany. McNeil: Germany, USA. Rodney: Germany, Portugal.

Group H: 1. Belgium, 2. Russia, 3. Korea Republic, 4. Algeria.

A chic underdog pick in this competition, Belgium is the team to beat in Group H according to everyone here at TSN. They boast a superb balance of attack and defend with some reliable and smart talent all through their line-up. How frightening is it that if teams are able to neutralize Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku that they might still see Adnan Januzaj coming off the bench?

Russia are back at the World Cup for the first time in over a decade and we like their odds to get out of the group due to their ability to score in droves. They've struggled in big tournaments since the fall of the Soviet Union, but they did manage to finish third at Euro 2008.

Korea Republic have already continued their streak of eight straight trips to the World Cup, but we believe that's where the dream ends. As for Algeria, English and American fans will be able to tell you that they are capable of causing trouble. We just don't see them as a threat to advance.

Picks - deVos: Belgium, Russia. Jack: Belgium, Russia. Wileman: Belgium, Russia. Wheeler: Belgium, Korea. Butler: Belgium, Russia. McNeil: Belgium, Russia. Rodney: Belgium, Russia.

Andrea Pirlo (Photo: Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
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