My Soccer Experiment (And World Cup Predictions)

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Soccer experiment and predictions

The World Cup starts tomorrow, and I’ve come prepared to make some predictions. But first, a little about me.

I am Bryson Kearl, and I am a lifelong American sports enthusiast. I grew up believing in the holy trinity of American sports: Basketball, football, and baseball. Slowly, over the decades, I have broken free of my American sports indoctrination. I’ve gone from making fun of soccer, to ignoring soccer, to watching it only during the World Cup, to secretly watching it on the weekends, to soccer junky (present day).

Since 2010, I have undergone a soccer experiment. I was curious, after enjoying the 2010 World Cup at an unhealthy level, just how much I could love the game. So I decided to jump headfirst into my support of US Soccer (both men’s and women’s) and Tottenham Hotspur (of the British Premier League). I also decided to keep my eye on MLS (specifically the local team: Real Salt Lake), the Champions League, and European soccer in general.

During that time, I have gone through a radical transformation. My devotion for soccer has all but annihilated my baseball fandom, and it has minimized my (American) football and basketball fandom (if only just a little). It has also shuffled tennis and golf to the side. And all other fringe sports have all but disappeared from my view. My soccer fandom has, in some small ways, ostracized me from other American sports fans. And it has also elicited approximately 859 “Really, soccer?” comments from my wife.

And it has all totally been worth it. The last four years of fandom has had its highlights (Wabby Wambach, Dos a Cero, and Gareth Bale) and it’s lowlights (Japan, 2012 Gold Cup, and Gareth Bale). Now, on the eve of the World Cup, my first real World Cup as a convert, I find that my excitement is beyond anything I have ever experienced anywhere else in sports. I’ve been ready to pop for months now (MONTHS).

After all, there’s an NBA Finals and Super Bowl every year. This, the greatest of all tournaments in the world, comes only once in four. I’ve had four years to get ready for this. Four years to pay close attention to the US team (USMNT), watching every match, analyzing every move, and getting to know every player.

In the process, I’ve also learned a lot about the teams and players from all over the world, and I now know way more about the English team than I’ll ever need to (since they’re not going to get very far in this tournament). I’ve gotten to the point where I probably know too much (since tournaments always yield surprises), and yet I’m fully aware that four years isn’t long enough to know nearly enough. With all that said, here are my predictions.

Predictions

Group A (Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia, and Mexico)
Nothing to see here, folks. Brazil will win every game, and Mexico will do what Mexico has done in recent years (advance without deserving to). Man, I hate El Tri.
Advancing: Brazil and Mexico

Group B (Australia, Chile, Netherlands, and Spain)
Poor Australia. They really don’t have a chance. Against anyone in this group. We should all feel sorry for Australia. But you know who we should feel even worse for? The Dutch. They got all the way to the final against Spain in 2010, and their reward is to play the Spanish again in the first game of this tournament (first time this has ever happened). The Netherlands will be the underdogs in that match, and also against Chile and Arturo Vidal. Ouch.
Advancing: Spain and Chile

Group C (Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, and Japan)
If anyone tells you they know who is going to win this group, they are either 1) Lying to you, or 2) They’re very wealthy and corrupt (wink, wink). The truth is, on paper, these teams are all about pretty level. Ivory Coast and Colombia have a history of underachieving, and Japan and Greece have a history of overachieving. Assuming they all do that again, they should meet right in the middle together. Colombia would’ve been a safe bet to win the group, but they lost their star Radamel Falcoa for the World Cup. Now, they’re only a safe-ish bet.
Advancing: Colombia and Ivory Coast

Group D (Costa Rica, England, Italy, and Uruguay)
Three previous winners of the World Cup: Italy, Uruguay, and England. Oh, England. Why I chose to make you my other team I’ll never understand. You’re never as good as you think you are, and what’s worse, you’re condescending to everyone else. But like Downton Abbey, I just can’t quit you. You’re young and exciting this World Cup (compared to previous iterations, at least), but it won’t be enough. Blimey.
Advancing: Uruguay and Italy

(Editor’s note: When asked to mention Cost Rica, Bryson started laughing.)

Group E (Ecuador, France, Honduras, and Switzerland)
Switzerland is overrated, Ecuador and Honduras are underrated, and France is properly rated. France is too good (even without Ribery) to not advance out of this group, and while I like Honduras, I don’t think like them enough to think they’ll advance. To clarify, I don’t like like Honduras. I kind of hate the team, actually, but I think they’re good. I like them in that I think they’re underrated. Wait — I already said that. Wow, this section really got away from me.
Advancing: France and Ecuador

Group F (Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, and Nigeria)
If you haven’t noticed yet, I like the South American team’s odds. And here, Argentina is faced with the easiest group they could possibly imagine. I think this bodes very well for their chances in the later rounds, since they won’t even have to break a sweat until a couple weeks into the tournament. Oh, and Lionel Messi is pretty good at soccer. Let’s put a pin in this for now.
Advancing: Argentina and Bosnia and “Is this second part really necessary?” Herzegovina

Group G (Germany, Ghana, Portugal, and USA! USA! USA!)
Here we are. The group of death. The group that may literally cause my death. If you live in America, and care about soccer, you no doubt are well aware that the USMNT is an underdog to get out of Group G. You know that Germany is all but a given to win the group. You know that Ronaldo is at the peak of his powers, and will likely single-handily get his team to the knockout round. And you know that Ghana is really good, and USMNT’s kryptonite.

Personally, I had come to grips with the fact that we weren’t going to the knockout round. But then ESPN had to air the wonderful 30 for 30 series “Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil” documentary, forcing me to love our roster on a whole new level. And then I came across this. And now I’m having a crisis of faith. Do I believe? Should I believe? Wait — do they need me to believe? I’m not going to Brazil. I won’t be in the stands, singing along with my fellow Outlaw members. They won’t hear me muttering “no, no, no” to myself in a dimly lit room. They don’t even know I exist. … And that’s why … regretfully … I must now write that …
Advancing: Germany and Portugal (May the soccer gods have mercy on my soul)

Group H (Algeria, Belgium, Russia, and South Korea)
Of all the hundreds of articles and videos I have read preparing for the World Cup (or rather, satiating my addiction), none was more enjoyable to read than this one about Belgium by Sam Knight. Belgium is simply fascinating to me. It’s as if their country’s identity is being forged by this team’s World Cup performance (or at least could be). What’s more, how did such a small country with relatively little soccer history produce so many great players? Well, I guess the article I just referenced covers all that. Go read it. More than any other team, Belgium should get all neutral party support, methinks. Also, they’re certain to advance from this lackluster group.
Advancing: Belgium and Russia

Lionel Messi (L), Bruno Alves (R)

Rapid Fire Knockout Rounds Predictions
I plan to do this in detail once the actual knockout bracket is set, but for now, here’s this …

Round of 16
Brazil over Chile
Colombia over Italy
France over Bosnia, etc.
Germany over Russia
Spain over Mexico
Uruguay over Ivory Coast
Argentina over Ecuador
Belgium over USA (Screw it, I changed my my mind, and I BELIEVE! Sort of.)

Quarterfinals
Brazil over Italy
Germany over France
Spain over Uruguay
Argentina over Belgium

Semifinals
Let’s pause a minute to reflect on the fact that Brazil has not lost a competitive game (tournament or World Cup qualifier) at home since 1975 DID YOU HEAR THAT?? That’s almost 40 years ago! Anyway …
Germany over Brazil
Argentina over Spain

Final
Argentina over Germany

MESSI!!! Remember, I get a mulligan after the group stage. (And then another in the next round, and then again in the next round, and again, and again …) Happy World Cup, everyone!

***
Bryson Kearl wrote this article, but you already knew this.

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