As we reach the end of the Group Stages of the 2014 World Cup, half of the 32 teams who started the competition will be preparing or will have already flown home.
Spain and England are just two of the illustrious names that have fallen by the wayside at the first hurdle. While at the time of writing, the final 16 of the competition is yet to be finalised in its entirety, there are a number of teams – Holland, Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Belgium to name but five – that have already booked their place in the knockout phase.
So as the first phase of the competition draws to a close, how are our predictions for the winner and top goalscorer looking? What teams could realistically threaten and which teams have proven to be a surprise package in the tournament?
For ease of reference, in our article two weeks ago near the start of the competition, we picked Argentina to be winners, with Lionel Messi our pick for top goalscorer. We recommended using Bet365 as your bookies, and we still do. New signups will also qualify for a $100 in free Bet365 Sports bonuses.
Top performers at the World Cup so far
To be fair, relatively few teams have impressed in all of their games so far. Holland were masterly against Spain in a 5-1 win, but were far less so against a workmanlike Australia where they recorded a fortuitous 3-2 victory.
If anything, Chile have been the more consistent performers in Group B recording two excellent wins over Spain and Australia. Brazil started brightly against Croatia but failed to live up to expectations against Brazil.
The Germans also started well with a 4-0 rout of Portugal but were held to a 2-2 draw by a lively Ghana side. Argentina, though recording wins in both their games, have also been far from impressive at times and can count themselves somewhat fortunate to be on six points.
Colombia look resilient, Costa Rica have shocked everyone by locking down one of the qualification spots in Group D ahead of England, Italy and Uruguay while Belgium were hardly all-conquering in their two narrow wins over Russia and Algeria.
In the Group G, the United States have been impressive, with only a last gasp equaliser from Portugal denying them a place in the next round after two games. It will be interesting to see how the game between the USA and Germany unfolds, with USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann a former Germany star and both teams needing just a point to reach the knockout phase.
Arguably the best team in the tournament so far therefore is France. They’ve scored 8 goals in two games, conceded just two and look well set to qualify easily from Group E. However, once the knockout phase starts, the focus of the games will shift and this tends to be when the teams with more top quality international experience tend to shine through.
The biggest letdowns of the World Cup so far
Certainly Spain and England are just two notable teams who have failed to live up to expectations.
Spain were totally outclassed by both Holland and Chile and deserved their humbling send off, while England’s frailties against top class teams were once again clearly evident as they lost two close games which, with Costa Rica’s two wins, puts them out of the tournament.
Brazil’s performance against Mexico was also a disappointment, while Argentina’s stuttering performances against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran were also not that impressive. Portugal too have failed to shine with Cristiano Ronaldo not performing to his best and not receiving the service he is used to at Real Madrid.
Nigeria too have been a pale shadow of the Super-Eagles team that so lit up the USA ’94 tournament, a 1-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina has given them a real chance of qualifying, but their dour brand of football has hardly lit up the competition thus far.
Top individual performances
Of all the players on show, who has impressed the most? Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie have both shone for the Dutch while Tim Cahill has also been very impressive for Australia.
Neymar’s form has been patchy for Brazil and while Messi has scored the goals to take Argentina into the next phase, his form during the games has not been wonderful. France striker Karim Benzema has netted three goals, had a penalty saved, and also had a ‘goal’ disallowed as the referee blew for full time just seconds before the ball hit the net.
Luis Suarez’s double salvo against England just weeks after knee surgery is also well worth taking note of. Thomas Muller’s goals for Germany, especially his treble against Portugal were also noteworthy though he was considerably less effective against Ghana in the second game.
That said, as the tournament progresses, you can expect the top quality players to start to affect the outcome of key games all the more critically and it is at these times, the real top tier stars shine through.
Surprise team of the tournament
Without doubt, the surprise team of the tournament thus far have been Costa Rica.
Widely tipped to be the also-rans in Group D, alongside England, Italy and Uruguay, they have shocked the world defeating Uruguay 3-1 and Italy 1-0 to claim top spot and a place in the next stage.
Their win over Italy also means Italy and Uruguay now face off in a one-off decider, the winner of which will claim a place in the second round, the lose goes home.
Would we alter our bets for winner and top goalscorer based on the first round games?
So the question must be, given what we have seen in the opening group phase of the World Cup, would we now want to alter our bets from Messi top goalscorer and Argentina as the winner?
In short, no and the reason is this. Despite not playing well and at times looking hugely susceptible, Argentina have won both their games and Messi has scored two outstanding goals to clinch them the victory. Like many other winners, it is not often the team that starts the World Cup playing brilliant football who will win it.
In 1982, Italy won the tournament after drawing all three of their opening group games. Argentina have so much class and quality going forward that they can unlock any defence and as they play, I expect Alex Sabella’s men to improve and of course Messi to play a pivotal role.
However, if I was looking to make another bet then I would stick cash on France reaching the semi finals. I’ve been very impressed with Didier Deschamps men, even minus two huge talents in Frank Ribery and Samir Nasri. They will likely face Nigeria in the second round (which they will win) and then most likely Belgium in the quarter finals, where I think their experience will prove key.
As such, I can’t see too many obstacles for the French before the semi final stage and the 7/2 on France to be eliminated at the Semi Finals stage with Bet365 looks a great bet.