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Group G – Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA
Group G is perhaps the most formidable of the tournament; all four of its sides have strong recent World Cup pedigree, making the knockout stages on numerous occasions over the past decade. Germany, with their plethora of world-class attacking midfielders, are among the favourites to lift the trophy, and with the vast array of talent at Joachim Löw’s disposal, they can afford to leave the likes of Ilkay Gündoğan and Lars Bender, both injured, at home. Bayern Munich, shorn of their continental bauble by Real Madrid, provide the vertebrae of the team, with seasoned internationals Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Müller mainstays of the exciting side that finish third in South Africa. One slight concern is the lack of options up front, with Miroslav Klose, the 35 year-old, being the only proven international striker. However, Julian Draxler, Mario Götze and André Schürrle are dexterous enough to be able to create, and finish, chances. Their main contenders in the group will be Portugal, who of course relied on talisman Cristiano Ronaldo to qualify. Ronaldo is the key man, but talent is evident in the rest of the squad, in the shape of William Carvalho, João Moutinho and Real Madrid hardman Pepe. Many have tipped Ronaldo to ‘do a Maradona’ and lead his side to glory as the Argentine did in 1986. The focus, to begin with, should be making it out of the group. Aiming to prevent both the European nations doing this are Ghana and the United States, who met in the second round four years ago. Both sides are perhaps weaker than they were in South Africa; Ghana’s most experienced players, Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari, are past their best, whilst the United States’ manager Jurgen Klinsmann has opted to leave star player Landon Donovan at home. Both squads will be counting on their exciting young talent exploding onto the international stage. Germany and Portugal play each other first in this group, which is perhaps the other sides’ biggest hope. If one beats the other, Ghana will be ready to pounce. Germany and Portugal to go through.
Group H – Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea
Group H looks tantalising. Oddly, its two most favoured sides did not even qualify four years ago. Many are tipping Belgium to be the dark horse of the tournament, and with their squad containing, amongst others: Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku, you can see why. The Belgians, who qualified nine points clear of Croatia, should top the group, as long as they don’t suffer defensive injuries, as that is the one area in which they lack depth. Second place in the group, presuming Belgium live up to their hype, should be a duel between Russia and South Korea, although Algeria will have something to say about that. It’s tough to call, with all three sides having their own particular strengths. Russia have experience playing together and, in Alan Dzagoev, one of the most precocious talents in Eastern Europe. South Korea are a young side benefitting from coach Hong Myung-Bo’s vast experience of the tournament. Swansea’s Ki Sung-Yeung will be the man to watch out for. Algeria looked dour and defensive last time out, but were strong in qualification and have Valencia attacker Sofiane Feghouli in their line-up. The key game could be South Korea versus Belgium on the 26th June. If the Belgians have already qualified, the Koreans could sneak through, as they did against Nigeria in 2010. Belgium and South Korea to go through.