World Cup: The Star’s sports reporters look into their crystal balls for Brazil

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The Star’s sports team put their heads on the block to offer their predictions for the World Cup and the players and teams who may catch your eye.

Paul Davis

Who will win it?

South American sides win South American World Cups. I don’t think it’s a vintage Brazil squad but it’s hard to see past them if they start well and get the crowds and nation behind them.

Top goalscorer?

Lionel Messi. He’s not really shone on the World Cup stage before. Time for him to deliver.

Player to watch?

The new Gazza, England’s Ross Berkley. Vision, touch, great runner with the ball and, because of his youth, not scared of any opposition. Just goes out and plays what’s in front of him.

Dark horses?

Chile. They did a job on England and looked really impressive. They have quality up front, and I’ve drawn them in the office sweep. Come on, lads.

How will England do?

Quarter-finals will be a decent achievement. I’m expecting no more. I think Roy Hodgson has picked the best squad he could have. They have pace and youth, but you have to accept there are stronger sides in the competition. The heat and humidity won’t help them.

Liam Hoden

Who will win it?

Argentina. For one thing they will be the most determined to spoil the party in Brazil. Though they are nothing special defensively, they can be devastating from the midfield forward. Any side that can legitimately leave out Carlos Tevez is something special and Messi, Aguero and Higuain provide without doubt the best front line in the competition.

Top goalscorer

Cristiano Ronaldo. One of those players who can demolish the opposition on his own, as he did against Sweden in the play-off. In a group Portugal should emerge from, Ronaldo could easily stock up on goals even if he is unlikely to be playing in the later stages.

Player to watch?

Angel Di Maria. All the talk about the Argentines will centre on the attacking prowess through Messi, Aguero and Higuain. But I believe the main man they will rely on is the workhorse complete midfielder Di Maria. Tireless in his battles for the ball, he also can provide the killer passes that will get the attacking trio in full flow.

Dark Horses?

Switzerland. Very well organised and a particularly dangerous counter-attacking side with exciting young talent, the Swiss could certainly cause a few problems. Their route through the tournament would pit them against sides that have yet to fully convince (as long as they avoid Argentina in the last 16), starting with Group E rivals France. A run to the semi final isn’t out of the question.

How will England do?

I expect them to get out of the group and wouldn’t be entirely surprised if they won it. Reach the knockouts and there will be a golden opportunity to advance, particularly if they avoid Columbia. If they can reach the quarter final stage you’re likely to be looking at a game with either Brazil or Spain and that will be where the dream ends

James Shield

Who will win it?

A team from South America so, most probably, Brazil or Argentina. If La Albiceleste do lift the trophy though then the host national had better brace itself for a new round of social unrest. There have been seven finals in the Americas and, on each occasion, the winner has come from that continent so it’s difficult to see beyond those two great rivals. Europe’s representatives could find it difficult to cope with the humidity, They might have to tweak their tactics to cope rather than play their usual fast-paced, pressing games.

Top goalscorer

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that Romeulu Lukaku will score a few for Belgium. Injuries permitting, he’s an almost certain starter because Christian Benteke is ruled-out and, if Eden Hazard fufils his potential at international level, should benefit from plenty of service. I also think Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain is going to enjoy a good tournament. He’s netted 20 times in less than 40 appearances for his country and was on target nine times during the qualifying campaign.

Player to watch?

I’m really looking forward to watching James Rodríguez. What a talent and, even though he’s probably earning a fair few Euros at Monaco, it’s probably only a matter of time before he is lured away by one of the truly elite clubs. With Radamel Falcao ruled-out through injury, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on the youngster to perform. If he does then Columbia will do too. If he doesn’t then they could struggle to live-up to their pre-tournament billing.

Dark Horses?

Chile could do well if they manage to qualify from a pretty touch group which also includes Spain, Holland and Australia. Their coach, Jorge Sampaoli, is a disciple of compatriot Marcelo Bielsa so, come what may, they should be really exciting to watch. Surely it’s also time for Côte d’Ivoire to finally show what they’re capable of during a World Cup tournament? This could be the last time their ‘Golden Generation’ gets the opportunity to impress on the big stage.

How will England do?

Probably a lot better than people expect. I’m backing them to qualify from the group but then things are likely to get really tough with possible matches against the likes of Côte d’Ivoire or Columbia in the last 16. Then, potentially the likes of Spain and Germany would await. Or Brazil and Argentina. That’s when the lack of experience in Roy Hodgson’s squad could prove really costly. Youthful exuberance wouldn’t be enough to trouble those teams. Senior players with Champions League experience are worth their weight in gold during games like that.

Danny Hall

Who will win it?

Brazil. Maybe not the most surprising choice but, for me, you can’t look past the hosts. No European team has ever won the World Cup on South American soil and, as good as Spain are, I don’t see that changing. Germany may suffer from picking just one out-and-out striker in 36-year-old Miroslav Klose. Argentina’s attacking options are frightening, even without Carlos Tevez, but defensively they seem suspect to me. Which leaves the boys from Brazil as my winners.

Top goalscorer?

Another ‘safe’ choice, maybe, but I’ve plumped for Neymar. The Barcelona star is one of the poster boys for the 2014 World Cup and I think he will really come of age. So expect him to tweak a hamstring in the first game and miss the whole tournament.

Player to watch?

Ross Barkley. Although the ‘Just-like-Gazza-in-1990’ comparisons go over my head - that was the year I was born - this kid is special. He showed that on loan at Sheffield Wednesday last season, with a series of mature displays well beyond his years. If he is given a chance by Roy Hodgson - which I fear he may not - then I believe he will shine. He’s fearless, confident and, above all, supremely talented. So, in other words, distinctly un-English.

Dark horses?

Purely for no other reason than I have them in the office sweepstake: Belgium. In fact, here are a few other reasons: Courtois, Kompany, Van Buyten, Witsel, Mertens, Lukaku, Januzaj and Hazard. Their ‘golden generation’ seem to have peaked at the same time, and they could do some damage in a group containing Algeria, Russia and South Korea.

How will England do?

The million-dollar-question. Allowing head to rule heart, I think they’ll get out of the group by beating Uruguay and Costa Rica, after drawing with Italy. Beyond that, I’d say a quarter-final or even a shock semi-final exit. But I hope I’m wrong!

Dom Howson

Who will win it?

Brazil. They possess two outstanding attacking players in Oscar and Neymar who are capable of unlocking tight rearguards and will relish having home advantage.

Top goalscorer?

Sergio Aguero. Argentina should comfortably negotiate Group F and the Manchester City striker will be instrumental in their World Cup challenge. With forwards of the calibre of Angel Di Maria and Lionel Messi in their ranks, plenty of goal-scoring opportunities should be created for Aguero.

Player to watch?

This is the tournament where Neymar will sparkle. He often has to play second fiddle to Messi at Barcelona but Brazil play to his strengths and so there is no reason why he can’t scoop the Golden Boot.

Dark horses?

Belgium. They should top Group H. Vincent Kompany is a strong, powerful figure defensively while Eden Hazard will pose defenders problems with his silky close control, deceptive speed and trickery.

How will England do?

Group D is not straight forward but England have enough quality to reach the knockout stages. Talented youngsters such as Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley will benefit greatly from taking part in tournament football. At best, England can make the quarter-finals where they will probably lose on penalties...

Richard Fidler

Who will win it?

Not going to stray too far from what other people think but I reckon it will come down to either Brazil or Argentina. I’m going to go for Argentina simply because of Lionel Messi.

It’s difficult to discount the likes of Spain and Germany but the World Cup generally doesn’t leave South America if the tournament is played on that side of the Atlantic.

Top goalscorer?

Tough one because you can never discount someone who scores a hat-trick in the group stages and gets a head start on everyone else like Gary Lineker did in the 1986 World Cup rather than just assuming he’ll play for one of the finalists.

A safe bet would be Messi or Neymar but I’ll go for Cristiano Ronaldo who will be desperate to steal the limelight from those two. And the best way of doing that is scoring some goals.

Player to watch?

I’m going to cheat here and say two players - Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández of Spain. It could be the last World Cup they play together as a pair so I want to sit back and watch two masters of their art doing it on the greatest stage once again.

Dark horses?

With due respect to my esteemed colleagues anyone who says Belgium is missing the point. EVERYONE is saying Belgium so by that rationale they can’t be dark horses.

Instead I’ll say England. Very little is expected of them but if they do manage to get out of their group they could have a favourable round of 16 match against a team from a solid but not scary Group C and then who knows what could happen.

Dark horses very rarely win major championships - Greece at Euro 2004 being the last proper shock - so it’s more about doing better than expected rather than going all the way. England may do better than we think (with a bit of luck, no injuries and some wishful thinking).

How will England do?

England could be dark horses if the above happens but reality usually hits home. They’re a top 16 country by any ranking system you want to go with but can you make an argument that they’d be in your top eight countries? Probably not. So although I can make a case for them being a surprise team I think getting out of the group will be a major achievement.

If they do that then they’re in dark horse territory.

Chris Holt

Who will win it?

I’d love to see a shock during this World Cup and a team come out of nowhere to win it, like England. However, while I think it may take some time for them to grow into the tournament, under the weight of expectation, Brazil, I believe will come through and lift a country that is going through quite a turbulant time.

Top goalscorer?

Karim Benzema. There hasn’t been a great deal of talk about France ahead of this World Cup and they appear to have been quietly going about their business. They’ll get out of their group no problem and could rack up a few goals in the process. With Franck Ribery out, I expect Benzema to shine as France’s outstanding player.

Player to Watch?

Luis Suarez’s stock has risen somewhat since we last saw him have a hand, literally, in Uruguay reaching the semi-finals four years ago. Now he can rightly be placed alongside Messi and Ronaldo as one of the best in the world. He has worked hard to get fit for the tournament and will benefit from referees at World Cups who always favour attackers. Defenders will be afraid to go near him and he WILL score goals.

Dark horses?

Portugal. Aside from Germany they have a relatively easy group so they’ll progress without much trouble. They haven’t got the strongest of squads but they do have the best player in the world in Ronaldo and he has the ability to drag them along with him. Presuming they finish second in the group they’ll face Belgium or Russia, both beatable. Then there’s a fair chance it’ll be Argentina, again beatable. Portugal can at least make the ssemi-finals.

How will England do?

A lot better than you think. It seems that in amongst the hype surrounding the REALLY big names going into the World Cup, people have forgotten that Daniel Sturridge goes into the tournament as one of European club football’s in-form strikers. That doesn’t matter a great deal on this stage but he will be full of confidence and if he gets the chances from the proposed three behind him, then he will put them away. There are plenty of goals elsewhere in the team and with youthful tenacity to come off the bench to change games too. Alas, no matter what way things go, there’s a fair chance they’ll play Brazil or Spain in the quarters and that’s probably pushing it a bit. Maybe next time

Bob Westerdale

Who will win it?

Spain.

Top goalscorer?

Lionel Messi.

Player to watch?

Cristiano Ronaldo

Dark horses?

Belgium.

How will England do?

Draw, lose and win, in that order.

Trevor Cook

Who will win it?

Brazil

Top goalscorer?

Christiano Ronaldo

Player to watch?

Sergio Aguero

Dark horses?

Holland

How will England do?

Qualify from group but no further