AJC World Cup preview: Groups E-H

Group E


FIFA world ranking: 28

How they qualified: Finished fourth in South America.

Best finish: Round of 16 in 2006.

About the team: The team went undefeated at home during qualifying but also failed to win on the road, which doesn't bode well considering the tournament is on the other side of South America. This is a team filled with veterans, which makes the road record surprising. The team is trying to move on following the death of standout forward Christian Benitez (24 goals), who died of heart failure in Qatar last summer.

Player you may know: Antonio Valencia. The Manchester United winger is dangerous on the flanks and tough to knock off the ball.


FIFA world ranking: 16

How they qualified: Advanced by defeating Ukraine in a two-game playoff.

Best finish: Champions in 1998.

About the team: After embarrassing performances in 2010, France has regrouped and will field another strong team. It features world-class talent at every position, but it will be interesting to see if they are focused

Player you may know: Karim Benzema. The Real Madrid forward will likely partner with Olivier Giroud. Benzema seems to be consistently on the selling block in Spain, but he continues to produce with 17 goals last season.


FIFA world ranking: 30

How they qualified: Finished third in CONCACAF.

Best finish: Honduras has never advanced past the group stage.

About the team: Don't overlook this squad, even though it is in a tough group. Honduras proved a handful for Mexico and the U.S. during World Cup qualifying, including a 2-1 victory at Azteca in just "El Tri's" second home loss in 78 games.

Player you may know: Wilson Palacios. The Stoke City midfielder has had a rough go since leaving Wigan to join Tottenham's carousel of signings in 2009. He was eventually sold to Stoke, where he has been used mostly as a reserve. Still, he's a capable player both on the domestic and international levels.


FIFA world ranking: 8

How they qualified: Finished first in its group.

Best finish: Quarterfinals in 1934, '38 and '54.

About the team: This is an interesting team. They don't score a lot of goals, but they don't allow a lot of goals, either. They are experienced in goalkeeper, midfield and defense.

Player you may know: Gokhan Inler. A central midfielder for Napoli, Inler is considered to be a solid defensive-minded player.

Match to watch

Honduras vs. Ecuador. It doesn't have the cache of France vs. Switzerland, but three points for either team in this game may be enough to see one of them sneak through into the knockout round.

Who will advance

France and Honduras. The French shake off the disappointment of the last World Cup and Honduras shakes off history.

Group F


FIFA world ranking: 7

How they qualified: Finished first in South America.

Best finish: Champions in 1978 and '86.

About the team: They breezed through qualifying, scoring 35 and allowing just 15. Though considered a favorite almost every time they qualify, Argentina hasn't advanced past the quarterfinals since 1990. They are deep and experienced at midfield and forward.

Player you may know: Lionel Messi. Considered one of the world's best players, Messi has the reputation for not being able take his skills from Barcelona and transfer it to his national team. Though small, he is tough to knock off the ball, has a great imagination and can invent shots anywhere near the penalty box.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

FIFA world ranking: 25

How they qualified: Finished first in its group.

Best finish: First appearance.

About the team: They are the darlings of this year's World Cup because of the havoc and strife the country has gone through in the last 21 years. The off-field appeal of this team shouldn't undersell its skill. They feature world-class players at several positions and are more than capable of advancing.

Player you may know: Edin Dzeko. He often falls behind Sergio Aguero in Manchester City's pecking order, but all he does is score. He tallied 10 goals during qualifying and is good with his head and feet.


FIFA world ranking: 37

How they qualified: Finished first in its group.

Best finish: Iran has never advanced past the group stage.

About the team: The Iranians are playing well under Carlos Queiroz. They scored 30 goals and allowed seven during qualifying. The team makes use of several players with dual nationalities.

Player you may know: Javad Nekounam. The midfielder made his reputation with Osasuna in Spain. The captain of Iran's team, he scored six goals in qualifying.


FIFA world ranking: 44

How they qualified: Advanced by defeating Ethiopia in a two-game playoff.

Best finish: Round of 16 in 1994 and '98.

About the team: A team in the better sense of the word. Coach Stephen Keshi has often decided to omit high-profile players such as Obafemi Martins, choosing instead those who get along more.

Player you may know: John Obi Mikel. The Chelsea midfielder is a favorite of manager of Jose Mourinho, though fans discount him because he's not very flashy. He's good at reading the game and shielding defenses. His plan works. The team won the African Cup of Nations last year.

Match to watch

Argentina vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina. This should be a special moment because it marks the first game for the young country with the bloody history in the world’s most popular sporting event. As Atlanta learned when hundreds of Bosnians came to the Georgia Dome for a friendly against Mexico, the country is passionate about its teams.

Who will advance

Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It seems as if there are no easy groups in this World Cup and this one is no exception. Bosnia edges Nigeria for the last spot. Don’t be surprised if it comes down to goal differential.

Group G


FIFA world ranking: 2

How they qualified: Finished first in their group with an unbeaten record.

Best finish: Champions in 1954, '74 and '90.

About the team: Much will be made of the fact that no European team has ever won a World Cup in South America. Along with Spain, Germany is one of two teams that are capable of making history, despite rocky results in their warm-up games. They have arguably the world's best goal keeper, one of the best fullbacks and a few of the best midfielders. However, they aren't deep at forward. Not only are they a three-time champ, but they are four-time runners-up.

Players you may know: Philipp Lahm. Though just 30 years old, it seems like he's been in Germany's lineup forever. He may be the best fullback in the world. Bayern Munich manger Pep Guardiola said he's the most intelligent player he has ever coached. He may play at his natural fullback spot or coach Joachim Low may move him to a holding midfielder spot, a position he played to great effect this year at Munich.

Miroslav Klose. If Lahm seems like he’s been in Germany forever, then Klose has. The 35-year-old needs just two goals to set a World Cup record. He has 68 goals for Germany and is just one of two true forwards on the roster.

Player you need to know: Mesut Ozil. He tends to float in an out of games, one of the reasons Real Madrid sold him to Arsenal, but when he's locked in he can tear apart defenses with his passes.

Against the U.S.: 6-0-3


FIFA world ranking: 38

How they qualified: Advanced by defeating Egypt in a two-game playoff.

Best finish: Quarterfinals in 2010.

About the team: U.S. fans know all about this team because it has eliminated the Americans from the past two World Cups. They should have advanced to the semifinals in South Africa, but were denied by a Luis Suarez handball on the goal line. From the midfield up, Ghana features starters from the most-competitive leagues in Europe. They aren't as strong in back or in goal.

Players you may know: Michael Essien. The A.C. Milan midfielder isn't the same player he once was for Chelsea, but he still reads the game well, tackles well and will provide the leadership the team needs.

Asamoah Gyan. His goal knocked the U.S. out of South Africa. He’s very slippery, a good dribbler and has an eye for goal. He missed a penalty against Uruguay in the last World Cup.

Player you need to know: Kevin-Prince Boateng. The Schalke man can play almost anywhere across the front or in midfield. He has a reputation of trying to be too flashy.

Against the U.S.: 3-0-0


FIFA world ranking: 3

How they qualified: Advanced by defeating Sweden in a two-game playoff.

Best finish: Semifinals in 1966, 2006.

About the team: Portugal is a dark-horse candidate to win the it all because of one player: Cristiano Ronaldo. But as Argentina and Lionel Messi know, having the world's best player doesn't necessarily translate into success. Portugal will bring an experienced team to Brazil, led in the back by a pair of bruising center backs: 32-year-old Bruno Alves and 31-year-old Pepe.

Players you may know: Ronaldo. He's extremely fast down either wing, deadly precise with free kicks, can score with his feet or his head and doesn't mind playing defense. More than any player, he can single-handedly carry his team. Just 29, he's already the top goal-scorer in his country's history.

Pepe. The central defender has a reputation for playing dirty for Real Madrid, but he’s effective. He can score off set pieces and is good in the air defensively.

Player you need to know: William Carvalho. The Sporting Lisbon midfielder is wanted by Manchester United.

Against the U.S.: 2-1-2

United States

FIFA world ranking: 14

How they qualified: Finished first in the CONCACAF group.

Best finish: Semifinals in 1930.

About the team: Depending upon your view of Landon Donovan, the team was either thrown into turmoil or solidified with the news that the veteran didn't make the roster. Instead, coach Jurgen Klinsmann opted for a mix of the younger and inexperienced (Julian Green, DeAndre Yedlin and Timothy Chandler) with the older and World-Cup inexperienced (Brad Davis and Chris Wondolowski). If Klinsmann's gamble works and the U.S. advances into the knockout rounds, he's a genius. If it doesn't, despite a contract that runs through 2018, he may be out of a job before the plane leaves Brazil. Either way, it is an odd team. The general wisdom holds that the best teams are composed of players who compete in the best leagues, i.e. Europe. Most of the U.S. team doesn't meet that standard. Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron played well in England last season. Chandler, John Brooks and Fabian Johnson played well in Germany. Most of the rest of the squad plays in the improving MLS.

Players you may know: Clint Dempsey. He started in MLS and moved to England where he became a star at Fulham. He parlayed that success into a move to Tottenham, where the ever-evolving roster and managers didn't help him. He moved back to Seattle where he struggled in his first season but rebounded this year and has once again become a goal-scoring machine.

Michael Bradley. The midfielder started in MLS before moving to Holland and then to Germany then to England and then to Italy. Now he’s back in the MLS. Consistently underrated, he is the most well-rounded player on the roster.

Player you need to know: Aron Johannsson. If Jozy Altidore's form from Sunderland (one goal)carries over, look for Johannsson to step in. He scored 20 goals for AZ Alkmaar in Holland last season.

Match to watch

U.S. vs. Germany. In most cases, Germany’s best vs. the U.S. best wouldn’t be a very entertaining game. But Germany could have this group wrapped up by the time they play and may rest some of its starters, while the U.S. may need at least a point to secure passage into the knockout round. In those situations, the U.S. is more than capable of winning.

Who will advance

Germany and Portugal. This isn’t a surprise, no matter how many “what-if” scenarios are put out there by fans of the U.S. team. It take would an odd combination of luck and skill for the U.S. to advance and the team simply hasn’t shown that against the best teams it has faced in the past year. It was throttled by the A-level talent of Belgium and Ukraine (which didn’t even qualify). And Donovan’s absence isn’t to blame. The games against Germany and Portugal have the potential to be multi-goal losses.

Group H


FIFA world ranking: 25

How they qualified: Advanced by defeating Burkina Faso in a two-game playoff.

Best finish: Algeria has never advanced past the group stage.

About the team: Perhaps most remembered for the last-second loss to the U.S. in the last World Cup, Algeria will play teams tough and may have the quality to finish second in this relatively weak group.

Player you may know: Madjid Bougherra. The team's captain, he will lead from defense. The former Rangers man is by far the most experienced player on Algeria's roster.


FIFA world ranking: 12

How they qualified: Finished first in their qualifying group.

Best finish: Semifinals, 1986.

About the team: The roster with the best young talent in the world. From midfielder/forward Eden Hazard to goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, almost every position features prospects with difference-making potential.

Player you may know: Hazard. The Chelsea man scored 14 goals last year and is now wanted by other clubs. He's a good dribbler on the wing and has an ability to get a shot off in tight spaces. Plus, Romelu Lukaku and others will keep defenders inside, giving Hazard more room to maneuver.


FIFA world ranking: 55

How they qualified: Finished second in their qualifying group.

Best finish: Semifinals in 2002.

About the team: They didn't play well in a weak qualifying group and lack the top-to-bottom quality of the country's past teams. Still, Korea rarely beats itself, which gives them the ability to win games late.

Player you may know: Lee Chung-Yong. The Bolton midfielder will captain South Korea.


FIFA world ranking: 18

How they qualified: Finished first in their qualifying group.

Best finish: Semifinals in 1966.

About the team: Coached by Fabio Capello, this team is built on defense above all else. Every player on the roster plays in the improving Russian league. They are a dark horse candidate to advance deep into the tournament.

Player you may know: Alexander Kerzhakov. The Zenit St. Petersburg player is a bona fide goal-scorer

Match to watch

Belgium vs. Russia. One of these teams should finish atop the group and this will likely be the deciding game. Neither team will likely play for a tie because finishing first is important. The second-place team in this group is scheduled to play the first-place team from Group G, likely Germany, in the next round. Neither Belgium nor Russia will want that.

Who will advance

Belgium and Russia. They have two much quality for Korea and Algeria.