In his first exclusive column, Sony’s Team ambassador for England puts on his snug-fitting tipster’s hat and shares his predictions for the World Cup …
Brazil has taken a lot of criticism over the past few years for supposedly not playing the Brazilian way. But with stars like Neymar, Dani Alves, David Luiz, Fernandinho, Oscar, Willian, Ramires and Paulinho blossoming in La Liga and the Premier League, they’re coming into their own just at the right time.
Obviously, the pressure will be on the team playing on its own turf but it has plenty of players operating in the top leagues, so it’s hard to look past the Brazilians. You shouldn’t forget the team has excellent tournament experience as well, and is always there or thereabouts. I can’t see any better favorites.
At the other end of the scale, I’m going for Belgium to flop. The team has so many good players – Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, Nacer Chadli and Adnan Januzaj – but they are being asked to take it to a level that’s not been asked of those players before.
Even though the team has lots of ability and is not in one of the toughest groups, it could all end in disappointment. Having said that … Thibaut Courtois is one of my tips to be top goalkeeper.
Something is saying Chile to me. The Chileans came to England and beat us on our own turf. I think any South American team playing in South America could win it and when you look at the qualifying, all the South American teams have been beating each other. The team hasn’t really got any big stars – except perhaps Alexis Sanchez from Barca – but I can see it coming in under the radar.
I was going to say Luis Suarez before his knee injury even though I didn’t want to because he’s in the same group as us. I’ve already gone on the record saying he’s going to struggle to make it for the start of the tournament and with his training and match fitness limited, the Golden Boot’s not his to go for any more.
That means I can’t see a better option than Lionel Messi. Although he hasn’t really taken his form into the World Cup in the past, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before he does. With all that ability, this could be his time.
My dark horse is Miroslav Klose, even if he is short of match fitness. He’s chasing the Brazilian Ronaldo’s World Cup scoring record so if he gets on the pitch, he’ll be dangerous.
Player of the tournament
I’m struggling to narrow this down to one so I’m going to name three here. Messi, because of what I’ve said about his World Cup form, Neymar is another obvious choice and Ronaldo, although I’m not sure how far Portugal will get.
They’re in a tough group that also includes Germany, which could affect their progress and harm his chances. But a player like Ronaldo always attracts attention so you have to include him, especially with his goalscoring ability.
I haven’t mentioned any England players yet but you never know, one of the young ones could do something that will get him noticed. I’m thinking Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana or Daniel Sturridge.
Even Raheem Sterling, once he recovers from his red card against Ecuador, could come on and turn a game around with his pace and that could make him into one of the star players.
Joe Hart for me, he’ll do well. He’s finished the season strongly. Manuel Neuer from Germany is up there with the best in the world and he’ll do well if he’s fit. And Gianluigi Buffon is up there too – he’s the one with all the experience.
But as I have already said, I think Courtois could emerge from this as a real star, even if Belgium struggles. He’s only 21 and he’s been at Atletico Madrid for two years. If I was picking the Belgium team I’d have him over Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet.
His shot-stopping is brilliant but he’s not so brilliant on crosses and he’s not as good with his feet as Courtois. Playing for Atletico in Spain means he’s used to being an extension of the back four, it’s very technical over there, so all round he’s the better keeper and the one I would pick.
That’s it for the winners, losers and dark horses. I’d be more than happy if England came in that last category and surprised a few people.