Five Teams Whose Replacements Would Have Improved The Tournament
Portugal -> Sweden
Having defeated the Scandinavians in the playoffs almost single-handedly, Cristiano Ronaldo’s election as Ballon d’Or winner in 2013 was a foregone conclusion. The two sides had very little to choose between them in that playoff, except that Ronaldo outperformed Ibrahimovic. Come this summer, Ibra was already spouting his mouth off about how the World Cup was barely worth watching without him in it. He was wrong, of course, but he would have made for more entertainment than Ronaldo, who was simply the brightest light in a disappointing Seleccao, shining as if a glowworm amongst slugs.
Cameroon -> Egypt
Cameroon may have defeated Tunisia in qualifying but there isn’t enough quality in the Carthage Eagles’ squad to suggest they’d put up more of a fight than a Cameroon side who looked like they didn’t want to be there and, very soon, weren’t there. Egypt may have been tonked by Ghana in their final playoff, but that scoreline was an anomaly for the Pharoahs; a decent recent showing against Chile is perhaps more indicative of their form. Cameroon appeared as a generic West African side and, in a disappointing tournament for that region – with Ghana and Ivory Coast also going out early, and only Nigeria carrying their flag forward – North Africa, in the shape of Algeria (at least) was the place to be.
South Korea -> Qatar
Although South Korea (at one stage) qualified from a World Cup group containing Uzbekistan, it would be a difficult sell – World Cup 2014 would be better with Uzbekistan! However, if FIFA insist upon a Qatari World Cup in 2022, it would help Al-Annabi to have a little World Cup history behind them by the time they get there. Admittedly, they were a fair few points behind the Uzbeks and South Korea in that group, but in Brazil, Sebastian Soria et al may have added a little something to the party. At the very least, they may have provided a little more than a South Korea side whose only real contribution was a vain rally in a 4-2 defeat by Algeria.
Russia -> Poland
Fabio Capello brought an entirely home-based squad that was difficult to connect with, and ensured that they played some of the most negative football at the tournament, which was difficult to connect with. Their elimination was a blessed reprieve and it’s difficult to remember any of their three games. Poland offer Robert Lewandowski, for a start, so they’d pose some goal threat, but the way they are difficult to beat, but still able to get forward and create chances means they’re a superior version of Russia. Might well have qualified from Group H, too.
Japan -> North Korea
If this was the 2013 vintage Japan, they thrilled, entertained and won friends. As they returned to Brazil, they found their friends deserting them in their droves as they put together an utter forgettable campaign. I was following Greece throughout and can still barely recall a single thing that occurred in a Japan game. At least North Korea create some drama by their very participation, even if their domestic highlights shows run at a variable length and their players are of questionable ability. In short, they couldn’t be more forgettable than Japan.
Other teams the tournament could have done without? Honduras and their kicky-kicky approach. England and their get-progressively-worse approach. The Ghost of Spain. Belgium.