World Cup: Team-by-team analysis

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Welcome to our team-by-team preview of World Cup 2014

We examine the strengths, weaknesses and prospects of every team. See Gallery

For each of the 32 competing nations we’ve used the Press Association’s unique MatchStory data on every goal scored and conceded in qualifying.

Click through to see how the teams compare

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Group A

Strengths: As Brazil didn’t need to qualify we’ve assessed them based on the international matches they’ve played in 2013, in which they’ve been more notable for their defence than their attack. They rarely allow teams to get close to their goal and rarely concede late goals, suggesting a fit and organised back line. Going forward they are one of the more dependable goalscoring nations and few score multiple goals more regularly.

Weaknesses: There are weaknesses to be found however, most notably in defending long range shots, which account for almost half the goals they’ve conceded; only Nigeria conceding a higher percentage from outside the penalty area. Their defenders have also been caught out by long balls on a few occasions.

Prospects: The draw looks to have been kind to Brazil, presenting them with three winnable games. With the third highest percentage of long range goals in qualifying, Cameroon could potentially spring a surprise on their defence. Their other two opponents, Croatia and Mexico, needed a play-off to reach the finals and have each dropped six places in the FIFA Rankings over the past year. Both have depended heavily on precisely the sort of close range finishes that Brazil usually prevent, so the hosts will be expecting to reach the knockout stages with little trouble.

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Group A

Strengths: Croatia netted 43% of goals from inside the 6 yard box, the highest proportion of any team headed for Brazil, and also created the most chances from the wings with nearly two thirds of their goals being set up from a wide position. At the back they kept their focus late on, being one of just three finalists not to concede in the final quarter of an hour during qualifying.

Weaknesses: The number of goals they can score is a concern however. They netted at the lowest rate of any finalist during qualifying, averaging just 1.17 goals per match and, along with only Nigeria, never scored more than twice in a match. At the back, close range goals were something of a problem: they conceded a greater share of goals from inside the six yard box than anyone except Iran.

Prospects: None of their opponents in Group A are conveniently flawed from Croatia’s perspective, with Brazil and Mexico difficult to break down from the wings in particular. Brazil have offered little close range quarter while the Mexicans look capable of getting in behind the Croatian defence in return, having scored nearly a third of their goals from close range.

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Group A

Strengths: Leaving it late became something of a speciality for Mexico in qualifying where they scored over a third of their goals in the final 15 minutes of matches, which only three of the other 31 nations exceeded. They were also one of the more dangerous teams from corners and adept at defending long-range shots with just one such goal conceded.

Weaknesses: Mexico endured a frustrating qualifying campaign in which they failed to score in a third of their matches and didn’t recover any points from losing positions, neither of which bode well against the tougher quality opposition they’ll face in Brazil. All but two of the goals they conceded came in the closing half an hour, which should also be of concern.

Prospects: Finding a way past Brazil will be a challenge but there is plenty to hope for from their other two matches: Cameroon conceded half of their goals from corners and Croatia struggled for goals in qualifying. Late goals aren’t likely to be much help against the Croatians though, who didn’t concede any during their qualifiers.

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Group A

Strengths: Cameroon were one of four sides not to drop any points in qualifying after going ahead and netted a greater share of goals from distance than 29 of their 31 fellow qualifiers, with 22% of goals coming from outside the box. They also kept a clean sheet in over half their matches, one of eight teams to achieve this.

Weaknesses: There were occasions in qualifying when their attack failed to deliver however: they netted goals at the third lowest rate during qualifying and drew a blank in almost a third of their games. At the back, set pieces proved the biggest problem to deal with, with corners accounting for half the goals they conceded.

Prospects: While few will be expecting them to prevail against Brazil, their long range accuracy exploits a weakness in the hosts’ defence. Their other opponents, Croatia and Mexico, have had a frustrating year and neither are scoring freely, so they can potentially be shut out. Mexico’s threat from corners makes them look the tougher proposition at this stage.

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Group B

Strengths: Having conceded just three goals in qualifying while scoring in every match, Spain are still the team that everyone will want to avoid. Despite their reputation for crafting exquisite passing moves, they created more than one in five of their goals from corners: a higher proportion than all but three sides. Their impressive defence conceded no goals from outside the area nor from the wings - not that much of a pattern can be discerned from such a miserly total.

Weaknesses: The reigning world champions did let two leads slip during qualifying, with both Finland and France coming from behind to take a point from them. Given their relatively modest scoring total, a solitary goal might be enough to take a point from them on a good day.

Prospects: The draw wasn’t overly kind to Spain, with their opening game against their 2010 final opponents the Netherlands one of the toughest and most fascinating starts imaginable. Chile’s defence have been weakest in the centre of the pitch where Spain’s attack have been the strongest, with only Argentina creating more of their goals away from the flanks. Australia are their weakest opponents on paper but the number of late goals they scored – over half came in the final 15 minutes – means that they shouldn’t be dismissed too readily.

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Group B

Strengths: The Dutch scored freely in qualifying, netting at least twice in every qualifying match: one of only two teams to do so. Only two finalists created a greater share of goals down the left wing, with a third of their goals being fashioned from this area. They were particularly menacing from long range, with the second highest proportion of goals from outside the penalty box.

Weaknesses: Long shots were also something of a weakness at the other end, with 40% of the efforts that found a way past their defence coming from distance. Their own prowess from range may have been driven by necessity, with the fourth lowest proportion of goals scored from inside their opponents’ six yard box.

Prospects: Neither Spain nor Australia look particularly susceptible to long range efforts, so this may necessitate a rethink of their attacking plans. More interestingly, none of their group opponents gave much quarter down their right flanks, so the left wing is also less likely to be a source of goals for the Dutch.

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Group B

Strengths: Only two sides converted more chances from close range than Chile, with almost 40% of their goals arriving from inside the six yard box, partly driven by their success from corners. At the back they proved resilient to similar tactics, rarely conceding from set pieces, and patrolled their flanks well.

Weaknesses: Chile’s defensive performances were their biggest problem in qualifying: they conceded an average of over 1.5 goals per game – the most of any finalist – and didn’t recover a single point from the six matches in which they fell behind. Even when ahead things were far from certain, with no side taking a smaller share of points from winning positions.

Prospects: This will be a tough group for Chile, competing alongside 2010’s eventual finalists who both qualified easily this time around and didn’t let any side score from close range against them. None of their Group B opponents conceded from a corner in qualifying either and even the weakest side on paper, Australia, were strong at coming from behind.

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Group B

Strengths: The Australians ruled the skies in qualifying, scoring the third highest proportion of headers and not conceding a single one in return. This was in large part down to their industriousness down the flanks, with only two sides creating a higher percentage of their goals from wide positions. They also garnered a reputation for striking late with over half of their goals being netted in the final 15 minutes of matches.

Weaknesses: In FIFA Rankings terms, Australia are the weakest side in the finals at 59th, having dropped 26 positions over the last year. Runners-up in their qualifying group, they missed out on top spot due to a poor defensive record that saw them only keep clean sheets in around a third of their matches. They were punished on the counter attack more than any other finalist

Prospects: Unfortunately for Australia their strength on the wings may be of limited use given that they’re up against the three nations who conceded the smallest percentages of goals from wide positions. The size of the task facing them can be seen from a glance at the FIFA Rankings: no side’s group stage opponents have a higher average FIFA Ranking.

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Group C

Strengths: Colombia made good use of free kicks in qualifying and conceded barely any goals from set pieces themselves. They preferred to attack teams through the middle, with only four of their fellow finalists creating a larger share of goals from central positions.

Weaknesses: They seemed to lack an aerial threat however, being one of just three sides not to create any goals from corners in qualifying and scoring just once from the air. Colombia were also the most vulnerable South American side to long range shots, with roughly one goal in four conceded from distance. Defending a lead sometimes proved difficult, with only seven finalists ending up with a smaller share of points after going ahead.

Prospects: Both Greece and the Ivory Coast look capable of causing Colombia problems in the group stage, having been successful at coming from behind in matches. Greece and Japan were much more permissive down the wings than in the centre during qualifying, which might necessitate a tactical rethink, although the Greeks’ susceptibility to free kicks could prove useful.

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Group C

Strengths: Greece’s defence can take the most credit for getting them to Brazil, having kept clean sheets more regularly than everyone except Switzerland. Only four of the finalists conceded less frequently; they were one of only four teams not to concede from outside their penalty area and one of only three not to concede from a corner.

Weaknesses: However they weren’t as strong going forward, with only three qualifying teams scoring at a lower rate and they created very few goals from set pieces. Their impressive defence looked the most vulnerable when dealing with high free kicks, with half of the goals they conceded being headed in from these situations.

Prospects: While seeds Colombia made good use of free kicks in qualifying they rarely chose to head the ball, so Greece’s well-marshalled back line could well keep them at bay. Japan look more likely to provide an aerial threat, with nearly a third of their goals arriving from headers, while the Ivory Coast’s high-tempo start to matches will also test the fluency of the Greek defence.

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Group C

Strengths: The Ivorians qualified strongly, scoring in every game and netting the largest proportion of early goals: over a quarter of their strikes arrived in the opening 15 minutes of matches. Their threat hardly diminishes as the game goes on, being one of seven qualifying sides to recover more than half of available points from losing positions.

Weaknesses: Defensively however, they’ve tended to end games less gloriously, with nearly half of the goals conceded in qualifying coming in the final quarter of an hour of games. They tended not to make much use of the wings going forward, which could allow more experienced defences to corral them.

Prospects: Their ability to come from behind could prove invaluable against Colombia, who have struggled to preserve leads in qualifying. Greece may prove tougher to break down given the lack of early goals they’ve conceded, while Japan’s preference for moving the ball out wide should create an interesting tactical match-up.

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Group C

Strengths: Japan’s main threat in qualifying was from the air: the 30% of goals they scored from headers was the 7th highest proportion of the 32 finalists. Many of their aerial deliveries arrived from the wings which they used to great effect in creating one of the highest percentages of close range goals.

Weaknesses: Goalscoring more generally was somewhat of a problem, with only 36% of their matches seeing them score more than once, the fourth lowest of the 32 finalists. Scoring late in matches also proved difficult. At the back they were vulnerable to attack from the wings and struggled to keep teams out of their six yard box.

Prospects: This group is a challenging one for Japan and they’ll have to make the most of their chances. Greece have occasionally looked vulnerable from the air, so their header-based strategy could well pay off. The wings haven’t yielded many goals against either Greece or the Ivory Coast though, so delivering sufficient ammunition may prove problematic.

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Group D

Strengths: Uruguay are a constant danger at set pieces – particularly free kicks – which accounted for a third of their qualifying goals, a greater proportion than all but two finalists. Defensively it’s been tough to get the better of their full backs and headed chances against them are hard to come by.

Weaknesses: With over a third of goals conceded coming from close range, patrolling their six yard box is something Uruguay will need to work at. Their overall resilience also needs improving, both when defending leads and after falling behind: only two teams qualified with a lower percentage of points from winning positions and they recovered just one point from the six qualifying games in which they trailed.

Prospects: Both England and Italy represent major challenges in one of the toughest groups, with both expecting to go far in the tournament. Uruguay look capable of neutralising the aerial threat of both Italy and Costa Rica, who make up two of the four sides most dependent on headed goals, while their set piece prowess could be the best way to unlock England’s tough defence.

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Group D

Strengths: Costa Rica tended to start well in qualifying, with only one side grabbing a greater share of early goals than they did. They also nodded home a respectable number of headers. Defensively they proved resilient to long range efforts, conceding proportionally fewer goals from outside the box than all other qualifying nations bar five. In FIFA Rankings terms, they’re one of the most improved sides at the finals over the past 12 months after a strong qualifying campaign.

Weaknesses: Their attack didn’t always deliver though, with nearly a third of matches yielding them no goals and only one point was recovered from the five matches in which they fell behind. They were also susceptible to conceding late goals and long balls occasionally caught them out.

Prospects: All three of their Group D opponents are former World Cup winners, which immediately raises concerns. Of the three, Italy seem their best bet at causing an upset, with the Italians’ vulnerability to goals from the left and from the air both able to be exploited.

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Group D

Strengths: There are two specific strengths which make England stand out among their fellow finalists. Firstly, their ability to hit the target from long range: almost one in five of the goals they scored came from outside the box, which only five qualifying nations can better. Their productive use of the wings is another differentiator, with only seven nations creating a higher proportion of goals from the flanks than England’s 48%.

Weaknesses: There are however also two significant negatives. Firstly, England poor from set pieces at both ends of the pitch in qualifying, with only three nations scoring a smaller proportion of their goals from dead balls and two of the four goals Roy Hodgson’s men conceded coming from corners. Defending leads is also something that England failed to do as ruthlessly as their fellow qualifiers, with both Poland and Montenegro snatching draws after trailing at half time. Only three of the 32 teams heading for Brazil surrendered a greater share of points from winning positions.

Prospects: This was not a kind draw for England, particularly against sides who can all cause them problems in the air, but each of these matches is winnable. Against Italy, England’s ability from distance and creativity down the left flank both exploit significant defensive weaknesses, although the Italians’ aerial prowess will be a danger at set pieces. Uruguay can also cause England problems from dead balls having scored a third of their goals in this way, but are vulnerable to the early goals England are fond of scoring. Costa Rica also offer a respectable threat from the air, having scored the fourth largest percentage of goals from headers, but are poor at defending their flanks.

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Group D

Strengths: The Italians’ greatest goal threat in qualifying came from the air: the 42% of goals they scored from headers only exceeded by Ecuador. The defence-first stereotype of Italian football was challenged in the qualifiers where they scored two or more goals more regularly than all but three of their fellow finalists. With 50% of points recovered after going behind – a ratio that only seven qualifying sides could better – they can certainly produce goals when the pressure is on

Weaknesses: Their attacking threat came at a cost defensively however, particularly down their right flank where 44% of their conceded goals originated: a higher share than any other qualifying team. Also, their reliance on headers seems to have come at the cost of long range finishing, with hardly only one of their goals coming from outside the area.

Prospects: A tough group makes it difficult to predict how they’ll fare. Their ability to come from behind will trouble Uruguay and England who struggled to hold on to leads during qualifying. Headers haven’t troubled Uruguay or Costa Rica thus far, so their response to Italy’s high deliveries will be interesting. Both England and Costa Rica found success down the left flank in qualifying, giving them the ability to test Italy’s weaker right side.

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Group E

Strengths: The Swiss kept clean sheets in an astonishing 70% of their qualifying matches, with four of the six goals they did concede arriving in one match: a cracking 4-4 draw with Iceland. While they rarely ran riot in attack they posed a significant threat from set pieces, particularly free kicks which only five finalists scored a higher proportion of.

Weaknesses: Their relatively modest haul of goals notwithstanding, conceding late goals and hence preserving leads was an occasional problem for an otherwise exemplary defence, which will almost certainly be magnified in the tournament proper.

Prospects: Honduras and France both struggled to score in around a third of their qualifying matches, which will encourage the robust Swiss defence. While Honduras look the most vulnerable to set piece attacks, their knack of scoring late will have to be curtailed if further frustration is to be avoided.

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Group E

Strengths: With 45% of their goals coming from headers – the highest percentage among the finalists – and many of these coming from close range, Ecuador’s attack will offer a unique challenge.

Weaknesses: Beyond the aerial threat their arsenal is relatively limited however: they only scored more than once in a quarter of their qualifying matches, the lowest proportion among the 32 nations.

Prospects: The draw wasn’t particularly helpful for Ecuador: there aren’t any sides in Group E who have struggled to defend headers recently, although Honduras allowed a third of the goals scored against them to be taken from close range which will suit their style. France’s defence were one of the better sides at allowing no such thing and seeds Switzerland have both a tight defence and a strong left flank going forward which will trouble Ecuador’s weaker right side.

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Group E

Strengths: They may have needed a play-off to qualify but France are still a force to be reckoned with. One of just four sides in the finals not to have dropped any points from winning positions, they also scored almost a quarter of their goals from outside the box: a greater proportion than all but two qualifying nations. Their defence conceded the fifth lowest share of goals from inside the six yard box, suggesting an organised back line.

Weaknesses: The French attack can be inconsistent however: half their matches saw three or more goals scored but they failed to find the net in almost a third. They also tended to start matches slowly, with few goals coming early on, and few goals were dispatched from close range or aerially, potentially denying them a more pragmatic option against stubborn defences.

Prospects: Switzerland’s defence certainly fits the definition of stubborn, conceding in only three of their ten qualifiers, and could well frustrate the French. Their other two opponents should prove less problematic, although Ecuador’s direct approach will test their defensive organisation.

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Group E

Strengths: Honduras tended to leave things late in qualifying, scoring a greater proportion of goals in the last quarter of an hour than all but six qualifying teams. They ranked similarly at netting from corner kicks, which they used to great effect. Defensively they were strongest on the left side, with only five teams conceding a smaller proportion of goals from this area.

Weaknesses: The Honduran attack was one of the least reliable during qualifying, with no side failing to score more often than the 44% of matches in which they drew a blank. At the back things didn’t go much better, with 38% of their matches involving the concession of two or more goals.

Prospects: Progressing from the group stage will be a big ask. Their corner routine may be their best chance to carve out an opening against the formidable Swiss defence, which also tended to concede more late goals than early ones. Ecuador’s threat from free kicks and high balls into the box will cause Honduras problems based on their displays in qualifying, as will their tight defensive record late on.

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Group F

Strengths: No finalist created more of their goals from the centre of the pitch than Argentina, who carved out over three quarters of their goals without resorting to the wings. They liked to hit teams early, with only two finalists scoring more of their goals in the first half, and once ahead tended to stay there: only four of their 31 fellow qualifiers retained a greater share of points from winning positions.

Weaknesses: Despite topping their qualifying group, Argentina surprisingly only managed to keep a clean sheet in a quarter of their matches: a smaller proportion than any other Brazil-bound team. Going forward they rarely struck from headers or set pieces, which in addition to their lack of wing play could leave them without sufficient versatility to unlock more stubborn defences and unhealthily dependent on Lionel Messi’s inventiveness.

Prospects: The central focus of the Argentine attack should serve them well in Group F against three teams who all conceded an unusually high proportion of goals from central positions. Nigeria’s dead ball expertise and Iran’s industry down the right could catch them by surprise, but most people will be backing them heavily to progress given that their three opponents have a lower average FIFA Ranking than any other nation’s.

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Group F

Strengths: Bosnia’s impressive record in qualifying surprised many, scoring three or more goals in over half their matches and never conceding more than once. They showed a steely resilience both in defending leads, which they did flawlessly, and in recovering from going behind where they clawed back a greater share of points than all but two fellow finalists.

Weaknesses: Their attack could be accused of lacking variety however, with few goals from set pieces or long range, and often took a while to get going. The lack of variety extends to personnel: no nation relied more heavily on their top three goalscorers, who converted 77% of their goals between them, which suggests that any attacking injuries or suspensions could be keenly felt.

Prospects: It will be fascinating to see how one of Europe’s emerging teams deals with the threat of Argentina, who themselves have been ruthless at defending leads and conduct the bulk of their goalscoring from the centre where Bosnia’s defence is weakest. Elsewhere in the group they look well equipped to deal with Iran’s numerous forays down the right, having conceded no qualifying goals from this area.

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Group F

Strengths: The Iranians relied more heavily on set pieces for goals than any other side heading for Brazil, with 40% of their goals being created from dead ball situations. The Iranians also managed not to concede a single long range goal during qualifying, one of only four teams to achieve this.

Weaknesses: Whatever makes Iran such an attacking threat from set pieces doesn’t translate to defending them, with no team conceding a greater share of goals in this way than their 57%. The same share of goals were conceded from close range, again the largest share of the 32 qualifying nations, which could prove costly in Brazil.

Prospects: Their preference for attacking from wide positions gives them a potential means of unsettling Argentina, who are much more comfortable in the centre, although both they and Bosnia will be tough to resist over 90 minutes. Nigeria’s love of long shots will test Iran’s defensive resilience, with the Nigerians’ own back line seemingly well-configured to neutralise the right-sided and set piece attacks Iran favour.

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Group F

Strengths: Nigeria scored in every single match during qualifying, making good use of free kicks and with the highest proportion of goals struck from outside the area. They also netted the largest share of late goals with nearly two thirds of their strikes coming in the last 15 minutes of games. The Super Eagles were one of the better nations at recovering from losing positions too, recovering an impressive 56% of possible points from these situations.

Weaknesses: While they didn’t concede many goals in qualifying, half of the ones they did were long-range efforts, so perhaps their strikers and goalkeepers need to train together more often. They were also one of the lowest scorers in qualifying, with their average of 1.38 goals per match the fifth lowest.

Prospects: Their opening match against Iran looks to be the most winnable, but the Iranians didn’t concede a single long range effort during qualifying. They did however concede the most goals from free kicks which should provide encouragement. Dead ball situations may also be their best chance to catch out Argentina, who along with Bosnia present a forbidding route to the second round.

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Group G

Strengths: Germany’s rampant goalscoring exploits during qualifying, where they registered an average of 3.6 goals per game, should concern any defence. They and the Netherlands were the only two teams to score at least twice in every match, with most of the Germans’ thrust coming from the centre where they created the third highest proportion of goals.

Weaknesses: Surprisingly however, they only managed to strike once from a set piece and didn’t convert a single header. At the back they were uncharacteristically lax at times, most notably down the flanks where stronger opponents were able to get the ball into the danger zone surprisingly easily.

Prospects: Portugal’s wingers will represent a tough early test for the German defence, so they’ll need to keep the ball in the middle if they want to enjoy more productive use of it. The stats don’t highlight any major threats from Ghana or the USA, although the Africans could catch them unawares with shots from distance.

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Group G

Strengths: Cristiano Ronaldo in full flow will cause problems for any team, and the set piece delivery which saw Portugal score from more corners than any other finalist is an obvious threat. Centre back Bruno Alves is the man to watch as the ball is whipped in: he’s converted two thirds of his team’s impressive corner haul. The persistence which saw them recover an impressive 61% of points from losing positions, coupled with the sheer number of late goals they scored, makes them difficult to write off.

Weaknesses: Only one of Portugal’s qualifying goals came from outside the area, which could limit their ability to catch defences unawares. Their own defence was among the more vulnerable sides to set pieces, specifically corners.

Prospects: Portugal find themselves in one of the tougher groups and all three of their Group G opponents prefer to attack from the centre, which is where Portugal’s defence has been the weakest. The wings are certainly their most promising source of goals against seeded Germany, while they should beware Ghana’s strength from set pieces.

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Group G

Strengths: Ghana proved a potent attacking force in qualifying, averaging 3.13 goals per match: the third highest scoring rate. Their threat was among the more varied, with their proportions of goals from both close and long range featuring among the top five. They also grabbed a third of their goals from dead balls and scored a higher proportion from headers than all but three sides.

Weaknesses: Things were less rosy when the pressure was on though: they failed to recover a single point from the matches where they fell behind. Their defence was also among the more vulnerable from the flanks, with half of the goals they conceded coming from wide positions contributing to very few clean sheets being kept.

Prospects: Being drawn into one of the candidates for the ‘Group of Death’ title wasn’t the most auspicious start: but Ghana do have some useful weapons at their disposal, with both the USA and Portugal looking vulnerable from close range and from set pieces. However their three group opponents are among the most regular scorers making the trip to Brazil – Portugal’s threat from wide is particularly worrying –  which will put pressure on the inconsistent Ghanaian defence.

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Group G

Strengths: The Americans have been most improved side in the FIFA Rankings over the last 12 months, gaining 243 ranking points and moving up from 27th to 14th, directly beneath England. Topping their qualifying group, they excelled at scoring from close range with the second highest proportion of goals from inside the six yard box.

Weaknesses: Their qualifying performance was far from perfect however, with keeping things tight early on and holding on to leads sometimes proving problematic. Repelling free kicks was also something their defence found difficult, with only two finalists conceding more from these situations. It remains to be seen whether any of these problems will be further exacerbated against top quality opposition.

Prospects: Group G is certainly among the toughest and even the supposedly weakest opponent, Ghana, are sufficiently well-practiced from set pieces to cause concern. Taking points from Portugal and Germany will obviously be a challenge: Portugal are an even greater set piece danger while the Germans’ relentless goalscoring in qualifying should worry anyone.

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Group H

Strengths: While they were one of seven finalists to score in every game, Belgium’s qualification was founded on a tight defence: only Spain conceded goals at a lower rate than their 0.4 per match. They created a greater proportion of goals from wide areas than anyone except Croatia and only two teams were more reliant on set pieces, with corners being a particular speciality.

Weaknesses: Belgium boast one of the more well-rounded attacks in the tournament, with the worst criticism that one could level at them being that they rarely scored more than twice. It’s likewise hard to pick too many holes in a defence that conceded so infrequently, but it’s worth noting that three quarters of the goals they shipped were created from wide positions and a similar proportion arrived late in matches.

Prospects: All three of their Group H opponents had trouble defending their flanks, with Algeria and South Korea also vulnerable from set pieces, so creating chances shouldn’t be a problem. The Algerians’ attacking strength down the flanks might surprise them however, as could South Korea’s habit of scoring late.

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Group H

Strengths: Algeria are one of the better African sides at long-range deliveries, with more goals from long balls than any of the 32 finalists and the seventh greatest share from set pieces. Defensively they kept things tight early on during qualifiers and kept their opponents at a distance, conceding few close-range efforts. They were also a menace down the wings, particularly the right, and one of seven finalists to score in every qualifying match.

Weaknesses: However they exhibited a tendency to switch off when defending set pieces, particularly corners, and only four sides conceded a higher proportion of goals from headers. With nearly three quarters of the goals they conceded being crafted via the flanks, their full backs look to be an obvious weakness and are in danger of being found out in Brazil.

Prospects: Their preference for wide play gives them a fighting chance in Group H, with all three of their opponents among the seven most susceptible finalists to attacks down the flanks. Defending early goals is something else that all three have struggled with, with the Algerians one of the faster starters in qualifying. While Belgium’s strengths from set pieces, the wings and the air look almost tailor-made to breach the Algerian defence, they certainly have the capacity to surprise in their other two fixtures.

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Group H

Strengths: During qualifying Russia didn’t concede once from outside the area, one of just four teams not to do so, and never conceded more than once in a match. They tended to start purposefully up front, with only three sides scoring a greater share of their goals in the opening 15 minutes of matches.

Weaknesses: Russia have seen their FIFA ranking drop more than any other qualifying nation in the last 12 months, losing over 200 points and dropping 13 places. While their overall defensive record was strong, they looked vulnerable from headers and deliveries from wide positions, which each accounted for over half the goals they conceded. They also failed to recover any points from games in which they fell behind.

Prospects: With their goals mainly coming from the centre during qualifying, Russia won’t be thrilled to learn that their three Group H opponents are all much more vulnerable down the flanks, so a change in game plan may be required. Both Algeria and South Korea are capable of producing the long balls that Russia found tricky to defend during qualifying, with the Algerians also adept at scoring from headers. This won’t be a straightforward group to get out of by any means.

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Group H

Strengths: Along with Algeria, who they’ll be sharing a group with, South Korea have relied the most on long balls to create goals during qualifying, with one in five of their goals arriving via ‘route one’. They created more of their goals from the left wing than any side except Croatia, with whom they also shared a proficiency for scoring at close range.

Weaknesses: It’s not been a good year for the South Koreans who currently find themselves the second lowest ranked team in the tournament. The 64% of the goals they conceded from the flanks is among the highest, while no finalist conceded a higher proportion of their goals in the opening quarter hour of matches and only Iran leaked a larger share from set pieces.

Prospects: The number of late goals they scored provides hope against Belgium and Russia who both conceded a disproportionate share of goals in the closing stages. However Belgium and Algeria look capable of punishing them from set pieces while Russia’s knack of scoring early could well stun them in their opening match.