The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

November 21, 2013

World Cup crystal ball: 10 predictions for Brazil

(Continued)

PANEL: Just 3 of 14 agree.

DOMENECH: Agrees with Jerome. "They should get through their group but risk quick elimination in a knockout game."

___

WHO WILL WIN THE GOLDEN BOOT? Lionel Messi is going to correct the major blemish on his hugely prolific career scoring record and take home the Golden Boot. Heading to his third World Cup, the four-time world player of the year has scored — you'll have trouble believing this — just once at the World Cup: in his first match in 2006. Messi played well but got no goals in 2010 for an Argentina team coached quixotically by Diego Maradona. Under coach Alejandro Sabella, Messi's genius will finally shine in Brazil. Even his time sidelined by early season injuries will keep him fresher for national duty in June when he should be reaching his career peak at 27. Messi scored 10 times in 14 qualifying matches. If the Dec. 6 draw groups Argentina with the Netherlands and Ivory Coast, just like 2006, the team will need Messi scoring. Just a single game against weaker defenses could see sufficient Messi goals for the Golden Boot, especially since he is also Argentina's designated penalty-taker. In 2010, Germany's Thomas Mueller high-scored with five goals. By Graham Dunbar in Switzerland.

PANEL: Just under half — 6 of 14 — agree.

DOMENECH: Disagrees. "I think it will be a Brazilian."

___

WILL LIONEL MESSI SHINE? No. Messi won't be healthy enough. He's running out of gas, picking up injuries with alarming regularity, the latest a left-leg muscle tear. He appears to be paying for his keenness to play every match and for rough tackles he's endured over the years from opponents he frustrates. Under ex-coach Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Messi enjoyed long spells without injury. But Guardiola moved on and Messi broke down with a hamstring problem at the end of last season. At the World Cup, stars have little time to shine — a maximum of seven matches in one month if they make the final. Messi needs to be fully fit and that looks unlikely. By Stephen Wade in Brazil.

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