Guest post: World Cup preview

10 Jun

My good pal and noted Mo Thugs enthusiast Tony wrote an extensive preview of the upcoming World Cup. On the off-chance that any of you readers are soccer fanatics, I encourage you to print this 6,500-word behemoth out for some top-notch toilet reading. Please note that Tony has asked me to apologize on his behalf for the lack of dick jokes. The World Cup is serious business.

I have sprinkled some comments of my own throughout, which you will find in italicized parentheses. Enjoy.


2010 World Cup Guide and Preview

The every-four-year summer tradition is now only days away as the World Cup has moved into their new home for the next month, South Africa. The first ever World Cup being played in Africa is greeted with great excitement and hope by both the hosts and the world.

Not only is this a huge milestone for the country that has gone through extraordinary political and social changes by providing South Africa the opportunity to show off everything about their culture and people, the tournament itself is highly anticipated. For the first time in recent memory, the tournament is wide open, with teams stocked with world class talent. And with the recent injury bug that has started biting in South Africa, teams that were considered favorites now have holes to fill.

How will Rio Ferdinand’s injury affect England’s chances? Can Germany cope without their talented midfielder Michael Ballack orchestrating their attack? Does the Ivory Coast stand a chance to get out of their group without Didier Drogba? (I assume that’s a fake name.) Beyond injuries, the other storylines highlighting the World Cup are very intriguing. Can the always talented and entertaining Spanish and Dutch squads exorcise their World Cup demons and finally win the Cup? For the first time ever, how will the United States handle expectations to advance? (It’s so adorable how everyone is trying to talk themselves into the US being serious contenders.) How will Argentina and France do with their questionable managers leading them? What affect will the conditions of the Southern Hemisphere climate and altitude of South Africa have?

With so many questions and storylines, let’s take a group by group look at the teams and who will advance.

Group A

France

Les Bleus are this year’s team everybody loves to hate by qualifying through the uncalled handball of Thierry Henry against Ireland in their two-leg playoff. Controversial call aside, what are their chances?

Well, this team is loaded with proven talent despite the glaring omissions of striker Karim Benzema and midfielders Samir Nasri and longtime stalwart Patrick Vieira; they have a great talent in keeper with Hugo Lloris and a collection of Arsenal defenders in William Gallas, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy as well as Patrice Evra and Eric Abidal, goal scorers in the midfield in Franck Ribery and Flourent Malouda, young playmaker Yoann Gourcuff and holding midfielder Abou Diaby, and two legitimate strikers in Nicolas Anelka and the aforementioned Thierry Henry. (You lost me at Karim.)

They also have the historical pedigree in being one of seven countries to win the Cup (1998), however there are some major question marks surrounding the World Cup founders. One, their lame duck manager, Raymond Domenech: the French Football Federation already announced he will be replaced after the World Cup, and frankly they waited too long. The French struggled during qualification and have looked less than impressive in pre World Cup friendlies, losing to lowly China recently. Domenech has not garnered the strongest support from his players of late as well, with reports swirling that team morale is at an all time low.

Two, the scandal involving team sparkplug, Franck Ribery, and his alleged involvement in an underage prostitution ring at a Paris club. (Finally, some intrigue! How old were these prostitutes? Just trying to gauge precisely how disgusted I should be.) With dysfunction being the prime word to describe this squad, and expectations being remarkably low in France, qualifying for the knockout stage would be mildly surprising. (17? 16? Can’t be younger than that, could it?)

However, Domenech led a squad under similar floundering circumstances into the 2006 World Cup and that team found themselves playing in the finals. (When are we going to get back to this Ribery creep?) Critics are quick to point out that was because of Zinedine Zidane’s inspired performance and despite of Domenech… how will 2010 play out for the French? That is one of the biggest questions of the tourney (pretty sure my questions are bigger).

Their opener against Uruguay is important but not all-telling; in 2006 they started very slowly by barely getting out of their group and yet were one Zidane head butt away from winning it. This team can be scary good or scary bad, I honestly would not be surprised if they won Group A or crashed out badly. (Since you continue to ignore me, I’m going to go with 15. Fucking creep.)

Mexico

El Tri qualified for South Africa being the runners up in CONCACAF (is this a typo? God I hope so) to the USA. The Mexicans looked like a different team after Javier Aguirre returned to lead the squad.

Mexico’s main talent is based in Europe, with defender Rafael Marquez, attacking midfielder Giovanni dos Santos, forward Carlos Vela and Manchester United’s new signing, Javier Hernandez. Their talents can make Mexico look like world beaters one day that can make some serious noise in the World Cup, and the perennial knockout stage losers the next day, with their recent friendly with England being a prime example. However, Mexico looks to be in the driver seat in Group A with the question marks surrounding main threat France. If Mexico can advance, they will be looking to get over the hump and get past the 1st round of the knockout stage for the first time since 1986.

South Africa

Bafana Bafana (coincidentally, the planned name of my firstborn son) is the team of the tourney as they are playing on home soil. However, with that privilege comes high expectations in that no host nation has ever failed to advance out of the first round. Many believe that this could be the first time that happens, and I agree. On paper, the group is just too difficult for them to navigate with two past World Cup Champions and Mexico rounding into form. Although I do not expect them to advance, they can make life very difficult for the other three teams. Steven Pienaar is their playmaker in the midfield who hones his craft for Everton in the English Premier League. If he can conjure up some magic, South Africa can take three vital points from one of the other teams. They are looking like a classic spoiler team.

Uruguay

This proud soccer nation does not live in the hierarchy of soccer countries as it once did. They won the 1930 and 1950 World Cups but have had little success since. Expectations in Uruguay are always unrealistically high due to their historical success, but they lack the quality and depth to be considered legitimate threats for the title. Diego Forlan provides a proven scoring threat to go along with some other aging players. If France stumbles, Uruguay is the team to most likely benefit.

Who advances?

I think Mexico takes the group and, despite my sentimental feelings, I think France finds a way to advance. If France can take three points from Uruguay in the opening match, that will be huge for the Frenchies chances and mental state.

Group B

Argentina

The team with one of the best uniforms in the tournament and arguably the best player on the planet enters with maybe the second biggest question mark at manager in Diego Maradona. In spite of all of his brilliance as a player in the 80’s, he is described as a potential “trainwreck” by the media as a manager.

In all honesty, it shouldn’t come as that much of a shock. Maradona is still the biggest name to be kicked out of a World Cup for a failed drug test in 1994 and is an admitted cocaine addict for almost 20 years. (I’ll be reading the rest of this preview while on my knees praying to god for a cocaine-addled freakout session.)

Argentina slept through qualifying by barely edging out Uruguay for the final automatic bid in South America, including an embarrassing 6-1 loss to Bolivia along the way. Yet, this team has a wealth of talent led by the diminutive Lionel Messi. The skills of Messi are a cut above anybody else right now and he can literally win a game by himself (You all heard about that one time he beat Slovenia all by himself, one-on-eleven, right?), with his 4-goal performance for Barcelona against Arsenal in the year’s Champions League solidifying that.

Argentina has more than just Messi. Diego Milito, Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain are all fine talents that can put the ball in the net. I fully expect Argentina to get out of this group; their talent outclasses the other three teams despite of Maradona’s attempts to screw the pooch (failed attempts, sadly, on account of the cocaine, though we do give him credit for keeping at it for nine straight hours), however one thing to note is Maradona’s style. He favors more of a counter-attacking style while Messi enjoys the possession and passing style with Barcelona…can that limit his effectiveness? Perhaps in the knockout round when the big boys are waiting for them, but not in the group. Argentina should advance easily.

Greece

The shock 2004 European Champions enter this tournament much like they do every other competition: very nondescript. This team’s style is very defensive and quite frankly terribly boring to watch. They pack everybody in, clog up the midfield and foul and kick you to death. It is honestly brutal to watch. (I now hate Greece.) A common soccer formation is a 4-4-2, meaning 4 defenders in the back, 4 midfielders with usually two attacking the goal to support the 2 forwards; Greece starts out in an unheard of 6-3-1 which typically morphs into a 9-0-1. (Gross.)

If you are a novice and looking to get into soccer, stay away from watching Greece, they’ll make you hate the sport. With that said, Greece loves a 0-0 score and fights hard for it, however they lack offensive talent and are in trouble if they fall behind early. If they can somehow get a win and a couple draws, they have a good shot to advance, but that is a big IF.

Nigeria

The Super Eagles were Africa’s premier team in the 80’s and early 90’s, but that has faded of late as they had a terrible World Cup in Japan in 2002 and failed to qualify for Germany in 2006.  This current Nigerian team should advance, they have talent playing across Europe with many playing in England. Nigeria will look to Kanu, Obafemi Martins, Yakuba and John Utaka up top for goals, Chelsea’s John Obi Mikel in the midfield and Joseph Yobo to anchor the back four. I honestly do not know too much about Nigeria, but I like what they have on paper.

South Korea

South Korea had their best finish when they co-hosted in 2002 in Japan with a 4th place finish; they didn’t advance out of the group in 2006 and I don’t see them advancing this year. They have some players based in Europe including Park Ji-Sung who plays for Manchester United, however they have trouble scoring goals. I don’t see them causing much damage, stay as far away as you can from their matchup with Greece, unless you want to catch a nap or are blatantly seeking out ammo to demonstrate why you hate soccer.

Who advances?

Besides the internal fireworks of Argentina, this is a pretty lackluster group. I expect Argentina to comfortably advance and Nigeria to move on as well.

Group C

Algeria

The Desert Foxes’ first World Cup appearance since 1982 is widely considered a surprise appearance. Algeria had to knock off rivals and defending three-time African Cup of Nations Champion, Egypt, in a one-game playoff. Algeria is a notable underdog in this group; they have some players based in Europe but lack the overall tactical skills to cause teams like England problems. However, they will fight and be pesky so the key is to get on them early and give them the knockout blow as soon as possible. Nothing gives an underdog more confidence than hanging around.

England

The Three Lions. The inventors of the game. The 1966 Champions. The home to the best domestic league on the planet, yet notorious underachievers and dare I say, the biggest choke artists in the tournament? (No worries brah, I got this: these guys are the  biggest choke artists in the tournament.)

For all the talent the country has, they haven’t been able to put it together in recent years. Dating back to 1998, their Achilles heels of penalty kicks, questionable goalkeeping and lack of discipline/short tempers have come back to haunt them and derail their title hopes. In 1998 David Beckham was shown the door early in their eventual penalty-kicks exit to Argentina. In 2002 a poor goalkeeping decision on a Brazilian free kick got them bounced in the quarters, and in 2006 a Wayne Rooney red card did the team no favors as it ultimately bowed out to Portugal on penalty kicks. Throw in them embarrassingly missing out on Euro 2008, England was in disarray heading into the 2010 World Cup qualification.

Enter Fabio Capello. The Italian has transformed the English into a more disciplined side by ushering out the WAGs (Wives and Girlfriends) era that his predecessors Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren let run the team. (The lesson here is that, once again, the women are to blame.) Can this translate into success? Well, if qualification is any indicator, yes. England breezed through with a record of 9-0-1 (9 wins, 0 draws, 1 loss) and outscoring opponents 34-6. However, towards the end of the domestic season, scandal popped up and turned the attention off of the World Cup towards some players.

Reports surfaced that Chelsea defenders John Terry and Ashley “Cashley” (not a fan of his since he left Arsenal) Cole had affairs. (Hey, England cares just as much about infidelity gossip as us!) In the case of John Terry, it was reported he housed ex-teammate Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend, which lead to Bridge quitting the National Team. Ashley Cole on the other hand had a bit of a Tiger Woods twist to his scandal, in that he was slam-dancing more than one gal, rumors are it is anywhere from 3 to 6 tomcats. (Reminds me of mine and Tony’s high school days. Up high, Tony! Oh, wait, you can’t hear me.)

Cole’s affair is a little mind boggling in that his wife is unreal hot; google Cheryl Cole when you get a chance, you won’t be disappointed.

Capello responded by stripping Terry of the captaincy in favor of Rio Ferdinand. However, like a lot of other teams, injuries have become an issue for England with Ferdinand set to miss the entire World Cup  and midfielder Gareth Berry battling fitness tests to prove he is healthy enough to play. Furthermore, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Cole and Aaron Lennon are either dealing with nagging injuries or just coming back from injury. Throw in hobbled defender Ledley King and the English have a host of players not at 100%.

Should this matter for advancing? Not at all. England still has talent all over the pitch and should advance to the knockout round. Wayne Rooney will be ready to go, he is coming off his best season as a professional for Manchester United and is arguably the best striker in the world (Didier Drogba may have something to say about that). They have talent in the midfield with Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, speed on the wings in Aaron Lennon and Shawn Wright-Phillips, John Terry anchoring the back four and despite his off-the-field issues, Ashley Cole is still the best left back in the world. They could get tested in their opener vs. the US, but have too much talent not to advance.

Slovenia

Slovenia is the other underdog in this group with Algeria. Most of their players play somewhere in Europe, however I have not heard of any of them. That should not make them a pushover though; they upset heavily-favored Russia in a playoff to qualify. They have an experienced back four and a good goalkeeper, that combo can keep any team in a game. If Slovenia advances it will be largely because of their defense.

USA

The Yanks. For the first time in their World Cup history the US are favored to advance, and rightfully so. 20 out of their 23 players are playing in Europe, with two of them, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey, becoming genuine forces in England. A third, Landon Donovan, also had a very successful loan spell at Everton this past season. The Yanks qualified for South Africa by winning CONCACAF (still think that’s a typo) and are coming off a runner-up finish to Brazil at least year’s Confederations Cup where they squandered a 2-0 lead.

However, along the way they beat Egypt 3-0 and world #1 Spain, 2-0. This team should have the confidence to advance and not shy away from the expectations. They have more talent than any other US Men’s National Team with the before mentioned Tim Howard in goal, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan attacking on the wings, midfielders Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu and Jose Torres and striker Jozy Altidore. The main question is in the back, where injuries have Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit at less than 100%, the US will have to turn to Clarence Goodson and Jonathon Spector. Surprise selections Herculez Gomez and Robbie Findlay look to be super subs up top.

For the Americans to recapture the magic of their spectacular run in 2002 and avoid the disappointment of 2006, they need Landon Donovan to keep up his 2010 form and cause problems for opposing defenders. First up is Ashley Cole and England, in their matchup this year in the English Premier League, Donovan’s Everton club won 2-1 and Donovan outplayed Cole all night and provided multiple scoring chances. The US also need Tim Howard to continue his current form, with questions along the back four they’ll need their keeper to be stellar between the posts. Lastly, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are two other players the US need big World Cups from. Dempsey has made impressive progress this season at Fulham including one of the goals of the year this season against Italian giants Juventus.

The goal in the video sealed Fulham’s spot in the next round of the Europa League and he also scored a goal for Fulham during his first season at the club to keep them in the English Premier League. In the 2006 World Cup he was the only American to score and he was named the third best player in the 2009 Confederations Cup behind two Brazilians. Jozy Altidore provides the Yanks with a combination of speed and strength; he needs to be a threat so opposing defenses cannot focus in on Donovan and Dempsey.

Who advances?

Algeria and Slovenia will be feisty opponents, but I would be shocked if England and the US do not advance. As  a US fan, it will be a failure if they do not make it to the round of 16.

Group D

Australia

The Socceroos cruised through qualification for their third World Cup appearance. In 2006, they reached the knockout stage, this time around could prove to be a little more difficult. Some experts are calling Group D the “Group of Death”; I won’t go that far but will say it is a tough group.  The Australians have quality in goal with Fulham keeper Mark Schwarzer, playmakers in the midfield with Vince Grella and Tim Cahill, but are severely lacking in the final third. Australia’s death blow could be the fact that they have trouble scoring goals, in their friendly this past Saturday against the USA, they had difficulty solving the American’s back four. For the Socceroos to advance against stiff competition, somebody will need to step up… I just don’t see it.

Germany

Ze Germans are always a formidable foe in the World Cup; they are always organized, always disciplined, and never make mental mistakes that beat themselves. They are not known for flashy play with slick passing like the Spanish or the Dutch, but rather a direct and regimented approach that gets players forward and in position to score. They are three-time World Cup winners and four-time runners up, and a sneaky good pick to win this year despite missing captain Michael Ballack, and  #1 keeper Rene Adler, to injury.

Germany still has talent all over the field with Philipp Lahm taking over the captaincy in the back four, Bastian Schweinsteiger attacking from the wing and Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose up top. Young gun Thomas Muller could be the Germans big breakout star, the Bayern Munich striker knocked in 19 goals for Bayern Munich this season and may be the guy to step up in Ballack’s absence. I like Germany to advance.

Ghana

The Black Stars enter their second World Cup ever after reaching the knockout stage in 2006. This year they will have to duplicate that performance without Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien. Perhaps the best overall midfielder in the tournament, Essien’s void will be gaping. Ghana will have to rely on veterans Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah as well as youngster Kevin-Prince Boateng in the midfield. If Ghana can somehow find someone to step up in Essien’s absence and create and score goals, and maybe throw in some of the host continent magic, they’ll advance… however, that maybe a lot to ask.

Serbia

The Serbs enter the 2010 World Cup as an independent nation for the first time, and what a group to be flying solo in for the first time. Serbia’s strength is in their back line, with Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic as the rock in the middle and Chelsea’s Branoslav Ivanovic out wide. Creativity will be provided by Dejan Stankovic, the 31-year-old captain will be called on one more time by his country to produce. The keys to Serbia advancing to the knockout round are Vidic and Stankovic. If Vidic can limit his cards Stankovic has something left in the tank, this team could be dangerous.

Who advances?

Very tough to pinpoint, but I like Germany to do enough to win the group, and the winner of the Ghana-Serbia game to also advance.

Group E

Cameroon

The Indomitable Lions have historically been Africa’s most successful teams by qualifying for the World Cup six times including a quarterfinal finish in 1990 and winning the African Cup of Nations four times. A team built on a strong back four of veterans in Geremi, Rigobert Song and Benoit Assou-Ekotto and a contingent of tough midfielders lead by Arsenal’s Alex Song will be a tough out. The goal scoring will come from Inter Milan’s Samuel Eto’o. Eto’o, who used to play for Barcelona, was an instrumental part of Inter Milan’s Champions League winning team. Cameroon will be depending and Eto’o to be an active playmaker, if he can do that I like Cameroon’s chances to advance.

Denmark

The Danes have been on the world soccer radar since the 1980s when they were affectionately known as the “Danish Dynamite.” Historically known as a small country with the capability to knock off the world powers, including taking Brazil to the wire in a 3-2 loss in the 1998 quarters. That historical prominence came true in qualifying for 2010 in upsetting favorites Portugal and Sweden to win their group. A true team in every sense of the word, Denmark does not boast any world superstars, rather good players playing on teams scattered throughout Europe’s top leagues. Liverpool’s Daniel Agger is the man in the middle of the defense, but the key to their offense and success his Arsenal striker Niklas Bendtner. The 22 year old is Denmark’s main cog of the attack, he showed flashes of brilliance this season at Arsenal but is also known to disappear at times, for the Danes to advance Bendtner has to be heard from in every game.

Japan

The Blue Samurai really received an F sandwich (are you saying “fuck sandwich”? Man I hope so) for their group draw: a world power in the Netherlands, a talented African team in Cameroon and a tough Denmark squad. Thanks for showing up, guys. No chance they advance.

Netherlands

The Oranje is the other team in the World Cup that can make the claim for best uniforms, that bright Orange they and their fans wear is really cool.

I’m putting this out there right now: I’m a sucker for these guys, so forgive me right now. The common phrase to describe the Dutch is that they would rather play attractive soccer and lose, than win ugly. I would make the comparison that their style of play is similar to the Steve Nash/Mike D’Antoni “7 seconds or less” Phoenix Suns teams, run and gun and outscore the other team. (I have just decided the Netherlands are my favorite team. I’m picturing a bunch of dudes running around doing tons of bicycle kicks. And, for some reason, cartwheels.)

Which helps explain why they are one of the best soccer nations to not win a World Cup. In 1974 the great Johan Cruyff lead a talented and fun-loving bunch into the World Cup playing a brand new style called “Total Football.” The Dutch marched past everybody en route to the finals against West Germany and jumped to an early lead, and when they decided to turn the game into a skills display and stopped scoring, the Germans came back and won. Their showboating, coupled with the story that members of the team were up partying the night before with some German gals, led to that disappointment. (Nothing you just said diminishes my brand-new love for this team.) In 1978 in Argentina, the Oranje predominantly returned the same team, with the exception of Cruyff,. Rumors are he was one of the ones partying in ’74 and his wife would not let him go due to some late night skinny dipping in ’74 (uptight shrew)… just classic if that’s true; which led to a second consecutive second place finish.

This year’s team fits the classic Dutch mold to a T, attacking talent is all over the pitch and they can easily hang four goals on you in a half and seven for a game. With the likes of Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Mark van Bommel, Rafael van der Vaart and Dirk Kuyt attacking from midfield and forward, goals will not be in short supply. For the Dutch to make a run at the title, they need Nigel de Jong to solidify the defensive midfield and the aging Giovanni van Bronckhorst to recall his younger form on the back line; and as much as they would probably rather play without a keeper, they need Maarten Stekelenburg to step up for the retied Edwin van der Sar.

I highly recommend watching these guys play, their attacking style and pretty passing is a delight to watch…. also, how can you not like a team with a history of late night boozing and boobing? They’re my kind of team.

Who advances?

I expect the Netherlands to win the group and the winner of the Cameroon-Denmark game to take the other spot.

Group F

Italy

The defending champions bring a very similar team to that which won in 2006, and the fact that this is four years later is not good. Despite ditching longtime midfielder Francesco Totti and forward Luca Toni, the Azzurri are an aging team. The back four is led by team captain Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluca Zambrotta; they can still produce brilliance by have a fair number games built up in their legs. The midfield attack will be shouldered by Daniele de Rossi and Andrea Pirlo and goals will look to be scored by Vincenzo Iaquinta and Alberto Gilardino. If the veterans can hold up, this team has the talent to go far, and they will always have a chance with Gianluigi Buffon in net.

New Zealand

The All Whites. The Kiwis are another team just happy to be here, they qualified out of the very weak Oceania region and have no chance at advancing. A tie would be a nice highlight for them.

Paraguay

Paraguay is led by Manchester City striker Roque Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is their biggest global player and will be depended on heavily to score goals since his striking partner, Salvador Cabanas was shot in the head this winter in Mexico City. (Is that a figure of speech I’m not aware of, or did you just casually mention a dude being literally shot in the head?) Should take points from New Zealand, will have difficulty taking anything from the Italians, and will essentially be playing a playoff with Slovakia to advance.

Slovakia

I have no clue who is on their team, but they will be a typical central European team: rugged, compact and spirited. Same scenario as Paraguay.

Who advances?

This group does absolutely nothing for me. I’ve never been a fan of Italy’s defensive style, but this group is so weak that they will walk to the knockout stage. Both Paraguay and Slovakia can advance, whoever does will be ousted in the knockout round. Such a bad group, I do not plan on watching one game from Group F.

Group G – THE GROUP OF DEATH (Would not be surprised if they got this name because the losing teams will be executed by their home countries.)

Brazil

The name is synonymous with world class and success. Brazil is the only nation to qualify for every single World Cup and possesses the most titles with five. Their style of play as long been called Joga Bonito, meaning “Beautiful Play” in Portuguese.

However, the 2010 version is modeled after their manager’s vision. Dunga was the rock of the midfield in the 1994 Cup winning team, and has molded Brazil into an attacking team that can score 4 goals and at the same time keep the opposition off of the board. His early decisions on members of the team have raised eyebrows in Brazil and around the world; gone are longtime attacking midfielder and embracer of Joga Bonito Ronaldinho and young playmaker Alexandre Pato. The Brazilians are led by Real Madrid’s Kaka (Kaka?) in the midfield, he leads the attack and will distribute the ball forwards Luis Fabiano, Robinho and youngsters Nilmar and Grafite. Besides Kaka (Kaka?) in the midfield, Gilberto Silva is the main ball winner and provides cover in front of the back four which is home to Maicon and Lucio and world class goalkeeper Julio Cesar. The Brazilians qualified with ease and have so much talent and depth that a deep run in this World Cup is expected, as they showed in last year’s Confederations Cup, an 0-2 hole is something they are fully capable of climbing out of.

Ivory Coast

Les Elephants were supposed to be the darlings of the 2010 World Cup with a roster chock-full of talent, many experts tipped them to not only advance out of the vaunted “Group of Death” but carry the African flag deep into the knockout stage. Their thoughts were well warranted, Les Elephants have numerous players based in Europe with quality at every position: the defense is built on Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue, the midfield has Yaya Toure (Kolo’s younger brother) and Didier Zokora, and forwards have Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and the world class Didier Drogba. However, with Drogba injuring his elbow in their last friendly and needing emergency surgery, his status is very much in question. With Drogba, the Ivory Coast have a legit shot to advance and make a deep run, the Chelsea striker is currently living in a league above the rest, only Wayne Rooney can make the honest claim that he lives on the same block as Drogba. Without Drogba, I think the group is too difficult to get out of, both Brazil and Portugal are going to score and I don’t think they have enough firepower to keep up if he’s not in the lineup.

North Korea

I have a better chance of winning Playboy’s 2010 Playmate of the Year award than these guys have of advancing. (Sure, but you were a beast in your prime.) Nobody really has a clue about these clowns, they just mistakenly listed an outfield player as a goalkeeper so he can only play keeper during the tourney. The only interesting thing about this team is if any of their players will defect during their stay, if they’re smart they will.

Portugal

Portugal struggled during qualification and barely got in, then got the worst possible scenario drawing Brazil and the Ivory Coast, but their chances to advance have improved now that Drogba’s health is in question. They will be competitive, with dynamic playmaker Cristiano Ronaldo and the ageless Deco, as well as Chelsea defenders Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho. However, the injury bug has bit them as well, Jose Bosingwa has been ruled out for awhile and recently winger Nani has exited due to a collarbone injury. Getting out of the group is very attainable, I’m just not sure a deep run is realistic.

Who advances?

When this group was drawn it contained two legitimate world powers (Brazil and Portugal) and the sexy sleeper team from the African continent in the Ivory Coast. However, with Didier Drogba being a huge question mark going into the tournament, I expect the Portuguese speakers of Brazil and Portugal to advance, and finish in that order.

Group H


Chile

La Roja is a team to keep an eye on as a dark horse. They play an attacking brand of soccer that can deploy up to six players, but also leaves them vulnerable for counter attacks. They are young and talented and proved to be very dangerous during qualification by coming in second behind Brazil in South America. They are essentially a bunch of young nobodies, but all that could change after a good World Cup. Their manager, Marcelo Bielsa, has World Cup experience with Argentina and has the Chileans believing they can do some damage.

Honduras

Honduras needed a US draw with Costa Rica to qualify for their first World Cup since 1982. They have a great player in do-it-all midfielder Wilson Palacios. The Tottenham MF is expected to break up opposing teams attacks and launch Honduras’. Getting out of the group will be difficult with Spain and Chile both likely taking three points from them.

Spain

The reigning European Champions are flying a high into the World Cup by going 10-0-0 and crushing everybody during qualification. They have only lost one game in their past 47 and pretty much return the 2008 squad to South Africa. In my opinion, they are the most talented team in South Africa, however they have a number of players fighting niggling injuries.

Fortunately for Spain, none of that will matter until the knockout stage; their depth is tremendous. Their talent in midfield would make any manger blush: Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso and David Silva are superiorly talented to everybody else in the tournament save Brazil; when Cesc Fabregas can’t get into your midfield, depth is not something you have to worry about. Their style of play consists of a lot of possession through short passes to allow any midfielder to attack or feed their forwards as well giving their wingbacks the opportunity to push up if the chance is there. I highly recommend watching as many Spain games as you can, their quality is unrivaled.  

Switzerland

I wish I could say some nice things about Switzerland, but when a team has a roster comprised of no major stars, washed up veterans and guys who have failed at major clubs, there really isn’t anything good to say. (Their Alps are nice?) Both Spain and Chile are better and I don’t know where they are going to get goals from.

Who advances?

A pretty straightforward group. Spain should have no problem winning and I expect Chile to blitz Honduras and/or Switzerland and take the second spot.

***

Who wins the 2010 World Cup?

Not easy to pick one team, but I will give you a list of 5 potential winners. Only 7 teams have ever lifted the World Cup: Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Uruguay, France and England, is it a coincidence that one of the seven keep winning?

Wild card – Argentina – talent in the attacking third and Lionel Messi make this team very dangerous, but Maradona has the potential to bring them down.

#5 – England – if they can get serviceable goalkeeping out of their expected number one (David James) with no major mental lapses and keep the cards down, they will be heard from. I think Capello is the man to keep discipline in the squad, and Wayne Rooney is an offensive force… if only Capello could do something about those pesky penalty kicks.

#4 – Germany – they always find a way to get results. I would have them a spot up if Ballack was healthy, but they will advance from their group and grind out a few wins in the early knockout rounds and the next thing you know they are in the semifinals. They are not flashy so you don’t notice them and the media doesn’t gush about them, but they are a very solid team.

#3 – Netherlands – their offensive talent is unquestioned, but can they play enough defense and score goals when teams can match their talent level? Personally, I think the semifinals are in the cards for them.

#2 – Brazil – basically 1a behind Spain, very good and I expect them to be in the finals.

#1 – Spain a Spain-Brazil final would be a wet dream for the soccer enthusiast. An assembly of the best players in the world playing a very eye pleasing style of soccer.

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3 Responses to “Guest post: World Cup preview”

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