Hi, my name’s Luke, and I am your guide to all things World Cup here at the Barcelona Football Blog. This is part 1 of 2 in the preview before the big event. Hopefully we will have some live blogs for some of the games and some good predictions from everyone on the board. Besides, this is the World Cup. If you are not excited about it, please stop reading now. Anyway, enjoy the previews.
To many of us, sports serve a useful purpose in our lives. They provide us with a sense of inclusion, competition, and a way to feel like we are part of something bigger than we actually are, whether fans of gigantic clubs like FCB, or much smaller teams like Chievo, the parameters are all the same. The case is even stronger for national teams when feelings of pride for one’s homeland combine with the aforementioned factors in sports. Normally, this is where it ends: Sports having their place in our lives behind other concerns like family and society. However, on certain occasions, sports are liable to transcend those boundaries and become a bigger part of the lives of millions and billions of people. That is the World Cup.
The World Cup is special, I cannot think of a better way to say this. It is hard to understate the cultural, sporting, and emotional impact that our planet’s largest sporting event imparts. For better or for worse, the hopes and fears and dreams of nations and peoples rest on the shoulders of 23 men playing with a ball in some far off land. The histories being played out on the field usually stands as a microcosm for contemporaneous political and social events occurring at that time. Whether it is the waning English empire and their team’s oppressive arrogance in ignoring the first 3 tournaments, and then showing for the 4th like they owned the place only to be cut down by the Americans in an unbelievable game. Or a wealthy organization holding the games in South African to show the symbolic “rise” of Africa in terms of international football significance and industrialized nations capable of trading and providing for the welfare of their citizens (not that Africa needs any of this “proof” as it has been making strides for many years, but I mean, large corporations and nations have been doing this for a very long time – Belgium/America in the Congo?); all while possibly further bankrupting the South African economy for years to come (see blood diamonds/Greece in the wake of the 2000 Olympic Games). Many other examples could be made, and likely will be, but suffice it to say, they go to proving that this is the world’s biggest, and most important, sporting event.
Please do not confuse me on this. I am usually one to scoff at lazy sportswriters who attempt to conflate every happening in a given sport with the real life problems facing citizens (I am looking at you Rick Reilly). However, this is the one recurring exception.
Possibly for this very reason, the tournament means so much to so many people. Lifting the Jules Rimet trophy is the ultimate goal for any player, coach, or fan. Winning it also serves as the trump card in almost any argument about player greatness throughout the history of the game. At its best, the tournament stops nations in camaraderie and joy, brings in new fans, and serves as the showcase for all that is good in the game. It also serves to the best in talent and makes some players careers (as well as more money than god): Eusebio putting on the most dominant attacking performance in the history of the games (not statistically-speaking, but in my opinion). Lev Yashin single-handedly willing marginal Soviet teams to greater heights than they should have ever reached through superior goal minding. Franz Beckenbauer playing stoppage time in a semi-final with a broken arm because West Germany were out of substitutions. Then of course there are the better-known instances of Pele, Maradona, and Zidane. I could go on for hours, but then you would leave without getting to the warm, nougaty center of this piece.
All that being said and without further ado, here is your Barcelona Football Blog World Cup preview in all its glory. After nearly 4 years, 848 matches, and 203 of the 207 registered national teams, there are 32 teams vying for the title. The introductory materials will proceed in two parts: First, information on each of Barça’s players as well as what we can expect for them going forward. The second part will contain predictions and team updates. Thereafter, updates will continue throughout the tournament.
FC Barcelona’s Involvement in the 2010 Games
As surprising as this might sound regarding one of the world’s most successful club teams, Barça’s involvement in the World Cup has been relatively sparse. Aside from hosting 5 games during the 1982 World Cup (1 semi-final), only two players, Romario during the 1994 games and Rivaldo in 2002, have hoisted the trophy while a member of FCB.
Certainly the club has had numerous players on the team who have won a World Cup: Diego Maradona (’78, ’86), Zambrotta (’06), Henry (’98), Real Ronaldo (’94, ’02), and Ronaldinho (’02), etc. This list is very likely to grow this year.
There certainly are a number of reasons for Barcelona’s supposed failure. The most predominate of which is that for many years club teams were almost entirely made up of domestic players, and while Spain has fielded a few impressive sides, they have never won. The best finish for the greatest international football side to have never won the Cup was 4th at Brazil in 1950. The reasons for Spain’s lack of success from a country that has produced so many greats are numerous and the subject of much debate.
The boys who wrote Soccernomics would likely tell you it is a combination of Spain’s relatively small population (compared to say Brazil, Germany, etc.), the control that the Generalissimo exerted in keeping the Spanish economy down for so many years (and preferring a certain club over the good of a national team), and the insular nature of the totalitarian rule all causing an adverse affect on the national team (although having a very poor economy never hurt Brazil, but they are an exception). Another just as likely scenario is that unlike many westernized, economically powerful nations, Spain is splintered into near-secessionist autonomous states that have fought against each (more figuratively than literally) within the collective of Spain for many years. With Catalonia and the Basque region each petitioning FIFA to be recognized as their own national teams, it is in many ways a nation divided. At least until Euro 2008 when it all came together. The team beat most of the great nations of the world handily and won that tournament. Now it seems all is well in sporting terms and the team is ready to finally fulfill its massive potential.
Now, if all this coverage and talk about Spain seems ancillary (or pointless, depending on your level of tact) to you, well, I never said I wasn’t prone to asides. Also, being that Barcelona is still in the country of Spain and that over half of all Barça first-teamers are Spanish, and nearly half of La Furia Roja’s 23-man for the World Cup is from FCB, perhaps you will forgive me for the occasional quant soliloquy on the national side.
After boring and possibly confusing you like the last hour of the Lost finale, we now move on to the FC Barcelona players who will be competing in the 2010 FIFA World Cup (also, if I miss a certain player’s best role on a given national team, let me know, and I will edit, thanks).
Lionel Messi – 10 – Striker, Argentina
Our very own best player in the world still has one massive flaw in his curriculum vitae, his play for his national team (not to say it is his fault, because it is not, since Maradona is one of the worst coaches I have ever witnessed, but numbers is numbers). Messi has ruled La Liga and Europe for the past 2 or 3 years but he has never been able to put it together with a heavily talented squad featuring Mascherano, Di Maria, Higuain, etc. Most of this probably has to do with incompetent Argentinean coaches using Messi in the wrong roles, but I digress. In order to be the best ever, he has to lead his team to the ultimate prize.
Argentine players who missed out: Gabriel Milito (although his absence is likely due to the lengthy injury that kept him out for so many months).
Thierry Henry – 14 – Striker/Winger, France
As previously noted, Henry has already won in 1998. As one of the most accomplished players in the world, he is still an integral part of the French national side, his earlier actions against Ireland notwithstanding. Henry still has a chance to push a questionably coached and confusingly pieced together into the middle rounds and prove he still has a few in the tank. Henry has scored 3 previous goals during the World Cup.
Eric Abidal – 22 – Defender/Left Winger, France
For a good while, Abidal was a starting defender for Les Blues until he was sent off early in the match that saw France eliminated during Euro 2008 (even playing as much time as possible during the 2006 World Cup). If fully recovered from his injuries suffered during the club season, he is likely to provide depth in the event that Patrice Viera is injured or Raymond Domenech goes crazy decides to play him up front, either of which is highly likely.
Dani Alves – 2 – Defender/Right Winger, Brazil
Dunga plays who Dunga plays and that is just how it is. Even when Dani is playing like the best right wing in the world, Maicon still gets the start for the national side. There has been speculation that he will play on the left, but this has yet to be confirmed. When he does play for the 5-time champions, he plays almost the exact same as he does for Barça, making runs up the sideline and putting in crosses as well as darting runs through the defense. He is deadly, but his playing time is certainly in question up to now.
Brazilians who missed out: Ronaldinho (who knows what Dunga is thinking anyway); Maxwell; Keirrison.
Martin Caceres – ? – Central Defender/Left-Winger, Uruguay
While he is on loan to Juventus, maybe permanently, he is still a member of FCB and has been a starter for Uruguay for some 4 years now. Typically anchoring the middle defense, he has played better for his national side than his club.
Rafa Marquez – 4 – Defender, Mexico
He of the versatility and of being one of the most popular Mexican players alive is also a rock for his national team. Admittedly, Mexico’s strong suit is its defense. If they are going to progress past the first round in a somewhat erratic (read: weak) group, his leadership is going to be key. Marquez is a previous captain of the team and is likely to one of the featured players for this team. He has scored 1 World Cup goal.
Mexicans who missed out: JDS (whose father was so pissed, he said his son would quit El Tri for good, yikes).
Yaya Toure – 24 – Midfielder, Cote d’Ivoire
If Cote d’Ivoire is to become the first African nation to move past the quarterfinals out of this year’s group of death, they will rely on Toure to impose his massive frame on the smaller, quicker Portuguese midfielders as well as the technically proficient Brazilians. Drogba is the star of this show, obviously, but Toure accounts for himself well, reeking havoc, controlling the ball, and winning headers. Basically doing what he does for FCB when his game is on.
Victor Valdes – 1 – Goalkeeper, Spain
Why our fearless net minder has never been selected for La Furia Roja is a mystery to many, including myself. I will save the long discourse regarding whether he is better than San Iker (debatable) and Pepe Reina (by a mile), the two men in front of him, because it has been hashed out so many times ad nauseum. Suffice to say, now that VV is on the final Spanish roster, he will be del Bosque’s #3 and is unlikely to play, but wearing the colors is a well-deserved dream come true for our underrated keeper.
Gerard Pique – 3 – Central Defender, Spain
Barcelona’s youngest and brightest defender mirrors his role for Spain. Having only taken over the central defender pairing with Puyol very recently, Pique has been a rock for Del Bosque and is constantly in cover for Spain’s weakest piece (Sergio Ramos). While Pique plays the attack at some times for FCB, he is known to make full on runs constantly for his national side, having scored 4 goals in 14 games, 2 of which were winners, and another tied up a game in WC qualifying. Frankly he will start every game he can and remind us why we love him so.
Carles Puyol – 5 – Central Defender, Spain
Captain caveman is the sometimes captain in international games (although usually Iker holds that right), and the all-times candidate for a best-defender-of-the-tournament award. Basically picture Puyol’s actions for Barça in a Spanish shirt and you have his play for Spain: dogged effort, always attacking the ball, goal-saving stops, etc. Like Pique, and many others on this list, he will start and play every minute he can. Carles has been a starter since 2000 and has played nearly every meaningful minute for every meaningful (and some less so) game for Spain since then, including 2 World Cups. Carles has been involved in 1 own goal during the 2002 World Cup in which he scored on his own net. Besides, he made an issue of American GQ for his amazing hair.
Xavi – 6 – Central Midfielder/Pivot, Spain
The best central midfielder in the world won the Euro 2008 player of the tournament award and is one of so many indispensible Spanish pieces from FCB. I know this is starting to sound like a broken record, but Mr. Xavi (as he is known to you) plays the same position in the same way for Spain as he does at the Camp Nou. Acting as the MF fulcrum, dispensing passes that about 4 players in the world can see, let alone complete, and opening up the game for his teammates. Basically, Spain will go as far as Xavi can take them, and if he is not healthy, it may be an early exit, although he was injured for the 2006 tournament and still started every game, being named MOTM for one game.
David Villa – 7 – Striker, Spain
Hey, where did this person come from? El Guaje is Spain’s main goal scoring threat having netted 36 times in 55 games and winning the Golden Boot in Euro 2008, even without playing half a semi-final or the final. While at Valencia Villa has played Striker and Winger, for La Furia Roja Villa is a center Striker, playing the one-two with Torres and receiving balls from Xaviniesta. He holds the ball well, passes well, and sees the field better than most forwards. Basically, he’s one of the most accomplished forwards in the international game, having scored 3 World Cup goals already (2 in his first game), and serving as an overall clutch player in his 4 years as a starter.
Andres Iniesta – 8 – Central Midfielder/Pivot/Attacking Mid, Spain
Though most Barça fans have known about the Don’s play for many years, he was a relative unknown for the national squad until 2006 when he got the call for World Cup play, not gaining his first cap until a month before the games began. Now of course Iniesta is widely considered one of the 3-5 best mids in the world and plays in a more attacking role for Spain than he sometimes does for the good guys. He was a member of the Euro 2008 team of the tourney and will play a key role giving crosses to the forwards and moving the ball from the middle third to attacking. In all reality, may be more important to the team than Xavi because Xavi is going to be covered up and Iniesta is may be given more freedom.
Sergio Busquets – 16 – Midfielder/Defensive Mid, Spain
Busquets has made limited appearances for the national team but has been named to the 23-man squad for South Africa. Typically Biscuits plays in a more defensive role for España, but he is unlikely to start unless injuries occur since Xabi Alonso plays in this role. Although he did start in the friendly against Saudi Arabia and played his usual up-and-down game. He has 11 caps for the national squad.
Pedro Rodriguez – 17 – Winger/Forward, Spain
A huge call-up for little P! Although he is in great form and if he does make it, there is a good chance he may start with Torres out for the First Round. Being his first try with the big team, it is difficult to determine how he will play, since Spain’s main forwards of Torres and Villa normally do not play in the wing roles, but who knows?
Spaniards who have missed out: Bojan, Jeffren, Pinto (I kid, I kid).
Check back for Part 2 soon. It will include some team capsules as well as my predictions for how the teams will fare.
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