Hi, my name’s Luke, and I am your guide to all things World Cup here at the Barcelona Football Blog. This is part 2 of 2 in the preview before the big event, part 1 is available here. 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.
My father is a man of many colloquialisms. Many of them a somewhat deranged collection of quaint Southern phrases attempting to convey greater philosophical meaning. Well if his goal in all that was to see such things memorialized in a blog, he should be very proud.
Many American football (soccer, whatever) fans are usually wont to become expatriates to other nations, occasionally for legitimate reasons, but mostly because the American brand is so bland and ugly and the team is almost wholly ignored by the American media excepting the lead-up to the World Cup and matches against Mexico. Honestly, these are probably legitimate reasons too, but for some reason I cannot seem to quit the red, white, and blue.
I cannot lie, this, like any good “The Simpsons” episode or Pixar movie is going to be at least slightly political, with a liberal bent, so if you are not in the mood, go ahead and skip on down. Anyway, my relationship with America is contentious at best due in part to a number of foreign policy issues, the continuing poor record on many civil rights issues, a lot of the inner-workings of the American political system, etc. This has led me to consider moving away many times, and yet, I am still here, in law school, hoping to one day change it all, or some such thing.
Being a general fan of the beautiful game (and a Barcelona fan in particular), this led me to consider supporting another national team. Of course this is compounded by the utter contempt in which the game is held by many in the States. Having played for more than 15 years, I cannot count the times I was mocked for playing a “boring” “sissy’s game” that will “never catch on” in America. Frankly it is indicative of a lot more than you would imagine here.
However, I also understand there are a number of people here who love the game and appreciate its intricacies and the game’s popularity is growing, even if it is ignored most of the time. With ESPN finally starting to get its coverage right (if you have not seen the “I Scored a Goal in the World Cup Final” segments, you are missing out completely) and Fox Soccer Channel growing in popularity and availability, it seems the outlets are finally there to extend popularity (because let’s be honest, without a major media outlet to tell them, most Americans are not going to get it). And the real fans of the game here love it more than anything else, mostly because it is so hard to be a casual fan here (at least it was for a very long time). It all makes for something irresistible that is difficult to describe.
Another thing is that I like the players on the team. No they aren’t the best in the world, but Altidore, damn I love that kid. Jose Francisco Torres is the poorest of the poor man’s Xavi, but he also looks like the lead singer of Journey, so a holding midfielder who won’t stop believing is just too much for me. And finally Tim Howard, who is either the best goalkeeper in the EPL one minute or singlehandedly responsible for kick starting the Special One’s reign by allowing a cheap Porto goal in during the Champion’s League run in 2004. It’s just something I can’t explain.
So in the end, maybe I have a lot of problems with how America does things, the way it treats its allies, and the worse manner in which it treats it citizens and enemies, but I am also an American, for better or worse, and I always have been. I was raised in American “soccer” and fell in love with it in 1994 watching that amazing run. So in the end, I guess I’m dancing with the one that brought me.
I had a much longer post planned, but apparently it was too long for Word Press, so here goes with predictions from each group and for the following rounds. Please feel free to post yours below, I am sure you will all do much better than I will.
For all intents and purposes this is the most confusing group. South Africa has homefield advantage but is the worst team to ever host the games and I believe they will not make it out. Mexico and France are two teams with some very good talent (France with enough to take it deep) but suspect coaching and schizophrenic play in qualifying and the lead up. Uruguay is the quiet group in the bunch with a ton of talent up front but also barely qualifying above Costa Rica. In short, I think Mexico and France kind of cancel each other out with France taking the talent into the second round and Uruguay going through first. South Africa will play tough, but not enough to win.
Moving On: Uruguay (1), France (2)
Oh Argentina, enough talent to win it all, enough coaching to barely qualify. The Fighting Messi’s should move through this group with ease while Nigeria and South Korea fight for second. Greece is a bus-parking team that I hate to watch to be honest. They were never good and were only put on the map through an astonishing Euro 2004 run. If the South Americans somehow finish second, I look for a solid Nigeria squad (although now missing half its players) to advance.
Moving On: Argentina (1), Nigeria (2)
England v. United States is a confusing matchup and it does not get any easier from there. England should win this group in style, taking all 9 points available, but in big competitions, well, they are England after all. The U.S. has its most talented group of players ever, but there are definite holes there. Slovenia is a former Yugoslav nation that is underrated and beat a more talented Russian team to make it. Algeria is likely the odd man out here. This group is trickier than most people think and the supposed bottom 2 squads could make this real fun with stubborn play. However, England and the US have far too much talent.
Moving On: England (1), United States (2)
Here is your real “Group of Death”. Serbia have the best defense in the tournament and underrated attacking while Germany are always going to be good regardless (they have not missed qualifying out of the group stages since 1938). Then Australia qualified last year and were very close to going to the quarterfinals and are bringing back largely the same squad. Finally Ghana are solid all around, but losing Essien creates a giant gaping black hole for the Black Stars. I think Serbia surprises a lot of people and Germany get it done, although this group may end up being decided by goal differential after a lot of tough play.
Moving On: Serbia (1), Germany (2)
The Netherlands are the third most talented team in the tournament and can run out a dizzying midfield combining some of the best players in all of Europe (with or without Robben), not to mention a number of young players poised to make an impact. Denmark is underrated and ran through their qualifying group that featured Sweden and Portugal, the only question is if they peaked too soon. Cameroon is a solid African nation that could surprise if one of the big two falters but relying on Samuel Eto’o here may be their downfall (he’s more of a diva with the national side). Japan are tough and always put up a fight but they rely primarily on staggering free kicks, and that just won’t fly.
Moving On: Netherlands (1), Denmark (2)
The defending champs get a relatively easy draw and should come through unscathed so long as their team holds up (they bring back basically the same group that won 4 years ago, just 4 years older). Paraguay were the second team to qualify in CONMENBOL, beating Brazil along the way, and they are well organized, possibly making easy work of the two underdogs here. Slovakia are another broken apart nation, having stood in the shadow of the Czechs for a long time. If they put it all together, moving on is possible. Finally, New Zealand are the weakest team in the World Cup and will be lucky to score goals, much less take a point.
Moving On: Italy (1), Paraguay (2)
Your so-called “Group of Death”, although any group of North Korea seems more like two tough games and trying not to be taken captive by Kim Jong-Il. Brazil keep chugging along whether via Joga Bonita or through Dunga’s stop-motion defense-first attitude, although tripping up is not out of the question. Cote d’Ivoire may be without Drogba and if they are, I cannot see them moving on, but with him, I think they go through second. Portugal are going through their “golden age” supposedly, although you would not know through watching them qualify. They have the talent to do it, but I see them sneaking through at best. North Korea are probably happy to be out of North Korea for a while.
Moving On: Brazil (1), Cote d’Ivoire (2)
La Furia Roja are making all the headlines either owing to their past as choke artists, the legacy of their 2008 Euro victory, or the mounting pressure coming toward the Barcelona and Real Madrid-heavy side. Spain should make easy work of this group, unless they play down to their opponents. Chile, who finished second in CONMENBOL, should come through second as they possess superior talent. Although Switzerland do play a workmanlike game, relying on superior organization, although holes exist. Honduras has trouble away from home, but are prone to shocking bigger foes at times. In the end, Spain takes all 9 and Chile makes light work of the rest.
Moving On: Spain (1), Chile (2)
Round of 16
A-1 v. B-2
Uruguay against Nigeria square off in a game that should see Forlan and Suarez come through on sheer offensive prowess, although Nigeria may be able to rely on size and strength to run through Uruguay’s defense. Still, I like this Uruguay side as a surprise (although their draw into A helped them out immensely).
Moving On: Uruguay (A-1)
B-1 v. A-2
Argentina against France in the battle of the worst coaching you may ever see on the world’s biggest stage. I’m sticking with my gut and predicting a big win for Messi & Co. because when it comes down to two halfwits coaching a bunch of legends you go with the side with more talent.
Moving On: Argentina (B-1)
C-1 v. D-2
Rivals clash when England meets Germany and the English hope to recreate the magic of ’66. Germany hope that their craftwork machine takes them further, although the absence of Ballack might likely start to take its toll against stiffer competition. In the end, I think England have the edge here based on Rooney’s superior attacking and Lampard’s playmaking, although Schweinsteiger’s tendencies to show up when absolutely needed.
Moving On: England (C-1) (on penalties)
D-1 v. C-2
The United States could not have asked for a worse foe here. Serbia has giant defenders who will push the smallish American mids around. The only hope here is the quickness and tenacity of Altidore or Robbie Findley up front. Serbia’s superior play from set pieces is going to hurt the U.S. badly. Serbia wins, possibly in an absolute rout.
Moving On: Serbia (D-1)
E-1 v. F-2
Netherlands against Paraguay might serve as one of the more impressive shows of offensive output of this round. Paraguay will not be able to content with the Dutch strength in the midfield and will lose the battle of possession handily.
Moving On: Netherlands (E-1)
F-1 v. E-2
Denmark and Italy will make for an interesting match-up as youth and young manhood goes against age, and possibly vigor. I am not sold on Italy as their age is finally going to catch up to them against a tenacious and fast Danish team and with Nik Bendtner putting on something of a commanding performance.
Moving On: Denmark (E-2)
G-1 v. H-2
Brazil and Chile will make for a rematch from CONMENBOL qualifying but with a confident Kaka holding court and Fabiano scoring at will, Brazil will likely find this matchup an easy win. Dunga, for all his detractors, knows how to prepare a defense and Chile will find little way through.
Moving On: Brazil (G-1)
H-1 v. G-2
If this is Portugal, Spain might win in a rout as Portugal will have utter fits with Xaviniesta, but Cote d’Ivoire are another story all together. The Elephants are large and Drogba may well prove a perfect foil for Puyol and Pique with his size and pace. Still, Spain will triumph, although this will prove tougher than imagined.
Moving On: Spain (H-1)
Uruguay v. England
If England and Germany was an utter battle, this may well prove an all together easier trial. Uruguay got a seemingly simple draw here and will likely prove somewhat easier. Uruguay have the talent to make it interesting, but England will take it in the end.
Moving On: England
Argentina v. Serbia
Might versus magic methinks. Serbia have the defense to do the Albiceleste in should the quizzical managerial skills of Maradona utterly fail and he perhaps place Messi at left back, or maybe in goal? However, this is the game that Messi makes his biggest mark on the whole shebang, willing Argentina forward.
Moving On: Argentina
Brazil v. Netherlands
Poor Holland, this is the worst matchup they could have asked for. Oranje can play with anyone in the world, but Maicon, Lucio, Dani Alves, and Julio Cesar are going to make Dunga proud in defense, turning the Dutch possession into a mish-mash and providing the offense with all that they need. Brazil goes through, and Holland will have nothing to be ashamed of.
Moving On: Brazil
Spain v. Denmark
The Danish Dynamite’s staggering run ends here. If Italy were younger they would not have made it this far but the midfield and attack are going to hurt the Danes with the defensive backline providing no rest for the weary. Spain wins comfortably, showing off their talent and getting ready for the final run ala Euro 2008.
Moving On: Spain
England v. Brazil
And here lies the English run. Brazil use superior talent everywhere and defensive prowess to finally stymy Rooney and the Three Lions. It is not an easy victory and it will likely be heartbreaking for the English fans and press, but Brazil will pass this test in the end. Felipe Melo may well prove to be in his element in international play and against a strained English defense, causing everyone to forget his play for Juventus.
Moving On: Brazil
Spain v. Argentina
A Barça fan’s wet dream (or worst nightmare if you fear fatigue). This is likely where Argentina’s run ends when del Bosque employs all of his tactical abilities on Messi and the Argentine attack, causing them problems controlling the ball. Xaviniesta find Villa/Torres and this one starts to turn south almost immediately. Messi may carry them this far, but beating a team of this caliber is too much for any 1 player.
Moving On: Spain
Brazil v. Spain
The co-favorites coming in meet in a most epic final. In many ways these are two teams that play very well together with almost no visible weaknesses, not relying on one player to get them through. This will bring both to the final, but in the end, I think Spain’s overall talent advantage shows through as a tip-top Brazilian defense is unable to stifle Villa and Torres as they have with other attackers. Spain’s artful midfield takes this one home 2-1 as the largest monkey in the footballing world is finally removed and the ghosts of the past are expelled. Brazil have to wait for home in 2014 for a possible number 6.
Golden Ball: Wayne Rooney
Golden Shoe: Xavi or Messi
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