Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Just in time - World Cup preview

By Joe

Author's note: I’d like to thank Jeff for inviting me to write on my specialty, international soccer. I’ll leave the statistical analysis to the other contributors on this blog.

Has it been four years already?  Why yes, it has. The most popular event in the world’s most popular sport is finally here. Well not here…it’s actually in South Africa. How’d we even get to South Africa you might ask?  Well, the bigwigs over at FIFA (soccer’s governing body) tend to rotate their crown jewel of an event to places that either “deserve” it, or places that FIFA thinks the game should expand. The African continent is one of those places.

The main reason the USA hosted the tourney in 1994 was an effort to grow the game in the States. Think about it, FIFA let a country with no soccer specific stadiums, no real professional league host the World Cup because FIFA saw an opportunity to make money in a country that had plenty of money to give, if only the game could become popular there. Well give FIFA credit, because it worked. The ’94 world cup set attendance records that haven’t been broken to date (and that was with eight fewer teams than the current format). MLS is improving every year, the national team is a top 20 world side and the game has never been more popular.

Time to look at this year’s groups…followed by my thoughts regarding each team. Quick rundown: The teams play in eight, four-team pods. The two teams with the best records from each pod move on to a 16-team bracket style tournament.

Group A - Holy cannoli! This group is wide open. Mmmm, I love desserts.


Let’s just get this outta the way. France shouldn’t even be in this Cup. They needed some serious referee ineptitude to beat Ireland just to qualify. But now that they’re here, it would be a disappointment for them to not reach the knockout stages. That long cool drink of good looking man pictured above is Franck Ribery. He’s a world class player with Bayern Munchen, definitely worth watching.


This talented South American side beat Costa Rica in a playoff to make the tourney. They will be a tough test for their Group A opponents. Don’t be surprised to see them in the knockout stage.


El Tri have been flying high lately and some experts have them pegged to win the group. Giovanni Dos Santos has the flash to make your jaw drop. I see Mexico in the quarterfinals. CONCACAF could use some respect world-wide, so here’s hoping they get there.

South Africa
No host nation has failed to make it out of the group stage, but that streak could end this year. South Africa will have the home crowd on their side, but is it enough for Steven Pienaar and company?  Methinks not.

Group B – Styles clash, another group that any team could survive with a little luck

The South American giants should go ahead and book their tickets to the knockout rounds. The only thing I could imagine keeping Lionel Messi and friends from making a run at the title would be this man:

Argentine national team coach Diego Maradona. Look at that hair. Lucky that his hand hit the ball, because the grease in that mop top would have rendered the ball too slippery to finish the match. Seriously though, Maradona is being criticized in his home country for not letting his players play. He’s utilizing defensive strategies that handcuff his offensive stars. We’ll see if the strategy pays off. Speaking of grease…

Now here’s a team that knows how to play a defensive, boring style of footy. That being said, they used this strategy to win the European Championship in 2004. I’d bet 10 gyros from Tom’s Diner that the Greeks fizzle out in group play.

South Korea

Here’s an interesting team…if this was short track speed skating they’d be a lock to reach the semis. The Koreans are my pick to finish third in the group. Please make an effort to watch at least one of their games, Ji-Sung Park is a speedster that even casual soccer fans can appreciate.

This has traditionally been one of Africa’s strongest sides. Playing with pride on their home continent could be exactly what the Super Eagles need to make it past the Round of 16.

Group C – Weak Group, don’t fall for it.

Everyone knows the English players. Every one of them plays on TV every weekend in the richest league in the world. They have controversy, they have grit and they have the capacity to be brilliant. All told, they’re pretty interesting. They also have injuries, enormous amounts of pressure from home and a habit for not winning on the world’s biggest stage.

Wayne Rooney and friends might have to move to the Bahamas should they fail to reach the quarterfinals. The Three Lions are good, but beatable.

                     United States
I should have written an entire post just involving the Yanks, but it’s a little late for that. The June 12th showdown with England will set soccer television ratings records in this country. A win would almost guarantee a spot in the knockout round. A loss puts the USA in a tight spot; stumbling against the remaining Group C opponents would spell doom for the Americans.

The match with England has a whole little brother/big brother dynamic that I love. England is a team full of superstar millionaire footballers. The Americans are a bunch of guys trying to get playing time on middle-of-the-table Premiership clubs. They have at least four world class players. We have some young guys and a bunch of bald goaltenders (that being said, I’d take our keepers against their keepers any day). Clint Dempsey needs to shine. Landon needs to lead. We’ll need a few lucky breaks. Expectations have been raised since beating Spain in 2009, testing Brazil in the Confederations Cup Final and winning the CONCACAF group. Failing to survive the group stage is not acceptable. Winning a knockout game would be awesome. Anything more than that, would be American Soccer Bliss.

Any team that beats Russia in a home-and-home series to qualify has my respect. They’re the USA’s biggest challenge when it comes to second place in Group C. Side note:  Why do the Dutch wear Orange?  There’s no orange in their flag. How about those Italians?  Blue kits…with a red, white and green flag. Those probably have rational explanations that I’m too lazy to research. Check of the WC jersey for our Slovenian friends
WTF?  I saw someone refer to them as the Charlie Brown kit. Share your thoughts below.

Did you know that Algeria is in Africa and they have a bitter rivalry with the Egypt?  The fact that they’re in the World Cup finals and Egypt is sitting home is probably good enough for them. Algeria also used to be a French territory until they claimed their own independence. That explains, sort of, why the Algerians are kind of a French B team. A lot of their players grew up in France, speak French, enjoy crepes, etc. They don’t have a chance of making it out of the group.

Group D – Germany and some teams that will beat each other up

Michael Ballack is out injured. The Germans are deep because they have this knack for recruiting guys who are actually Ghanaian or Polish to play for their national team. In fact anyone whose parents have ever vacationed in Cologne is eligible to play for Germany. This isn’t specific to Germany of course, but with Ballack out I didn’t know what else to write. The Germans should make it out of the group, but they might not win it. Look forward to a possible round of 16 matchup with the United States.


Tim Cahill is one of my favorite players on the planet. He is always in the right place at the right time. He’s 5’7” and he’s a force in the air. He’s the best reason to watch the Socceroos this summer. I promise that he scores in South Africa. The Aussies could get out of the group, but I can’t see them getting any further than that.

Mikael Essien is injured and will not be playing in the World Cup. He’s their leader. Imagine if Landon Donovan wasn’t playing for the US, because it’s the same for Ghana. On the plus side, they have one of the best team nicknames in the tourney: The Black Stars.

Serbia actually finished first in a European qualifying group that included France and Austria. They are legit. They have players competing in the top leagues all over Europe. I expect them to challenge for a spot in the knockout stage. Pay attention to Nemanja Vidic. He’s considered one of the best defenders in the world.

Group E – Anyone’s Guess

This is a world class side that could win the entire tournament. Dirk Kuyt has that Mike Richards thing where he’s easy to dislike but he never really said/did anything to give you a real reason to dislike him.

Could anyone be more stereotypically Dutch looking??  I don’t think so. I heard he asked Nike to design wooden cleats, but Nike said no.

The Japanese side looked great back in 2002, when they co hosted with South Korea. Since then, they’ve been a bit underwhelming. Suspect defending could be their downfall in a very tough group.

I think that this team is Africa’s best chance to make a deep run into the tournament. Samuel Eto’o should be a household name. He has won back to back UEFA Champions League titles with two different teams!!  They make it out of the group, barely. Let’s just be thankful they aren’t wearing these anymore:

They bested Portugal in the qualifying group, so they’ve gotta be pretty good, right?  I’m not going to pretend like I know a lot about them. Here’s a neat little fact:  the Danish supporters are known as the Roligan. The name is derived from the Danish word for “calm”. They’re a happy lot, which formed with the idea to stop the hooliganism that swept Europe in the 1980s.

Group F – I feel bad for New Zealand

The Azzuri are another side that could win in all. They haven’t played their best leading into this summer’s tournament, but they can turn it on when they need to. Even when this team doesn’t play up to their lofty expectations, they still win. A team with as much history and talent as Italy gets up for the big ones, not the yawn inducing qualifiers with Montenegro. The side has “experience”, which is a nice way of saying they’re old. Look for this team to advance to the quarters without too much hassle. One last thing; future goalkeepers, try to be like this man:

Gianluigi Buffon is one of the all-time greats.

I love watching South American teams play. So fast. So fluid. This team shouldn’t be bothered by playing at elevation in South Africa.

How does a country this small get this good at soccer?  The Slovaks should challenge for the second spot with Paraguay. If either team fails to get three points against an extremely over-matched New Zealand side, it could ruin their hopes to make the round of 16.

New Zealand
Stick to rugby.

Group G – The Group of Death. There is one every time.

They left Ronaldinho at home?  Nike already had him in their World Cup ads! That’s right kids, Brazil is no longer playing the beautiful game. There’s pressure in Brazil to not only win, but win with flare. Current coach Dunga has steered his team away from the care-free, let’s just outscore them, attitude. Hence, Ronaldinho is not on the roster. Brazil is the most decorated team in international soccer history, but the game has changed. Dunga knows this. He’s just adapting. They did it in 2009 and won the Confederations Cup. Look for Brazil to weather the storm that is Group G. I suspect they’ll be there when the semifinals roll around July 6th.

Kaka is in his prime. Watch him distribute out of the midfield, it’s awe inspiring.

Ivory Coast
Didier Drogba is injured. Ivory Coast had aspirations of winning this thing before that. I feel as though those aspirations were mostly fantasy and that they weren’t going to get past the round of 16 anyways. When a fair amount of your roster plays in England, you’re always going to get a lot of buzz. Now that I’ve put them down, they’ll probably win the group.


Ummm, how beautiful is that guy?  The Portuguese almost didn’t make this tournament. Their best bet is to try to finish second. They cannot slip up against the only team in the group that doesn’t have an ice cube’s chance in hell…

North Korea
I couldn’t tell you who they beat to get into this tournament. The only team they are ranked higher than are New Zealand. Asian soccer isn’t that strong. I hope Kim-Jong-Il “The DEALmaker” stays at home and watches.

Had to

Group F – I hope the referee speaks Spanish

The team is start studded. They are the odds makers’ pick to win it all. If they can defend they will win. Did you know that Spain’s national anthem has no words?  That’s why their mouths are shut when the camera pans the line of starters just minutes before the biggest game of their lives. Crazy, I know. I hope and expect Spain to make the semifinals. Although the luck of the draw did them no favors with a possible round of 16 match up with Brazil.

I love seeing how these upper middle class European teams stack up against the second tier teams from South America. Its form and function vs. style and charm. I feel the same way about the Slovakia vs. Paraguay match up in Group F. The Swiss could make it out of the group, but I’m looking towards the next team as the second place team from our final group.

They tore through South American qualifying. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tied Spain. I believe they will make it out of the group. Trust me, they’re good. You heard it here first on SDEE.

Los Ticos got a break by the US tying Costa Rica on the final match day of CONCACAF qualifying. They have built a statue of Jonathan Bornstein to thank him. He’s actually much more popular in Honduras than he is in the USA.

I hope they get a tie. Hah, I hope they score a goal. The Honduran government is allowing workers to miss work during the group stage games. I think it’s a wise move; everyone would have called off sick anyways.

Faithful readers, thanks for making it all the way to the bottom. Check this link for an awesome guide to the groups, including match times and a bracket for you to fill out after the group stage is completed.

What are you predictions for the World Cup?  Will you be disappointed if the US fails to make if out of Group C? 

Bell 1X – Flame


  1. Excellent post, Joe. If I were a betting man, I would take Spain. But I have a sneaky feeling about Holland. I'm not calling them The Netherlands. Side note. How sweet is the nickname Clockwork Orange?

  2. I mean there are waaaay too many flags world wide that have red, white, and blue. I'm glad certain teams have those different colored jersies.

    I saw something on TV just now that infuriated me. It was a cover of a paper in London the day after the world cup draw:

    EASY...I hope they lose. You all might be carrying me out of Sauce if we win on Saturday.

  3. While I hope they lose as well, you gotta admit that was kinda clever. Win or lose, can we tar and feather Steve?

  4. Nice Article Yo... Although I follow soccer about as much as Pittsburgh Fan follows their most beloved and most storied franchise, the Pirates. I will be rooting in Yanks (not the pinstriped variety) throughout the tournament. National Pride is at stake and I will set my differences aside with soccer..errrr football any day to enjoy a beatdown of the Brits that hasn't been seen since the likes of Paul Reveah (Revere) was seen strolling around the Pahks of Boston guzzling down some tea fresh outta the Hahbah! Don't be surprised to hear chants of 1776!!! as the undermatched Americans once again upset the superior and favored Brits...Its happened before and we all know history likes to repeat itself.... USA!!!

  5. If the USA wins this game, can we make it so the winning goal goes down in history as the Revolutionary Goal?

  6. I am defiantly on pah with the idea. You heard it heah first.... the game winning goal will foreva be known as the "Revolutionary Goal." Hopefully like the War it will jump start the USA into a powahouse in the sport. I can't wait to see Yo getting carried outta Sauce from stuffing his piehole from all the excitement with the chowdah, fenway franks, and Sam Adams ....USA!!!

  7. New rule for this Saturday, no drinking British beer! No Boddington's or Carlsberg or anything close to that. Here's the list of acceptable beers (in order of preference)
    1. Bud Heavy
    2. Yuengling
    3. Coors Original
    4. Iron City
    5. Miller High Life

  8. Yuengling and Iron City are obviously acceptable but screw Big Three. Support microbreweries!!! Drink Victory!!!

  9. Greg, if that is your real name...we are 2 hours away from the opening match. I don't know about you, but I am suffering from World Cup Hysteria!! Nothing quenches that thirst like a nice cold American beer.

    Thanks for those who found errors in the post, the moderator has corrected them. There's one more in there. Kardos might catch it based on his knowledge of the CONCACAF region.

  10. Remind me not to watch a Greece game the rest of the tourney. I think Rickel's state champs team had an overall better first touch than these bridge painters they have on the pitch.

    USA! USA! USA!

  11. Guys, Check this post about how a tie can feel like a win or a loss, depending on what happens in the remaining games

    Good stuff, especially if you've ever had to explain to someone why it's okay to not have a winner for every game...the opposite idea from when the NHL went to shoot outs instead of ties.