The 2010 World Cup begins in just under two hours, when the hosts, South Africa, take on Mexico. This will be first World Cup ever held in Africa. ((My earlier post about South Africa, Mexico, and a World Cup for prisoners here in Thailand is here.)) Given my love for the beautiful game, I am very, very excited.
A few thoughts:
On the U.S.’s chances and group C
I will be cheering on the U.S. team, naturally. The Americans face England, Algeria, and Slovenia in group C. First up for the Yanks: England.
The Three Lions are obviously the favorites to win this group, with the top two sides — as in all of the eight groups — advancing to the knock-out rounds.
I think it’s an advantage for the Americans to play England first. The pressure on the English side, in their first game of the tournament, will be enormous. There are lofty — and, many would argue, unjustified ((In the book Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski argue that England are not, as conventional wisdom has it, an under-performing world-class side. They perform in an above average manner for a second-tier European team.)) — expectations for England to make it at least to the semifinals in this tournament. ((A bit more on the subject of England’s past performances: history shows that England has not come close to winning any World Cup in the last twenty years. The side won their only World Cup in 1966, and even then they had the advantage of being the host nation. They reached the semi-finals in 1990 but haven’t made it past the quarter-finals since. I point this out not because I dislike the team. In fact, the English Premier League is my favorite of the world’s domestic leagues, and I would enjoy seeing the English team do well.))
In the team’s favor, of course, are a few world-class players (Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard) who ply their trade at the very top level in the English Premier League — the world’s most popular, most visible domestic league. And England now have a world-class coach in Italian Fabio Capello.
I think England will top the group, and I think that despite the fact that Algeria and Slovenia are weak sides, the U.S. will be fortunate to advance. After all, let’s not get ahead of ourselves: America may be the world’s third most populous nation, but the U.S. is a world soccer minnow.
The team’s FIFA World Ranking — a value to which I don’t assign much importance, by the way — may be 14, but apart from the team’s surprisingly successful performance at the 2002 World Cup, when many of the opponents may have under-estimated the American side, the U.S. has not yet shown that it is able to compete for the World Cup crown. ((Yes, the U.S. team did perform admirably in last summer’s Confederations Cup, losing to Brazil in the final.))
On the Group(s) of Death
Group D has Germany, Australia, Serbia, and Ghana. Group G has Brazil, North Korea, the Ivory Coast, and Portugal. ((Yes, the North Koreans.))
On the weather
The World Cup always takes place in the summer — well, the summer in the northern hemisphere, that is. This year it will take place during the South African winter.
The temperatures will be cool, and some of the games will be played at altitude. Some argue that this will favor teams from the northern hemisphere, who are used to playing in the cold. In reality, though, many of the key players from the South American and African teams play their club soccer Europe, so the weather may not have a major impact.
Given the fact that I am
stupid proud goalkeeper, I shall be watching, with great interest, the performances of the custodians in this World Cup.
I am eager to see how France’s talented, youthful Hugo Lloris gets on. And will Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, thought by many to be the world’s best goalkeeper, continue to perform for the Azzurri?
What about Brazil’s magnificent Julio Cesar, who has been in top-notch form for Inter Milan? And then, of course, there’s Spain, with another best-in-the-world contender, Iker Cassillas, between the sticks.
On the eventual winner
Only eight teams have ever won the World Cup: Brazil (five times), Italy (four times), Germany (three times), Argentina (two times), Uruguay (once), England (once), and France (once).
Despite projections that this may the year that Spain or the Netherlands break through to seize World Cup glory, I think the title will be won by one of the big three, based on past performances: Brazil, Italy, or Germany.
Of these three, I think Brazil will triumph. For one thing, a European team has never won a World Cup not hosted in Europe. And the Brazil side has a ruthless streak about them. They may lack a bit of their characteristic flair, but they are a unified team. And they know how to win.
The month-long tournament isn’t, ultimately, about who has the biggest stars. It’s about which team can play best as a unit. These three sides are masters at organization, discipline, and consistency. And, as the saying goes, they’ve been there before.
What about Argentina? I would love to see Lionel Messi, the game’s best player, work his magic and lift the World Cup next month. But my feeling is that Argentina’s coach — a guy by the name of Diego Maradona — doesn’t have the strategic ability to win at a major tournament.
And, finally, what about Spain? They could well do it. I wouldn’t mind seeing that happen. They play beautifully. We shall see…