La Copa de Mundial

Since soccer is the world’s game, and liberals acknowledge the existence of the rest of the world, here’s a primer on what you need to know before the World Cup kicks off Friday morning.

Here’s how the World Cup works. 32 countries qualified for the WC through an elaborate process understood by very few. The 32 teams were then drawn into 8 groups of 4, where they will play in a round-robin tournament. The top 2 teams in each group will then advance to a single elimination tournament (better known as the knockout phase), and play to the championship, where the winning nation will get a trophy mold of Ann Coulter’s head.

Team most likely to disappoint their uninformed fan base: USA. Ok, let’s get it out of the way. The US team is a good team, not great, that is drawn into an extremely rough group. They’ve had all sorts of trouble scoring goals. They’re going up against two high caliber teams, as well as a deep sleeper. Best case scenario, they go 1-1-1 in group play, which is going to make it tough to advance. And yes, I hate America.

Team that would most upset conservatives if they make a big splash: Iran. Don’t laugh, but these guys have a young team with some solid veteran leadership. Add to that a squishy soft group, and it’s possible (though not very likely) they make it out of group play and into the knockout phase. And yes, I’m siding with the terrorists. God I’m such a fucking liberal (did you know MS Word recognized the word ‘fucking’ as correctly spelled? That naughty Bill Gates).

Teams that would have been the trendy picks to make a deep run if they hadn’t gotten a horrible draw: Ghana and Ivory Coast. Both teams have emerged as the premier African sides. Both have an internationally known star (Michael Essien and Didier Drogba). Both teams were put in painfully difficult groups. If I had to pick one, I’d say Ivory Coast has the better chance of moving forward, but realistically I don’t see these teams combining for more than one win, which is a shame because either one could have made some noise.

Sleeper teams that no one wants to play: Costa Rica and Angola. Realistically, Costa Rica should have moved to the knockout phase in 2002. With a WC under the belt, they’re that much more dangerous – it would not shock me if they upset Germany in the tournament opener. Angola has done an excellent job of building their program over a period of years, and they’ve got a strong defense that could frustrate their group.

Team that no one really knows what to make of: Paraguay. A lot of this depends on the health of Roque Santa Cruz to provide a second scoring threat, which tends to plague this team. Typically they qualify well and then flame out come big show time. They’ll get swift tests against England and Sweden to see where they stand, and my guess is they fall flat.

Team that made a big run in 2002 that is most likely to crash and burn in 2006: South Korea. I shouldn’t even acknowledge their ’02 run, since their win over Italy was perhaps the most crooked event in sports history. But they were a mess in 2006 qualifying, and coach Dick Advocaat has a ton of work to get them through. They do have a striker named Dong though, that counts for something. My guess is they’ll be back home taunting Kim Jong Il before the knockout phase starts.

Team that will enjoy the most success now that they’re no longer the trendy pick to win it all: Portugal. Four years ago anyone that knew anything about soccer said these guys were the team to watch out for. It turned out they were just too young and disorganized, and completely fell apart. Now with a new crop of players, led by Cristiano Ronaldo, and new coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who coached Brazil to the WC title in 2002, the result should be much better, probably ending up somewhere around the quarterfinals. Speaking of Brazil…

Teams with the most pressure on it to win it all: Brazil and Argentina. Brazil is about as much of a lead pipe cinch to win the whole ball of wax. If you can get better than 3-1 odds on them, consider yourself lucky. Anything less than the title would be a disappointment. Argentina falls into this category more because their fan base is pretty much insane and believes they should win every time out. They’re very young and talented, but probably four years out from a legitimate title run.

Team that makes for the most intriguing bet to win it all: Czech Republic. They’ve got a 6’8” striker in Jan Koller, the masterful Pavel Nedved in midfield, and Peter Cech in goal (who besides being the best keeper in the world, is by my calculation the only player with the same last name as his country). Could they win it all? There’s a chance, maybe 5-7%. At 25/30-1 odds though, it’s a pretty worthwhile bet.

Team most likely to slip under the radar: Italy. No one’s talking about these guys, but the raw talent on this side can’t be argued with. The blue shirts always come at you with a superior defense, and they have some young talent up front that may get a bit more creative than Italian teams in the past. They could make a deep run, except here’s the problem; they have to get a good result against the Czech Republic in group play. If they don’t, it means a likely game against Brazil in the knockout phase 1st round, and that’s likely to end in disappointment.

Teams that should thank their lucky stars for an easy group: France, Mexico, Spain. All three of these teams have major question marks (the French are too old, Mexico falls apart under pressure, Spain never plays to the level of their individual talent), and in tougher groups could have serious issues getting through the group phase. But realistically France and Spain should sail through their groups without much concern, and Mexico has at least a better chance than they should (although I’m still not sold they make it to the knockout phase).

Host team most likely to benefit from a soft group: Germany. Undoubtedly the Germans would have made it through to phase two, and could have a deep run, maybe even to the finals, with an average draw. But considering they’re no less than a 7-5 favorite in any of their group games, it won’t be much of a challenge to move forward. Costa Rica scares them, but Poland and Ecuador should be fairly assured wins.

Teams that will neither over nor underachieve: Poland, Switzerland, Japan, Serbia & Montenegro. All four are decent teams, none (with the mild exception of Poland) have shown much ability to lift their games to another level. Basically they’re WYSIWYG squads, they’ll get a few points, and likely only Switzerland will move on to the knockout phase (since they get to play South Korea and Togo), where they should be demolished by Spain.

Teams that will be lucky to post more than one point: Ecuador, Saudi Arabia, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago. Thanks for playing guys.

Team that is most likely to be weak and feeble: Ukraine. Any time you can work a Kramer reference into a post you’re living large. This team lives and dies with Andriy Shevchenko; so he goes, so goes this team. There’s just not enough depth here to expect them to make it out of the group phase.

Team whose championship hopes rest on one player’s health: England. As talented as this team is, Wayne Rooney’s health is essential to their title aspirations (and on paper they’re the best team, but games aren’t played on paper, they’re played inside little TV sets). Rooney’s screwed-up ankle (that’s a medical term) is going to keep him out until their final group game against Sweden, which is pretty much essential to them going far. If they lose that game, they likely get Germany in the 1st round of the knockout phase, and on the German’s turf that’ll make for a quick exit.

Most volatile team: Netherlands. I could easily see them winning the whole thing. I could also see them failing to qualify for the knockout phase. As talented as the Dutch are, they’re just maddening to watch sometimes, mostly because the Dutch style is so freelance-based that team discipline tends to break down. I’m thinking they pull it together and go very far, but they could also soil themselves against the Ivory Coast and be back in Amsterdam hookah bars in two weeks. It could go either way.

Most likeable team: Australia. Their nickname is the Socceroos, they have a coach named Guus…how can you not love these guys? Plus they’ve become a very strong international team, play solid defense, and coach Hiddink works wonders with emerging squads. He took South Korea to the final four in 2002, and while that’s probably too much to expect here, an extended stay isn’t out of the question.

Team that will have the hottest female fans: Sweden. Oh come on, did you honestly think it could be anyone else (though Brazil is a strong challenger)? They should have quite a lot to cheer about as well, as their squad is very strong up front, although I do have to question how much they paid Zlatan Ibrahimovich to become a Swedish citizen (not exactly a Viking name). I expect them to win the group and maybe run up to the final four.

Team with the best uniforms: Croatia. You can’t beat the red and white checkerboard unis. But if they don’t take care of business against Australia and Japan you won’t see very much of them. It’s not 1998, there’s no Davor Suker to save them. I’m guessing they lose to Australia and take the long road back home quickly.

Best team that you probably didn’t realize was still a country: Tunisia. Really, when in the last ten years have you said to yourself ‘I wonder what’s going on in Tunisia nowadays’? This is actually a solid squad, and in a weak group they have a very good chance to move forward.

Final four picks: Netherlands vs. Czech Republic, Argentina vs. Brazil

Final game: Brazil over Netherlands

No comments: