Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Kudos to Japan. They really exceeded expectations and played some good football. I had them getting zero points and didn't even give them a player to watch. A bit off I was. They belonged in the second round and one could definitely argue that they would not be undeserving of the quarter finals.
Spain - Still not looking like the World Cup Favorite. They are an amazing passing team. They always seem to have at least two or three options when on the ball, but are still having trouble breaking down defenses when they put 10 men behind the ball. Torres was not at all lively yesterday, almost looking uninterested and lazy. The sub Llorente certainly brought something different for Spain. He was the target man that Torres is not, and his height and energy gives Spain another option besides their short passing game. I think Torres will still start, but look for Llorente around the 60th minute if Spain are having trouble breaking down Paraguay.
Brazil/Netherlands - Great matchup, one people saw coming pretty much as soon as the World Cup Draw came out. The Dutch are 4-0, but still not hitting on all cylinders. The return of Robben will give Brazil something to think about and I think Brazil can be hit on the counter attack, a prime example being the US game last summer. The defense of Holland needs to be stronger than they have in games past. Brazil will not miss the chances that Japan and Slovakia did.
Big Dunc is rooting for: Netherlands
Ghana/Uruguay - In probably the least anticipated quarter final match, two teams which I had finishing 3rd in their group. Give Uruguay the edge on the attack front, with Forlan and Suarez, but Ghana could take this one if they control the midfield like against the US. Uruguay's unheralded midfielders will have to disrupt Ghana's flow and feed their strikers.
Big Dunc rooting for: Ghana
Germany/Argentina - Probably the two teams in best form in this World Cup. Both have put forth impressive offensive and defensive displays so far. Defense remains the bigger question mark for both. I wouldn't be surprised if both teams come out much more guarded and defensive than in their last games. I think the speed of Messi and Tevez has an edge over Germany's defense. The ability of Germany to counter attack, though, will make this one interesting. I'm hoping for a 3-2 or so game, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a 1-0 with the first team to score setting up shop in the back.
Big Dunc rooting for: Germany
Spain/Paraguay - Spain is the clear favorite in this one, but I expect it to be another close game, probably similar to Spain's win against Portugal. Paraguay have not given up a goal since their first game. Spain will need Villa to remain in form to break down the Paraguay D.
Big Dunc rooting for: Spain
Some potential great m
atches. From the looks of it, I hate South America, but rate them well.
Monday, June 28, 2010
England/Germany - It's a shame all everybody is talking about the Lampard goal that was not a goal and not the great play by the Germans. I know that the call changed things, but let's not overlook the fantastic play by the Germans and the relatively disappointed play by England. Ozil is really the difference maker in this side. Klose and Podalski are for whatever reason, way better at the World Cup than at any other time. They are consistent strikers, something the US and England lack. Germany are still a very young team. Their offense is efficient and fun to watch, but it may be the defense that lets them down in the end.
This is a good time not to be English. Unlike the US, where there were a few key things to focus on that went wrong or were not good enough, England has loads of reasons for the loss. Their reasons - unsuitable formation, poor center backs, lack of width, center midfielders not playing well together, lack of a strong forward - don't make sense though, as they have such great players on the club level. Things won't be pretty across the pond over the next few months as blame will be placed in many areas.
Oh, and about the "no goal goal". That was worse than the US/Slovenia call. The US one was a judgement call. This one was black and white. The ball was in and crossed the line. Why was it not a goal? Why can't soccer have some sort of review?
Mexico/Argentina - Another bad call here that is overshadowing the great play of the winning team. I was not one to jump on the Mexico band wagon and was not suprised that Argentina won this one. They were clearly the better team. So many attacking options and the intoxicating Maradona to boot. Argentina/Germany should be great.
Brazil/Chile - The better team won this one. There isn't much else to say. Like Argentina, Brazil has many options on the offensive side and a defense even better than Argentina.
Netherlands/Slovakia - This one went pretty much as expected. Netherlands still didn't play as well as people are hoping, but they are doing enough. They scored early, gave Slovakia a few chances, then scored again on the counter attack. That is a pretty solid blueprint for World Cup success. Having Robben back helps, but the Orange will need more against Brazil.
Spain/Portugal should be a great one. Can Torres find his form? Does Spain need him to? Will the Spanish midfield overrun Portugal? Can Ronaldo run at the Spanish backs? Should be a fun one.
Look for Japan/Paraguay to be a close one, but I see Paraguay edging out Japan in the end.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
It's super disappointed to lose a very winnable game. I won't say we were unlucky or that the better team won. It was a deserved draw after 90 minutes and then again an early defensive lapse cost the US their place in the tournament. Shit. This will be one rued for a long time, not because of the way we lost, but because of the way the bracket went down. If we lost to a team that was truly better, I would not have a problem. Once again, as it is summer, and I am lazy, I will refrain from creating coherent, flowing paragraphs and just use bullet points to summarize this game.
1.) Heart - I loved the heart the US showed in this game and in the entire tournament. I am proud to be strong supporter of team USA.
2.) Early lapses - This is one I really don't need to touch on, we all know it killed us in 3 out of four games this tournament.
3.) Starting line-up - One will question Bob Bradley's starting XI. Clark made a mistake and again Edu and Feilhaber looked great again. And, as I have said before, and John Harkes actually pointed out well this afternoon, it isn't that Clark is much worse than Edu, Edu just plays a better position for this team. He is a true defensive midfield, giving depth and providing that bridge between the defense and midfield, which is especially necessary with an unproven center defense. His depth allows Bradley to get forward and even the outside defenders. Feilhaber is great on the ball. I only assume it is his lack of defense that keeps him out of the starting lineup.
4.) Post goal play - The US needed to score in the 15 minutes or so after Landon Donovan's PK. This is when they really had Ghana on their backfoot and were really playing their best football. They had Ghana on the ropes, but could not deliver the knock out punch (sorry about the overuse of sports metaphor). After about the 75 minute mark, though, the USA again looked flat. Most of it was fatigue, but they needed to capitalize on their quality play.
5.) Where we are lacking - It is abundantly clear where Team USA is lacking - a strong center defensive partnership and a strong striker. These were the things many were worried about coming into the World Cup. Oneywu's injury hurt is in the end and I really hope he can come back and again be our best defender. I've been a big fan of Demerit's this tournament, but he really fits into that good, but not great category. He works hard and wins a lot of balls, but you can't have any lapses at this level. He could be part of a central defender partnership, but not the main guy.
And, man, was it evident that we need better strikers. All our goals came from the midfield. The loss of Charlie Davies was huge, but I don't think even he would have been enough. We don't need a world class striker, just a reliable one. Brian McBride is a perfect example of this. You know what he is going to bring and you know he is going to trouble defenders. Just look at what Gyan did. He is not an amzing player, but he pretty much created his own goal against two defenders and always puts pressure on, even like that goal out of really nothing. That is what we are missing. Altidore is just not good enough.
6.) Hope for the future - There is much hope for the future, though. Team USA is steadily improving. We can't have another 98 or 06 though. Donovan and Dempsey still have another World Cup in them. I don't think they'll be quite as effective in four years, but they'll have the experience.
Best reason for optimism - Michael Bradley is only 22!
More reason's for optimism - Edu 24, Torres, 22, Spector 24, Feilhaber 25, Stuart Holden 24, Brad Guzan 25, Freddie Adu, still only 21, haha. This team is good, and going to get better. MLS is getting stronger and hopefully that will continue to raise the play of the US. We know that we can beat anyone on any given day, but we need to no longer be a team that can also lose to anyone on any given day.
7.) Missed opportunity - This was definitely a thrilling World Cup for team USA, great come from behinds in 4 games. Exhilarating stuff against Slovenia and Algeria. This was fun and amazing. Lots of new interested people. But in the end, this has to go down as a missed opportunity for the US. Easy group, winnable knock-out games. This was a chance to make it to the semis at least. Man.
And the bad thing about soccer is there won't be another truly important USA soccer game, one that everyone pays attention to, for about 3 years and 50 weeks. Damn. It's not like other sports where you can say "We'll get them next season. We'll be better next year." Nope once every four years. Things could be compteley different by 2014. That is part of the beauty of the World Cup, but ultimately for us, part of the frustration. We'll be hard pressed to have another opportunity like this.
So in the end, some amazing, unforgettable moments, but utterly disappointing.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
The goal - Great outlet by Howard (distribution brilliant). Great work by Altidore not to shoot. His angle was too tight and if he would have shot, all that would have resulted would have been a corner or clearance.
How about when the ball was just sitting there? Wow, I feel like it was there for 4-5 seconds even though it was just an instant. You could see the goalkeeper getting up. You could see Donovan coming in. Who was gonna get there first? Landon Donovan! Amazing finish.
Celebration - I watched the game at a restaurant pub, probably out 50 people in a back room watching on a huge projection screen. The celebration was wild! People jumping and hugging, people on the floor, glasses spilled, people running around, children being held up ala Lion King. Very glad to have been there. Such a triumph, pure euphoria.
Donovan - best US soccer player ever, without a doubt, stepped up hugely in these past two games.
Missed chances - oh my goodness, so many chances. The goal called back sucked and was an incorrect call, but it looked offsides, and unlike the Slovenian call, things like that happen often in soccer. Gomez should have scored, Dempsey should have scored. Man. But those misses are no longer lamented with the US victory.
Unsung heroes - Benny Feilhaber brought some great energy off the bench. I like his creativity.
Jay Demerit started slowly and had a real poor mistake that almost cost us, but after that he was again a rock, doing what a central defender needs to do.
Steve Cherundelo- might be the best player for the US over the 3 group games, playing defense and getting forward.
Carlos Bocanegra - switching into the center of the defense, wasn't spectacular, but did what he needed to do and had a pivotal intervention late in the second half on an Algeria cross.
Celebration 2.0 - I watched the goal with friends on DVR at least 15 times, so I got to see the USA celebration a lot. Anyone else notice Stuart Holden was the first one there to celebrate yesterday and last week after Bradley's goal? I like that. Well done Stuart. A few other things from the celebration - great leap by Altidore onto the top of the pile, nice somersault on the pile by Demerit, and I also noticed the guy in the purple vest with a great double double fist pump. Exhilaration, Euphoria. Awesomeness.
Up next - The US won the group and avoids Germany and now plays Ghana on Saturday. Then the winner of that players the winner of Uruguay/South Korea. That is a nice little quarter. I expect the Ghana game to be very close an hard fought. I see a one-nil game, but don't know which way it will go.
Legacy - This is by far the best moment in US soccer history. It beats out anything else because of the drama and agony of waiting 91 minutes to score. It was important and dramatic and really had the interest of the American public. This is one we will always look back to. Advancing in the World Cup in the 90th minute, these things don't happen often.
As for me, I'm not used to my teams winning at all, much less in dramatic fashion. There are only a few plays I can compare it to. I was too young to appreciate the Packers Super Bowl win and was in Montana for the Brewers playoff clinching win, so those two don't make the list. The only two plays that I can remember that can compare to Donovan's goal for me are Louis Saha's goal in the first 30 seconds in last year's FA Cup Final and Scott Starks fumble return against Purdue. This is one I will always remember.
Keep it up USA. We are not done yet! The nation is behind you.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
1.) Spain - Eh? - I thought Spain was unimpressive against Honduras. They did get the three points and the goal differential against Chile, but they didn't look like a World Cup favorite. The game was actually kind of boring. Now all Spain need to do is win against Chile and they will certainly progress and probably take first in the group. But, Chile has yet to concede a goal this tournament.
2.) Hosts bow out - South Africa got the win, but the 3-0 loss to Uruguay was too much to overcome. It's a shame, they were fun to watch, but ultimately not as good as Mexico and Uruguay. And I won't really touch on France. Like I said last week, they have great players, yet are a bad team. That is true in many ways.
3.) Bad misses - Ok, the Yak missed a true sitter. I really don't know how me missed that one.( I wonder if the flag would have went up if it went in.) He then made up for it with a goal, so I won't call it the biggest miss of the tournament. Obifemi Martins was also in contention for miss of the tournament. His was worse because it was 2-2 with about 5 minutes left and the goal would have sent Nigeria through. He went for the chip instead of the power. Man. In the end, it was heartache for the Super Eagles.
But the miss of the tournament for me so far has got to be Eren Derdiyok for Switzerland against Chile. It came after a great move in the 90th minutes with his team down by one. (Click on the 90th minute triangle to see the highlight.) He had the entire goal to shoot for, but missed wide. That could be a huge miss for group H. Things would be vastly different if that went in.
4.) Lack of Drama - The games that had teams who knew they were going through were pretty uninteresting. Greece/Argentina and Mexico/Uruguay were a bit dull from what I saw, but I guess that makes sense.
What to watch for:
USA/Algeria - This one is for freedom.
I'm super worried about it. Algeria looked good and holds the ball well and that could be a big problem for the US. It is a good thing they need a win, so maybe that will open things up a bit. The lineup will be interesting and we need Altidore to play strong early and hold it up for Donovan and Dempsey. Big Day!
England/Slovenia - England have looked average at best. Will they break out of their shell? Rooney needs to step up, but his midfield needs to put him into dangerous situations. I still see England progressing. Big Day!
Group D - Germany, Serbia, Ghana, and Australia can all still advance. I'm hoping for a lot of action. I want to see Germany and Australia press the issue and look for the win. I would love to see Australia do it, but I am leaning toward Germany and Serbia progressing.
Enjoy tomorrow, a great day of soccer. This is what the World Cup is all about. Take the day off, call in sick if you need to. This is big. USA!
Sunday, June 20, 2010
1. USA/Slovenia - the majority of the post with focus on the wild US game from Friday. It's hard to know where to start.
The thing getting all the attention is the horrible call be the referee. It was BS. There is no other way to put it. It really didn't make sense. Was he anticipating a foul? Was it a make up call? Did he not want the US to win? Was the fix in? Was there something that none of the cameras caught? Lots of possibilities, but none of them really make sense. The ref sucked. Don't forget the handball yellow card on Robbie Findley that actually hit him in the face. Hmm.
It is a shame that the "no goal" is getting all the press when the game was so great. The US fightback was awesome, though they needed that fightback because the first half was pretty poor. Torres did nothing and there was a lack of energy. The roller coaster of emotions was pretty crazy. If you told me at half time that the final would be 2-2 I would have taken it in a heartbeat. I would have been elated. But the way things went down, it is hard to concentrate on the positive. You felt disappointed and empty.
Still all to play for, though. England's tie means all we have to do to advance is win, and we could even go through with a tie.
A few more thoughts-
- Donovan's finish was sick. He finally stepped up when we needed it.
-Bradley's goal was also very nice. I thought it was going over. It is so hard to control your shot when your body is starting to lean back. Awesome.
- Jozy Altidore is not good enough to be a successful international striker. He is young, and might get better with age, but he is just not good enough right now. Not enough pace, not enough confidence, not enough game awareness.
-Oguchi Onyewu was very poor. He has to take the majority of the blame for both goals. It was just his defensive performance either. He was terrible on the ball. All he did was just hoof the ball forward. Very poor. No confidence. I hope next game to see Clarence Goodson, Edu or even Borstein (Bocanegra in the middle) for Gooch.
-Also somewhat forgotten with the bad call and bad play from Onyewu was the great second hald performance from Jay Demerit. He was beasting in the second half, doing exactly what a center back is supposed to do - winning balls in the air, being aggressive and decisive.
-The second half subs helped, but I think it was more of the change in mentality that made the difference.
-Algeria: I'm super worried about this game. They looked good. They held the ball and passed very well. They have not scored yet, but I could easily see Algeria beating the US. We need to bring it from the start on Wednesday.
2.England - Unimpressive. I thought this was a team that could challenge for the Cup. England/Slovenia will be very interesting.
3. Group D - Group D is a fun one and I am glad it will come down to the last day with all the teams still having a chance. Australia looked better and Cahill will come out on Wednesday with loads of energy. Germany were beaten, but I think were the better team even after the red card. They attacked and had many chances, but now are obviously not world beaters. I would like to see an African side in the next round, but I think Ghana could possibly be the odd man out after everything is said and done.
4. Orange Crush - The Netherlands have looked good, not great, but that is all they needed so far and all you really need at this stage of the tournament. They are a contender, but this year, who is not?
5. Kaka - What a bitch! A d-bag for sure. The Ivory Coast player was also at fault, but still why was Kaka acting like that?
6. Drogba - This man has a broken elbow and is playing in the World Cup! Not only playing, but scoring and keeping his team in the mix.
7. New Zealand - New Zealand has the same number of points as England and Italy. Really? That is pretty wild. They have been very deserving as well. It is not luck or a fluke or just sitting back and hoping for a draw. They are a prime example of the parody of this year's tournament.
8. Defending Champs - Defending the World Cup is dreadfully difficult, but even so, Italy are doing a pretty poor job of it. I knew they were not a great side, but I thought they would have a pretty easy time in this group. Not the case. They are lacking creativity and a real goalscoring threat and don't get me started on the weak-ass diving.
What to watch for the next couple days:
Can Ronaldo and Portugal find some offense against North Korea?
How will Spain respond?
And more interestingly, how will Switzerland respond? They could hold the key to the tournament. All they need to get is a win and a tie to top the group and most likely send Spain up against Brazil in the second round. Very interesting.
With all the trouble on and off the field, who will start for France? Will it be all new people? Will they score? Do they still think they have a chance?
How will Mexico and Uruguay come out? Will they be happy with draw? It would make sense to want to win and avoid Argentina, but who knows.
Can Nigeria pull off an improbable turnaround? All they have to do is win and have Argentina beat Greece. That sounds very much in the realm of possibility.
The next two days look like they will continue the excitement. Can't wait!
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
The 2010 World Cup is off and running. It started off great with South Africa/Mexico. Some games have been good, some average, some boring, but that is what the 1st group game will bring you in the World Cup. Teams will be tentative, not wanting to lose points. It also looks like World Teams are much closer together in skill and overall quality than they have been in the past. But I don't want to make too many conclusions too early. We're only about 1/5 of the way through this thing. Below are some highlights of what I've seen so far.
1.) USA/England - So I actually had a wedding to go to during the USA/England game. Lots of my friends gave me flack for this, but I stick by my decision. I was able to get a small group of friends to watch the recorded game between the ceremony and the reception. I was able to go into not knowing the score at all, though a few of my friends knew it was 1-0 early on.
I don't think this is just because I'm a US fan, but I think this was one of the better games of the tournament so far. There was a lot of back and forth action, and both teams had a chance to win.
Robert Green - Thanks.
Tim Howard - The Man.
Rooney needs to do more if England are going to progress.
USA needs to follow this up with a win.
2.) South Africa/Mexico - T.I.A. This is Africa! Nice start to the tournament, maybe the best game so far even. Good back and forth action. Great crowd. South Africa can play.
3.) Big Dunc's Players to Watch - Mixed results so far. I got Tshabalala right, so that one Player to Watch alone pretty much validates my tournament. I'm guessing not many people heard of him before he hit that beautiful shot. Park scored too, but that is not really going out on a limb. Asamoah Gyan scored a penalty, but played well overall, hitting the post twice I believe. Uche for Nigeria was on the opposite end of the spectrum, missing an easy chance against Argentina. My young players to watch were a mixed bag. Ozil was sick, pulling the strings for Germany. Di Maria was very quiet for Argentina.
4.) African Teams - Nigeria was not bad against Argentina. They were in the game the entire time and had a few chances to tie it near the end. Their keeper was amazing. They gave people a fun game to watch. I think they have a good chance of going through.
Cameroon - looked pretty horrible. No creativity. No real attacking threats. See you next time.
Ghana - Looked pretty similar to the Ghana of recent years, not overly amazing on the attack, but a good solid team throughout.
5. Germany - Germany have been by far the most impressive team so far. Great interplay among strikers, wingers, and central midfielders. Great pace and creativity. Muller and Ozil bring some important youth to the side and I think the defense is just as strong as last tournament. But again, it's just one game.
6. France - France looked pretty weak on Friday. I feel they were the better team, but didn't really show it. They have lot of great players, but don't really play together. They give the ball to Ribery and hope that he does something special. I'm still thinking they will go through.
7. Today's Games - Today was not the best football watching day of my life. I missed the Slovakia goal and then decided to stop watching the game in the 89th minute. Arrgghh! Never give up on those Kiwis. And then ESPN3 was not working for the Ivory Coast Portugal game. Man.
Things to watch for over the next two days.
How effective will Torres be? Will he start?
North Korea - will they score?
Group A - everything is well poised in Group A with everyone on 1 point. After the first matches, all the teams look capable of advancing and the Uruguay/South Africa and France/Mexico games look much more appetizing.
Nigeria - They will need to beat Greece to make the game against South Korea super exciting.
There you go. Keep enjoying the cup. Check back for more updates soon.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Round of 16
Netherlands vs. Paraguay
Brazil vs. Switzerland
Easy draw for the Brazilians
Mexico vs. South Korea
Would be an interesting game, maybe decided by penalties
England vs. Australia
Very Anglo game that I think would be closer than people expect.
Germany vs. USA
Rematch of 2002 quarterfinal, again the Germans edge out the Americans
Argentina vs. France
Awesome 2nd round match up. For some reason, I see France doing similar to last cup, barley getting out of the group, then bringing it together in knockout play
Italy vs. Denmark
I think the Danes are better than any team in Italy's group. Look for a 1-0 or 0-0 game.
Spain vs. Portugal
The Iberian battle, and a great 2nd round matchup.
Netherlands vs. Brazil
Well, this is my upset pick. I think the Dutch can take Brazil on the counter.
England vs. Mexico
Interesting match here, but I think England would take this one rather easily.
Germany vs. France
Great traditional matchup here. I'd be a toss up. Both teams aren't as strong as they were in '06 and have a few holes, but I think the Germans are stronger overall.
Spain vs. Denmark
Nice draw here for the Spanish. I see it similar to Italy/Australia in '06
Netherlands vs. England
Fun game for the neutrals. I think the English are stronger player for player and could shut down the Dutch attack
Germany vs. Spain
Another match up of traditional powers. I think Spain has too much strength at every position and will take advantage of the young German team.
Spain versus England would be fun. I think Torres and Villa would be too much for the England defense, especially with Xavi and Iniesta picking apart Lampard and Gerrard. Might be fun to see England lose on penalties again.
Just one of many, many possibilities.
Analysis of My Analysis:
From the look of my picking it looks like I went with my heart in picking Australia, and maybe the Netherlands and England to do so well, but otherwise, I think I was rather neutral.
It also looks like I have underestimated the South American teams, the second tier ones in the group stages and the top tier ones in the knockouts. It could be due to lack of exposure.
I also do not rate the African teams. I'll be rooting hard for Nigeria, Cameroon, and Ivory Coast to go through, but I think the injuries to Mikel, Drogba, and Essien are huge.
Lots of stuff is a toss up. I'm not too worried about my predictions come through, more worried about seeing great football and seeing team USA advance.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Chile – Chile had a tremendous qualification campaign in South America, finishing second, only one point behind Brazil. They are not, though, the type of team that people are scared of. They have a mix of European players and players playing at home in Chile. They do not have any household names. They do play an exciting brand of football. Look for the games against Honduras and Spain to be real exciting ones. In this group, Chile have a real nice chance of qualifying.
Player to Watch – Humberto Suazo – Chile's best striker. It will be interesting to see if he can come back in time from injury to make a difference.
Honduras – Being from the US I am glad CONCACAF gets 3 teams automatically and a 4th goes to a playoff, but are they really worthy of this? I don't know. I'm not sure if Honduras deserves a spot, but I guess they are just as deserving as Norway or Bosnia or someone like that. Maybe. They do play attacking football, which will make things interesting.
Player to Watch – Georgie Welcome – Well, I really just like his name. He probably won't be a starter, but he should bring some needed height and power up top coming off the bench.
Spain – Spain are the odds on favorites to win this group. They really don't have any weak spots – world class goalie, defense, midfield, and forwards. They seem to be getting everyone healthy at the right time and are co-favorites with Brazil to win the whole thing. I would not bet against them. They have won their last 7 World Cup Group games!
Player to watch – Spain – You really cannot mark one person as the difference maker on this team. They are talented at every position and deep at every position. Even other teams like Brazil, you have Luis Fabiano who is a great striker, but if he doesn't perform, where will the goals come from? For Spain you have Torres and Villa, Xavi and Iniesta, Puyol and Pique.
Switzerland – Won their group over France in 2006 and were the first ever team to get knocked out of the World Cup without giving up a goal. Three straight shut outs would definitely get them through again, but their defense is not looking quite as strong, though they did win their qualifying group containing Greece, Latvia, and Israel. Lack of a strong central midfield will hurt them, but Switzerland have been one of the most consistent teams in Europe this decade, making the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and 2004 and 2008 Euro Championships. Look for this disciplined team to use the counter attack effectively.
Player to Watch – Alexander Frei – I have tried to stay from picking the most well known player as a team's player to watch, but when looking at Switzerland, he is the one sure thing. Frei has 40 goals for Switzerland in 73 matches and will be the obvious go to guy for this team and super important for advancement to the next round.
Prediction: Group H is obviously Spain's group. Despite a group that Spain should dominate, it still should be a fun one to watch, with Spain, Chile, and Honduras all playing an attacking style and Switzerland countering that with their strong defense. I'll be surprised if Spain doesn't take all 9 points. Chile and Switzerland should battle for second.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Ivory Coast – It's a good thing I didn't write this one last week, or I might have had the Elephants in the second round. The injury this weekend to Didier Drogba is very detrimental to the team. Ivory Coast may be the strongest African squad, with players starring for Chelsea, Man City, Barcelona, Arsenal, and Sevilla, but they are lacking depth. In almost any other group I would have Cote D' Ivoire advancing, but I feel Portugal and Brazil will be too much for them. Look for some hot jerseys though.
Player to Watch – Gervinho – The Ivorian with the Brazilian name will be the player to watch for the Elephants in 2010, especially in the absence of Drogba. He only 23, and just starting to hit a strong gear in the French league and on the international level.
Portugal – The Portuguese have been less than convincing in qualification and warm up matches. Like Messi for Argentina, Ronaldo has never fared as well for his country as he has for his clubs. Portugal still has a very strong midfield, and a serviceable defense, but is really lacking a strong striker. Look for most of the goals to come from the midfield. This Portugal squad is not as strong as ones in years past, but can still do some damage in the World Cup.
Player to Watch – Nani – The young Michael Jackson look- alike have been in the best form of his life in recent months for Manchester United. If that form continues in South Africa, look for Portugal to challenge Brazil for the top spot in the group.
**Update** - Nani is out with an injury. New player to watch is Pepe, who himself is coming back from an injury. He has the height of a center back with the build of a winger and will be playing defensive center midfielder, a new role for him.
Brazil – Brazil enters the tournament as the co-favorites with Spain, but they could potentially meet in the second round. Most analysts are noting that Brazil are playing a much more defensive style than in years past, and rely on strength and physicality more than creativity. I think all that is an overstatement. Brazil will still play entertaining football, will still score lots of goals, and with Kaka, Robinho, Elano, and Macion, Brazil have plenty of fun players to watch. The addition of strong defensive midfielders Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva makes Brazil an even more complete squad, allowing the outside backs to push forward.
Player to Watch – Maicon – I don't think I've ever seen an outside back get forward more than Maicon. They talk of "box-to-box" midfielders, but Maicon is an endline to endline defender. Fun to watch for sure.
North Korea – North Korea are one of the best teams in the World Cup. They employee a disciplined, yet exciting style of play and work together tremendously. Their quality of play will surprise many people throughout the world who don't expect much from the excellent team. Players have run sub 4 second 40 yard dashes, can kick the ball just below the speed of sound, and have only once committed a foul against the other team, but that was a referee's mistake.
Player to Watch – Jong Tae -Se – Known as the "Asian Wayne Rooney", Jong is one of the few North Korean players that plays outside the country. His name may be a bit of hyperbole, but he has back up the name recently, scoring two great goals against Greece and scoring one against Nigeria and has guaranteed a goal a game in the Cup. I'm thinking that highlights of Jong may be the only part of the Cup that fans back home get to see.
Prediction: The Group of Death is not as scary with the recent play of Portugal and the loss of Didier Drogba. Brazil should come out on top and Portugal should come in second. North Korea will be the doormats and Ivory Coast sans Drogba will be a bit of a wild card. The Group of death will be super fun to watch and winner could definitely come out of this group. I'm hoping for a few early ties to make things interesting. Another thing that makes it interesting is that second place will most likely play Spain in the second round. That will be a great early match.
Ivory Coast 4
North Korea 0, though the great Leader says 15.
Friday, June 4, 2010
Italy – The defending champs got a nice draw. There is no doubt about that. They weren't super impressive in qualification, but that doesn't really matter. No one gave them much props in '06. They are old, though. That may be the thing that hurts them. I think experienced or veteran isn't quite going far enough. They are old. They don't have a superstar striker, but we saw in 06 that Italy are a team. I don't think anyone scored more than 2 goals for them and they won the Cup.
Player to Watch – Alberto Gilardino - A nice Italian name there, Gilardino lacks some of the attention because he does not play for one of the top clubs in Italy, but I think he is the best striker on the team.
Paraguay – Paraguay are a solid World Cup team. They have become a fixture every four years. They have a solid squad, lacking any stars, especially after their best striker was shot in the head. Roque Santa Cruz is the most well known player, but he didn't play much for Man City. Paraguay should have enough World Cup and European Club experience to challenge for the second round.
Player to Watch – Justo Villar – Villar will get the inevitable comparisons to Paraguay great Luis Chilavert. He will need to be strong between the sticks for Paraguay to make it to the next round.
New Zealand – Who is the worst team in the World Cup? New Zealand or North Korea? That is one of the background questions of the Cup. Luckily for New Zealand, they don't have a tough group like North Korea and actually have a chance of getting a few points. New Zealand, though, are happy just to be here and won't challenge for a spot in the next round. Their team comprises of young players in the Australian League and a few role players on European teams. All Whites, how will that nickname fair in South Africa?
Player to Watch – Shane Smeltz – Smeltz was the leading scorer on New Zealand and the leading scorer of the A-League. New Zealand will not play pretty football, but Smeltz is one player that may be able to hold his own.
Slovakia – First world cup for Slovakia. I can't really say I know much about the team. They do have a much more impressive set of club teams than New Zealand, but other than that I really don't know.
Player to watch – Martin Skrtel – I'll be rooting for Slovakia to reach the second round only for the potential clash of Johnny Heitinga and Skrtel. This guys would definitely be starters on the All White (Supremacists).
Prediction: It's clear I won't be missing any work for Group F games. I was wondering what group was the least interesting. For a while it was between this group and group H, but then I remember Spain is miles more entertaining than Italy. New Zealand/Slovakia is leading candidate for worst or least entertaining match of the tournament. Italy should win the group with ease. Slovakia and Paraguay should fight it out for second place. I give the edge to Paraguay due to their experience.
New Zealand 1