As I sit here at work composing this piece we are a mere 15 hours away from the first kickoff from Johannesburg featuring host nation, South Africa taking on Mexico. It has been 4 years in the making and now the waiting is over. The media can stop with hit pieces and predictions as all bets are off when the whistle blows.
I am still going over my bracket and will have it finalized today (courtesy of FoxSoccer.com and Facebook.com). I still have Brazil winning the cup for the 6th time, but I do believe there are a few (very few) contenders who can playing the kind of football necessary to stop Brazil.
Those other teams are Spain and Argentina, even with that madman, Maradona. Spain is a complete team, the starting XI are all world-class players. Memo to the USA, wanna know when you have a good team, look at Spain. Hell look at Spain’s bench! Sorry, got sidetracked, did not want to turn this into another anti-USA piece. Argentina, while a bit suspect on defense, maybe because of the formation have the best firepower up front. But as the saying goes, “defense wins championships” but if the big guns get going it might not be possible to stop guys like Messi, Tevez, Higuaín, Agüero and Milito.
As much as I follow Serie A and the Azzurri, I have serious doubts they can defend the World Cup. The last team to repeat, Brazil in 1958 and 1962. If history plays a role, then Brazil comes out on top as they have won every 8 years going back to 1994, nearly as impressive as their run from 1958-1970. Brazil is a complete team on the pitch. They control the midfield and dictate the match. They are quick on the counterattack and and can build even quicker from the back. They are coached by a legend, Dunga who participated from 1982-1998.
I tend to believe that all the hype, speculation and “fluke” victories in previous cups and matches leading up to the World Cup Final don’t mean a thing. For example, France’s version of the “Hand of God” as performed by Thierry Henry or the US upsetting Spain, 2-0 last June in the Confederations Cup. Or the controversy surrounding Uruguay and Costa Rica and Algeria and Egypt. These 32 teams did whatever it took to make the trip, unfortunately the reality is 26 of those teams have no chance at raising the Jules Rimet Trophy.
Of the other teams I did not add, I feel Germany, Holland and the 2006 champions, Italy. Germany will play a sound game, as they usually do, having success in their ground, drawing an easy second round match, but possibly running into the freight train, if they get into the quarterfinals. Holland much like Germany have an injury in Arjen Robben to deal with, but a healthy Van Persie who could pick up the slack. In my bracket, Holland wins the group, and makes it to the quarterfinals only to be KO’ed by Brazil.
Finally the reigning world champions, the Azzurri. This is not the same team that won 4 years ago, while some of the names are the same, it is still a team looking for some leadership and direction. Put nothing in to their (lack of) performance up to this point. As defending champions, you feel a certain aura surrounding them or any other champion. Hopefully that aura is not broken early on. In a very favorable group they could draw the powerhouse that is Spain in the quarterfinals. Still I feel Lippi has one more shot at glory and that would be holding on to the trophy for four more years.
Since I seem to catch a fair bit of flak as being “un-American” or “hater” when it comes to comments about the US National Team, here is my reasoning. First the “professional” league in the US, the MLS does not field the same caliber of player as many of the European leagues. Many of the national team players play abroad, or shall I say apply their trade, as many don’t see regular playing time or attempting to help their club from being relegated to lower division football.
As much as I don’t like to admit it, there are a handful of players who could play and possibly star on some of the big name clubs though out Europe. Tim Howard, while not a top 10 goalkeeper in my book is proven and a solid shot stopper. Clint Dempsey plays for Fulham, who is a middle of the table EPL club and his skills could see him coming off the bench for larger clubs. Finally, the man with the chip on his shoulder, Landon Donovan. Why he continues to play in the MLS is beyond me. You cannot dispute his skills and he proved he could play in the EPL while on loan to Everton. But why the hell go back to the Galaxy and the MLS? You want to be taken as a serious footballer, leave the MLS. At 28 years old, he still has a few good years remaining, but the MLS is were aged stars come to play, so I guess it fits him.
All in all it will be a a great 30 days of football to watch. Looking forward to catching every game as I did in 2006.