As I write this we are 8 days away from the start of the 2010 World Cup in south Africa, the first time that continent has hosted this spectacle! Much like the 2006 World Cup in Germany, I will pledge my allegiance to the Azzurri (Italy) in hopes of retaining the World Cup for another 4 years. Repeats are rare, the last nation to do it was Brazil in 1962, winning 4 years prior. I give the USA no hope in making past the group stage. I have gone as far to say the USA won’t score a goal in South Africa. Personally, I like my odds since the USA only scored one goal in the 2006 World Cup, their second goal came courtesy of an O.G. by Italy. But I won’t get sidetracked on a very below average national team.
There is much excitement in South Africa as the last of the international friendlies are being staged. Africa, prior to Michael Essien being ruled out with a knee injury for Ghana have some good teams that could compete including Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon and the aforementioned Ghana. I don’t believe any of these teams will win, but could cause some excitement into the later stages of the completion. If the team infighting is kept to a minimum, Côte d’Ivoire could be the surprise African nation to advance the furthest.
As for Europe, Germany much ALWAYS be considered a favorite appearing 7 times in the final match, winning in 1954, 1974 and 1990. “Die DFB-Elf” are lead by Michael Ballack. Much like ’06 I seem going deep into the knock-outs round and making another appearance in the semi-finals. They are very inexperienced in goal, a combined 8 games of experience on the international stage, could be difficult, but the German defense is strong anchored by Lahm and Friedrich.
England should make it out of the group stage, but I am not sold on “The Three Lions” advance past the round of 16 because of their goalkeeping situation. David James is good, but at times rather a risky play between the pipes, but he does have the most international experience of the bunch. The downside on James, he is 39 years old. Robert Green and Joe Hart are good, but will they see the pitch? Green might be the best of the bunch, but his inexperience on the international level could come into play.
Italy I am biased towards Italy, starting with Buffon in goal, arguably the world’s best keeper. Their defense is getting old with Zambrotta and Cannavaro. Unfortunately it doesn’t get much better in the midfield either, where age is a factor. If you ask me, Gattuso should not be on the national team. Pirlo is the play maker, but DeRossi is the star. Upon front we are without our talisman, Francesco Totti, which was a mistake if you ask me. Sure he is on on the other side of 30, but he is a leader and a playmaker up front, something the Azzurri don’t have right now. I would like to see the repeat, but realistically, they will fall in the quarterfinals.
Spain was considered the favorites after their Euro 2008 campaign. They have the strongest starting XI of any team, maybe with the exception of Brazil. From top to bottom they are pure experience. They have three of the world’s best goalkeepers in Casillas, Valdes and Reina. Puyol, Ramos and Marchena anchor a strong defense, while their midfield is very experienced. Iniesta, Alonso, Hernandez and Fabergas are all world class. Up front a duo of Torres and Villa make Spain a strong team and a strong contender. Hopefully Torres recovers in time for the start.
From South America it’s Argentina and Brazil. Both teams are loaded with talent, especially Argentina up front. Agüero, Tevez, Higuaín and Messi. Wow! But some of the decisions beg the question, what the hell is Maradona thinking? He left off Zanetti and Cambiasso. Why? Not to mention Juan Ramón Riquelme, who retired from the international scene after a dispute with Maradona. Still with what Argentina has, they have a good chance to make the final four.
Brazil, perennial favorites (again) should make the finals. This year they are “complete” team, leaving off some of the popular names, including Ronaldinho, Adriano, Ronaldo and up and coming star, Pato. Still the team has it all from leadership to talent to the skill to win the World Cup. They are 5 time champions and look to have a great chance to hoist the trophy.
Things are heating up as we draw closer to the opening kick off. The favorites can already be narrowed down to about 7 teams, which after the group stage can be trimmed to 3 or 4. While my heart says Italy, my experience watching football says it won’t be for the Azzurri. This squad lacks something on the field. I liked Germany making it to the finals, but Ballack could be out due to injury. So I feel Brazil and Spain cruise to the finals with Brazil, lead by legend, Dunga to hoist the Cup in J-burg when the tournament is over.