Friday, June 11, 2010

IGTTWC - Part 2

I've just finished eating a Mexicana pizza from Dominos (free plug), I'm on my second beer, have poured my first plum brandy (to keep warm), and am patiently awaiting the opening ceremony. What better time to complete Part 2 of the Idiot’s Guide to the World Cup.

Group E

Under the radar: The Dutch usually enter every World Cup with a wave of expectation that declares this will finally be their year. This is the first time in my memory that the Oranje have entered the tournament without great expectations. Which is strange because they are no less talented than squads from 2006, 2002, 1998, 1994 or 1990.
Player to watch: Robin van Persie. A supremely talented footballer, his only Achilles heal seems to be that he’s injury prone (pardon the pun). When fully fit he has the potential to take over any game with his vision and eye for goal. On the wing, or as the primary striker, he has all the skills to unlock the tightest of defenses.
Form guide: The Dutch arrive in South Africa on the back of a 100% qualifying record. Ominous form for a team that has talent to burn. Watch this space.

Dad's Army: Some might call them experienced, others may call them veterans. I'll stick with old bastards. Dennis Rommedahl, Jesper Gronkjaer and Jon Dahl Tomasson are still the keys to the Danes chances. Might as well roll out the Laudrup brothers while they're at it.
Player to watch: Nicklas Bendtner. A typical product of the Arsenal school of footballing excellence. Prissy, egotistical, talented, and bloody annoying.
Nothing of interest: I honestly have nothing of interest to note, other than the fact that I still think it's bullsh#t that Denmark won the European Championship in 1992 after not even qualifying. You can thank the United Nations for that one, cheeky buggers.

Now this is cool: Cameroon's nickname is Les Lions Indomptables (The Indomitable Lions). Much better than the Socceroos.
Player to watch: Samuel Eto'o. One of the world's most lethal strikers, Cameroon's shot at qualifying for round two rests on his lean shoulders. 43 goals in 96 internationals is a phenomenal return, and puts him in good stead to make a run at the Golden Boot award.
Flying the flag: There are high hopes for the African contingent at this World Cup. I rate Cameroon as the best bet for a local team to be playing into week two of the tournament. They've got a gun striker, good World Cup pedigree, and a decent draw.

Poor form: Like their Asian counterparts South Korea, Japan are now a World Cup fixture. However their form in the lead up is shaky. A run of loses led Coach Okado to ask the football federation if they wanted to retain his services. Only in Japan would the coach actually ask his superiors if they still wanted him in the job!!!
Player to watch: Shunsuke Nakamura. The Yokohama F. Marinos midfielder has 97 caps and is one of Japan's most experienced campaigners. He's recovered from injury to take his place in the squad. His teammates will look to him for guidance.
Overly optimistic: After nearly resigning due to poor form, Coach Okado declared that the Japanese were ready to book their place in the final four of the World Cup. I think someone spiked his green tea.

VERDICT: Although this group lacks big footballing names, it's a group of death. The Dutch should go through, but any one of the other teams is a legitimate chance. I'm going for the Lions of Cameroon to unite the African continent.

Group F

Uninspiring: As usual the Italian team is built from the rearguard. Keeper Buffon and captain Cannavaro will marshal perhaps the stingiest defense in the tournament. However, the Italians have always produced an attacking player who is a game changer. In recent years Baggio, Totti, Zola and Del Piero have played that role. This year the cupboard looks bare.
Player to watch: Alberto Gilardino. Four goals from six is rare form for an Italian striker. If he can replicate that during the tournament, the Italians might be heralding the second coming of Paolo Rossi.
You win with defense: Italy, the defending champions, hold the record for the most consecutive games without conceding a goal (5 in 1990) and most minutes without conceding a goal (517, also in 1990). Cannavaro, following in the footsteps of greats such as Baresi and Maldini, will be looking to repeat his performance from 2006 and lead his team to glory.

New Zealand
Ka Mate Ka Mate: The most ridiculous decision to date is FIFA's edict banning New Zealand from performing the much famed Haka in their pre match ritual. For mine, nothing would be funnier than watch a bunch of skinny arse Kiwis in their white uniforms looking to intimidate their European and Latino rivals with a Maori war dance.'ve robbed us of high comedy.
Player to watch: Shane Smeltz. The A-League leading scorer will look to lead the Kiwi charge.
Socceroos aren't that bad: The Kiwis are called the All Whites. What the f#ck??? That's hilarious, and marginally racist. Love it. Here's hoping the Kiwis keep the chilly bun full of puss and kuck beck for some fun times.

Injecting some flair: Paraguay have long been the black sheep of the Latino football world, building their teams on discipline and tactics above individual flair and attacking instincts. This crop, while not pushing forward at every occasion, will play a far more free flowing style than previous generations.
Player to watch: Roque Santa Cruz. Poor form in the Premier League, but he is a proven striker with power in the air and on the ground. He'll be hoping he can add to his collection of 21 international goals.
All Stars: In France 1998, Paraguay's central defending duo (Carlos Gamarra and Celso Ayala) and goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert were selected for the all-star World Cup team.

First time: Since the fall of communism, the number of countries in Europe has almost doubled. Slovakia, one of the new nations post Iron Curtain, make their first World Cup appearance in South Africa.
Player to watch: Marek Hamsik. The 19 year old is a star in the making, and could well be hit of the World Cup. It's unlikely that Slovakia will progress to stage 2, but Hamsik will still have a chance to impress.
Nothing more to add: I'm running out of ideas, and the opening ceremony isn't offering me any inspiration. My wife thinks it looks second rate and sooo 90's.

VERDICT: Italy and Paraguay. Shut the gates

Group G

Best known for: Joga Bonito. The Brazilians approach football with a passion that is unmatched anywhere in the world. And their philosophy of Joga Bonito (play beautifully) is inspiring.
Player to watch: Kaka. Before moving to Real Madrid, Kaka was a member of football's modern day trinity (together with Ronaldo and Messi). However his form in La Liga was less than spectacular. While not a direct attacker like Messi or Ronaldo, Kaka has unparalleled vision, and has the ability to really pull the strings.
Water carrier: As a player, Coach Dunga was called a water carrier by his critics back home, meaning he plays like a grafter and is not an exponent of Joga Bonito. And this is the way he coaches. This Brazil is built in Dunga's image. He doesn't shy from making tough decisions, as evidenced by his call to exclude Ronaldinho. Rightly so in my opinion.

Ivory Coast
Toure de Force: The Toure brothers (Yaya and Kolo) make up a fine defensive shield, and will provide The Elephants with strength at the back.
Player to watch: Didier Drogba. Will he play? If not, the Ivory Coast will really struggle to find the back of the net.
Déjà vu: It really must feel that way for The Elephants. After matching up against Argentina and Holland in 2006, now they are drawn against Brazil and Portugal. Despite being the strongest African nation at the Cup, they are destined for another early exit.

Motivation: Portugal has obvious talent, but have struggled to find the motivation, inspiration, dedication and determination when entering major championships. Coach Queiroz has done nothing to lead me to believe this tournament will be any different.
Player to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo. Just a pubic hair behind Messi in the race to be the best in the world. But rarely has he reproduced his club form for country. If he wants to be the best, he'll need to fire now.
Goals?: A solid backline and midfield. But where will the goals come from? With Ronaldo struggling to find form in the qualifiers, the Portuguese lack imagination and penetration in the final third.

North Korea
Upset of upsets: In 1966 North Korea defeated Italy 1-0, which still ranks as one of the greatest upsets of all time. I put that one in for my workmate Cam.
Player to watch: I've got no idea.
Sport and politics: The two Korea's faced off in qualifying. Their first meeting was originally planned to be held in Pyongyang on March 26, 2008. The North Korean government decided that the South's national anthem would not be played, nor would the DPRK allow the South's national flag to be displayed at the game. The match was moved to China.

VERDICT: Brazil and Portugal to power their way through this group

Group H

No longer chokers: Since winning the European Championship two years ago, Spain has gotten rid of the choker moniker, and are most pundits favourites this time round.
Player to watch: Take your pick, there is talent to burn across the entire squad. I'll say David Villa, who's scoring record for his country is phenomenal with 33 goals in 52 games.
Balance and depth: Three keepers who would be first choice in most teams (Casillas, Valdes and Reina); a solid defensive with prodigy Pique and old head Puyol leading the way; a midfield with Fabregas, Xavi, Iniesta, Alonso; Torres, Villa, Silva up front. Spain really do have weapons everywhere.

No disrespect to Chile, Honduras or Switzerland...but it's past 11.00 pm and I want to sit down, have a third beer and settle in for a big night of football. Neither of them is a chance to win, so I don't want to bother with any more details.

VERDICT: Spain is a can’t miss bet to win the group. I’ll tip Switzerland as well, only because I think they’re far more organised than Chile and won’t give up easily

That's it from me. Enjoy the Cup.

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