Only 50 days to go, or thereabouts.
The World Cup has 32 teams which have qualified, divided into 8 groups of 4. Two from each group will move on. One or two teams in each group are overwhelming favorites to continue. Only in one group is there a projected dogfight among three teams shooting for two slots. That is of course the group the US is in. In two other groups, the identity of the second qualifier is probably unimportant, as three teams in each are weak enough that the best they can hope for is an upset in the round of 16. They won't go farther.
I will scout the likely qualifiers to the round of 16 four at a time, not only for their chance at the championship, but how deep they are likely to go at all.
Group A should be more fun for the American viewer than most others, even though we don't know the teams or care much about the countries. Germany is in the round of 32 by virtue of being the host team, but they are not a bad team. They score a lot, let in a lot. Their midfield is strong. They should advance. Costa Rica is an offense-minded team, with past-his-prime Wanchope hoping for a last moment in the sun. He is still powerful. Neither is considered a contender for the championship. One might slip into the semifinals. If you like underdogs, this is the group for upsets, and you can root for either Poland or Ecuador.
Sweden and England will come out of Group B. England has, as usual, as talented a team as exists in the field, but how they play together will determine how far they will go. They are capable of upsetting one of the top four teams (Brazil, Argentina, Czech Republic, Holland), but also capable of being beaten by a poorer team. Inconsistent teams usually find at least one bad game on the way to the finals. England needs to hope their bad game is against a team that cannot put them away. To the well-known duo of David Beckham and Michael Owen add the young Wayne Rooney as a potential explosive force. Sweden has a balanced attack, as likely to get goals from its midfielders and wings as its strikers. This is excellent for consistency and for league play, but problematic in World Cup competition, where teams often need a superlative player who can work a miracle rather than four very good ones who might score. Worth noting: England seldom loses, though it often gets only a draw against teams it should put away. How it plays in overtime might be the key.
I, too, will make some World Cup predictions:
Prediction 1: All too many games will be scoreless at the end of regulation, and need to be settled by penalty kicks.
Predictions 2: All too many games will be astoundingly boring, making baseball look like a David Mamet comedy.
Prediction 3: Americans won't give a damn unless the USA team kicks an unlikely level of butt.
If you want to make soccer interesting, get rid of the goalie, shrink the goal down, and turn it into "foot basketball", and make ties in regulation turn to sudden death.
GET RID OF TIES.
TIES are for bed wetting pansies.
No wonder the game is exceedingly popular with Euroweenies.
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