Big doings in Group C. Holland and Argentina, two of the teams capable of winning the World Cup, are both in this draw. Argentina has a young and talented team – so talented that they hare having trouble deciding who to play. That is a good problem to have, but a problem they will have to have worked out by June nonetheless. In soccer futbol, the 11 best players are not always the best team. That is true in any team sport, perhaps, but it is more subtle in soccer, where substitution is more limited, and style of play difficult to discern. A defender who is merely solid in a containment, absorbing, defense-minded style may be suddenly brilliant in an attacking set. Or he may become a liability, and neither difference will be apparent in a single game. Argentina has young defenders and depth at the positions. Which way will that go? Holland is my emotional favorite to win it all. Brazil is the smart-money favorite, as it should be, but I’m not betting any money, smart or otherwise, so a little underdog rooting won’t cost me anything. Ruud van Nistelrooy is enormously talented, and the Dutch team top to bottom is as talented as the Brazilians and Czechs. Watch for van da Sar in goal. Importantly, they have twice beaten the Czechs as well, which no one else has been able to do.
Group D Mexico and Portugal are both inconsistent, offense-minded teams, and no one in the draw is particularly good defensively, so this is another grouping whose games might be more interesting to Americans. By soccer standards, there will be a lot of fireworks here. Neither is considered a threat to win the cup, but both are exactly the sort of team the favorites worry about playing. The odd bounce and isolated mistake can be deadly in soccer football, or a team can make half-a-dozen major mistakes and still not be scored upon. Mexico does have a decent keeper in Sanchez, and hyperactive but mistake-prone scorers in Lozano and Blanco. Marquez at mid is their premier player. Portugal is exceptional across the midfield with both youth (Ronaldo, whose club team is Man U) and experience (Figo). They have goalie problems and some striker weaknesses. They rely too much on their wings to provide offense.