The Ship Be Sinking

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Official TSBS World Cup Predictions!

There is no need for an introductory paragraph – IT’S THE WORLD FUCKING CUP. Let’s get right into it (note: the teams will be listed in Sean’s predicted order of finish):

GROUP A: France, Mexico, Uruguay, South Africa

Sean: Honestly, the only decision for me here was who would finish in second behind France. Yes, I know that Les Bleus are managed by a nitwit and that South Africa are the hosts. Still, the French should have enough talent to get two wins and a draw against this lot…that should be enough to top the group. South Africa are on the other end of the spectrum – while it is a dangerous game to bet on a host nation not making it to the second round (it’s never happened), these guys are just not all that good. I would normally bank on enough dodgy refereeing decisions going their way to get them over the last hurdle, but Mexico and Uruguay are both simply miles ahead of them on talent. Mexico plays their home games at altitude, and Uruguay have been away to Bolivia enough times (La Paz HAS to be higher up than Rustenberg is) to know the score on that front as well. So, it comes down to the two Western Hemisphere nations for second in my mind. On paper, Uruguay are a better team – Diego Forlan has recovered from his disastrous spell at Manchester United to find his goal-scoring form in La Liga, while his strike partner Luis Suarez has torn up the Dutch Eredivisie with Ajax (and is a dead-on lock to be hilariously overpaid for by some deep-pocketed Italian or Spanish side after this tournament). But, they are a bit dodgy defensively, and the three goalkeepers called up to their squad have a grand total of 18 caps between them (the usual custodians – Hector Fabian Carini and Sebastien Viera – have both recently lost their places at their club squads, and have since retreated to smaller teams – Atletico Minero and Larissa FC respectively). As for Mexico, they are on a fairly decent run of form in the friendlies leading up to the World Cup. Despite losing 3-1 to England, there was a bit of foul luck around that result, and in fairness Los Tricolores played the English lads off the park for long stretches of that game. Guillermo Ochoa is arguably the best keeper in the group, and there is no shortage of talent at their disposal in defense (Rafael Marquez, Carlos Salcido, Jonny Magallon) and in the midfield (Andres Guardado, Giovani dos Santos). Their only potential Achilles heel is that their strikers have been misfiring of late, and it is questionable as to who is going to score the goals to get them through this group. Will it be the young up-and-comers such as Arsenal’s Carlos Vela or the wily experience of the ageless Cuauhtemoc Blanco? Either way, given Uruguay’s recent history of spectacularly shitting the bed at international tournaments (they always do qualify for the World Cup by the skin of their teeth, don’t they?), I think Mexico will do just enough to slot in behind France in second place.

Brendan:

Sean is the real expert here, but I’m happy to chip in with my two cents on the biggest event in world sport. A few baseline things: my basic rule is that unless there’s strong reason to believe otherwise, talent tells at the world class international level. All of these teams get roughly equal(ly limited) time to play and practice together, they all get more or less the same quality of coaching within broad talent brackets, and they all have to work with the vagaries of national talent production- it’s not the club game where you can transfer for a replacement if, say, Michael Ballack’s leg explodes two weeks before the tournament. All of this means that there’s less scope for coaching and organization to effect upsets and compensate for structural talent deficiencies; the rule of thumb is, teams more or less play the hand they’re dealt unless they’re one of the very few nations out there like Spain or Brazil who literally have more talent than they know what to do with. This also, I think, puts a premium on the mentalities and dedication of the players themselves- with less time together and less time under their national coaches, they have to be the sort of men who are willing and able to put aside egos, adjust quickly to different roles and new nuances than they might see at their respective clubs, and generally get down to business quickly. There’s less system to hide shirkers, cowards, guys who aren’t giving 100% and the various other kinds of malcontents who can serve a role in club ball but are exposed at the more player-focused international level.

And to underline all of that, we start with a group which features one of my two or three predicted exceptions to these rules. Oh well. Here’s the deal: France are run by a megalomaniacal jackass, and for all the raw talent they possess they’re just not a mentally strong collection of guys. They should be consistently among the very best teams in the world and last time around in the Cup they were, but they’ve just as often faceplanted spectacularly for no readily apparent reason including most recently in qualifying where they got in by the skin of their teeth on a disputed goal. They’re half of what they should be, and will finish half of where they should- second. I like Mexico to win the group in a mild upset; they’re dedicated, hard-working, they play balls to the wall, always do better in tournaments than in qualifying, and they’ve got the physicality to trouble technical teams and the technical skill to out-play witless bruisers. France will pip Uruguay winning head to head 2-1 or some such. South Africa sucks and will fortunately have a very short trip home. Sorry guys.

Group B: Argentina, South Korea, Nigeria, Greece

Sean: Argentina should absolutely stroll this group. With the sheer amount of firepower at their fingertips – Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero all being world-class attackers – there isn’t a defense in the world that would look forward to playing against these guys. On the other hand, they’re managed by Diego Maradona. While he is a legend on the pitch, his performance behind the bench has left much to be desired. He barely steered the squad through qualifying, and he has made some bizarre personnel selections for the tournament. There was no place for the vast defensive experience of Javier Zanetti or the ball-winning prowess of Esteban Cambiasso. Instead, the 35-year old Juan Sebastian Veron has been selected to pull the strings in central midfield, and 36-year old striker Martin Palermo has traveled to South America in case, you know, Messi and Higuain and Tevez and Aguero all get hit by the same bus or something. The spine of the team is also questionable at best. While Nicolas Burdisso and Walter Samuel should be functional in central defense, the only recognized midfield destroyer is Javier Mascherano. Not only is he about 6/10ths of the player that Cambiasso is, he also is a red card (or two) waiting to happen. The fullbacks – Gabriel Heinze and Martin Demechelis – are a liability at this level, and the three goalkeepers have 13 caps between them. While Roberto Carlos Abbondonzieri is 37 years old, keepers decline later than field players do, and he was probably their best option in net. Under Maradona, he has never been selected for the team. Despite all of these issues, the Argentines should have no problem beating the schlubs they have been grouped with – what happens afterward will be especially interesting, though.

I’m going to move to Greece next, because I do not see any compelling reason why they will avoid three straight losses. Their starting goalkeeper Kostas Chalkias washed out at Portsmouth several years ago (the brilliant Antonis Nikopolidis – a huge reason why they won Euro 2008 – has retired from international football). The defense and midfield are well-drilled by manager Otto Rehhagel, but who is going to score on this team? Giorgios Samaras, the 3rd-best striker on one of the worst Glasgow Celtic teams in living memory? Angelos Charisteas or Theofanis Gekas, both of whom are on minor German clubs? Never mind that, who is actually going to provide service from the midfield? These guys can all defend, but no one can attack. At this level (the “Miracle on Grass” of Euro 2008 notwithstanding), that is not good enough. As for Nigeria, any hope they had of advancing left when midfield ace John Obi Mikel was ruled out for the entire tournament due to injury. There are recognizable names on this roster, but if the best you have is Obafemi Martins, the corpse of the remains of Nwankwo Kanu and Joseph Yobo, how can you expect to beat anyone in this tournament? Nigeria will probably draw 0-0 with Greece, and finish in 3rd due to losing to the other two teams by less than the boys from the Mediterranean.

South Korea are no great shakes either, but they are a functional team on all areas of the field, and that should be enough to see them through to second place. They are amazingly fit and their pressing style will give all but the best teams fits. Goalkeeper Lee Woon-Jae is 37 years old, but he’s still a brilliant keeper and should be enough to keep Nigeria and Greece out. The main question will be if Park Ji-Sung can do enough from the wing to drive this mob forward offensively, as the strikers have struggled to find the net. Lee Dong-Gook or Park Chu-Young will have to raise their game if the Koreans are to do any damage in this tournament. Personally, I think the latter will combine with Ji-Sung just enough to get past the other two squads.

Brendan:

Argentina- Spanish for “France”! Selected by a madman on the basis of random chance and necromancy (Juan Sebastian Veron? Martin Palermo? For the love of…), featuring a goalkeeper no one and their dog has ever heard of with only 3 caps and dedicated to the principle that cocaine and donuts constitute viable tactics, the Albiceleste are a mostly great collection of talent in search of help and direction. None will be forthcoming this year. As great as Messi is- and his is great- he does not have the kind of midfield behind him to allow him to maximize his talent, and the other forwards for Argentina aren’t great matches for him either. This team is just sort of broken, and it’s a shame given what they could be. This group is mostly poor and so Argentina will likely take it on pure talent, but they were exposed in qualifying and are going to be exposed again as soon as they face a team who don’t vigorously suck. I’m in agreement with Sean about the other teams’ order of finish, with the proviso that I have a certain affection for the abilities of Obafemi Martins and I can see the potential for a dour, dreary, really crap Korea-Nigeria 0-0 game in the 88th which he wins late by latching on to a long ball and rocketing it home. He’s the best man on the three also-rans here at creating a goal out of nothing.

Group C: England, USA, Slovenia, Algeria

I almost went with the USA winning the group, but I suspect that England-USA will be a draw – and that our former colonists will beat the other two by more goals than we will. Still, there is a decent chance that England will fall on their collective faces and lose out to Slovenia. Yes, really. First things first, though – Algeria are fucking awful and are lucky to be in this tournament at all. They had to go to a playoff against a reeling Egyptian squad, and it was played on neutral ground in The Sudan. Were it in Egypt, or if it had been a little later, the Pharaohs would have won that match. As it stands, the two teams met a few months later in the semifinals of the 2010 African Cup of Nations, and Egypt tuned up the Algerians 4-0. However, Algeria did win, and that means they get to go to South Africa and lose three games. Their squad consists almost entirely of journeymen players from bottom-end teams in Europe, and that won’t fly at the World Cup.

Slovenia are a much more interesting case, and the fact that they are being so rampantly blown off by just about every analyst is part of what makes them dangerous. First of all, they have a brilliant goalkeeper in Udinese’s Samir Handanovic. He’d moonwalk into the England team, that’s for sure. The rest of the squad is fairly anonymous, but that leads me to bring up again Swift’s First Rule of Sports – “Just because you haven’t heard of them, it doesn’t mean they’re not any good”. This lot finished ahead of  the Czech Republic (a perennial tough out) in qualifying, and then fended off the Russians on away goals in the play-in round. These guys are not world-beaters by any means, but they also are no joke and will severely punish anyone stupid enough to take them lightly.

On the other hand, I don’ t believe that the English or the Americans will do so. If you follow the sport, you know all about the English – the glitterati of the English Premier League consist of names that immediately come to mind. But, they do have a pall hanging over the team. Can Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard co-exist in midfield? Will David James, Robert Green or Joe Hart be good enough in goal? Will their various injury-prone central defenders be quick enough and durable enough to make it through the tournament? Who on earth will partner Wayne Rooney up front? If Rooney falters, who picks up the slack? Are the wingers going to do enough to give Rooney decent service? None of these questions have obvious answers, so England have perhaps the largest range of possible outcomes. The United States, on the other hand, have two possible outcomes – Shock the World or Disgraceful First-Round Exit. That’s it. What we do know is that Tim Howard is one of the best 15 or so goalkeepers in the world, and as I mentioned the last time I posted on here, we have never had a top-15 player at any position in soccer before. The defense is dodgy, and there are many questions about how we will line up and whether our athletic counter-attacking style will be enough to fend off England and Slovenia. Personally, I think that historical form will hold – the USA is absolute shite in World Cup tournaments held in Europe, and do OK everywhere else. Like I said, I think we’ll beat just edge past Slovenia and kick the shit out of Algeria to make it into second place.

Brendan:

I agree on the placing of the teams here with Sean, though I do not really have his hopes for a result vs. England. With everyone healthy maybe, but with the Gooch hurting I don’t see the US being able to keep the aerial defense tight enough to keep Ingurlornd off the scoreboard. 2-0 to England is my standing prediction, Rooney and Gerrard to score. Beyond that, it’s a pretty classic “talent tells” group. Oingerlaand is no longer managed by a Dutch-Schpeeking clown and seem far more organized and less prone to stupid WAGery than they used to be, and should rumble through this fairly easily winning all three games. Sovenia may well be better than they seem, but they’re not the kind of team which forces the US back onto their heels with strength or power or a massive technical advantage which should allow the US’s difficult high-activity style to win the day, and Algeria are the worst team here.

Group D: Serbia, Germany, Ghana, Australia

Sean: This is a total randomizer of a group for many reasons. Everyone here has a flaw of some kind, and I have a feeling that experience will tell here. The Aussies did well for themselves in 2006, only going out in the Round of 16 because the fucking idiot referee in the Italy match bought the WORST FUCKING DIVE OF ALL TIME from Fabio Grosso. While they are on paper a weaker squad this time out, there is still some talent here. Mark Schwarzer is still a fantastic keeper at 37 years of age. Lucas Neill is a fearsome defender, and Tim Cahill is a wonderfully gifted attacking midfielder. Beyond that, though? I just don’t think there’s enough talent here to worry anyone in this group. As for Ghana, they are a similar story to Nigeria. Much of their chance went out the window with the injury to their snarling midfield dynamo, Michael Essien. Other than the two midfielders who play in Italy’s Serie A (Stephen Appiah and Sulley Muntari), is there anyone on this team that scares you if you’re Germany or Serbia? is it ever a good sign when the starting goalkeeper (Richard Kingson) can’t get a game for a bottom-end side like Wigan Athletic?

While the other two countries in this group have their problems, there’s enough there to bring them over the line past the Socceroos and the Black Stars. The only reason I have the Germans finishing second is that they have had injuries to two key pieces of the team’s spine – goalkeeper Rene Adler and central midfield maestro Michael Ballack. Still, Manuel Neuer should be a more-then-capable replacement between the sticks, and there are other options at CM for the Mannschaft. They may stick with Bastian Schweinsteiger in the holding midfield role he’s been playing for Bayern Munich, or perhaps they’ll go to a more attacking formation with exciting young players like Sami Khedira, Toni Kroos or Mesut Ozil. The defense is capable as always – Marcell Jansen and Per Mertesacker bring experience to the table, while Serdar Tasci is another fine young talent. Philipp Lahm will captain the side from his customary fullback position. The main question is if any of their legions of misfiring strikers – Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez – can find their form at the right time. Or, will it fall to recently-naturalized Cacau to do the scoring? Either way, this lot should finish second at worst.

As for Serbia, they do have a penchant of choking in major tournaments. And, they are infamous for giving up the best goal of the 2006 World Cup in their shocking 6-0 capitulation against Argentina. I also question their goalkeeping – their starter, Vladimir Stojkovic,  is the other crappy backup for Wigan Athletic. Still, they have a formidable central defense pairing of Nemanja Vidic and Neven Subotic (who would be in the USA’s central defense if the people running our federation weren’t lobotomized fucking retards) and a wonderful central midfield talent in Dejan Stefanovic. This is not a great team, but I have a funny feeling that they’ll do just enough in getting 2 wins and a draw to pip Germany for first place in the group.

Brendan:

This would have been a much more interesting group a couple of injuries ago. I am wearing a Germany shirt right now as I type so this may be bias, but despite all the fuckery associated with them I think I still like the Germans to sneak this. Their veterans are starting to turn and smell bad and some of their middle-generation players (Lukas “two league goals this year” Podolski, Mario Gomez, etc.) have never quite made it on the big stage, but they’ve got some reportedly excellent young guys coming through and on the team for this tournament and they were strong in qualifying. They also have an oddball advantage I think: alone among teams which are consistently strong at a world-class level, German players mostly play at home for their club ball; only one of their 23 men for South Africa is registered to a club outside Germany (Jerome Boateng) and he has yet to play a game for his new English club after a transfer from Hamburg. The sheer insularity of German football means that the Germans to a degree have the advantage of many smaller sides- that their players are less seen and thus less known quantities, and harder for the opposition to pick up on especially given the condensed prep time national teams get.

For the rest-I’m with Sean as far as Serbia goes for getting out of the group, though if Essien were fit it might be a different story. 3rd and 4th could go either way, really; I suspect Ghana may have had their fight damaged by the loss of Essien, and the Aussies may just out-work them head to head for the deciding points. it doesn’t much matter either way.


Group E: Netherlands, Cameroon, Denmark, Japan

Sean: So OK, Japan sucks. A lot. The only guy with a nametag on this team is the rapidly-decaying Shunsuke Nakamura…so essentially, you’re fine if you don’t concede any free kicks just outside of your penalty area. If they were anywhere other than Asia, they’d never see the World Cup. Most of their squad plays in the domestic J-League, which is not exactly the highest of standards. The best player is probably the captain Makoto Hasebe, who plays in the Bundesliga for Wolfsburg. Beyond that though, there’s slim pickings here and I’d expect them to lose all three games. The Danes have more talent, but there are injury questions to goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, defensive stalwart Simon Kjaer and striker Nicklas Bendtner. If they have to depend on the mummified Jon Dahl Tomasson for goals, they’re in trouble. There’s other talent here – Juventus’ Christian Poulsen and Wolfsburg’s Thomas Kahlenberg should do OK in midfield and Daniel Agger is a capable defender. I just think that the Danes are limping a bit, and they may fall victim to the fact that in a World Cup in Africa, SOME African team is going to be some combination of lucky, good and gifted by referees.

Cameroon may be one of those teams. Carlos Kameni is a solid keeper, and Samuel Eto’o is one of the best strikers in the world. Alexandre Song has been a revelation for Arsenal as the holding midfielder this past season, and there’s enough solidity about the defense (Stephane M’Bia and  Benoit Assou-Ekoto especially) where I see the Danes having a hard time scoring on them. This is the classic example of a squad that got very lucky in the draw, and will be cannon fodder for whoever they play in the second round. As for the Dutch, come on, it’s the fucking Dutch. Robin van Persie! Wesley Sneijder! Arjen Robben (pending injury)! Ibrahim Afellay! The defense is good-not-great and Maarten Stekelenburg is untested in goal at this level, but they should hang their heads in shame if they don’t annihilate this group at minimum.

Brendan:

The Dutch will win this group based again on raw talent, but man… I am never convinced by them. Partly it’s that their aggressive style is just perfect for them to get bushwhacked by a defensively sound counterattacking team, partly it’s that Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben are incredibly poorly suited to play together (they’re both ball-stopping black holes who want to win the game solo and who cut Wesley Sneijder out of the play), partly it’s that they always seem somehow undisciplined; they’re usually good for giving up at least one wholly unnecessary goal in each big match, more if they get bonked on the nose early and have to chase the game. In short, they’re closer to England than they are to Spain. Beyond that, I’m actually really intrigued by the Cameroon/Danish throwdown- the talent levels seem very similar. My pet theory says that the Danish should take it as the less disrupted and more cohesive team given the issues between Cameroon’s captain (!!!) Samuel Eto’o and, oh, everyone else on the planet, but it’s really hard to pick against one of the two best African sides here in the first African World Cup. Ultimately, I think with greater home continent advantage comes greater refereeing advantage, and that should edge this one towards Cameroon’s side. Japan are doomed.

Group F: Italy, Slovakia, Paraguay, New Zealand

New Zealand is just happy to be here. It isn’t a mistake that bookies the world over are taking serious bets as to whether they will score a solitary goal, let alone get so much as a draw. Three losses and out is the safest bet. Italy opted for age…err…I mean experience. But, they should still comfortably win this group. Gianluigi Buffon is at worst the third-best goalkeeper in the world (I have him second behind Spain’s Iker Casillas myself, with Brazil’s Julio Cesar third), and a defense with luminaries like Fabio Cannavaro, Giorgio Chiellini and Gianluca Zambrotta should have more than enough in the tank to lock down this group. In midfield, much of the offense will depend on Daniele De Rossi, as the rest of the top-end guys (Gennaro Gattuso, Mauro Camoranesi and Andrea Pirlo) are defensively-minded. It will be interesting to see if Riccardo Montolivo – one of the few young attacking talents on the roster – sees any playing time. The strikers are all big names, but it is questionable as to whether the same rotation policy that worked so well in 2006 (you know, besides the diving and cheating that is) will do so again in 2010. Personally, I think that Alberto Gilardino will have to be the guy to accept the scoring burden if Italy is going to do anything at all in South Africa.

The real battle in this group is for second place. Paraguay is coming off its best-ever qualifying run, finishing with a record number of points and ending up a very close second to Brazil. Still, I think Slovakia will do enough to just shade it. Martin Skertel – despite playing for Liverpool – should effectively marshal the defense. Jan Mucha – despite being a backup for Everton – was a revelation in goal during the qualifiers. Marek Hamsik can dominate the center of the park, and Robert Vittek can score goals. When all else is equal, I go for the team that has the better spine down the middle of the field. Especially given the fact Justo Villar is a question mark in goal for Paraguay, I have to give the edge to Slovakia.

Brendan:

We can dispense immediately with New Zealand, an also-ran among also-rans in a World Cup also featuring North Ko-fucking-rea. Likewise, Italy will win this by dint of overwhelming firepower as the talent gap between them and the rest is just colossal. The contest here to the extent that there is one is between Slovakia and Paraguay; and that, folks, is the first time in human history that sentence has ever been written. I would be lying if I said I could go too far in depth on this one, but I will take Paraguay to edge it and finish second in the group based on how strong they were in qualifying. The work they did in particular against Argentina and Brazil in a pair of wins I suspect has given them a great deal of confidence and drive, and at the risk of repeating myself I think those are crucial factors at a level of football where managing and tactics can often be secondary considerations.

Group G: Brazil, Ivory Coast, Portugal, North Korea

This is another group where 1st and 4th are fairly obvious. No one knows much about the North Korean side, but I find it hard to believe that a squad with that little experience playing against the big boys will do anything other than get obliterated in all three games. Brazil is, of course, one of the heavy favorites going in. Unlike much of their history, they actually have a world-class goalkeeper in the aforementioned Julio Cesar. There’s the obvious offensive talent of Kaka and Luis Fabiano, strong attacking fullbacks in Daniel Alves and Maicon, Lucio is awesome in central defense and either Felipe Melo or Gilberto Silva will do in the holding midfield role. Against the teams in this group, they’ll be fine. My suspicion though is once it starts to get to the later rounds, they’ll run into someone who can handcuff their offense while exploiting the gaps left in the back when Alves and Maicon push up.

Portugal has unfortunately the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo (and I say unfortunately in the sense that he hasn’t contracted Ebola yet…but there’s always hope). A few other players – notably Pepe in central defense and Simao on the wing – are among the best in their positions, but the team as a whole is either getting old or just not top class. Frankly, I think these guys are overrated. Who plays in goal, curiously? Eduardo, Beto and Daniel Fernandes are all close in age, but Eduardo is way ahead with 15 caps. So, you’re going to war with Braga’s goalkeeper? Really? Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreria are 32 and 31 respectively. Miguel Veloso in the holding midfield role has proved nothing. Deco at attacking midfield is 32. This just strikes me as an old, slowing-down team that thinks it’s better than it is, and I have a feeling they have a rude awakening coming at the hands of the Elephants. Sure, Didier Drogba is hampered by the elbow injury he suffered a little while ago. But, who on Portugal stops him? Assuming both middle teams lose to Brazil and beat North Korea, the game pitting each against the other determines who goes on, and Drogba for me is the best player on the field…injury or not (sorry, but Ronaldo has often ghosted his way through international matches). Still, the Toure brothers (Kolo and Yaya) contribute to a decent spine (Boubacar Barry will have to improve in goal, though), and the combination of Gervinho and Salomon Kalou should be enough offensive to see off the flagging remnants of Portugal’s Golden Generation.

Brendan:

And here they are: my pick for the winners. As good as flouncy-bouncy big-smile-and-a-ball-trick Brazil can be, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the remorseless dominance of a Dunga-fied Selecao. I blame 1994 being my first World Cup, plus that being the Pat Riley Knicks era when I was an impressionable lad- I’ve always had a strange appreciation for truly superior defensive and controlling athletic performances; there’s probably a line of descent from Charles Oakley to Brock Lesnar which touches on Dunga in there somewhere. To my mind the current Brazil send all the right signals: they’re stupidly talented overall, they actually have the rarest of Brazilian rarities- a great goalie- in Julio Cesar, they’re confident partly from already having won the Confederations Cup on South African soil and partly just from being Brazil, they were excellent in qualifying, and best of all- Ronaldinho is on a beach somewhere right now. Alone. Nothing against the man personally, but he’s got an abominable reputation for worth ethic, he’s a disruption to a team which is no longer built around him if he is playing and a distraction if he’s not, and most importantly, Dunga didn’t want him. That Dunga won that power struggle vs. other forces in Brazil (plus Nike) matters; it shows his players that he is the man in charge and what he says goes. They’re doing it the Dunga way, and so far that has historically meant big business. Hell, I think they may even have- amazing for Brazil- some great players who’ll sneak up on teams. Keep your eye on Grafite. I think they’re going to win this thing, and the group stage is just a stepping stone towards that end.

So yeah, North Korea. Hopefully those guys aren’t shot for losing 437-0 to Brazil.

And thus we’re left with Ivory Coast and Portugal for the second slot. A healthy Drogba to me makes this an easy call for the Coast. He is, if anything, still massively underappreciated despite playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world I think; he’s fast, accurate, his technical ability and success at playing with teammates and not just on his own have improved over the years, he consistently turns up in big games and big situations, he’s a true competitor in a sport where not everyone really cares about the results as much as the money, and he has a well-deserved reputation as a peacemaker and humanitarian who’s given serious money to worthy causes in his homeland. Throw in that he appears to be a committed family man, and I’d go so far as to say he’s one of the very, very few professional athletes I legitimately admire. But with a bad arm and somewhat off his training I don’t know if he’s going to be able to be the difference maker here- and it is worth noting that head to head, which these groups often come down to, Portugal is relying on Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho to lead the defense. Both of those guys see Drogba day after week after month after year in training, and if anyone knows his moves and how to counteract them, it’s those guys. I have little confidence in Portugal’s mental makeup- they’re lazy showponies with no stomach for a fight- and they’re missing Nani, but in this instance I think they have just enough of a head to head advantage against the Coast to edge that game and the group’s second place slot with it.

(Who are we kidding? North Korea are totally going to get shot for losing 437-0 to Brazil. Those poor fuckers.)

Group H: Spain, Chile, Honduras, Switzerland

Spain are, quite simply, the best team in the world and they will pillage and destroy these three opponents. There is no weak spot on this roster – as mentioned, Iker Casillas is the best goalkeeper in the world. The defense is marshalled by the excellent Gerard Pique, and there is of course the attacking verve of Fernando Torres and David Villa. The real strength of this team is in the midfield, though. Whether it is Xavi, Andreas Iniesta or Cesc Fabregas, the center of the park is filled with dudes who can thread a pass through the eye of a needle. If a holding type is needed, Sergio Busquets is at the ready. I just don’t see who is beating these guys, and they’re my pick to win the whole fucking thing.

Chile had a great qualifying run, and I think the attacking three of Humberto Suazo, Alexis Sanchez and Mark Gonzalez should be enough to see them past Honduras. That said, the Hondurans are no joke, and they’re another side that are being woefully underrated by the rest of the world. Carlos Costly is a handful for any opposing defense, as is David Suazo (who don’t forget spent many years with Inter Milan). There’s bite in the midfield with Wilson Palacios and guile with Amado Guevara. Unfortunate for our near-neighbors though, Chile is just a tad bit stronger and should do enough to get past them. The Swiss are a decent side themselves, but they over-rely on Alexander Frei to score goals. If he is neutralized, there are practically no other threats to score. Diego Benaligo is a great keeper, and the defense (led by Philippe Senderos) is decent. Gokhan Inler will play the holding role, and he’s another guy who will be drastically overpaid after the tournament. As mentioned though, there is no other offensive weapon in this team, and they happen to be in a group where they will struggle to contain their opponents – so, unlike 2006 where they went out in the round of 16 without conceding a goal from open play, I see them losing a bunch of 2-0 games here.


Brendan:

And here’s everyone else’s pick to win this thing. Look, I can’t knock anyone who picks them: by raw talent they’re the best team here, and I’m the first guy to tell you that talent matters first and last. Winning the 2008 Euros may finally have given them the confidence to play up to the level of which they’re capable, and if they do then they absolutely should win this thing. On paper, they have no weaknesses. At the very, very least they’re going to own this group with ease.

Below that level, I strongly agree with Sean that Honduras is being underrated. Like a lot of “smaller” Central and South American sides (and Mexico and the US, to a degree), they’re the proverbial tough out- more skilled than you’d expect, relentlessly hard-working, mentally tough and resilient. To beat them you have to beat them; they never beat themselves. Beyond that, I have unfortunately little to add here to what Sean’s written; I have not had a chance to see Chile in a long time, and I agree with him entirely about Switzerland- they’re dire, dour, dreary and dreadful far too much of the time and they have a tragic history of going into total lock down on the big stage, including infamously being turfed from the last World Cup on penalties after one of the worst games ever vs. Ukraine despite not conceding a goal from open play the entire tournament. I suspect Chile and Honduras will bring out the worst in the Swiss with pressure and control, especially if Spain murders them in their first game leading to them clamming up even more than usual after that. At the risk of complete copycatitis I will take his word for it and pick Chile as the second team out of the group as well.

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June 10, 2010 - Posted by | Other Soccer

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