For most people around the planet, this summer’s World Cup is the most important event in sports. Actually, the World Cup is more than that. It is an event that transcends sports and becomes as much about national pride than about supporting a team. I’m not going to profess to know too much about football, but I think I know enough that I can at least bullshit this article while retaining some sort of credibility.
One of the biggest stories of this year’s World Cup revolves around Argentinean superstar, Lionel Messi, and manager Diego Maradona. Messi, who plays for Barcelona, scored 34 goals this past season, four short of the single season record. For his accomplishments, Messi was awarded the FIFA World Player of the Year. However, internationally Messi continues to play below the level that he does for his club team.
Much like Messi, Maradona was considered by many to be the greatest soccer player of all time while still playing. In international play, however, Maradona was also sensational. The pinnacle of his play came in the 1986 World Cup, in which he served as captain for an Argentina team that won the tournament. He was awarded the Golden Ball award (tournament MVP) as well. Maradona is now responsible for coaching the Über-talented Messi.
For Barcelona, Messi plays the wing, which allows him to use his tremendous speed and ball control to take the ball, from the outside, towards the net and score. Very similarly, Maradona often employed long sprints down the sideline of the field, which he then turned into goals for either his teammates or himself. To highlight the similarities, you simply need to look at the similarities between these two absolutely insane goals(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYet49BToLw - hyperlink isn't working). If you didn’t just click on my link, please reconsider as both goals are truly spectacular.
Most football fans around the world cite Diego Maradona as the reason for Messi’s disappointments internationally. Instead of playing Messi on the wing, where he can do the things we just saw, Maradona employs him as a deep striker. In other words, Messi plays more in the middle of the field. Maybe I just don’t understand soccer enough, but in my mind, the decision making of Maradona is something simply not scene in American sports. A team’s best player in almost any sport essentially determines the team’s strategy. Could you imagine if Phil Jackson decided one day that, no, Kobe Bryant will no longer be playing shooting guard, but instead, he’ll play the point. He’s still a guard, just a different kind of guard. That would never, ever happen! Kobe has made a career out of scoring, not passing. A move like that one would be absolutely ludicrous; totally unheard of; unacceptable. Yet, for whatever reason, Argentina allows Maradona to be a mad scientist, as he attempts to concoct unconventional and damaging formations. If Argentina wants to advance beyond the second round, during which they will most likely play Mexico or Uruguay, then Messi will need to either adapt to his new role or Maradona will need to let him play the wing.
Moving now to our own country, this year appears to be a very promising one for the United States. To say that many Americans are not interested in soccer would be an understatement. However, the popularity of the sport has increased since the last World Cup. One of many causes for this phenomenon is the fact that ESPN will be providing coverage for every World Cup Match. This means that the “worldwide leader in sports” needs to provide anticipation leading up to the big event. One needs to look no further than some of the most recent “This is Sportscenter” commercial’s to see an example of this.
Another reason for increased US interest has been the emergence of several talented American players. The list includes Landon Donovan, probably the greatest American soccer player of all time, Oguchi Onyewu, who plays for A.C. Milan and, when healthy, is a fine defender, Jozy Altidore, who scored 6 goals in 2010 World Cup Qualifiers, Clint Dempsey, a talented player who is dangerous as both a winger and forward, and Tim Howard, one of the best goalies in the world. Also potentially dangerous is Herculez Gomez, whose 10 goals are tied for the league lead in the Mexican Primera División.
The World Cup is organized so that each team is placed in an initial Group that contains three additional countries. Each team within the group then plays each other, in a round-robin format. The two teams with the best record advance to the round of 16, which is the first elimination round. The United States has benefited greatly by being placed in Group C, along with Slovenia, England, and Algeria. England is obviously the strongest country in the Group, and will probably advance with a record of 3-0. However, you have to like the chances of the US to beat out Slovenia and Algeria, two teams that are ranked lower than the United States. Then again, most people would probably not have picked Ghana to advance out of the pool containing the United States, the Czech Republic, and Italy, the eventual World Cup champions, in the 2006 World Cup. It’s going to be tough, but I like America’s chances of reaching the field of 16.
It’d probably be judicious of me to continue to concentrate on the analysis of various nations. It’d probably be judicious of me to discuss some of the best players in the world such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Xavi, Kaka, and Didier Drogba. It’d probably be judicious for me to read the ESPN article about the World Cup from May 26 entitled, “How to sound smart at the watercooler.” It’d probably be judicious for me not to reveal that I did not actually read that article. Yet, I did not read that article and I will not be discussing any of the previously mentioned things. Instead, I will spend that page space discussing Zakumi , the mascot of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Zakumi, who appears to be a perfect cross between a leopard and a Dragon Ball Z character, is a fictional character whose date of birth is June 16, 1994. This has raised questions across the world as to whether or not Zakumi is too young to handle the responsibility that comes with being the World Cup mascot. If I am not mistaken (who really knows) some mascot rights organizations have had a serious problem with this, as they view the treatment of Zakumi as the taking advantage of a minor. Even more disturbing than the potential mistreatment, is the thing’s motto: “Zakumi's game is Fair Play.” Um, excuse me? Did Zakumi just speak in the third person? I don’t think he’s reached the stage in his career to speak in such a fashion. This is exactly why you cannot give characters the ability to be a mascot until they reach at least the age of 18. All the fame is going to Zakumi’s head. Although, on a more serious note, is “Zakumi’s game is Fair Play” the best that the FIFA people could think of? Really!? I understand that in previous years, sportsmanship has been hard to come by. However, if I was forced to devise a more generic, blah statement than that one I’m pretty sure that I’d fail miserably.
Zakumi Prediction: Zakumi performs well when it doesn’t matter but quickly crumbles under the pressure of an elimination round. Look for him to misrepresent the spirit of the World Cup come the Round of 16. Zakumi Question: Who will be seen on ESPN more this World Cup, Zakumi or Messi? Zakumi Observation: Messi and Zakumi kind of look alike.
Moving back to the actual tournament, it can be very difficult to do any type of bracket for the World Cup, since the seedings can be rearranged depending on each nation’s record in their respective pools. Therefore, I will simply predict my final four teams left and go from there.
Semifinal 1: Portugal vs. Germany
In order to reach this stage, Portugal is going to need to defeat some of the finest teams in the world, beginning with advancing out of the strongest group, Group G, which contains Brazil, Ivory Coast, and North Korea. If they can make it out of the group, they will most likely need to play Spain, considered by many as the most talented team in the World Cup, and Italy, the defending World Cup champions. This said, I believe they will come out on top in all those matches. Led by Cristiano Ronaldo, the explosive forward, and Ricardo Carvalho, a dependable defender, Portugal is a highly experienced team that, despite limping into the World Cup with some less than satisfactory performances, will be able to pull it all together for the biggest tournament of their lives.
If Germany can advance from Group D with the strongest record, they will likely face first, the United States, and then Argentina. The road may be easier than that of Portugal, but that is not to say they will not encounter strong opposition from the Americans and then, obviously, the potentially dangerous Argentina. Many of Germany’s players, such as recently appointed captain, Philipp Lahm, and vice-captain Bastian Schweinsteiger, are a part of a Bayern Munich team that finished second in the Champions League that concluded earlier this month. Much like Portugal, the German squad has its fair share of experienced players, like the aforementioned Lahm, but is also replete with young talent in the forms of forward, Thomas Müller, midfielder and likely future German icon, Toni Kroos, and the 6' 3" defender, Jerome Boateng.
Verdict: Because a combination of experience, youth, and a winning traditional from all their Bayern Munich stars, I like Germany to pull the mini-upset over Portugal, by a score of 2-1.
Semifinal 2: Brazil vs. France
Upon receiving a relatively easy draw, with the likes of Mexico, Uruguay, and the host-nation, South Africa, France is able to advance to the field of 16 with relative ease. The next game will most likely be against Nigeria or Greece, neither of which should be able to defeat France. Then, in what will be the most entertaining match thus far in the tournament, France will come out on top over the favored England team. France is another experienced team, and will be led by midfielder, Frank Ribery, and a fine defensive unit compossed of Eric Abidal, Gael Clichy, Patrice Evra, and William Gallas. Look for the defensive group to lead the way throughout the tournament and against Brazil.
Brazil, the number one seed in the World Cup, will advance out of the challenging group G with the best record. Look for them to then defeat whoever they are paired against in the Round of 16, and probably win over the Netherlands, a talented but often disappointing team. They are ranked number one in the world for a reason, as the team is composed of several of the planet’s top players, such as Kaka, Felipe Melo, Thiago Silva, Daniel Alves, and goalkeeper Julio Cesar. Interesting observation about the team; of the 23 men on the roster, 14 of them are listed as having a single name.
Verdict: Brazil comes out on top to head to the World Cups finals again to compete for their sixth championship, the most of all time. France puts up a good fight, but falls 1-0.
Finals: Germany vs. Brazil
The finals will feature the number one ranked team in the world against the sixth ranked nation. If Brazil is to be considered the most successful team in World Cup history, then Germany is probably number two. The final is a rematch of the 2002 World Cup final, won by Brazil, which was the first and only time the two have competed against each other in World Cup competition. History will repeat itself as Brazil defeats Germany, in overtime, by the score of 2-1. Kaka is presented with the Golden Ball, as he continues a tradition of great Brazilian football stars.
Well, that concludes my World Cup preview. Then again, what do I really know? Let’s hope enough to maintain any glimpses of dignity I’ve garnered thus far.