Recaps and game analysis to follow one or two hours after each match.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Group B: Argentina

Coming into every World Cup Argentina are usually listed as one of the favorites. Traditionally this has hampered them as they fail to live up to expectations, but this year 'could' be different.

Qualification was a long and hard ordeal for the Argentinians, and a lot of criticism around the world cited their coach [Diego Maradonna] as the reason. To this day Maradonna is listed as one of the world's historic best players, but his lack of managerial experience has been apparent. With a star-studded lineup that makes most countries cringe, Maradonna has had a tendency to put players out of position, or not utilize them to their full capacity. This could ultimately be the downfall for Argentina unless their coach learns to listen to advice from his staff and players.

However, the saving grace for Argentina is that they were placed in a relatively weak group, so promotion to the second round is basically automatic. The toughest part for the team will be maintaining momentum throughout the rest of the tournament.

Key Players:
Lionel Messi (pictured) is a world footballer of the year, and he has been in top form for club team Barcelona. If he had one weakness it would be that he often times fails to deliver on the national level.

Javier Mascherano. The Liverpool playmaker and captain of the Argentinians is integral to Maradonna's plans. A nightmare in midfield, he could pose a real problem for most teams.

My Prediction: Semi-Finalists.

Group A: France

France reached the World Cup amid great controversy. Failing to display the skills fans have come to expect out of the nation, France had to struggle through qualification. Placing second behind Serbia they had to do a playoff against Ireland to determine who would reach South Africa. In the 2nd leg of the playoff, Ireland had evened out the goal aggregate and the teams were heading into extra time, only for a handball from striker Thiery Henry to reach the onrushing William Gallas to score the goal and send the French through. Irish fans will never forget this, but the rest of the world is left asking, does France deserve to be at the Cup?

The star quality is there in all positions, but the bad qualification run leaves some doubts. Luckily for France, they are easily still the best team in their group. In theory most betting people will expect them to win all their matches, and this is likely. As such the real test for France will be once they get to the knockout stage, where they will most likely be facing S. Korea, who they should once again beat, but then come up against a very strong England squad, which on paper will run circles around the French. Les Bleues will have to be at their best in order to make a strong showing, and not have a repeat of qualification.

Key Players:

Anelka has been on fire lately for both club and country, to the point where I feel he now outshines Henry. He should be starting the games, and expect him to be the leading scorer for the French side.

Ribery and Malouda on the the wings will provide some good speed that will trouble some other nations, particularly because these two are also very strong players with the technical skill to dribble around double marking.

The defense all around is actually really good for France, and they will give up few goals, but they will have to score some points if they don’t want to finish in goalless draws. The key for France is to show up, forget about qualifying, forget about disappointing club seasons, and forget about the South African home crowd. If they can do these things then the classical French will shine in this years tournament.

My Prediction: Quarter Finals

Group A: Uruguay

The sky blues are back at the world cup! That is great news for Uruguayan citizens who feel the team should win, but I feel they will be disappointed. In qualification Uruguay was all over the place. One week they would have a brilliant showing pummeling Bolivia 5-0, but then the next week losing 0-1 to Paraguay. The problem is what team will show up for the Cup finals. I see Uruguay as a little Brazil. They have some very skilled players, but often times the players don’t work together, they simply try to do too much on their own. Their offense is sure to score goals, but how many they will let in becomes a factor, because their defense is not good enough to take on the worlds best.

The most important match of Group A will be between Uruguay and Mexico, which could easily turn into a goal-fest. Whichever team becomes victorious will decide 2nd place in the group, and determine who moves on into the knockout stages. If the teams draw, then South Africa could have an outside shot of taking 2nd.

Key Players:

Diego Forlan is naturally the main player that everyone talks about, but I will go one further: Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez. I group these two together because when they partner on the pitch they average a goal almost every-other game. This is crucial because Uruguay is looking to run a 4-4-2 position. Personally, I feel if they went 4-3-1-2 they would do better, by having the veteran Sebastian Abreu playing right behind the two strikers. If you don’t have a steady defense, then you need to score plenty of points, and those three working together could be a real terror.

My Prediction: Group A 3rd Place.

Group A: South Africa

This world cup will be known as “a first for everything”. The reason is apparent when one looks at the first group and notices the teams South Africa is paired with. Historically, the host nation has never failed to make it out of the group stage, but this world cup will be different. Although SA does field some talented players, especially up and coming ones, they will not have the strength to overcome the likes of France, Mexico, and Uruguay. However, do not discount the option of a surprise following in the steps of South Korea and Japan at the 2002 World Cup games. Ultimately it will come down to their desire and the 12th man home crowd to invigorate the team that were drawn into a rather unlucky group.

They have shown they can play with the big teams through the Confederations Cup, but ultimately they still lost the games. Additionally they upset many fans by not qualifying for the Nations Cup, something many South Africans thought they could do easily.

South Africa may have some emerging talent in a few players, but lack of big league experience could prove to be their undoing. Expect a close race for the 2nd place spot behind France, in which SA will narrowly miss out.

Key Players:

Steven Pienaar who plays his club games at Everton has impressed many over the past year. He is speedy with a good touch, and has the ability to play in the middle as an attacking midfielder, or to play outside and provide the crosses and assists. Often criticized for not translating good club playing to the international level, the hopes of Bafana Bafana will rest on his shoulders.

Benedict McCarthy is the all time leading scorer for South Africa, and if he is still fit enough there is the possibility of notching a few more. A little past his prime for this World Cup it will be pertinent to outpace speedy defenders, and be the strong man up front to put pressure on the opposition in an effort to create opportunities for the rest of his team.

(Update: McCarthy was not selected for the Squad)

If these two players work well together then South Africa could stand a chance. Pienaar is of a smaller build compared to most players so he will be reliant upon McCarthy’s strength. And don’t be surprised by a few quick goals that catch the defense flat-footed if Pienaar can present a nice throughball for McCarthy to run onto.

My Prediction: Group A 4th Place.

Group A: Mexico

Although they had a week showing in the international friendly against England, the Aztecs are looking to be one of the more technically skilled teams at the World Cup. However, they must use that technical skill to win their games, which is something that could be difficult for such a young squad.

Historically the overbearing packmasters of CONCACAF, they have slowly started to lose their elite grasp from the United States upstarts, however, I wouldn’t read too deeply into this. Mexico is notorious for playing many games using a vast number of different players. As opposed to some countries that will routinely run their starting eleven for most games, Mexico tends to give younger players a chance to prove themselves. This is what leads to lot of average performances during international friendlies. Being drawn into a tough group, it will be up to the top Mexican performers to play as a team. If this is achieved then expect them to be unstoppable in the early stages of the Cup, with a lot of European job offers being issued to the younger players. Defense could be an issue due to an aging Rafael Marquez having to anchor the backline.

Key Players:

Javier Hernandez also known as “Cicharito” is a striker with a good eye for goal. Having already lead the Mexican league in goals he was instantly sent to England to play with an eager Manchester United squad for the 2010/2011 season. He may not start, but would be excellent coming off the bench in the last 15-20 minutes of time.

Andres Guardado is one of my fantasy picks because I think Mexico will be very reliant upon him on the outside. With a great vision of the field and astounding speed he will run tirelessly up and down the flank troubling the opposition. However, he does have a tendency to switch between outstanding and unimpressive. Mexico fans will desperately be hoping he brings his best to South Africa.

My Prediction: Group A 2nd Place.

USA Bid for 2018 or 2022 World Cup

In a brief detour from the World Cup in South Africa, I present this new information: I urge you all to take part in bringing the World Cup tournament back to the United States. In 1994 we set a [then] new record for world cup attendance. Our beautiful cities, large stadiums, and sports fever all helped to achieve that goal; however, more importantly, it allowed soccer to reach a new found popularity in the States. The MLS (Major League Soccer) was created a few years later and has since expanded into a large league with professional teams all across the nation, and more are being added! ESPN, a station that once neglected soccer, has begun showing weekly games, and other soccer specific networks have appeared to present twenty-four hour access to the latest games around the world.

We have the stadiums, we have the fans, and we have the desire. Let as come together to show the world how much we desire to host the world’s biggest tournament once again.

To sign the petition, follow this link:

Fantasy Picks Part 2

Group bracket:

Group A: (1) France, (2) Mexico, (3) Uruguay, (4) South Africa.

Group B: (1) Argentina, (2) South Korea, (3) Nigeria, (4) Greece.

Group C: (1) England, (2) United States, (3) Algeria, (4) Slovenia.

Group D: (1) Germany, (2) Ghana, (3) Australia, (4) Serbia.

Group E: (1) Netherlands, (2) Cameroon, (3) Denmark, (4) Japan.

Group F: (1) Italy, (2) Paraguay, (3) Slovakia, (4) New Zealand.

Group G: (1) Brazil, (2) Portugal, (3) Ivory Coast, (4) North Korea

Group H: (1) Spain, (2) Switzerland, (3) Chile, (4) Honduras.

Second round: France beats S.Korea, Argentina beats Mexico, England beats Ghana, Germany beats United States, Netherlands beats Paraguay, Italy beats Cameroon on PK’s, Brazil beats Switzerland, Spain beats Portugal in my “game of the tournament”.

Quarterfinals: England beats France, Argentina beats Germany, Netherlands beats Brazil in stoppage time, Spain beats Italy.

Semifinals: Netherlands beats England in a goal fest, Spain beats Argentina on PK’s.

Third place: Argentina beats England in a boring game.

Final: Spain easily brushes aside Netherlands.

To view my reasons, read each of my group stage posts.

Fantasy Picks

As with all good sporting events, there are usually the fantasy games to keep fans interested. Below will be my picks for the fantasy team and bracket prediction. Some of you may scratch your heads at some of the picks, and I will not explain my full reasoning (yet!) as to why. To find out, you would have to keep reading for my group breakdowns. Both of these picks are from ESPN soccernet, to make your own, head over there and create an account to get started.

The Greatest Show on Earth

2010 is a special year, a year that will go down in history. Politics, religion, crisis events, and war-like behavior will all be apparent. When countries cheer and boo at each other, when people have sudden spiritual moments, and when individuals punish each other on a field of battle, this is when one knows they are watching something special. Something that is remembered for all time by the young and old. This is the 19th FIFA World Cup.