Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup: First Time Through The Groups

I've written nothing since the World Cup started.  Some you may think it is because of my dismal showing in the IDYFT Yahoo Group Pick'Em.  You, my friend, are quite wrong, and mayhaps a bit too cocky for your own good.

The main reason is that when you have a 9-5 job, and have over 4 hours of soccer to watch each night, you have to make decisions like, "Do I want to write about the World Cup, or do I want to watch the World Cup?" For me, the answer has been easy.  I'm starting to do this group recap, even as I'm still watching Switzerland at least in the process of stunning Spain (I'm in the 61st minute, and I honestly don't know the result as I'm writing). Nor do I know the result of the last game of the day, which could very well highlight how poor (or how awesome) my analysis is going to be.

Group A (order by points, leader(s) in bold) Mexico, South Africa, Uruguay, France
A lot of people dismissed Uruguay because of the route through qualifying and their hilarious country name.  But take a look around this group, and you see nothing but questionable routes to their respective positions in the group.  Mexico was a bullshit #1 to begin with; France shouldn't be here, and South Africa wouldn't be, if they were not the host.  Lots of great teams stumble out of the gate, but the team in real trouble here is definitely France.  They play Mexico next, and both teams have to feel that is a must-win game, what with Uruguay getting to play the surprisingly decent (but not really good) hosts, and presumably take the 3 points that Mexico couldn't.  We all know the French fans are pissy, but they've been watching this show for awhile, and they are already ready to turn it off.  That should tell you something.

(update:  I'm now 13 minutes into the first game of the 2nd round of games--Uruguay 0, South Africa 0.  So far, my predictions are holding true!

Group B (South Korea, Argentina, Nigeria, Greece)
South Korea represents the first and one of the few teams to win by multiple goals, and that means they should be taken seriously, I guess.  Everyone was ready to declare them the second best team in this group--but can we all agree that Greece seemed ready to go home almost from the opening kick-off?  I still like Nigeria to end up second in this group--yes, it took incredible goaltending to hold Argentina to one goal.  Guess what?  It's going to take incredible goaltending from anyone who plays Argentina to even have a chance.  Nigeria has an incredible goaltender, who has been challenged--South Korea, Greece?  We don't have much info on how their keepers will do against the rugged attack of Nigeria.  Like I said, Greece is already dreaming of the wine-dark seas of their homeland.  It's a three way race for two spots, but I think Nigeria is going to sneak in.

Group C (Slovenia, England, United States, Algeria)
The calculus of this group hasn't really changed much--United States has to beat Slovenia, as I expect them to do; England must beat Algeria, which they will.  At the end of the day, this group should come down to United States and England and tiebreakers, so both should be attacking from the get-go, and without letting up, for 90 minutes.  Does anyone want to play presumable winner of Group D, Germany, after what they did to Australia?

Group D (Germany, Ghana, Serbia, Australia)
Australia came into the tournament with what was considered a solid, if somewhat aging team.  Germany ripped that experienced, old-looking defense to shreds with ease, and repeatedly.  There was talk that Germany was maybe too young to compete (despite old hands like Schweinsteiger, Podolski and Klose); that talk is over, and they should easily grab the top spot in this group.  I was surprised by just how good Ghana looked without Michael Essien, and I like them to move on.  Serbia is a decent team hard-done by a tough loss to Ghana, but they'll need to make up points, and I do see their way clear to that.

Group E (Netherlands, Japan, Cameroon, Denmark)
Cameroon may have been undone by their own caution against Japan.  When they got desperate in seeking out an equalizer, they looked as dangerous as just about anyone in the tournament, but could not finish.  I don't see Japan getting any more point against a rugged Denmark or the offensively brilliant Netherlands, so that second place spot is still up for grabs.  Cameroon should go on the attack and try to grab 3 points as quickly as possible though--they may be tempted, depending on results from other games to try to sneak into the second round with just a couple of points, but that would be a very dangerous strategy indeed.  Denmark is still lurking as well.

Group F (Italy, Paraguay, Slovakia, New Zealand)
Two ties makes Italy and Paraguay happy--they are the class of the group, and they don't have to chase winners from the 2nd game in the group, thanks to New Zealand's last second game tying goal against Slovakia.  This group should become a bit more attacking, and surely will lead to some more dramatic scores 1-1 in the second round.

Group G (Brazil, Ivory Coast, Portugal, North Korea)
Nobody looked super-sharp in these games, unless you count Brazil's razzle-dazzle after they went up 2-0 (which immediately got punished by North Korea).  Ivory Coast and Portugal played a tough physical game and are carrying the yellow cards to prove it.  North Korea showed for at least one game that they aren't the total pushover that some (like me) thought they would be--it took a pretty lucky goal for Brazil to crack that nut, and North Korea showed more willingness to attack than I was expecting.  They could play a serious spoiler role at some point.  I dislike Portugal the more I watch them; this is more of a personal, visceral feeling, and doesn't reflect their quality on the ball.  They just come off as dicks, and no one more so than Ronaldo.

Group H (Switzerland, Chile, Honduras, Spain)
We had to wait for the big shocker of the first set of games, but Spain neglected to finish a plethora of chances and paid the price, losing to Switzerland 1-0.  Chile attacked and attacked after going up 1-0 in the first half, but couldn't extend their advantage.  They did not give up a goal, though, and they too are at the top of the table.  If you are looking for teams that like to fail, you rarely have to wander past the Iberian Peninsula, and this year is looking like no exception.  Spain is in a lot of trouble--they will be playing Chile and Honduras needing points, searching for them, and Chile will attack right back, and Honduras has proven they can be dangerous on the counter.  Spain is in as much as trouble as any Top 5 team has been in in recent memory.  If they claw their way back into the Top 2, their reward will be either Ivory Coast, Portugal, or Brazil in the next round (which was always true, but seems harsher in the light of a loss to Switzerland).

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