Nationalistic, soccer-related Stimmung in Berlin is serious right now. The World Cup here 4 years ago was seen as the breaking of a certain flag-taboo: whereas before it was questionable and mildly-shocking to wave a German flag at any time, during the World Cup everyone and their mother gladly smeared the black-red-yellow on their cheeks and hung huge flags from their balconies. It was undoubtedly a case of athletic sublimation of nationalistic/militaristic sentiment. The German flag now symbolizes die Mannschaft more than it does the country.
In my neighborhood of Neukölln, a largely immigrant community, flags are a-flying more so than in most other areas. My friend told me that, when Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon are not taking part in a football competition, the Arabic immigrants support the German national team more than many Teutonic Germans.
My friend and I overheard a funny story last night while waiting for our halloumi sandwiches at a Lebanese sandwich shop. The Arabic proprietors of the building next door were lowering a gigantic German flag from the roof, which stretched 4 stories down to just above street level. The man who seemed to be the owner of the flag said that someone tore the flag down a few days ago. He didn’t know who or why. My friend assumed it was some anti-fascist, left-wing Germans (many of whom also live in Neukölln), to whom the sight of a monstrously large German flag would be poisonous. The man said that now he has arranged security, who would guard the flag throughout the night. Such patriotic sentiment would be rare to find in most citizens of German-descent.
There’s a great piece in the Guardian by David Hytner about the new, young, “multi-kulti” German football generation who have impressed the world in their drubbing of Australia last week:
“We are aware that it’s something new to have German national players with Turkish, Ghanaian, Nigerian or Tunisian roots but for our generation, it’s very normal,” said Khedira, who is the DFB’s poster boy for the liberation generation. “We have some players called Khedira and some called Müller. We don’t know any differently.”
There remains a section of Germany’s support that struggles to come to terms with the multiculturalism, traditionalists who complain about some of the players not singing the national anthem. Ozil murmurs verses from the Koran when it plays. But Aogo says “people shouldn’t attach too much importance” to this. “I don’t sing the national anthem and I am still proud to play for Germany.”
Over and above the socio-political benefits, there are also those of a footballing nature. “Up front, we exude a bit of Latin or southern ease but defensively, we are incredibly disciplined, very German,” said Khedira. Ozil noted that “my technique and feeling for the ball is the Turkish side to my game and the always-give-your-all attitude is the German part” while Aogo said that “the mixture of African physical strength and European tactical awareness can be very good for the DFB”.
That last part is a bit funny. It seems that if nationalism, in a nu-politically-correct world, is given new life through football, then the same happens with cheap cultural stereotypes?
… with their matching jacket/hat/scarf combo and synchronized flag-waving celebrations?:
Relatives of the Dear Leader? Escaped ex-pats, unable to escape the athletic element of Juche? Someone also told me they were all Chinese.
I also enjoyed the sight of these two mugs who seemed to have sneaked their way into the North Korean fan-section. The one on the left is madly waving a PRK flag. Effective, defensive football spreading the light of Juche to the hearts of the corrupted West?:
As for North Korea’s star striker, he is the Japan‑born Jong Tae-se, who plays in Japan’s J‑League, drives a Hummer and finds his team‑mates appealingly quaint. Writing on his blog earlier this year, Jong described a stopover on a team trip from Switzerland to Austria, during which his team‑mates were stunned to discover you had to pay to use the gents in a station. “They turned to me,” recalled Jong, “and said, ‘This is truly what capitalist society is like.'” It’s a reasonable point.
No one can decide whether Brazil or Spain are the odds-on favorites to lift the cup on July 11. The bookies seem to favor Spain just a little bit: bet365 and Paddy Power have Spain at 4-1 and Brazil at 9-2. The belief comes from Spain’s strong showing in the Euros of two years ago, where they won all 6 of their games, scoring 12 goals and letting in only 3.
Xavi finished as the Player of the Tournament, but there were similarly strong performances from almost every other member of the team as well. David Villa got the Golden Boot with 4 goals, Fernando Torres scored the crucial winning goal against Germany in the final, Iker Casillas stood strong throughout, including the penalty shootout against Italy, and Carlos Puyol was a monster in defense. Most notably, however, was the quietly controlling holding-midfield work of Brazilian-born Marcos Senna. Many thought the Villareal midfielder, and not Xavi, deserved to be named Player of the Tournament after a near flawless performance, acting as a stabilizing lynchpin, grounding Spain’s attacking flair through tireless ball-winning and exquisite distribution. Though Senna’s past season has been hampered by injuries, many were surprised by Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque‘s omission of the midfielder from the 23-man national squad. It remains to be seen if the new Spanish lineup will be able to compensate for the absence of such a quietly important player.
Judging from the performance in a friendly with Poland a few days ago, Spain are looking very strong indeed. The 6-1 win was magnificent, with this absolutely bonkers second goal inciting fawning praise from journalists around the world:
This kind of cohesive, technical, and effective team play will need to be flawless to cut apart defenses stronger than that of the Poles.
Apart from the familiar faces from the Euros, Sevilla winger Jesus Navas and his alien eyes have been having a breakout season, and will be looking to cement his rapidly-growing reputation with a strong international showing. Barcelona tumbling champion Sergio Busquets, will be looking to somewhat make up for Senna’s absence, playing a holding midfield role behind denter-mid tag-team of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, although Xabi Alonso is probably the more solid (and balanced) man for the role. Cesc Fabregas was given the number 10 shirt, which seems to indicate the certainty of his position in the starting lineup. I can’t really figure out where he’ll play, however. Maybe in a more attacking midfield position? Or maybe next to Xavi, with whom he shares the same DNA, allowing Iniesta to operate more as a winger?
However Spain lines up, they are probably the most talented side in South Africa, and judging on their pre-tournament performances, the bookies are justified in picking them as favorites. There are still some doubts, such as questions about the tiredness of the squad, which was blamed for their embarrassing defeat to the USA in last summer’s Confederations Cup (USA! USA! etc.). If all goes according to plan (or probability), it could end up Spain v Brazil in the final: Nu Brazilian Pragmatism vs. Hyperactive Spanish Rebirth… Could be majestic.
Before thinking about the 2010 Chile team, let’s take a trip down memory lane to 1989, the infamous “Maracanazo” incident. Losing 1-0 to Brazil in a World Cup qualifying match at the Maracana, Chilean keeper Roberto “El Condor” Rojas took the opportunity of having a firework thrown in his vicinity to remove a razor blade hidden in his glove and slice upon his face. The referee abandoned the match. When the trick was later discovered Rojas was given a lifetime ban by FIFA, and Chile were banned from taking part in the 1994 World Cup. Classic stuff!:
In 2010 Chile are coming off a spectacular qualifying run, finishing second, just one point behind Brazil. Despite having a head shaped like a bowling ball Humberto Suazo finished as top scorer of the qualifying rounds, netting 10. Despite such a strong showing the international press seems completely oblivious of Chile’s presence in South Africa. I guess this makes them actual dark horses, as in horses that are so dark that a team of 11 horses can enter an international football competition almost invisibly.
Apart from Spain’s inevitable top position, competition in Group H is pretty open for the second slot. If Chile continue their fine form, they could easily edge out the Swiss and the Hondurans.
Apart from Suazo’s goals, Chile rely on their speed, such as that fro exciting youngster Alexis Sanchez. They’re a bit shaky at the back, and will have to solidify their tactics to get through their group. Their games should be attractice to watch, at least. Also I like their chants:
“Somos los hinchas, más anarquistas, los mas borrachos, los más anti-fascistas ..”
It’s getting close to deadline time and I don’t have much to say about Swiss football. Apologies to the Swiss people. but this will be brief.
Switzerland are a young, organized and efficient side coached by German legend Ottmar Hitzfeld. Big man Gokhan Inler will work alongside Tranquillo Barnetta to retain possession in midfield. Their strength could make it hard for teams like Spain and Chile to ping the ball upfield with their usual panache. Young guns Gelson Fernandes and Eren Derdiyok could provide the Swiss with, for lack of a better word, firepower going forward.
In short, this young Swiss side will probably prove more of an obstacle to some of the pretty possessors they’ll come up against, although I don’t see them making it through.
It is wonderful to see Honduras in the World Cup again, having only qualified once before, way back in 1982. Honduras has produced some exciting new talent in recent years, and they could be the most promising little fish to make a proverbial splash in the, uh, big international pond? (Sorry)
Midefielder Wilson Palacios is Honduras’ high-profile player. After an impressive season anchoring the Wigan attack, Palacios was bought by Tottenham, where he has continued to impress. Rumors abound now of Barcelona’s interest in Palacios to fill the Yaya Toure role, the gobbler-up of loose balls, the sparker of attacks, the supplier of emergency tackles. Palacios’ efficient midfield work, alongside his very-old-looking ex-Wigan teammate Hendry Thomas will be key to Honduran progression.
Maynor Figueroa, also of Wigan (very curious to know ore about the Wigan-Honduras connection… is Tegucipalga a sister city or something?) is very strong in defense as well.
Up front, as we learn from this grammatically-extraordinary headline, Carlo Costly is not available! Cagliari legend David Suazo and the ancient ex-Napoli striker Carlos Pavón will be responsible for getting the goals.
This is really the best Honduran side of all time, and with Group H’s second spot seriously up for grabs, don’t be too surprised to see these ultimate dark horses making some waves in the knockout stages.
••• Official BOLAS & BANDEIRAS Qualifying Picks: Spain, Honduras
Games involving the Dutch in South Africa should be quite easy on the eyes, unless flawless defending is your thing. But if you’re into goals, goals, goals, scored through Tricky Flicks, Mazy Dribbles and Fruitless Backheels then you’re in for a treat. In short, this 2010 edition of the Holland football team has ample firepower going forward (with artistry to boot) but shakiness at the back and in goal could negate whatever goals they claim up front.
(Robben cleansing Europe of scum)
Arjen Robben is one of the best players in Europe at the moment, (a few weeks ago maybe THE best), but he is struggling with a hamstring injury that he picked up in a pre-WC friendly while attempting some sort of combination Tricky Flick/Fruitless Backheel. With a fully-fit Robben in their side Holland could be said to be one of the favorites to lift the cup, but without him they seem to be regarded as a dark horse favorite; or maybe just slightly dark: a bright horse laying in the dappled shade of a plane tree.
Robben-less, the Dutch attack is still one of the strongest at this World Cup: Champions-League-winning Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Dirk Kuyt, Klass-Jan Huntelaar, and the mighty Robin van Persie. Van Persie will be particularly interesting to watch: missing most of the last season through injury, Van Persie may be fresher and stronger than most of the other players who have just finished tiring 38-game seasons in Europe. In the last couple of Arsenal games, Van Persie looked magnificent, almost single-handedly lifting a disillusioned Arsenal squad. If his form then was not a fluke, he could put in a legendary performance in South Africa.
An oldie but a goodie:
With the national retirement of Edwin van der Sar, Maarten Stekelenburg has stepped into goal for the Dutch, striking fear into the hearts of an entire nation. Stekelenburg has regained his spot as first-choice keeper for Ajax, but there remain many questions about his reliability. Playing behind a back four of questionable pedigree, Stekelenburg will have to assert his authority in goal to give the Dutch the solidity necessary to progress towards the Final.
Looking strong in qualification (topping their group, embarrassing Portugal), the Danes will look to captain (and Mark Hamill look-alike) Jon Dahl Tomasson to continue the squad’s strong form in South Africa.
Remember Euro 1992?! That has been the Danish rallying cry for the past eighteen years, but World Cup appearances since have failed to repeat such a feat: reaching the quarter-finals in ’98 was the farthest they got. The Danish team this year could be the strongest since 1992.
While lacking any real superstar talent, Denmark are a very talented and (more importantly) cohesive unit, whose organization and team-spirit was plain to see in their successful qualifying rounds. Striker Soren Larsen spoke of the team ethic present in the squad:
“Our main strength is our team spirit. We keep things tight and try to get forward with plenty of passing down the flanks. It’s very similar to the Netherlands, really, but not quite at the same level. We fight for one another, so if someone makes a mistake, we run the extra 100 metres to help them out.”
Tomas Sorensen in goal together with center-backs Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer keep it tight at the back, and Christian Poulsen will pull the strings from a holding midfield position. Striker Nicklas Bendtner has had a funny time at Arsenal. He became a bit of a laughing stock by appearing delusionally cocky and self-assured in interviews, and incited much grumbling and harrumphing from stuffy British announcers for wearing PINK BOOTS. Some seemed shocked and appaled at the state of the world wear a man can step onto a football pitch wearing pink (Forza Palermo!), although some said that it was a guarantee of the reality of his manliness. Either way, Bendtner’s pink slippers eventually found the ball and made the ball eventually go into the net. He compensated for his inaccurate finishing with good movement, deft ball-control, and muscle, also popping up in defense to head away from set pieces. Bendtner’s form with Denmark has been fairly stellar. Look to Bendigol/Barndoor to supply most of the Danish goals this summer.
After a disappointing campaign in Germany 4 years ago, Japan arrive in South Africa with a new coach, some new talent, and the desire to repeat their 2002 progression into the second round. Fortune was not smiling particularly brightly on the Japanese, and they will certainly have a hard time getting through Group E. I really don’t see them pulling it of, and if they do it will be a huge accomplishment for Asian football.
CSKAMoscow’s young midfielder Keisuke Honda could be the hottest new Japanese talent, and after a stellar showing in the Eredivisie and a promising start in Russia, Honda will surely hope to make an impression on the international stage. Also keep an eye out for young Catania striker Takayuki Morimoto, “the Japanese Ronaldo,” whose pace and skill have attracted the wandering eyes of a few big European clubs.
After big-upping Cameroon in this year’s CAN, I sadly watched the Indomitable Lions look decidedly domitable as they barely scraped through their group before getting soundly beaten by Egypt.
Sadly, I don’t really have a reason to think Cameroon will fare much better in South Africa. Alex Song and Samuel Eto’o, Cameroon’s two best players in my opinion, epitomize the model of hugely talented club-player who somehow becomes a less-than-spectacular national-player. With Song, who still plays with the same effectiveness and elegance for both Cameroon and Arsenal, it is a question of formation. Paul Le Guen seems unable to replicate the role that Arsene Wenger designed for Song at Arsenal: that of a holding midfielder, able to get forward enough to provide killer passes while always able to defend against a counter-attack if one of the center-backs has strayed forward. With Eto’o it’s more a case of not getting the same service from his national teammates that he gets from their club counterparts.
Recently at Inter, Mourinho has turned Eto’o from a central striker into a winger-cum-left-back. It will be interesting to see whether coach Paul Le Guen takes a cue from this change, allowing Cameroon’s other strikers to take a more leading role.
One young player who may make a big impression is Eto’o’s possible strike-partner, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, who may replace Pierre Webo and Mohammadou Idrisou up front. Le Guen has said that he thinks Eto’o and Choupo-Moting understand each other and communicate well on the pitch. Choupo-Moting certainly looks like a good finisher in this video (disregard the fact that he’s playing for HSV/scum):
A prolific strike partnership between the two would be a welcome change from the lack of finishing prowess seen in Angola earlier this year.
The defense remains doubtful, with Rigobert Song looking to become the first player sent of in three World Cups, and N’Koulo and the others still looking a bit shaky. If Le Guen chances upon a killer new formation for the Indomitables, they can surely challenge for second spot in Group E, but they won’t progress without a vast improvement to the form they’ve shown so far in 2010.
••• Official BOLAS & BANDEIRAS Qualifying Picks: Netherlands, Denmark
Panic in the streets of north Berlin as the HILARIOUS (not actually hilarious) news of Michael Ballack’s injury hit the presses. I was staying at a sublet in the Berlin neighborhood of Wedding at the time, an area known for a large immigrant population and relatively high crime rate (barely any crime at all, by American standards). It’s really a great place, and I feel some affinity
with it, as it was where I stayed during my first trip to Berlin. So I was relatively pleased to discover that the player responsible for the German captain’s exclusion from the World Cup was born and raised in Wedding, and declined an offer to play for the German national side in favor of … Group D opponents Ghana! None other than Portsmouth FC’s ruff-n-tumble midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng.
Now it’s always unfortunate when important players miss a tournament due to injury, but part of me was overjoyed not to have to watch Ballack’s constant whinging (presumedly picked up during his stay at Chelsea) and douchebag smirking, not to mention his own dangerous tackling. Talented footballer, but he really is one of the major pricks of the sport.
Needless to say, German fans are pretty crushed. Ballack was the veteran of the otherwise very young squad, and without him in midfield young guns like Sami Khedira (Ballack’s replacement), Mesut Özil and an in-form Bastien Schweinsteiger (recently transformed from winger to central midfielder at Bayern Munich) will have to take more leading roles.
Apart from the Ballack-shaped hole in midfield, Germany really don’t have a good striker. Klose and Podolski both became benchwarmers after losing form (only managing 5 Bundesliga goals between them last season), and Mario Gomez seemed a bit of a joke at the Euros. Perhaps Klose (last WC’s top scorer) plays better at an international level, but this past season has really been a shocker for him.
Captained now by the young (and excellent) right-back Phillip Lahm, Germany are looking less like their normal lineup of big Teutonic bruisers, and more like a younger, dynamic side with lots to prove. Look to the German midfield prospects to really shine if Germany are to get anywhere near the Final, despite a solid qualifying run.
I’ll let our new addition to the B&B editorial staff Nick Keys / kickknees, world renowned Aussie poet and square-artist, supply us with a review of the Australian side. All I know is that Cahill is feisty, Schwarzer magnificent, and they got cheated by Italy last time around. Here’s to a good showing with their second Dutch master. Players to watch: Ken Oath.
Kickknees says: It’s probably fair to say that there is an expectation disjuncture amongst Australian fans. On the one hand we have those fans (the world over) who hibernate between World Cups, emerging a few months before the tournament begins, suddenly kitted out in shirts and scarfs, ready to shout themselves hoarse, drunk on anticipation, stumbling and slurring their inept punditry. For these Australian fans expectations are high. On the back of an outstanding tournament in Germany 4 years ago, with the same players, another Dutch coach, it would seem that getting out of the group is the minimum requirement.
On the other hand, for the fans who actually follow the team, the fact that the starting XI is almost identical (injury permitting) to the team that lined up four years ago is a worrying sign, demonstrating an alarming generational gap in Australian football. Results-wise, the qualifying campaign was flawless, yet Pim Verbeek’s side has been consistently questioned for its lack of attacking quality. The logic of this perspective goes as so: if you can’t dominate teams in the attacking third in Asia, then you can’t make a significant impact at the World Cup. It’s a pretty compelling argument, and one that holds true (although almost no Australian fan will accept it) for their performance against Italy in the 2nd round at the 2006 World Cup. Sure, we got robbed by that filthy cheating prick Fabio Grosso (who incidentally went on to score the winner in the Semi-Final, and the winning penalty in the Final), but the truth is that the Socceroos never looked like scoring against Italy.
But it’s hardly Pim Verbeek’s fault that Australia doesn’t have any world-class strikers. Mark Viduka has retired, and even if he had played on, he’s not the force he was. So the burden falls to Nagoya Grampus striker and J-League top scorer Josh Kennedy. Standing at 6′ 4″ he’s a handy target man, and a crucial player to the structure of the team. He has scored important goals for Australia in his short international career, but he’s not the kind of striker that’s going to worry Nemanja Vidic or Per Mertesacker all that much. As gets pointed out ad naseum, Tim Cahill is the talisman of the team, and when the team needs a goal, he will provide it or the team will fall. Cahill’s problem this time around is that he’s no secret. Having said that, Cahill has talent that you can’t coach against: the timing of his runs and positioning in the box is as good as anyone in the world. Cahill is reportedly under an injury cloud (neck) for the first game, but it’s hard to see him not playing. Hapless Harry Kewell has a body held together by labratory-grown ligaments and muscle tissue, making him a form of artificial life. Add to this the artifice of the media-soap opera called Will Harry Be Fit Enough To Hobble To Bench? and you have a frankly boring distraction.
The form guide for Australia was totally thrown out the window in the final warm-up against the U.S.A. The previously obstinate defence was very open minded to all U.S. attacks, indeed Vince Grella was so atypically open minded that he sought to aid the U.S. attacks whereever possible. And although they only scored one goal, the Socceroos threatened the U.S. goal on many occasions. The U.S. thoroughly deserved their victory, but you can expect Verbeek’s Australian team a this World Cup to be very tight at the back, extremely fit, physical, highly organised and judiciously picking their moments to go forward.
My money is on Serbia and Germany to go through, but no team in the group is seriously intimidating in the way a Spain, Brazil, Argentina or (I hate to say it) England are. It’s not crazy to hope that a draw against Germany could set the Socceroos up for a win against Ghana and passage through to the 2nd round. But I’m just happy that the team is at the World Cup again. A 2nd Round match up against the USA would be ideal…
Serbia’s matches might be a bit dull, unless you like watching big defenders stopping players from scoring. Serbia’s first World Cup as an independent nation sees them heading to South Africa with one of the most formidable defenses of the competition. Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic (“the only man who could slam a revolving door”), Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, and promising young central defender Neven Subotic will apply massive hurt to any chicken-neck strikers who dare to saunter into their box. The Big Back Four will try to keep the goals to a minimum, but second- or third-string Wigan keeper Stojkovic might make up for their vigilance with some comedy gold in goal.
Zigic and Pantelic up front is not the worst striker combo imaginable, and service from Champions League winning Dejan Stankovic could supply the Serbians with some substanital firepower. The optimism of an entire newly-independent nation will surely boost the fighting spirit and self-confidence of this actually quite impressive team. Dark horses, for sure.
In 2006 Ghana, playing in their first ever World Cup, impressed the world, progressing to the quarter-finals before losing respectably to Brazil. Since then the Ghanaian team have remained an organized unit, playing strong and defensive football, with a modicum of flair in attack. Nothing too flashy here, but seemingly more reliable than other African sides of late.
Just like earlier this year in Angola, Ghana will be missing their star captain Michael Essien. Though without him they still managed to reach the final of that competition, where they were narrowly beaten by Egypt. Throughout that competition Ghana looked surprisingly strong, considering the extreme youth of the side they were forced to field due to injuries not only to Essien, but to several other key players (most of whom are fit and ready for South Africa). Football Afrocentrists like us here at B&B can only hope that this Ghanaian generation have maybe developed a NEW AFRICAN FOOTBALL STYLE that could finally see the immense talent at hand molded and shaped into a ruthless Winning Machine.
Captain Stephen Appiah as well as Sulley Muntari (another Champions League winner) will try to make up for Essien’s absence in midfield. Young Udinese midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah could be the Black Stars’ most exciting prospect, capable of artful dribbles and sneaky passing. Asamoah Gyan (scorer of the first ever Ghanaian goal in the World Cup, which was also the fastest goal in World Cup history) is fresh from a great season at Rennes and could continue his good form with the help of good service from the Ghanaian mids.
Also exciting will be the fiery head-2-head sibling-struggle of Ballack-knacker Kevin-Prince Boateng against brother Jerome (presumably the more serene, peaceable Boateng). Look to German media for some first-class whining if Ghana go through at the expense of Germany.
This is actually a very open group. It remains to be seen if Germany can cope Ballack-less. If they lose their first game (against Australia) qualification will be there for anyone to snatch.
••• Official BOLAS & BANDEIRAS Qualifying Picks: Germany, Ghana (forgive me Nick)
Perennial quarter-finalists (7 times in all!), England are hoping to make up for the disappointing non-qualification for Euro 2008 with a strong performance in South Africa. Pragmatic Italian© coach Fabio Capello has seemingly instilled a sense of discipline into a squad of (it must be said) spoiled, narcissistic underachievers (although considering Steve McClaren’s spectacular success with FC Twente in the Erdevisie, it remains questionable to what extent the coach was at fault for such a poor showing). Expect to see an England side operating through fear (at Don Fabio’s wrath), and attacking, or rather counter-attacking in an obvious Pragmatic Italian© style.
England’s historical football mindset has always been that of entitlement, as the game’s “inventors,” “Football’s coming home,” and such dreck, as the purveyors of a sort of “civilised” football. In recent years one may notice a marked blindness to national players’ on-field chicanery (Rooney’s numerous dives, Gerrard constantly winning free-kicks by barging into defenders and then screaming at the referee with his arms outstretched) while denouncing similar activity in foreigners. Adding to this warped perspective the constant pressure of suicidal national media attention, constantly digging up scandals, indulging celebrity ego-trips, have created a dysfunctional team of 21st century PR-non-humans, playing the sort of football that makes the eyes bleed. If England are to go anywhere in this World Cup it will be due either to the Iron Fist® of Pragmatic Italian© Capello, or the manic brilliance (and diving) of world-class striker Mr. Potato Head.
England won the World Cup in 1966 thanks to a “goal that never was,” and it seems as though they expected to win the thing each year ever since (or, at least, when they qualified). Paul Wilson suggests things are different this year. And if they fail, for the first time in 9 competitions, to progress beyond the group stages, it seems as though they’ve prepared their excuses in advance.
One of my most patriotic moments has to be seeing Big H.A.W.K. rapping in front of DJ Screw’s record store in a promotional video for the U.S. Men’s National Team.
The relatively star-less American side is one of the few American sports franchises that I can whole-heartedly get behind. Clint Dempsey, rapping above, grew up in a trailer park in southern Texas playing soccer with Mexican children. Fresh from another successful season at Fulham (where he scored this contender for goal of the season and became the first American to play in a European final) he will be sure to shine in attack, supporting Jozy Altidore, “the Haitian Didier Drogba” who endeared himself to the Hull City fans with his strength and work-rate last season, despite only scoring twice. Exciting new MLS Pichichi-to-be Edson Buddle (at 29 finally hitting his stride after an injury-ravaged career) may also have a breakout Cup, scoring twice in a friendly against Australia on Saturday to stake his claim at the head of the attack. Landon Donavan, the closest thing the USMNT has to a superstar (if being on Jimmy Kimmel once=stardom) seems to finally be hitting his peak form following a spectacular loan spell at Everton.
Defence will be the USA’s weakest link, as Onguchi “Gooch” Onyewu is struggling to recover form following a lengthy injury, while Carlos Bocanegra is decidedly B-List. The great Tim Howard in goal boosts the American defensive prowess somewhat.
This 2-0 win over European champions Spain last summer to reach the Final of the Confederations Cup (ending Spain’s xx-game unbeaten streak) could be the greatest moment of this generation of American players:
Being picked alongside England is perfect for the kind of post-colonial grudge match that makes international sports so wonderful. England vs USA should be a hot-blooded affair, hopefully evoking that great upset of 1950. Though the Guardian seem to have picked the least optimistic American fan for their Fan Network, I think we have a good chance at reaching the quarter-finals, hopefully embarrassing England along the way.
Walking around Paris last week, it seemed as if more Parisians were excited about Les Fennecs in the World Cup rather than Les Bleus. The French seem to realize that they don’t really deserve to be in the competition, and that they won’t win the thing. But for anyone with Algerian heritage/sympathies, its simply a pleasure to be taking part in the World Cup, since Algeria have in a way already won by qualifying for the World Cup at the expense of their hated rivals, Egypt (or as one French-Algerian I met would have it, the Egyp-chiens).
Algeria looked impressive, “cohesive” Steev said, as they knocked out the Ivory Coast in this summer’s CAN, before looking decidedly unimpressive as they got tonked 4-0 by Egypt in the semis. Algeria lack WC experience and are of unreliable quality, but if they can string together a few solid, organized performances, they could, uh, go through … I guess.
Players to watch: Karim Matmour’s got a nice touch, Hamid “Endless Boogy” Bougherra is “solid” in defense, Chaouchi is comical in goal, Ghezzal might score a goal, captain Mansouri will control the game in midfield, or at least appear as if he is controlling the game because he is wearing the captain’s armband. This will be Algeria’s 3rd WC, and they have never progressed beyond the group stages before.
Slovenia is the smallest country taking part in this World Cup (population: 2 million)! And apparently they are solid in defense (I know nothing about Slovenian football).
Robert Koren impressed at West Brom. “Beanpole striker” Novakovic is prolific in front of goal. At the other end Samir Handanovic only let in a few goals in qualifying rounds. Slovenia seem to be playing with a cohesiveness that other, stronger teams may lack. I’d pick them over Algeria to be the surprise team to go through from Group C.
Added drama (maybe) could arise from the apparent grudge-match-status of SLO-ENG after a controversial loss to England in a friendly last year:
Slovenia have not forgotten the manner of their defeat nine months ago, when Rooney stood accused of diving to win a penalty that led to Bostjan Cesar limping off and being sidelined for two months with an ankle injury. Koren insists there is no talk of revenge, despite Cesar vowing to make the rematch an “unpleasant experience” for Rooney, but a sense of injustice continues to burn.
Go Slovenia! Give ’em Hell!
I await Saturday with a feverish patriotism. “Final nail in the empire,” Dempsey scoring a hat-trick and lifting his shirt to reveal “I belong to Fat Pat,” Rooney to be sent off for cussin’, NEW WORLD ORDER. USA! USA! etc.! etc!
••• Official BOLAS & BANDEIRAS Qualifying Picks: USA, England
Robinho has recently revealed that the loan-return to his boyhood Brazilian team, Santos, required a rebuff of not only Manchester City, but also Barcelona. That Robinho would turn down offers from two of the richest clubs in the world to return to São Paolo is perhaps simply a testament to the extent of his own disgruntled relationship with European football. But I personally hope that Robinho’s move is also a sign of the growing economic strength of South American leagues.
Robinho’s choice was certainly, at least partially a sentimental one, with the added benefit of convenience (as well as climatic considerations?):
I had an offer from Barcelona, but they wanted to bring me in on a transfer and Manchester City didn’t want to sell me. Then they wanted me on a loan deal but it wouldn’t have been good to take my whole family, look for a house and be there only six months. It’s different in Santos, since here I have a house and all the rest.
Having failed to establish himself as Man City’s first-choice striker, Robinho chose his homeland as the place to maintain his fitness and solidify his position in the national team in the lead-up to the World Cup.
In doing so, Robinho added his name to an impressive list of top-tier, world-class players who have shunned European leagues in favor of playing in their homeland. Adriano, Ronaldo, Riquelme, and J.S.Verón (and to a maybe lesser extent, Vagner Love) can all (arguably) be counted among the world’s best players, and are all playing in for South American teams. Verón’s story is particularly nice: after 11 years in Europe, he returned to his boyhood club, Estudiantes de la Plata, and led them to win the Argentinian Apertura in 2006 and the Copa Libertadores in 2009. The 34-year-old midfielder also won the South American Player of the Year award in 2008 and 2009.
It may just be a coincidence that the aforementioned list of heavyweights are all playing back in their native lands, but it is heartening that in a year in which big money has been such a central force in European soccer, the modest economic liquidity of South American leagues can acquire such quality players.
On an absolutely opposite note, it is also somehow great to see erstwhile Boca Juniors mystical forward, the pseudo-Krsna-locked Rodrigo Palacio scoring this diving header for Genoa.
How long until a spat with the manager, lack of good steak in Genoa, and/or the rising financial strength of the Argentinian league drive him back to Buenos Aires?
It’s kind of an anti-Africa movement; this is not right. There is still in the so called ‘old world’ a feeling that ‘why the hell should South Africa organise a World Cup.’ Why the hell? It was easier for them to go down to Africa, the colonialists in the past hundred years, to take out all the best, and now to take out all the best footballers. And when you have to give something back they don’t want to go. What’s that? It is a lack of respect, a lack of respect for the whole of Africa.